In December of 2014 Barry Furlong took to the stand to defend himself against accusations of rape and sexual abuse. Furlong, aged 68, was accused of abusing children as young as five during his time as a Jehovah’s Witness in the Kinson Congregation in Bournemouth.
The charges included four counts of rape, four counts of indecent assault and six counts of indecency with a child, all of which Furlong denied, describing the charges as ‘absolutely false’ and a ‘total fabrication’.
Incredibly, Furlong even claimed that one of the children had “lunged” at him and touched him inappropriately, and that he told her to stop. The victim, who could not be named, explained how Furlong had told her she would not get into the “new order” if she told anyone what was happening to her.
The court found Furlong guilty of four counts of indecent assault and four counts of indecency with a child (while acquitting him of four counts of rape and two of gross indecency with a child), and sentenced him to five years in prison.
Furlong had been a Ministerial Servant in the Kinson Congregation, and was abusing girls during the 70s, 80s and 90s. He admitted that during this time, allegations had been made against him and congregation elders had been informed. Nobody reported the accusations to the police.
Looked upon as a pillar of the community, Furlong has been married for 42 years and worked as a fireman between 1964 and 1970. He then worked for the post office for 17 years before retiring on medical grounds.
One of his victims has bravely waived her anonymity to talk about her ordeal. Helen Doe described how her parents didn’t believe her because of their faith. She says they chose to report the crime to the elders and NOT to the police. But the elders refused to take her accusations seriously.
“In effect I got told I was lying, I was a naughty girl, I was filthy and dirty and not to mention it again, and to get on with my life,” she told a reporter. “Mum and dad didn’t believe me because of their religion, but children’s welfare should come first, not religious beliefs. Now I feel guilty because perhaps if I had reported this at the time other people would not have suffered.”
Mrs Doe opened up about her feelings about the trial. “The trial was the most terrifying thing I have ever done. You know you are telling the truth but you are sitting in front of 12 people who are making a judgement on everything you say. But I would say to anyone worried about coming forward about child abuse that you shouldn’t be frightened. He only got five years, but it is still some sort of punishment and we can move on now.”
Speaking to the Bournemouth Echo, Mrs Doe describes the impact the abuse has had on her life: “All my life I wondered if I should have said something and I worry that other people may have suffered because I did not. He did some very bad stuff, but I put it at the back of my mind, like having it locked away in a suitcase you don’t want to open. I used to cry myself to sleep at night; I used to pray to God ‘make it stop’. I would lie in bed with my eyes shut thinking that I had done something wrong. I was too scared all my life to take this to the police. But now I have, perhaps, in a couple of years, I may be able to have a normal life.”
Mrs Doe said she came forward when she heard Furlong was being investigated for abusing another girl, and praised the work of the police in bringing her case to the court. “They were so determined, but never gave us false hope. They worked really hard,” she said, adding that she felt vindicated by the guilty verdicts that came from the trial.
The London bethel was contacted and asked for their response to the comments made by Mrs Doe. They say the religion has “an absolute and unequivocal abhorrence of child abuse.” They also claim their communities support victims of abuse, but wouldn’t automatically report alleged crimes to the police as it is deemed a matter for the victims and their families to decide for themselves.
In a statement the church said “unrepentant wrongdoers” were expelled from the church and shunned by members.
A problem that’s not going away
In recent years, we are seeing more and more cases of this nature worldwide. The pattern of abuse and the covering up by the Witnesses is becoming all too familiar. The blanket statements of denial that are issued following these cases are simply no longer adequate.
Victims are not receiving support and they receive no encouragement to contact police, even though a crime has been committed. Most victims and their families find themselves being shunned for coming forward and can even find themselves disfellowshipped from the congregation, as in my own case.
Elders have been found to refuse to cooperate with police and attend court. Vital documents are held back from authorities, even when they are subpoenaed. It is no longer acceptable for these issues to be dealt with quietly and secretively. When a law has been broken, elders are simply not equipped or trained to deal with it. Victims of abuse at the hands of monsters like Furlong deserve better.
- ‘Trusted’ Jehovah’s Witness ‘raped and sexually abused girls’
- ‘It was a cover up’: Woman sexually-abused by leading member of Jehovah’s Witness community speaks out
- “I used to cry myself to sleep” – victim of former Jehovah’s Witness Barry Furlong speaks out after court ordeal
- Jehovah’s Witness report article