Big damages award for JW abuse victim
In a groundbreaking case – the first of its kind in the UK – the High Court in London yesterday ordered the Jehovah’s Witnesses to pay £275,000 damages to the victim of clerical abuse. The sinister cult must also meet the victim’s £455,000 legal costs.
The case, according to this report, revealed that the victim was abused from the age of four in Bible study classes conducted by Peter Stewart, who began using his position in the church to molest her at Limehurst Congregation where her family worshipped.
The court ruled the the cult’s governing body, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, was told told that it had to bear legal responsibility for a ministerial servant’s actions.
The abuse continued for five years in Loughborough, Leicestershire, until 1994 when Stewart was arrested and jailed in a separate child sex abuse case.
In that case the victim’s mother gave evidence in support of Stewart’s good character.
That case prompted the latest victim to confide in her mother who wrote to Stewart in jail concerning her daughter’s allegations.
He admitted to the victim’s mother he was a pervert and said he was sorry for the hurt and damage he had caused.
The victim went to the police who interviewed her in 2001.
But Mr Stewart escaped justice as he died a month later, aged 72.
The woman’s barrister, James Counsell, said the abusive minister was a “respected and devout” member of the congregation who used his reputation and position to carry out the despicable acts.
The abuse took place during bible study classes and involved sex acts in the living room of the victim’s home and in the loft at Stewart’s home.
He told her that she would be damned as a sinner if she said anything to anyone
The manipulative minister would keep his victim silent because he would explain that:
What she was doing was fornication and that she was sinning and that she would not be saved from the Armageddon because of what she was doing.
The trustees of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society tried to argue Stewart was never an “employee” of the congregation and could not be held legally responsible for his abuse of the little girl.
But Mr Justice Globe ruled that, with Stewart’s other abuse allegations, the elders of the congregation failed in their duty to warn their congregation, and parents in particular, about the minister.
He added Mr Stewart’s role meant “no one who saw him questioned his being alone with her”.
The judge said:
Throughout, he told the claimant it was their secret and that she should say nothing about what was happening. He told her that she would be damned as a sinner if she said anything to anyone.
In July 2014, a “depraved” Jehovah’s Witness church elder – Mark Sewell, above – who raped a fellow worshipper and abused vulnerable schoolgirls was jailed for 14 years.
Sewell, 53, showed “not a shred of remorse” for his crimes, said the judge who sent him down.
The disgraced businessman was convicted of eight historic sex charges against four women following a three-week trial at Methyr Tydfil Crown Court.
• The photo used to illustrate this report shows a Daily Mirror spread published on November 11, 2014