Newspapers from the North-East of England are reporting on a remarkable cover-up in a court case involving child abuse.
After ministerial servant Gordon Leighton assaulted a young girl, three elders at Lambton Congregation in Washington, Simon Preyser, Harry Logan and David Scott, met with him to investigate the accusations.
Prosecutor Katherine Dunn told Newcastle Crown Court what happened next. “After initially denying the allegations, he broke down and admitted sexually abusing the complainant,” she said.
Despite Leighton’s confession, the matter was covered over and dealt with internally. Only after the victim, now an adult, broke her silence by making a complaint to the police in 2009 could the authorities investigate. However, the elders refused to cooperate with the police investigation for three years.
Even after the case was brought to court and the three elders were issued with witness summonses (subpoenas), they refused to cooperate – claiming through their barrister (lawyer) that they had a “duty to God” to keep Leighton’s confession confidential. Preyser, Logan and Scott went so far as to legally dispute their summonses on religious grounds, but were ordered to testify by Judge Penny Moreland after months of legal wrangling.
In denying the motion to withdraw the summonses, Judge Moreland said, “Public interest is clearly in favour of this evidence being given. What was said by the defendant on that occasion is of great significance in the trial.” Despite this ruling, the elders refused to give evidence until hours before they were due to appear as witnesses before the jury.
After finally breaking their silence, 53-year-old Leighton was convicted of eight counts of indecency with a child and indecent assault, and three assaults on another victim.
Leighton, who has since been disfellowshipped, denies all allegations (including the unrelated assault charges), and even that he had confessed his crimes to the elders in the first place. He told detectives his confession at the judicial meeting was limited to masturbation and reading pornographic material, and told jurors: “It never happened. It’s all untrue.” He has since been remanded in custody pending sentencing in August, and ordered to sign the sex offenders register.
Leighton is already known to the UK press after newspapers reported in 1993 that his wife Yvonne had died aged 28 as a result of refusing a blood transfusion two weeks after childbirth. Leighton subsequently claimed to have suffered persecution in the wake of the tragedy, saying he had been branded a ‘murderer.’ Twenty years later, he is back in the media spotlight, but for a very different reason.
What role did the Britain Branch play in all of this?
Though we are unlikely to ever hear the full details of the case, it is almost certain that, in refusing to give evidence, Preyser, Logan and Scott were all acting under the instructions of the Britain Branch in London. This is because Society guidelines for UK elders clearly dictate that specially appointed “Safeguarding Elders” at the London branch office are to be involved in giving “guidance and direction” for all cases involving child abuse from the very beginning.
Last year JWsurvey obtained a copy of the 2012 “Child Safeguarding Policy,” drafted by the Society for UK congregations to adopt individually. The updated Safeguarding Policy is available for Witnesses in British congregations to view, but only on request. Note what the 2012 policy had to say about branch involvement…
The policy also spells out the rigid approach to confidentiality that was pursued so vigorously by the three elders in this case. Note how not even the authorities are to be notified of confessions of abuse, but fellow elders and the branch office may be informed freely.
Considering the above information, it is inconceivable that the London Branch Office did not offer at least some “guidance and direction” to the elders involved in this case throughout their refusal to cooperate with authorities.
Whether the elders were acting in harmony with these instructions in staying so tight-lipped is a matter of conjecture, but the fact that all three are apparently still serving as elders would seem to indicate that they were. There is certainly no obvious motive for any elder to fight the legal process by maintaining such a stubborn stance of his own volition without pressure being exerted from higher up in the organization.
If the Watch Tower Society is found to have had a hand in this cover-up, it would only constitute further evidence of their long history of protecting pedophiles by keeping their heinous crimes wrapped up in a cloak of secrecy under the auspices of the “two witness rule.”
Despite the blatant cowardice and lack of accountability shown by the elders and the defendant in this trial, it is heartwarming to note the fortitude and resilience of Judge Moreland in refusing to be duped by Watchtower’s men in suits. We can also be grateful that the unnamed victim in this case had the bravery to come forward and see that justice was finally served on her so-called “brother.”
- Sunderland Echo article, “Jehovah’s Witnesses hushed up child sex scandal“
- The Journal article, “Washington church tried to keep child abuse secret“
- Washington Star article, “Jehovah’s Witnesses hushed up child sex scandal“
- Sunderland Echo article, “‘I was branded a murderer’ – Jehova’s Witness tells of ‘hostile’ treatment after wife bled to death over blood transfusion refusal“
- Sunderland Echo article, “Church set up probe to see if ‘sin’ had been committed over sex assault allegations“
- Daily Mail article, “Jehovah’s Witness leaders ordered to give evidence in sex scandal trial…
- Scan of Daily Mail print article, dated July 17 2013
- Sky News report, “Jehovah’s Witness Church Elders Covered Up Sex Abuse By Paedophile“
- Marvin Shilmer’s blog post, “Pedophiles Knocking“
- Article in The Freethinker
- JWsurvey articles on child abuse