UK: Church accused of abuse cover-up

[25 April 2007] - The Church of England has been accused of covering up child sex abuse carried out by a former choirmaster.

Peter Halliday will be sentenced after pleading guilty to sexually abusing boys in Hampshire in the late 1980s.

BBC News has learned he admitted to the offences 17 years ago but left the Church quietly on condition he had no more contact with children.

The bishop who dealt with the case told BBC News it would have been dealt with differently if it had happened today.

In 1990 a young chorister at St Peter's Church, Farnborough, told his parents his choirmaster had abused him repeatedly during a period of several years, and he was not the only victim.

His parents told the vicar, who consulted the bishop - but rather than call the police the churchmen advised Halliday he should leave quietly and agree to have no more contact with young children.

The bishop, David Wilcox, said they had sought to act in the best interests not only of the Church but of the family and everybody concerned at the time.

He told BBC News: "The Church took firm actions in this case.

"Things were very different then and I think that we make the mistake of trying to read back what we now know and how we would now do things.

"I don't think we had that knowledge or that experience and I don't think the court systems and the police systems were geared up as they are today."

School work

However, Halliday continued to work with young boys, as a singer with the Royal School of Church Music.

One of his former choristers saw him in 1993 at a residential cathedral course and told a member of staff, but no action was taken.

It was only when Halliday was charged last year with indecently assaulting children that he gave up his work with the school.

In a statement, the Church of England said it was committed to the safeguarding, care and nurture of the children within the church community.

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