Vicar accused of groping choirboy says 'I don't know where he's getting it from'

Former vicar John Roberts
-Credit: (Image: submitted)

A vicar accused of committing historic sex offences against a choirboy has told a court: "I don't know where he's getting it from."

John Roberts is currently on trial at Liverpool Crown Court, having allegedly "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 is said to have attempted to grope the boy in the vicarage and during a trip away.

He gave his evidence from the witness box today. Roberts said under questioning from his counsel Steven Swift that he had served his first curacy at a church in Southport between 1960 and 1962 before moving on to parishes in Wigan and Blackburn, then arrived at St Peter's in the early 1970s.

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Steven Ball previously told a jury of four men and eight women during the prosecution's opening 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 however told the jury that he had "no recollection whatsoever" of inviting the boy into the rectory, adding: "I can't think of a reason [to invite him]. I'm not sure I ever invited him."

Mr Swift put to him: "[The complainant] alleges that, throughout the period on the indictment, there were occasions in the study, in the lounge and in the vestry of the church, and there is reference to being given a lift home as well, that you were kissing him."

Wearing a purple jumper over a light blue shirt and sporting short grey hair and glasses, Roberts said: "No. I didn't."

Mr Swift continued: "Did anything of that nature ever happen?"

Roberts replied: "No. It didn't."

He 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 then 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". Asked on Thursday why he had not appealed this conviction, he told the court: "I didn't want to put my family through it again.

"I had an indication that I would get my job back irrespective of that, and that was all that concerned me apart from my family. I received advice that it would probably be better not to appeal."

Roberts said he was suspended for "about six weeks" before being reinstated to his position. Mr Swift asked him: "Do you maintain your innocence in relation to these allegations?"

He replied: "I do."

Mr Ball said in cross-examination that this conviction had resulted in him being fined £500, adding: "A man of means like you, with your second home in the Lake District and your church salary. That was nothing more than a slap on the wrist."

Roberts responded: "I wouldn't call myself a man of means, we had no means. I didn't pay it."

Mr Ball continued: "You spoke with other people in the church, the top brass, and they told you to put it behind you. They allowed you to carry on with your work as a vicar."

Roberts said: "Yes."

Mr Ball put to him: "It was a case of less said, soonest mended. Wasn't it?"

Roberts replied: "I don't know."

Mr Ball: "Those convictions were based on truthful evidence given against you by [the complainant]. That is the truth, isn't it?"

Roberts: "Based on what he said."

Mr Ball: "He told the court you shoved your tongue into his mouth, you took his penis out of his trousers and started to masturbate you. Because that is what you did."

Roberts: "No. I didn't do anything like that at all."

Mr Ball: "I suggest had [complainant in the current trial] not moved your wandering hand away, that is how it would have progressed. You would have taken his penis out of his trousers and masturbated him.

"That is the truth. Isn't it?"

Roberts: "No, I wouldn't. I didn't and I wouldn't."

Mr Ball: "I suggest that he has not told any lies about you. All of these opportunities you had alone with him, and you behaved inappropriately by kissing him and groping him.

"That is the truth, isn't it? He has told the truth about you, hasn't he?"

Roberts: "No."

Mr Ball: "I suggest you are in denial about your behaviour. You were then, and you are now."

Roberts: "No. I'm not in denial."

Mr Swift then asked in re-examination whether he had had ever taken the boy to the location where he was accused of groping him. Roberts said: "No, I didn't."

When asked if he had stayed overnight with the boy in the second area in question, he maintained that they had only been on day trips there. Mr Swift concluded his questioning by saying: "It has been put to you that he has told the truth about you."

Roberts replied: "No. I don't know where he's getting it all from."

He denies five counts of indecent assault. The trial, before Judge Robert Trevor-Jones, continues.

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