CHURCH officials in the North East hushed up a child sex scandal in their congregation and refused to co-operate with the police, a court heard.
Jehovah Witness ministerial servant Gordon Leighton admitted sexually abusing a child when he was confronted with allegations by elders at his church, but during a police investigation, the 53-year-old, who hit the headlines in the 1990s when his wife Yvonne, 28, died after refusing a blood transfusion on religious grounds, denied any illegal wrongdoing.
When detectives asked elders Simon Preyser, Harry Logan and David Scott to make statements about the confession, they refused and said what they had heard was confidential.
The elders refused to co-operate with the criminal investigation and kept that stance when the case was brought before Newcastle Crown Court. Each was issued with a witness summons and were ordered to testify by Judge Penny Moreland after months of legal wrangling.
Their barrister, Richard Daniels, said the men had a “duty to God” not to breach confidence.
Judge Moreland made an order that the men must reveal what they heard.
Despite the ruling, the men refused to make statements to police until just hours before they were called as witnesses.
Leighton, who has since been expelled from the church at Lambton Kingdom Hall, in Washington, denied two charges of indecency with a child and seven of indecent assault.
Yesterday, he was found guilty of two charges of indecency with a child and six of indecent assault.
He was found not guilty of one indecent assault charge, on the direction of the judge. Judge Moreland remanded him in custody until August 23, when he will be sentenced. Prosecutor Katherine Dunn told the court it was in 2009 the victim, who is now an adult, broke her silence about what Leighton had done to her.
The court heard at a special church meeting, Leighton admitted sexual abuse and made excuses for his vile behaviour.
Leighton, of Wigeon Close, Ayton, refused to answer any questions when interviewed by detectives and throughout the six-day trial denied all allegations against him and that he had confessed to the elders.