Retired priest jailed for child sex abuse

BBC [London, England]

January 19, 2024

By Susie Rack

A retired priest who sexually abused two schoolchildren at his home in the 1980s has been jailed for 32 months.

Edward Phillips-Smith, 73, exploited his position as chaplain at St Peter’s Collegiate School, Wolverhampton, to groom the young pupils.

In a statement read to Oxford Crown Court, one of his victims described his actions as “selfish, exploitative” and “perverted”.

Sentencing, Judge Pringle said: “You as a teacher were in a position of absolute trust with that young boy and you abused that trust”.

Edward Phillips-Smith worked as chaplain at St Peter’s Collegiate School, Wolverhampton, in the 1980s

The court heard Phillips-Smith, who subsequently moved to Essex and had been known to the children as Father Eddie, would run after-school clubs.

Seen as “more relaxed” than other teachers, the priest would tickle children to make them laugh.

Prosecutor Fern Russell said: “He was fun to be with, the children would sit on his knee.”

She described how he invited the two victims to his home in Brewood, Staffordshire in the early 1980s.

The court heard the boys went to his room during a thunderstorm and ended up in the defendant’s bed.

In the middle of the night Phillips-Smith woke the boys up and encouraged them to perform a sex act on him.

The former school chaplain was sentenced at Oxford Crown Court on Friday

Victim Will – not his real name – said in a victim statement read out in court the priest’s actions were “selfish, exploitative [and] perverted”.

Speaking of the devastating impact on his life and relationships in the decades since, he said: “I fear I will never be free of the shadow he cast over me as an innocent child looking for acceptance.

“He called himself Father but he’s no man of God.”

Speaking for the defence Lucy Tapper said the former priest had expressed “sincere regret” and there had been no repeat of the event, despite Phillips-Smith coming into contact with children in the course of his daily life.

The priest would lead services for the children at St Peter’s Collegiate Church in Wolverhampton

Phillips-Smith, of Hadleigh Road, Frinton-on-Sea, pleaded guilty to one count of indecent assault and two counts of indecency with a child.

He was handed a sentence of 32 months for the assault, and 16 months for the counts of indecency, to run concurrently.

He was also given a lifelong sexual harm prevention order limiting his communication with either of the two victims.

On sentencing, Judge Pringle told the defendant: “You were widely loved by the pupils at that school. You were fun. You were not as strict as some of the other masters.

“The boys loved being with you because you made them laugh and you’d sit on their knee and you would tickle them.”

The effect and “mental anguish” on Will was clear from his statement, the judge added.

“What is interesting, in what you did as far as [Will] is concerned – after that episode that I’ve described you ‘dropped him like a stone’. You weren’t interested in him any more because he didn’t play the game,” he said.

‘Red flags’

Staffordshire Police began investigating in February 2023 and arrested Phillip-Smith in May.

Det Const Gemma Grimshaw from the force’s rape and sexual offences team thanked those who came forward for their “exceptional bravery”.

“I hope this serves as a message to any survivors of child sexual offences that they will be listened to, supported by specialist officers and spoken to in confidence,” she added.

Lichfield Diocese said it had handed the priest’s file to police after identifying several “red flags” during a past cases review, carried out between 2019 and 2022.

A diocesan spokesperson said: “The crimes committed show serious unacceptable behaviour for any priest, from whom we expect the highest standards of personal and professional conduct especially on behalf of children and vulnerable people in their care.

“While safeguarding expectations and processes have improved very significantly over the decades, we are very aware that the hurt caused to survivors of abuse does not go away.”

The spokesperson urged anyone affected to contact its safeguarding team.

They added Phillips-Smith had moved on to three further posts in the south of England before retiring.

A spokesperson from Three Spires Trust, which now runs St Peter’s Collegiate Academy, said they were very sorry to hear about the historical case.

“Our thoughts are with all those involved,” the spokesperson added.

“The safeguarding and protection of children is our key priority.”