May 2000

Priest jailed for abusing children

An 88-year-old Jesuit priest who sexually abused children over an 18-year period has been jailed for two years.

Father John Pearson, of Preston, pleaded guilty to 26 offences of indecent assault and gross indecency against four boys and three girls between 1969 and 1987.

The children were aged between six and 16 at the time of the assaults.

Sentencing Pearson at Preston Crown Court Judge Peter Openshaw QC said he was guilty of the “gravest possible breach of trust”.

Many of Pearson’s victims, now adults, were in court to see him jailed.

Two women cried and comforted each other asdetails of the offences were read out.

Detective Inspector Steve Marston, of Lancashire Police, speaking after the trial, said the victims were comforted by the guilty pleas and the sentence Pearson received.

Shared baths

Elizabeth Nicholls, prosecuting, said Pearson had worked most of his life as a locum, or assistant priest.

He met the families of the children through their parish churches.

Two of his victims, twins aged 10, attended a parish church in Wimbledon. Another family were parishioners at a church in Clitheroe, Lancashire.

“Having gained the trust of their parents they would spend much time in his company either at home or on trips organised by him,” she told the court.

“It was in these circumstances he was able to abuse the children.”

She described how Pearson had shared baths and beds with the children while on trips with them.

He even persuaded some to stay with him at his sister’s house in Pimlico, central London.

Franz Muller QC, defending, said Pearson had pleaded guilty to spare many of his victims from giving evidence.

‘Prison inevitable’

“He has brought utter shame on the priesthood, upon his religious order, and he recognises with deep regret that his convictions and the publicity inevitably associated with them will be a source of scandal and distress to many who are not directly involved,” Mr Muller told the court.

But Mr Openshaw ruled out any suggestion Pearson should be spared prison because of his age and ill-health.

“A prison sentence is inevitable,” he told him.

“You will understand that for the victims of these offences no prison sentence will seem long enough.”

He said Pearson could expect to spend a year in jail, although the home secretary could intervene if his condition deteriorated.

“I would, in my judgment, be failing in my public duty to reflect public outrage if I were to suspend the sentence.”

Pearson pleaded not guilty to another 20 similar offences.

The prosecution said it was not in the public interest to pursue them.