David Beater: Sex abuse vicar ‘protected’ by church for decades

BBC [London, England]

August 24, 2021

By Colin Campbell, special correspondent, and William McLennan

A retired vicar jailed for sexually abusing children was allowed to work in churches for 25 years despite an earlier conviction for a similar crime.

David Beater, 80, was jailed for more than four years on Monday for assaulting two boys in the 1980s.

The BBC has found he was able to work in churches until 2010, despite a previous conviction in 1985 for abusing a 14-year-old boy in Kent.

The Church of England said the case raises “concerning questions”.

Beater was sentenced at Maidstone Crown Court after pleading guilty to offences against two boys, aged eight and 13, between 1982 and 1985.

His Honour Judge Philip Statman told Beater he was guilty of a “profound and grave breach of trust”, adding that it was “noteworthy that some of the offences took place within the vicarage”.

One victim now in his mid-40s, who was eight at the time, told the BBC the abuse had had a “profound effect” on his life, leaving him untrusting and like a “closed book”.

But, he said the decision to allow Beater to remain in the church 25 years after his first conviction “compounds what I have suffered”.

“What I don’t understand is why the Church of England allowed him to continue to practise religion.

“I just feel that he has been protected and that really disappoints me,” he said.

Free to preach for 25 years

  • In 1985, Beater resigned from St Botolph’s Church in Northfleet after being convicted of indecent assault and fined £250
  • The following year he moved to St George’s in Bickley, remaining within the Diocese of Rochester
  • Between 1990 and 1997 he was a priest at St Thomas’s in Stanley, Durham
  • He served as curate at St John’s and St Andrew’s in Seaton Hirst, Newcastle, from 2001 until his retirement in 2005
  • In 2007 he was granted “permission to officiate” (PTO) by the Diocese of Canterbury, allowing him continued contact with parishioners until 2010
  • His PTO was not renewed when it lapsed in 2010 after an internal review, conducted between 2007 and 2009, found record of the previous conviction on his church file
Presentational grey line

After the 1985 conviction, Bishop Michael Turnbull, then the Archdeacon of Rochester, said Beater would be “staying within the care of the church” and would receive counselling, according to press reports from the time.

Phil Johnson, who was abused by clergy in the Diocese of Chichester and now supports fellow survivors, said: “I think it’s utterly shocking. He should have been banned from ministry for life.”

Mr Johnson, chair of the Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors group, believes Bishop Turnbull’s own experience may have “clouded” his judgement Beater’s case.

In 1968, Bishop Turnbull, while in the earlier stages of his ministry, was convicted of gross indecency in a public toilet with an adult male.

He went on to become Bishop of Rochester in 1988 and Bishop of Durham in 1994, taking a seat in the House of Lords.

The Church of England has previously been criticised for a “culture of fear and secrecy” about sexuality that led some members to wrongly conflate homosexuality with child abuse.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual abuse heard this allowed some abusive clergy to mask their offending “in the same cultural hiding place”.

Bishop Turnbull, who retired in 2003, declined to comment on Mr Johnson’s claim.

He said he had not been made aware of further allegations against Beater after 1985, and only recently learned of the current prosecution.

“I utterly condemn the actions of any perpetrator of abuse and will always do what I can to protect those who are vulnerable,” he said.

‘Concerning questions’

Solicitor Danielle Vincent, who represented the victim, said it was unknown “how many other survivors there are still suffering in silence”.

In a joint statement the Dioceses of Rochester and Canterbury said: “The facts of this case raise concerning questions about decisions and actions taken in relation to David’s ministry.”

An investigation by the church’s national safeguarding team would be carried out, the statement said.

Bishop Turnbull said he would cooperate fully with the church’s investigation.

Beater, of Birchington, Kent, was jailed for four years and six months after admitting four counts of indecently assaulting a child, and another of gross indecency with a child.

After the hearing, the Rt Rev Simon Burton Jones, the Bishop of Tonbridge, praised the “bravery of those who brought these allegations forward”.

“We apologise unreservedly to them for what has happened and for what they have experienced,” he said.

He urged anyone with “concerns relating to this case”, or who has any other safeguarding issues, to get in touch with the Diocese of Rochester.