Wales Online reporter Ciaran Jones is closely following a court case at Merthyr Crown Court where a former elder, Mark Sewell, is standing trial over 12 historic sex charges, which he denies.
The court has heard that businessman Sewell, 53, used his “position of power” to “exploit and abuse” women and children over a ten-year period.
Sewell was an elder at the 120-strong congregation in Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, between 1985 and 1995. According to prosecutor Sarah Waters, he abused one girl in the congregation when she was aged between 10 and 15.
The girl, now in her 30s, alleges that Sewell began by kissing her on the lips and would later engineer situations for them to be alone and kiss her “with tongues.” She told the court that Sewell would get her to lay on top of him and would even strip down to his underpants and caress her back.
Finally she told her parents, who confronted Sewell. But he denied it, saying the girl had “misunderstood, lied or exaggerated things.”
Sewell is also accused of raping a female member of the congregation at his home in 1990 (who allegedly fell pregnant as a result and later miscarried), “massaging” a topless girl when she was aged between 12 and 14, and indecently assaulting a woman by rubbing his groin on her backside as she made a cup of tea.
“We will handle this. You might not even hear anything more about it,” the raped woman was later told by an elder according to witness testimony.
The girl who alleges to have been kissed by Sewell between the ages of 10 and 15 testified that a two-elder “investigating committee” was convened after she told her parents what happened in greater detail once she was older.
But it wasn’t until a seven-man committee of elders was appointed by the London Branch that Sewell was finally stripped of his position as an elder and disfellowshipped. According to the girl’s father, he was left with the impression that this was due to Sewell’s “belligerent and unforgiving attitude” rather than anything else.
“All I was told was because it was one person’s word against another and there weren’t two witnesses the matter couldn’t really be established,” he said.
Two of the local elders, one of whom was Mark Sewell’s father, were also stripped of their positions at this time for covering up Sewell’s actions. “During that period, though not necessarily within the Sewell family, some of the elders were spiritually corrupt and morally bankrupt,” the court heard.
The case is expected to last three weeks, and Ciaran Jones will be following it closely. You can keep updated with his latest articles on the trial on this link.