Retired Priest Charged With Sex Offences

A former parish priest has been charged with historic sexual offences against three young boys.

Robert Coles, 71, is charged with 13 counts of sexual assault on a boy aged between 15 and 16 in Chichester, West Sussex between 1982 and 1984; eight offences of indecent assault on another boy aged between 10 and 13 in Broadbridge Heath in West Sussex, Devon in Cornwall and the Isle of Wight between 1978 and 1981; and eight offences of indecent assault on another boy aged between 10 and 13 in Broadbridge Heath, Somerset and Devon between 1978 and 1982.

Coles, of Upperton Road, Eastbourne, East Sussex, was arrested on March 6 and was on conditional bail since then, a Sussex Police spokeswoman said.

He was charged following further police interviews after he answered bail.

The police spokeswoman said: ``He was released on conditional police bail today and is due to appear at an initial hearing at Chichester Magistrates' Court at 9.15am on Wednesday September 5.''

The retired priest was arrested following a six-month investigation by Sussex Police child protection detectives who re-examined several historic allegations referred to in a confidential report provided by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss last year.

The force and the Diocese of Chichester provided detailed information to the report of some historic allegations of sexual abuse by Church of England priests against young people in Sussex and elsewhere.

Several of those allegations were reported to police but there was insufficient evidence to justify prosecution at the time, a police spokesman said.

None of the charges relate to allegations of recent or current offending and Sussex Police emphasised that nothing suggests that any children are presently at risk.

Last year the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, set up an official inquiry into the Diocese of Chichester's child protection policies. He appointed Bishop John Gladwin and Chancellor Rupert Bursell QC to conduct the inquiry, launched "in response to concerns within the diocese'', according to Lambeth Palace.

Earlier this year the Church of England issued an unreserved apology for historic cases of child abuse by some of its clergy after it emerged that convicted paedophile Roy Cotton went on to be ordained as a priest in the diocese.

The Diocese of Chichester said in a statement in March that it fully co-operated with the police and other statutory agencies throughout the investigation.

A helpline, manned by staff at the NSPCC charity, has been set up for anyone who needs support or advice on 0800 389 5344.