October 2000

PRIEST JAILED FOR `DEGRADING’ ATTACK ON BOY

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A Roman Catholic priest was today jailed for three years for his “evil and degrading” sex attack on a 15-year-old boy who had turned to him for help and guidance.

Michael Hobbs, 53, who was ordained into the Roman Catholic church 13 years ago, carried out his indecent assault in his own home while working as a parish
priest in Gadebridge, Hemel Hempstead, Herts.

A jury convicted him of a single charge of indecent assault following a four-day trial at St Albans Crown Court earlier this year.

The jury was told that Hobbs, originally from Dublin, led his victim into his bedroom before performing a sex act on the naked youngster.

The assault, on February 13 this year, had left the boy feeling “sick, dirty and crying,” the jury had been told.

Sentencing him today at St Albans Crown Court, Herts, Judge Findlay Baker QC, said: “When one night a 15-year-old boy sought advice and comfort from you in your own home you used the occasion to attempt to induce him into your bed and then committed a serious sexual assault upon him. It was a gross breach of trust, not just an act of criminal self indulgence and it was for the boy an act of defilement and deeply scarring.”

Hobbs, of previous good character, admitted during the trial to being “homosexual in nature, but not in practice” as his vow of celibacy strictly prohibited him engaging in any sexual activity.

He did, however, admit to visiting gay bars in Thailand only last year in search of male sexual company.

He vigorously denied the allegation against him saying the boy had concocted the story to divert his parents’ anger away from him after they had discovered he had stolen a family ring and given it to his girlfriend for a St Valentine’s
Day present.

Hobbs said he had hugged and kissed the boy to give him reassurance but said nothing of a sexual nature had occurred between them that night.

In mitigation Elizabeth Goodchilde, defending, said: “He is not a predatory male. This is not someone who is likely to re-offend. He has voluntarily registered himself on the Sex Offenders’ Register and he is someone who has sought help. He is a man who has a background of huge dedication for the community.”

Character witness Monsignor Tom Egan, who works at Archbishop House in Westminster, London, told the court: “He was renowned as a good school chaplain. He has worked in many, many schools and there has never been a hint or allegation of inappropriate behaviour with young children.”

Hobbs was also ordered to be placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register for life.

DC Matt Barnes, who works for Hertfordshire Police Force’s child protection and investigation unit said following the sentence: “This was a serious case of
abuse of trust by someone in a position of authority and responsibility. The defendant was a respected parish priest who had been appointed to involve himself with the life of three schools.

“In this case the victim approached this individual for pastoral care and guidance but was abused and exploited.”

DC Barnes urged any victims of sexual abuse to come forward and report the crime to police.