Bishop of Chester argued against lifetime ban for paedophile priest

Bishop Peter Forster(Photo: Diocese of Chester)

The Bishop of Chester blocked a life-time ban from ministry being imposed on a minister who was jailed for child pornography, an independent inquiry has heard.

It emerged during a public hearing by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse that the Rt Rev Dr Peter Forster recommended that Rev Ian Hughes should instead receive a 20-year ban.

This was despite the Church of England's own regulations - called the Clergy Discipline Measure - stating that a lifetime ban should be automatically imposed on ministers with child abuse convictions.

The shorter length recommended by the bishop received the approval of the President of the Tribunals after Dr Forster wrote to ask that the guidelines not be applied in this instance.

Mr Hughes was sent to prison for 12 months in 2014 over child pornography charges after he was found to have 8,200 indecent images of children in his possession.

In oral evidence to the IICSA this week, Dr Forster said of the Clergy Discipline Measure: "They are guidelines, they have to be interpreted."

He continued: "I felt that in [Mr Hughes's] case - given his relative youth, the fact that he was entirely penitent from the outset as to what had happened, and [that] his previous record of ministry was excellent - it was worth raising the possibility of a 20-year ban.

"The problem is that once you impose a lifetime ban there is no way to reverse it if for 20 years he had lived out the penitence."

Dr Forster also gave evidence on another case of child sex abuse involving Warrington vicar Charles Gordon Dickenson, 89, who was imprisoned for 27 months after admitting eight counts of sexual assault against a boy in the 1970s.

Mr Dickenson disclosed the allegations against him to Dr Forster in a letter in 2009 but the information was not passed on to police or to the diocesan safeguarding officer.

The letter came to light during a police investigation into historic sexual abuse allegations against the late Victor Whitsey, the former Bishop of Chester.

Dr Forster said that in this case, his decision not to report the information to the authorities was a "misjudgement".