Nov 2002

Priest jailed for sex attacks

Disgraced priest Michael Hill was jailed for five years today for a series of sex attacks on boys.

Old Bailey Judge Christopher Moss told Hill, 68, that he was “a practising and predatory paedophile who used the vestments of priesthood to disguise your true character”.

The judge continued: “You employed a considerable degree of planning and cunning in gaining the trust of the parents of the children you abused.

“I can think of no greater or appalling breach of trust.”

The judge said the offences were “disgraceful and disgusting crimes”.

Hill had pleaded guilty to six offences of indecent assault against three boys aged 10 to 14.

The defendant showed no emotion as he was taken to the cells. He resigned from the priesthood in 1996 and is expected to be asked to leave the Roman Catholic Church completely.

Hill, a former chaplain of Gatwick airport, was jailed in 1997 for five years for ten offences against eight boys.

Judge Moss told him that those offences, together with the ones he was sentencing him for today, amounted to nearly 20 years of abuse.

He told him: “You yourself admitted that you found sexual gratification in having boys around you.

“At one time, your view was that children sometimes enjoyed sexual contact with adults.”

Hill, of Lingfield, Surrey, pleaded guilty on Monday to the six charges spanning from 1969 to 1987.

A further eight charges involving three victims were today ordered to remain on the file.

Judge Moss said he had read impact statements from the victims and “they made powerful reading”.

The court heard that the offences for which Hill was being sentenced related to admissions he made at a sex offenders’ clinic which he attended following his release from jail.

Those charges left on the file related to complaints made by people who came forward after the previous court case.

Detective Constable Mike Selcon, in charge of the investigation, said outside court that he believed justice had been done.

“It is a just result for the crimes Hill has committed. I believe the victims have had justice. I think the judge gave a just sentence.

“I am very pleased with this outcome, particularly for the victims who I hope can now put this matter to rest and get on with the rest of their lives.

“I am impressed with their bravery throughout what has been a very traumatic process.”

David Jeremy, prosecuting, told the court that Hill was ordained as a priest in 1960.

He said: “Throughout his ministry, he systematically abused the children of families to whom he was a spiritual guide.”

The priest worked in Sussex and Surrey and at a children’s home. He had moved from Godalming in 1980 because of complaints about sexual molestation of children.

He then worked at as a priest in Heathfield where he received psycho-therapy in 1981.

But the course “did not deal with the problem” and Hill committed two of the assaults.

Following complaints, he left the parish in 1983 and received treatment at a church centre whilst temporarily suspended.

But in January 1985, he was appointed chaplain at Gatwick giving him access to a 13-year-old boy in a wheelchair.

Hill told police he had touched the boy under a duvet.

Mr Jeremy told the court that Hill had received a police caution for indecent assault on a male in 1986.

Details of the assault were not given to the court but the incident was ten years before he was arrested and finally brought to court.

Mr Jeremy said Hill had gained the trust of victims’ parents. “Parents were flattered by the attention he gave to them,” he said.

Offences were committed while tucking boys up in bed or towelling them after baths.

He would take them to his own home and on excursions.

When arrested, he told police that what he had done was not only illegal but also immoral.

Mr Jeremy said Hill’s victims had since suffered from behavioural problems, some doubted their sexuality and had difficulties in relationships, whilst others had problems with alcohol.

Amid calls for his resignation, the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, has apologised to Hill’s victims.

The Cardinal, the leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales, said: “I am deeply sorry for the damage he has done, and to the extent that my decision contributed to any of the damage.”

In 1985 the Cardinal, who was then Bishop of the Arundel and Brighton Diocese, allowed Hill to work as a chaplain at Gatwick Airport after he was temporarily suspended amid concerns about his attraction to children.

The Cardinal said in a letter to The Times today that he regretted having appointing Hill to the Gatwick post – a decision he made following “conflicting psychiatric reports”.

His letter said: “My decision to appoint Michael Hill to the chaplaincy at Gatwick airport after receiving conflicting psychiatric reports regarding his condition, was a mistake.”

He denied accusations that he had “turned a blind eye” to the problem of paedophilia in the Arundel and Brighton Diocese when he was there.

Tony Loader, defending, had appealed to the judge not to send Hill back to prison but suspend the sentence.

“What would be achieved in sending him into custody for a further lengthy sentence?” Mr Loader asked.

“The courts have to balance various elements of sentence and should also show compassion not only to the victims but also to the defendant.”

Hill was not in good health and had suffered heart problems, he said.

Mr Loader also argued that if the offences had been included with the earlier series of assaults, Hill would have probably received the same jail term. The judge said he fundamentally disagreed.

The judge told Hill: “Had the full extent and scope of your offending against children been apparent to the judge in 1997, the sentence would have been quite different.”

Mr Loader said Hill did not tell police about one victim then, because the youth had not wanted any involvement in an investigation. Hill claimed he had not remembered the two others.

Judge Moss commented: “So he says. Victims are often reluctant to come forward because they so often suffer embarrassment or shame of what happened to them although they are entirely innocent – which is why these matters sometimes do not surface until later or if at all.”