A JEHOVAH’S Witness whose sex crimes against a child were hushed up by a church has been jailed for 13 years.
Gordon Leighton admitted sexually abusing a child when he was confronted with allegations by church elders at Lambton Kingdom Hall, in Washington.
The elders knew about the 53-year-old’s admissions for three years, but refused to co-operate with the criminal investigation, saying that what they had heard was confidential.
Sentencing him yesterday at Newcastle Crown Court, Judge Penny Moreland, said that Leighton, of Wigeon Close, Ayton, Washington, had subjected his victim to “untold damage”.
The judge said: “You manipulated her with a combination of affection and attention and violence and threats.”
Leighton, who hit the headlines in the 1990s when his wife, Yvonne, 28, died after refusing a blood transfusion after childbirth on religious grounds, was found guilty of two charges of indecency with a child and six of indecent assault.
Katherine Dunn, prosecuting, told the court it was in 2009 that the victim, who is now an adult, broke her silence about what Leighton had done to her.
The court heard that it was at a special meeting, aimed at “keeping the congregation clean”, that Leighton “admitted sexual abuse” and made excuses for his behaviour.
Miss Dunn said: “The elders conducted their own investigation. A meeting was arranged and the defendant was confronted with the allegations.
“After initially denying the allegations, he broke down and admitted sexually abusing the complainant.”
The court heard Leighton refused to answer any questions when interviewed by detectives and claimed his confession at the meeting was limited to engaging in a sex act and reading pornographic material.
Throughout the six-day trial, Leighton, a Jehovah’s Witness ministerial servant, denied all allegations against him and denied he had confessed to the elders.
Leighton, who has since been expelled from the church, had also denied unrelated assault charges of child cruelty, grievious bodily arm and actual bodily harm.
Throughout the criminal investigation, church elders Simon Preyser, Harry Logan and David Scott, refused to make statements about Leighton’s confession, keeping their stance when the case was brought before Newcastle Crown Court.
Each was then issued a witness summons which they contested, but they were ordered to testify by Judge Moreland after months of legal wrangling.
Their barrister Richard Daniels said the men had a “duty to God” not to breach confidence.
Leighton was also given a sexual offences prevention order and was ordered to sign the sex offenders’ register for life.