Vicar Cyril Rowe, 78, jailed for sexually abusing choirboy who gave evidence by blinking

Hatty Collier
Jailed: Former vicar Cyril Rowe: Shutterstock / catalinr

A former vicar has been jailed for sexually abusing a choirboy who made British courtroom history by giving evidence using eye-tracking technology which turned his blinks into words.

Cyril Rowe, 78, was sentenced to four years in prison at Bournemouth Crown Court after being convicted of three counts of indecent assault at a Tower Hamlets church in the late 1970s.

His victim died of motor neurone disease in a hospice before hearing his abuser had been found guilty.

The 47-year-old became the first person to give evidence in a UK court using the Eyegaze technology.

He told the court how Rowe had abused him 20 times between 1978 and 1982 at the vicarage of a church as well as in the choir practice room, and would then pay him £1 afterwards.

Judge Peter Johnson said: "The victim was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2015 and he wished to see justice done. Despite the ravages of that incurable illness, he was, thanks to modern science, finally able to tell the court of what happened to him at your hands.

"He wanted to see justice done, but tragically that was not the case as he died shortly before an officer arrived to deliver the news. He was sadly deprived of the news that justice had been served."

The victim gave his evidence to the court through a taped interview and via a videolink from a hospice in south London where he spent his final days.

The court heard Rowe was also convicted in 1996 for the abuse of another choirboy.

Judge Johnson told him: "You have shown absolutely no remorse and very little insight into the harm you caused to a little boy."

Rebecca Austin, defending, said Rowe was suffering from Parkinson's and lived a "lonely life", and has been "terrified" at the prospect of going to prison where he fears he will die.

She added: "This trial was fraught with emotion, anyone watching the attempts of [the victim] to communicate was bound to be swayed."

CPS London reviewing lawyer David Nixon said: "The way Cyril Rowe's victim was allowed to use this eye-tracking technology over videolink shows how the CPS can help victims and witnesses who might otherwise struggle to give evidence in court.

"This man was determined to seek justice against the vicar who had abused him all those years ago and these special measures enabled that to happen.

"They included a live videolink into the court from his hospice bed, an intermediary to help him on the day, and help for his sister to use a videolink too, as she wanted to stay close to him in his final days.

"As a result, the jury were able to hear his powerful testimony which has ultimately led to the convictions and today's sentence."

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes