A PREACHER with Cornish connections was jailed for six-and-a-half years on Monday for sexually abusing two young girls and an unrelated married woman.
Edwin Cottingham, 67, a former landscape gardener of Ivy Mill Lane, Godstone, had denied six allegations of unlawful sexual touching of the children and one of indecent assault on a woman in her 30s during his trial at Truro Crown Court in November.
In sentencing him, Judge Philip Wassall said that an aggravating feature of Cottingham’s evidence was that he had taken every opportunity to rubbish the characters of the girls’ family.
The mother, he pointed out, had twice been called back to answer matters “which, in my view, you had just thought about”.
She said Cottingham had betrayed the family’s trust to commit the offences.
Cottingham showed little reaction, other than to raise a hand to his wife, before going down to the cells.
His counsel, Timothy Hills, said it was ironic that a man who had in the past administered to prisoners – in both a high security jail and an ordinary one in New Zealand – now found himself in prison.
During two months in Exeter jail awaiting sentence he had become a trusted prisoner and his cell door was open at all times so that other prisoners could seek his advice and guidance.
“He has become their agony uncle,” said Mr Hills.
Stressing that Cottingham was of previous good character, Mr Hills produced a raft of character references and called two witnesses.
Lionel Clargo, a minister of religion in Caterham who had attended every day of the trial, said he had not heard one word which altered his opinion of Cottingham.
They were not of the same church but had worked together on community youth activities and he had never had any concerns nor had anyone expressed any concern about his behaviour.
Glenton Brown, a Cornwall county councillor and father of two girls, said he had known Cottingham for more than 40 years and had had no reservations about him when he and his wife stayed at the farm and the families holidayed together. Judge Wassall suggested that the girls’ family would have said exactly the same about Cottingham, before the mother saw him assaulting the girls while on a Good Friday walk on the North Cornwall coastal path.
Over a period of years Cottingham had assaulted the girls by touching them.
As far as the woman was concerned, in 1998 he had taken her home one evening and in the process of saying goodnight, had assaulted her. She had not told anyone until, years later, she heard about other allegations and then she broke down and it all came out.
Judge Wassall told Cottingham: “You appear to have little thought for the consequences of your behaviour for the girls.
“You groomed them and also the family over a long period of time and you abused them a countless number of times.”
Cottingham has been banned indefinitely from having unsupervised contact with anyone under 16, being involved in voluntary activities involving children or working with them.
He must also sign the Sex Offenders’ Register for the rest of his life.