Patrick Sookhdeo was found guilty of sexual assault and of intimidating witnesses in February 2015.
A startling picture has emerged of his intimidatory behaviour.
After he was charged with assault and released on bail, it was made a condition of his bail that he should have no communication with two prosecution witnesses. However, on June 6, 2014, after the internal report into her allegations, all Barnabas staff – including the two witnesses – were told to attend a staff meeting at which Sookhdeo, in a breach of his bail conditions, spoke to them.
Christian Today has been told that staff members were not informed that Sookhdeo would be addressing them and that it was impossible for the two witnesses to withdraw.
A recording of the meeting was played at Sookhdeo's trial and led directly to his conviction.
He spoke of the "darkness and utter hopelessness" he and his wife had experienced since he was charged and blamed the allegations on the previous trustees, who he said were motivated by racism.
Sookhdeo compared his situation with that of Christians in Pakistan, who were arrested on false blasphemy charges.
He repeatedly denied his guilt. When he referred to the grievance procedure he was interrupted several times by the chief executive of BFUK, Alastair Kirk, who warned him against "breaching confidentiality". When he complained that the BFUK statement to staff – unlike BAI's – had not said that the grievance procedure had cleared him, Kirk said: "I'm sorry but making that wide sweeping statement of the outcome is wrong and breaches confidentiality."
Many of those present at the meeting were concerned at its tone. Staff became increasingly divided between those who believed Sookhdeo's account, those who did not, and those who wanted him to stay away until the court case was heard. Many left.
After his conviction he issued a statement appearing to blame the verdict on the gender balance of the jury, saying: "I pleaded not guilty to these charges, but was found guilty at Swindon Crown Court by a jury of ten women and two men. I protested my innocence throughout the trial and do so still." He said he had resigned from BAI and would be "considering my future", but was "willing to be available in my personal capacity if requested".
The trustees of BAI refused to accept his resignation as International Director. They did not believe he was guilty. Interviewed by the Church Times on May 8, 2015, the vice-chair of BAI, Dr Vinay Samuel, said: "I am satisfied with the board's judgment that Patrick is innocent of the charges made against him."
On June 5 he was also reinstated as a trustee.
Sookhdeo's apparent ability to shrug off even the most compelling evidence against him and continue as though nothing had happened was causing increasing alarm among other Christian organisations. The Global Connections missions network suspended advertising for jobs at BFUK and BAI when Sookhdeo was committed for trial and has not reinstated it, telling Christian Today that the various Barnabas trustees "do not seem to have taken appropriate action in relation to the guilty verdict on such a serious issue such as sexual assault". Its spokesman added: "In addition, we are also concerned that they do not seem to operate in ways that encourage cooperation and harmony with other organisations."
The Evangelical Alliance, from which Barnabas Fund resigned in 2012, said that while the Alliance had historically taken advertising from Barnabas Fund in its idea magazine, Sookhdeo's conviction meant it would no longer do so: "The Alliance policy states adverts may be rejected if the appeal, product or service is thought to be in conflict with the aims or ethos of the Alliance or the basis of faith, irrelevant to our members or likely to cause scandal or offence to a significant section of our constituency."
Sookhdeo's continued role at BAI also led to a critical article in Christian Today in August. BAI's response to this article reiterated many of the arguments Sookhdeo and his supporters had previously made.
The BAI statement repeats the – disputed – claims that the internal investigation cleared Sookhdeo of "the sexual allegations" and says that a further investigation cleared him of witness intimidation.
The statement also says that Sookhdeo was awarded an "unusually light" sentence on his conviction. However, according to the Crown Prosecution Service's website, he received a sentence right in the middle of the sentencing guidelines for this type of offence. The judge could have fined Sookhdeo – a lesser penalty – but regarded a community order as more appropriate.
The statement also casts doubt on the integrity of the jury – two men and 10 women, all of them white – saying: "There are some countries where such a jury would not have been allowed to hear a case of this type and especially with a white accuser and Asian defendant."
The victim is due to appear in December at an employment tribunal, which may, if it finds that the way BFUK handled her grievance procedure was not correct, award her substantial financial compensation for her ordeal.
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