Febuary 2007

Sex abuse methodist weeps as he escapes jail

A former president of the Irish Methodist Church wept yesterday after being spared a prison sentence following an admission that he sexually abused a schoolboy over four decades ago.

Kenneth Best, who was president of the Methodist Church from 1996 to 1997, wrote a suicide letter to his family confessing his guilt and shame over the abuse, which occurred when he was a lay preacher 43 years ago.

The 62-year-old father of two, from Green Road in Belfast, sobbed as details of the abuse were revealed to Belfast Crown Court. Best pleaded guilty to six specific counts of indecent assault over a period from January 1963 to December 1966.

Crown prosecutor Philip Mateer told Belfast Recorder Judge Tom Burgess that, at the time, Best was a lay preacher with the Methodist Church. The court heard that Best became a father figure to the boy, whose parents were going through a divorce.

The abuse only emerged when the injured party, who is now 55, went to the PSNI in August 2005. When arrested and interviewed, Best “co-operated fully” with the investigating officers.

Defence barrister Eugene Grant QC spoke of the work undertaken by his client during his years serving the church and in particular during his time as a minister with the Methodist Church in Londonderry.

Among the numerous letters of reference handed to Judge Burgess in support of Best, was one from Bishop Edward Daly.

Judge Burgess said that after reading a victim impact report, it was clear the abuse had an adverse affect on the injured party in later years.

Acknowledging the accused was “wracked with guilt and shame” over his actions, Judge Burgess said Best had also suffered since the abuse came to light. The judge handed down a concurrent 18-month prison sentence for each of the six charges, suspended for two years, and ordered Best be placed on the sex offenders register for 10 years.