Former Chichester diocese priest Meirion Griffiths is convicted of sexual offences against a teenager and a woman in the 1970s and 1980s

A PRIEST who said he was attracted to women in his congregation but ‘curbed' his instinct as he ‘was a professional’ has been convicted of indecently assaulting a teenager and woman in her 20s.

Monday, 13th January 2020, 4:26 pm
Updated Monday, 13th January 2020, 5:21 pm

Former Chichester rector Meirion Griffiths was extradited from Australia to face justice in Britain over his actions against both women, one a teenager and the other in her 20s, between the 1970s and 1980s.

Now a jury at Portsmouth Crown Court has unanimously convicted the 81-year-old of three charges of indecent assault. Jurors cleared him of two indecent assaults.

Griffiths, whose victims said he groomed them in his post as local vicar, was convicted of another charge by a majority of jurors.

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Former Church of England priest Meirion Griffiths, 81, was extradited from Australia to stand trial accused of sex offences at Portsmouth Crown Court. He worked in the Diocese of Chichester which saw 20 clergy members convicted in a 50-year period, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse found. Picture: (130120-3904)

His conviction will attract more criticism of the Diocese of Chichester, which a report found had 20 clergy members convicted of child sex offences in a 50-year period.

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Griffiths was the Rector of St Pancras and St John, Chichester, when he carried out the crimes. He emigrated to Australia in 1988.

During his trial Griffiths denied all charges and said: ‘I went around trying to heal people.’

Former Church of England priest Meirion Griffiths, 81, was extradited from Australia to stand trial accused of sex offences at Portsmouth Crown Court. He worked in the Diocese of Chichester which saw 20 clergy members convicted in a 50-year period, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse found. Picture: (130120-3912)

He admitted being sexually attracted to members of his congregation. But he insisted he had done nothing wrong.

Griffiths, whose last address was given as a hotel in Winston Churchill Avenue, Portsmouth, did admit he was ‘obsessed’ with the women.

He added: ‘That obsession did not lead to sexual acts.’

On accusations he molested the teenager, Griffiths said: ‘There was no sexual contact at all. I didn’t do what she said.

‘I wouldn’t do it with a teenage girl, I’m married as well as ordained - that’s between my wife and myself.’

Giving evidence about the woman, he added: ‘She was an attractive girl.’

He said: ‘She was an attractive woman but being a professional I curbed my instinct as it were.’

But he added: ‘I was partly attracted to (the adult victim) but I never acted on it.’

Hard of hearing and walking with the aid of stick, Griffiths was said to be living in hotels he cannot afford and asked to be held in jail.

Remanding Griffiths until sentencing on a day to be fixed, judge Roger Hetherington said: ‘I appreciate that you would have preferred to be sentenced today.

‘But you must understand that in light of the jury’s verdict there will have to be a significant sentence.

‘I haven't considered anything more about it but I have researched enough to know that there will so you must be prepare yourself for that.’

Police said officers had ‘full co-operation' from the Diocese of Chichester.

Detective Constable Jo French of Sussex Police, whose investigators looked into allegations made in 2014, said: ‘This abuse has clearly had a profound impact on both victims ever since. Griffiths, by virtue of his position as local vicar, came to know them quite separately, and gained their confidence in order to systematically abuse their trust in him for his own sexual gratification.

‘Both victims have supported our investigation and gave evidence at the trial. We admire their resilience and courage in coming forward and doing so.’

In its May report last year the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) said it heard evidence of ‘appalling sexual abuse against children in the Diocese of Chichester and the inadequate response of the church’.

The diocese has previously settled a claim from one of Griffiths' victims and paid compensation.

Claims of abuse were met with ‘secrecy, prevarication and avoidance of reporting alleged crimes,’ the inquiry said in its report into the shamed former Bishop of Gloucester Peter Ball and other cases.

Professor Alexis Jay, leading the inquiry, co-wrote the report and said: ‘The Church of England should have been a place which protected all children and supported victims and survivors.’

Extradition proceedings for Griffiths led to an arrest warrant in December 2016. He was arrested in Perth in November 2017 but claimed he was too unwell.

Griffiths lost the battle against being brought back to Britain and was flown back to Heathrow on January 31. A jury at a Winchester Crown Court trial in August last year failed to reach a verdict.