‘I feel sick, it could have been me’
A MAN says he had a “lucky escape” from a priest jailed for abusing and humiliating boys for his sexual pleasure.
The 36-year-old voiced his disgust at learning Jonathan Graves – his former priest and someone he respected and admired – had been jailed for abusing two boys aged 12 and 13.
The man was 12 himself at the time the children were being abused andlived near the vicarage which he visited regularly.
In the eyes of his congregation, Graves was a “fun priest” who was “great” with children, operating an open-door policy at his vicarage in Culver Close, Eastbourne.
But in secret he was abusing his position as a Church of England vicar for St Luke’s in Stone Cross to prey on the two children.
The 60-year-old was given a 12-year prison term at Brighton Crown Court on Monday after being found guilty of 12 offences of historic sexual abuse and child cruelty dating back to the 1980s.
The man who come forward to speak to The Argus said he first met Graves as a teenager when the vicar went into Shinewater Primary School, adding: “The children loved him, he was funny.
“He was the type of person to walk along and then pretend to fall over his feet and everyone would laugh. I knew him for about two years. He would let me and my stepbrother play in the garden even if he was in the house. He had football nets there.
“I always saw children around, even sometimes late at night which I never thought odd at the time.”
The court was told “blissfully unaware” parents, who had gone to Graves for support at a time of need, entrusted him with the care of their children.
In return, Graves subjected them to “vile behaviour”, a “string of secret masochistic rituals made out to be games” by plying them with alcohol, and tying them up with belts, scarves, chains, and padlocks while they were naked.
He whipped them with wet towels, canes and riding crops, before getting them to reciprocate, pushed their heads in the toilet, urinating on them, making them take cold showers and lick toothpaste from between his toes.
Judge David Rennie branded Graves, of Jervis Avenue, Eastbourne, manipulative and twisted, treating his victims as “play things” to satisfy “perverted sexual desires” and his “overwhelming need” to humiliate and punish to become aroused.
The 36-year-old man, who still lives in Eastbourne, believes he unwittingly came into contact with Graves’ victims when at the vicarage.
He said: “[Graves] knew I was good with computers and when his wasn’t working I was called around in the evening to take a look. I remember a boy being there. I did not question it at the time. Now it would seem odd but back then it didn’t. He was trusted and admired.”
His relationship with Graves grew as he “latched on” to older men in the absence of a father figure, visiting the property around ten times in two years.
He said: “He supported me when my great-nan died. It was the first death I had experienced. He hugged me and told me everything would be OK.
“He took me out for dinner, just the two of us, twice. Nothing he did or said ever made me feel uncomfortable or suspect him of being capable of this. He never touched me. It is scary to think this could have been me. I was the same age, I also came to him for support.
“I grew up and moved to the other side of town not long after that so maybe that was a lucky escape. It is shocking to know what he did to those boys. I am disgusted, sickened by it and I am just so disappointed in him. You thought he was a man of the cloth because he wanted to be there for the community but actually he was just using his position to target victims.”
WHY DID THE AUTHORITIES NOT ACT ANY SOONER?
JONATHAN Graves is the third and final priest to be jailed as part of Sussex Police’s investigation into historic sexual abuse by Diocese of Chichester clergy.
Operation Perry was launched after Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss looked into Graves’ case of in 2010 as part of a review for the diocese looking at complaints raised against priests.
Police were sent the confidential report in 2011 and officers launched the investigation into Graves, and fellow priests Robert Coles – who also worked in Eastbourne and Horsham – and Gordon Rideout.
After nearly seven years, all three have been prosecuted, jailed and put on the sex offenders’ register for life after abusing children while practising as priests in Sussex.
While police said none of their offending was linked, Coles and Graves were certainly close friends.
Graves was always described as a prominent community figure who would regularly dine and socialise with the great and good of Eastbourne with everyone from senior police chiefs to politicians as regular members of his congregation.
Detective Inspector Jon Gross has been the senior investigating officer in the case, taking over from the now-retired DI Jez Prior.
He said: “We started with what information there might be in police systems already and found the first two cases would be worthy of further investigation. We pulled a team of people together, some were seconded to work on it full time and others were part time alongside other work. We first set out to look again at Gordon Rideout, then Robert Coles and then Jonathan Graves. We found Graves had potential for further investigation but needed more work.”
The team made the first arrest in March 2012 and another in December 2013. DI Gross said as news of the arrests spread and were reported on, it prompted more victims to come forward. But the team faced challenges because the allegations of abuse were so historic.
He said: “The victims were having to reach back right into the 1960s. There were no forensics. In these cases sometimes locations no longer exist.
“We focused on the victims’ statements and looked back at who they may have disclosed certain bits of information to at the time. As we went along we found many of the statements corroborated each other and there were similarities and patterns in what victims said.
“Throughout, the Diocese of Chichester supported us. Without their information we would not have been able to do this.”
He said the NSPCC also stepped in to help offer support for victims who had to face years of waiting for the court cases to conclude because the investigations were historic and complex.
Part of the challenge in that situation is to keep the victims’ faith that there will be a conclusion. He praised officers’ “passion and compassion” to keep the momentum over such a period of time, adding: “It is difficult because at some points they were waiting 18 months to give evidence.
“There were officers going above and beyond their duty to support victims, taking phone calls on evenings and weekends.”
He said while victims were pleased with Graves’ sentence it was a mixture of emotions because, as Judge David Rennie described it, his “final betrayal” was to force the victims to go through the “torture” of reliving their abuse in court.
DI Gross added: “Operation Perry is complete but unfortunately I’m sure we will see similar cases. Sussex Police has specialised officers that can deal with that. This is not exclusive to the Church, we see these crimes in all walks of life – teachers, Scout leaders.”
Despite the sentences, some remain concerned the authorities could have acted sooner.
Police had been approached about Graves in 2005 but DI Gross said a conviction would not have been possible at that time because officers did not have the evidence which was made available to his team. He said Operation Perry allowed the police to gather evidence on a bigger scale, against more people, and secure harsher sentences.
In the case of Coles, the court heard he confessed to the then Bishop of Lewes, the Reverend Wallace Benn, that he had sexually abused children but the information was never passed to police.
He was taken to court again when a victim, then in his fifties, came forward after reading press reports of Coles’ first prosecution.
All this abuse took place at the vicarage where he lived in Foredown Drive. The abuse took place when the boy and his family had visited and stayed overnight.
The Argus understands the Diocese of Chichester was warned as far back as 1997 about Graves’ abuse. When approached for a comment, the diocese did not respond.
Sussex Police said the Church co-operated fully with the investigation and now has robust safeguarding procedures.
The Argus invited the diocese to talk more about its new improved policy but no one responded.