Jehovah’s Witness elders stonewalled a police probe into church member’s sexual abuse

THREE  Jehovah’s Witness elders refused to co-operate with police investigating child sex abuse claims against a fellow JW who was yesterday jailed in Newcastle Crown Court for 13 years. Gordon Leighton, 53, was found guilty on two counts of indecency with a child, and six of indecent assault after a six-day trial.

Gordon Leighton

Gordon Leighton

In 2010 Leighton broke down and admitted the abuse to the three church elders when confronted with allegations. He confessed to Simon Preyser, Harry Logan and David Scott but they refused to co-operate with the police.

Their barrister Richard Daniels claimed they had a “duty to God” not to breach confidence. He said: “Privileged communication between members of the congregation and ministers is an absolute right and there is no power in law to breach such a confidence.”

But Judge Penny Moreland made an order, saying:

They are in possession of relevant evidence as to a point which is of real significance.

The court heard David Scott, an elder of Washington’s Lampton Kingdom Hall, made a telephone call to the church’s London HQ.

The JW cover-up team: from left, Harry Logan Simon Preyser and David Scott

The JW cover-up team: from left, Harry Logan, Simon Preyser and David Scott

He was instructed, with other elders, to carry out an investigation into the sex abuse claims against Leighton when they first emerged in December, 2009.

A meeting was set up in April 2010, to see if a “sin” had been committed. Leighton confessed after Bible verses were quoted which said “God sees everything”.

Despite confessing he was not “disfellowed” by the church until further allegations were made against him.

Prosecutor Katherine Dunn told the court:

The elders conducted their own investigation. After initially denying the allegations the defendant broke down and admitted sexually abusing the complainant.

But Leighton, of Washington, Tyne and Wear, refused to answer any questions when interviewed by detectives and claimed his confession at the meeting was limited.

According to this report on JW Survey – a website launched “to give voice to millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world who would not normally have the opportunity to say what they really think about the Watch Tower Society, or the teachings and practices of the Governing Body” – it was only after the victim, now an adult, broke her silence by making a complaint to the police in 2009 could the authorities investigate. However, the elders refused to cooperate with the police investigation for three years.

Even after the case was brought to court and the three elders were issued with subpoenas, they refused to cooperate. Preyser, Logan and Scott went so far as to legally dispute their summonses on religious grounds, but were ordered to testify by Judge Penny Moreland after months of legal wrangling.

In denying the motion to withdraw the summonses, Judge Moreland said:

Public interest is clearly in favour of this evidence being given. What was said by the defendant on that occasion is of great significance in the trial.

Despite this ruling, the elders refused to give evidence until hours before they were due to appear as witnesses before the jury.

In passing sentence Judge Moreland told Leighton:

You manipulated her [the victim] with a combination of affection and attention and violence and threats.

She jailed him for 13 years. He was also given a sexual offences prevention order and must sign the sex offenders’ register for life.

Leighton was at the centre of an infamous case when his first wife Yvonne, 28, died after refusing a blood transfusion on religious grounds. After giving birth to a baby boy in January 1993, she needed surgical intervention and developed further complications and blood loss.

But she had signed a form during her hospital stay, stating she was not to receive a blood transfusion. She died as a result.

John Cedars, writing on JW Survey, said:

If the Watch Tower Society is found to have had a hand in this cover-up, it would only constitute further evidence of their long history of protecting pedophiles by keeping their heinous crimes wrapped up in a cloak of secrecy under the auspices of the ‘two witness rule’.

Despite the blatant cowardice and lack of accountability shown by the elders and the defendant in this trial, it is heartwarming to note the fortitude and resilience of Judge Moreland in refusing to be duped by Watchtower’s men in suits. We can also be grateful that the unnamed victim in this case had the bravery to come forward and see that justice was finally served on her so-called ‘brother’.

 Hat tip: Angela K & BarrieJohn