Paedophile vicar who 'used God to hide the monster he is' could spend rest of life in prison

John Roberts, 89, formerly of Cherry Vale, was imprisoned in December 2020 for nine counts of indecent and sexual assault committed against three victims in the 1980s, 2000s and 2010s. He was sentenced to a further three years in prison after another victim came forward regarding abuse in the 1970s
-Credit: (Image: Merseyside Police)

A paedophile vicar who "used God to hide the monster he is" could spend the rest of his life behind bars after being convicted of sexual offences against a fifth victim.

John Roberts was yesterday found guilty of five counts of indecent assault following a trial at Liverpool Crown Court, which heard that he "misused the power and authority of his position to carry out acts of sexual abuse" while serving as a priest at St Peter's Church in St Helens during the 1970s. The now 89-year-old, formerly of Cherry Vale in Woolton, attempted to grope the boy in the vicarage and during a trip away.

He returned to the same court in order to be sentenced this afternoon, Thursday, June 6. Appearing via video link to HMP Liverpool, the serial paedophile was handed a further three years behind bars. This will be served consecutively to a nine-year term Roberts is currently subject to after being convicted of sexual offences against three other victims in 2020.

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Addressing the defendant today, Judge Robert Trevor-Jones said: "The fact your case went to trial doesn't aggravate the offences. But it means you don't receive any credit which you would have been able to receive if you did not go to trial, avoiding the complainant attending court, reliving his experiences and being branded a liar, when it was you who took the oath and lied in this case."

Steven Ball previously told a jury of four men and eight women during the prosecution's opening last week that the complainant, who was aged between 10 and 13 at the time, and his family were "heavily involved" in the church and would "attend regularly" and "pray each night at the side of the bed". The youngster was said to have been "in awe" of Roberts when he arrived as the new vicar, describing him as having a "posh accent" and a "dynamic and engaging personality".

He joined the choir following a recruitment drive by the defendant and they thereafter came into contact on "many occasions", including on one when the schoolboy was invited into the rectory alone. When he went to leave, he was reportedly given a "very, very long hug" which left him feeling "uncomfortable" and "a little bit confused".

The vicar later allegedly began kissing the boy after "embracing him in the same way that you would embrace your partner", an occurrence which became a "repeated pattern of abuse". The complainant recounted how he would "distract himself by thinking about other things" as this happened.

Roberts and the boy were subsequently said to have stayed in the same room together while on a trip away, during which the priest reportedly touched his groin over clothing as the boy lay on his back. He responded by pushing the vicar's hand away.

However, Roberts was said to have remained "undeterred" and allegedly attempted to grope him again during another incident back at vicarage but was similarly rebuffed. He then allegedly "embraced and kissed him" during another overnight stay.

Jurors also heard that another boy had had "remarkably similar experiences with the defendant", which led to him being convicted of two counts of indecent assault in the late 1980s. Mr Ball outlined how a previous trial before Liverpool Magistrates' Court had heard that the teen was made to carry out voluntary work at St Peter's Church in Woolton, where Roberts was "resident priest", after stealing money from the collection.

The youth would then visit him "every Saturday" upon which the vicar would hug him, "caress his face", "rub his hands on his thighs", tell him "I love you" and said on one occasion: "You don't get enough hugs. It's nice to be hugged and it's nice to be kissed on the cheek."

Roberts was said to have given the boy a stopwatch and paid for him to go on a school trip before an incident in which both were alone in a room which was used for choir practice. There, he was said to have unzipped the teenager's trousers and performed a sex act upon him.

The vicar reportedly stopped after asking: "Are you alright? Are you not enjoying it?" Roberts was then said to have told him to sit down and begun kissing him before "grabbing hold of his hand" and "trying to get him to rub his penis".

In his victim impact statement, read by Mr Ball, the victim from the 1970s said: “I've been driven by anger and disbelief that long after my abuse at the hands of John Roberts, he had continued to abuse others in the most despicable ways; one article in the press and after just a few minutes, I was ringing a police help line. The long journey to get here had begun.

"I wanted him to look inwardly at the face of the monster that he is and the widespread and the emotional damage that he has caused others. Regrettably instead, in his denials he has shown absolutely no remorse, no acknowledgment of what he is and no concern or compassion for those he has harmed.

"For his entire career, he has pedalled his lies with talk of sin, repentance and truth. I'm appalled that he has shown no intention of following his own guidance. From the pulpit, he has instructed his parishioners in how they should behave. Yet here in this court, he has used the words 'I swear by Almighty God that the evidence I shall give will be the truth'. How dare he say this?

"What a cynical disregard of what that oath actually means? How dare he use his God to disguise the real monster that he truly is; monstrous acts on vulnerable helpless children over decades. I cope with it in a fashion, but I speak for those that didn't."

In mitigation, Roberts' counsel Steven Swift told the court his client was suffering with numerous health problems including heart issues, blood pressure, longstanding spinal injuries and had an operation for an appendicitis in April this year.

Addressing the issue of totality when it came to his clients offending, Mr Swift said: "With the knowledge of the other offences, would the defendant have received any additional penalty if all the matters were dealt with at once? I ask your honour to take into account the personal circumstances - his age in a prison regime and the issue of totality if he was sentenced for everything at once."

Sentencing, Judge Trevor-Jones told Roberts that he had abused his position as the vicar "in a particularly disgraceful way". He said: "The lack of reaction from the victim's mother became an emotional rift between the pair of them that lasted until her death.

"He has memories of the abuse which are triggering points. He speaks of keeping it a secret now after his wife has died and is a single man again. He refers to this as a factor in him abandoning his Christian faith. He has carried it for 50 years. I have no hesitation he has suffered severe psychological harm."

Roberts sat with his arms folded for most of the proceedings and did not react as he learned his fate of an additional three years in prison.

Detective Constable David Tweedle, who led Merseyside Police's investigation, said: "The victim in this case has had to live with the pain and suffering Roberts inflicted on him for decades. That hurt will go on, but I hope today’s result provides them with some comfort.

"The victim trusted Roberts because of the position he held in the church, and Roberts abused that trust in the most heinous way. Today’s result in court will not undo the impact of Roberts’ actions, but I hope the victim and his family takes some sense of justice from it.

"He has shown immense courage to come forward and speak about the hurt Roberts caused and the problems he has faced since. I would like to pay tribute to that bravery and the dignity he has shown throughout the court process."

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