Victim of pervert Chichester priest speaks out

A woman preyed upon by a pervert priest as a teenager has spoken out.

Wednesday, 15th January 2020, 6:09 pm
Updated Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 4:40 pm

Professor Julie Macfarlane, now 61, told Sussex Police in 2014 how Meirion Griffiths had indecently assaulted her when she was a teenager.

Trusted as minister in Chichester while he was Rector of St Pancras and St John, Prof MacFarlane turned to him when she had doubts about her faith.

After the 81-year-old former priest was convicted Prof Macfarlane, who lives in Canada, said his behaviour was ‘predatory’ and added: "He told me this is what God wanted."

Vicar Meirion Griffiths, 81, was extradited from Australia to stand trial accused of sex offences at Portsmouth Crown Court.......Picture: (130120-3904)

Asked about her reaction to the jury’s verdicts on Monday she said it was a ‘day for hope not despair’.

Prof Macfarlane has previously waived her right to anonymity and has campaigned in support of victims of sexual abuse.

She said: "I had no idea what was going on, I felt absolutely terrified. I felt totally repulsed and disgusted by what he asked me to do.

"But I thought he was a man of God, so he was able to do that to me over and over again."

Griffiths was convicted of four out of six indecent assaults. He preyed on Prof MacFarlane for a year in the 1970s and a woman in her 20s in 1982.

"He was a very big authority figure for me," Prof Macfarlane said. "I was a very earnest Christian girl."

She added: "He was my minister and authority figure. I went to him for my doubts which I was experiencing about my faith, and that’s when he started to abuse me at the very same time."

During his trial at Portsmouth Crown Court he confessed to being obsessed with both women - and being attracted to his congregation but claimed to have ‘curbed’ his instincts. Griffiths was extradited from Australia where he emigrated to in 1988.

She said coming forward to the authorities as a victim of sexual abuse was ‘not for everybody’ but urged people to at least to speak to someone about they have suffered.

She added: "It’s been a very, very long time. Not only since this took place but since I’ve been trying to put this right, because when I first decided that I needed to do something to ensure that he wouldn’t do this to other people — I was clear that the behaviour was predatory and would be a pattern.

"It happened when I was a teenager, by the time I was in my 30s I realised I had some responsibility about this. That’s when I first began to do something."

The mum-of-three, based at the University of Windsor, Ontario in Canada, complained to Griffiths’ then-church in Australia. He left and moved to a nearby church.

A long legal battle ensued with the Diocese of Chichester where Prof MacFarlane successfully forced the church’s insurer, the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group, to change its civil claims policy.

But not before she was ‘ripped to shreds’ by the process.

Prof Macfarlane suffers with chronic PTSD from the abuse. Going through the civil claim and subsequent criminal trial and re-trial has taken a toll.

But she added: "The more people who stand up and say 'me too' the more this will change the public perception which still tends to blame the victim, and people don’t really understand why it takes so long.

"I look like a strong person now but this took me decades to do this."

Griffiths, who was extradited from Australia to face justice and denies the charges, will be sentenced on a date to be fixed.

His address was given in court as Winston Churchill Avenue, Portsmouth. He has been remanded in custody.

* Anyone seeking advice can can call Portsmouth Abuse and Rape Counselling Service for support. Womens helpline – (023) 9266 9511. Mens helpline (023) 9266 9516. The lines are open Monday 1pm-3pm, and Wednesday and Friday 7pm-10pm.