Bath and Wells "Shocked" over Child Abuse Priest

|PIC1|The Church of England Diocese of Bath and Wells has expressed its shock after one of its priests was found guilty yesterday of sexually abusing boys under his care over a 30-year period.

Rev David Smith, 52, was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison by Bristol Crown Court on Thursday after the jury of eight women and four men found him guilty of 10 charges of indecent assault, one sexual assault of a child under 13 and one of sexual activities with a child under 16.

The Church of England was first warned about Smith, vicar of St John the Evangelist in Clevedon, North Somerset, following a complaint in 1983 from the parents of a teenage boy. They were reassured that the problem had been "dealt with".

However, Smith went on to groom and molest two more boys under his care before another complaint was made against him in 2001 by a victim who saw him on the television and recognised him as the man who had abused him some 25 years earlier.

The Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Rt Rev Peter Price, said in a statement released yesterday, "The Rev David Smith has been found guilty of a number of very serious charges. We are shocked and horrified that he has fallen so far short of the very high standards expected of priests in the Church of England.

"We apologise sincerely to Smith's victims, their families, the parishes and all involved in this case. We are very sorry that these offences were committed by a man in a position of trust."

Rev Smith denied all the charges, claiming that they were the "figment of someone's imagination" but the jury took just two hours to find him guilty at the end of the two week trial.

Bishop Price said that pastoral care was being offered to all involved in the case that needed it, included Mr Smith.

"We will do all within our power to mitigate the harmful effects of these offences," he said, adding, "We have taken all necessary steps to do all in our power to ensure there is no repetition of this situation."

Just last week, the Church of England came under fire for its failure to report abuse by a former choirmaster who indecently assaulted boys between 1985 and 2000. Peter Halliday, formerly a choirmaster in Farnborough, Hampshire, was sentenced by Winchester Crown Court to two-and-a-half years in jail last Thursday and ordered to pay £2,000 to each of his three victims.