October 2007

‘Yorkshire people are tactile’: How vicar shrugged off his paedophile warden’s sex abuse

A church warden carried on abusing girls after the vicar dismissed fears about his behaviour with the comment: “Yorkshire people are fairly tactile.”

Michael Matthews, an assistant priest, told the vicar that he had seen William Middleton being ‘unnecessarily physical’ with children.

But the only action taken by the Rev Nicholas Clews was to tell Middleton not to be alone with youngsters, Leeds Crown Court heard.

It was a warning the 64-year-old paedophile ignored and it was to be a year before he was caught when the mother of one of his victims went to the police.

Middleton, who abused one child during a church service, admitted four counts of sexual activity with a child and three offences of sexual assault.

He was jailed for three years.

Judge Kerry Macgill told him: “You have cloaked yourself in the church’s respectability and you took advantage of that position of trust.”

He added: “The only thing that will frighten you away from children is the clang of the jail door.”

Robin Frieze, prosecuting, said Mr Matthews “had had concerns about this defendant for about a year, in particular he had been concerned by the defendant’s behaviour towards a number of young girls”.

When he spoke to Mr Clews, the vicar at St Thomas’s, in Featherstone, West Yorkshire, “he was told that Yorkshire people were fairly tactile and he shouldn’t worry too much”, said Mr Frieze.

Commenting on the failure of Mr Clews to act on his assistant’s fears, the judge told Middleton: “That person’s concerns had been poohpoohed in some way, but you were a bit more than tactile – yours was sexual behaviour.”

Middleton’s offences, against four girls under 14, ranged from slapping on the bottom to groping inside and outside their clothing.

After the case, a Church of England spokesman for the Diocese of Wakefield said: “Middleton had been checked and cleared through the Criminal Records Bureau and was suspended as soon as the diocese was made aware of the allegations.”

She added that although some informal concerns were raised about Middleton, “the church had no reason to suspect inappropriate behaviour”.

Mr Clews said later: “I would like to express my great sorrow for the ordeals the children and their families have suffered.

“While what has happened in this case is extremely rare, it represents a terrible betrayal of trust.”

Middleton, of Featherstone, will remain on the Sex Offenders’ Register for life.