Michael Oluronbi: Birmingham pastor raped children after naked 'spiritual bathing'

14 January 2020, 18:51 | Updated: 14 January 2020, 21:46

An evangelical pastor who sexually abused children and adults over 20 years has been convicted of raping several members of his congregation.

Michael Oluronbi, a self-styled prophet originally from Nigeria, was found guilty of 15 counts of rape against seven victims - five of whom attended his church in Birmingham and London.

The 60-year-old, described by some as like a cult leader, carried out some of his offences after convincing followers - and their children - to take part in naked "spiritual bathing", which he claimed would "cleanse" them of evil spirits.

Oluronbi, who was also a qualified pharmacist, was convicted on Friday after a trial at Birmingham Crown Court, where he denied everything, but reporting restrictions were only lifted on Tuesday.

During the trial, a jury heard some young female victims became pregnant multiple times but were taken to abortion clinics by Oluronbi and his wife to cover up what was happening during a campaign of abuse that started in the 1980s.

As well as being found guilty of the 15 rapes, he was convicted of seven counts of indecent assault and two counts of sexual assault.

His wife, Juliana, was convicted of three counts of aiding and abetting rape after helping arrange some of the abortions.

The "feared" religious leader was finally found out after one of his child victims, now an adult, came forward.

Oluronbi was linked to the Christian Cherubim and Seraphim Church in Edgbaston, Birmingham, whose roots were in Nigeria, and his offences took place in Birmingham and London.

He set up his own splinter group for about 40 adults and children at another address in London, where he started "spiritual bathing".

Phil Bradley QC, prosecuting, told the jury: "The main tactic he employed was to claim that God had instructed him to administer 'holy baths' to some of his congregation in order to 'cleanse' them and protect them from evil influences.

"That activity began when his victims were children.

"There can be no doubt that its real purpose was to serve his sexual gratification."

He said some of the offending, on girls, "progressed to repeated rapes, on many occasions leading to unwanted pregnancies and terminations".

"You will learn that this man, who was revered and feared by his victims, kept a vice-like grip on many of them and continued to abuse them well into adulthood," Mr Bradley said.

The religious leader's victims described him as "controlling" and "almost like a king".

On the "spiritual baths", Detective Superintendent Nick Walton, of West Midlands Police, added: "He convinced a number of children that these can benefit them either religiously, from a health perspective, or educationally.

"They'd be taken upstairs to the bathroom, stripped naked, sometimes wearing a red girdle - like a sash - and he would wash them down.

"On occasion he would sexually assault them, but also take them to an adjacent bedroom and subject them to sexual assaults and rape."

Mr Walton added that relatives and parents confronted him over the years but he always denied it or blamed Satan.

Oluronbi was arrested, while still working as a pastor, at Birmingham Airport in May 2018 as he tried to leave the UK for Nigeria with some ceremonial belongings and cash.

Police could not say if he was trying to flee justice, but said he had recently been confronted about the abuse by a victim.

"He was a qualified pharmacist so he had access to certain medications, and on other occasions booked them into clinics under false names," Mr Walton said.

"One of the girls had five or six abortions."

He described Oluronbi as "intelligent" and said he "laughed" in court several times while giving evidence in his own defence.

Police believe there could be more victims and urge anyone with information to get in touch.

Georgina Hewins, of the Crown Prosecution Service, paid tribute to the "great courage of the victims" which revealed the "full extent of the despicable and lawless behaviour of these people".

Oluronbi and his wife will be sentenced at a later date.