Chester priest promoted after evidence of child abuse presented to diocese, court learns

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Hubert Whitsey.jpg
Hubert Victor Whitsey, Bishop of Chester 1974-81

The Chester Crown Court has convicted the former chaplain to the Bishop of Chester of sexually abusing a boy. Evidence presented in the trial of Charles Gordon Dickenson (89) indicated the diocese was aware of the complaints over twenty years ago, but took no action against Dickenson, but promoted him instead.

Dickenson pled guilty to eight counts of assault committed against a young boy in the 1970’s when the priest was vicar Christ Church in Latchford, Cheshire. The abuse was twice reported to the diocese, but no action was taken. The assaults came to public attention in 2017 when police investigating sexual abuse allegations of former Bishop of Chester Victor Whitsey came across the complaint, and a 2009 letter from Dickenson confessing to the crimes.

The court heard testimony Dickenson was moved after the organist warned the parents of the victim that he had seen the vicar “embrace” the boy. When confronted by church warden’s, Dickenson, admitted to misconduct. However, after his confession, Dickenson was named Bishop’s Chaplain. He retired twenty years later, and was permitted to officiate at services until 2014.

In a review of the diocese’s files, the police found correspondence showing that Bishop Whitsey asked Dickenson to “promise never to do it again”. When interviewed by police in 2018, Dickenson, who suffers from dementia, stated he did not recall having molested the child, but did recall the complaints against him.

After the 6 March 2019 trial, the Diocese of Chester issued a statement conceding past mistakes.

“We can confirm that retired priest, Gordon Dickenson, has pleaded guilty to eight counts of sexual activity with a child. This refers to his time as Vicar of Christ Church, Latchford, in 1973 and 1974.

“We offer an unreserved apology to the survivor. He has shown bravery and courage to share his experiences with the police and we acknowledge how difficult and distressing this must have been for him.

“The Diocese of Chester has provided full co-operation with the police throughout the current investigation and anyone affected by today’s news should contact the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser.

“Information brought to light to the Diocese in 2009, if acted upon then, may have led to the police bringing a prosecution against Gordon Dickenson much sooner. The Diocese apologises for not acting on this information in 2009.

“A review will now be conducted into the handling of the case, to identify where any failures in procedures arose and what lessons can be learned.”