Retired priest convicted of child sexual assault in India flees the country

Originally published by the Church Times

A RETIRED priest who was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in India appears to be on the run, and may have returned to the UK.

The Revd Jonathan Robinson, who retired from parish ministry in 2001, but had permission to officiate in the diocese of Hereford until 2010, was found guilty last month by a court in Tirunelveli, in Tamil Nadu, of repeatedly abusing the boy.

Mr Robinson encountered the victim seven years ago, while working at a home for vulnerable children that was supported by the British charity the Grail Trust, of which he was a director at the time.

The abuse came to light after the anti-slavery and -trafficking charity Justice and Care investigated the care home. Their findings were handed over to the police, who raided the home and rescued the victim and other children in August 2011.

“Jonathan had abused the boy at the home run by the NGO in Tirunelveli, and also taken him to Chennai, New Delhi, and Shimla, where he subjected him to sexual abuse for about a year,” the director of legal at Justice and Care, Adrian Phillips, told The Times of India. Some 33 witnesses had testified in the case against Mr Robinson, he said.

The delay since 2011 was caused largely by Mr Robinson’s return to the UK. The Indian authorities initiated a formal extradition process.

Mr Robinson was sentenced to three years for the abuse by the court at Tirunelveli, but was bailed pending a possible appeal. Indian media report that he has disappeared again.

Mr Phillips told the Times of India: “It has been eight years of hard work, and somebody who is convicted is never going to return.” Reports suggest that he may have flown back to the UK; his home is reportedly in Martock, Somerset.

In a statement, Avon and Somerset Police said that they did not comment on individual cases, but confirmed that sexual offenders who returned to the UK were closely monitored. “If we’re made aware a UK resident has been convicted overseas of certain sexual offences, we will seek confirmation of the conviction before applying to local magistrates for an order making the individual subject to the sex offenders notification requirements,” a spokesman said.

“Registered sex offenders [RSOs] are carefully managed within the community, and the Sexual Offences Act 2003 provides the framework for RSOs to notify the police with key information, including their address. Any failure to comply with these requirements is acted on swiftly.”

Mr Robinson resigned as director of the Grail Trust in 2012, after the case began. In a statement last month, the charity’s trustees said that they had co-operated fully with the authorities, and “distanced” themselves from Mr Robinson. One of the trustees is the Vicar of Bro Seiriol, in the diocese of Bangor, the Revd Neil Fairlamb.

“It has been a very stressful time for all concerned,” the statement said. “Our main priority throughout has been the welfare of the 100 children in the care of our partner charity, Grail Trust (India), with whose trustees we have worked very closely, and whose work we fund.

“We hope a period of reflection can now follow this protracted legal action so that further steps can be taken to continue the work of the Trust and give our supporters, and our regulators as a charity, the confidence that we have done, and will continue to do, much worthwhile work among deprived children in India.”

Last year, however, the Charity Commission published a report about the trust, which stated that the trustees had failed to report the allegations of abuse to either the Commission, or the police in the UK, because they had believed that the accusation was “malicious and unsubstantiated”.

The handling of the case was “inadequate”, the Commission concluded, and showed that there were “serious governance failures” at the charity. “The inquiry found the trustees’ initial rejection of the allegation was not impartial, and was therefore inappropriate.” The charity also failed to ensure that its partner charity, which formally ran the Indian home, had the correct safeguarding controls.

As a result of their inquiry, the Commission said that the trust had to embark on an action plan to bring its policies up to the legal standard, and make sure that its beneficiaries in India were not put at risk.