The UK Charity Commission has criticised a Manchester based congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses for their dealings with child abuse cases over the last 23 years. After an elder within the congregation was accused of sexual abuse in the early 90s, several efforts were made to cover-up this abuse.
Gemma Pilkington, Abuse Solicitor, explains the history of the case and inquiry.
Manchester New Moston Congregation Of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Based in Central Manchester, New Moston Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses is a charitable association. It is one of 1,350 charities registered in England and Wales that are linked to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The accusations of child sex abuse began in 1994 when a victim of abuse came forward to elders of the congregation in Manchester to report a fellow worshipper, Jonathan Rose.
Jonathan Rose Accused Of Child Sex Abuse
At the time, in 1994, Jonathan Rose was 19. The accusation was brushed off as “a matter between two teenagers” by elders as his victim was 15 (Person A). Rose stood trial in 1994 but was acquitted.
Nothing more was mentioned until 18 years later, when another victim (Person B) came forward who alleged that Rose abused her whilst she was a child in the 90s when he was in a position of power as a trustee and elder of the congregation.
Rose was charged for the offence and the Charity Commission contacted the charity’s trustees who confirmed that Rose was no longer able to carry out pastoral duties. After Rose’s arrest in 2012, Person A came forward again, but she was dismissed by elders as she supposedly had, “a history of being economical with the truth, seeking to cause trouble.”
Rose was jailed for nine months in 2012 for child sex offences against Person A and another woman (Person C) who came forward in autumn 2013.
New Moston Congregation Failings
After Rose’s conviction, other congregations decided to banish Rose. But upon his release, Rose sought to appeal his “disfellowship” and an appeal committee decided upon a course of action.
Rose’s victims were brought into a room to face Rose and questioned about their accusations by elders and trustees. The meeting went on for three hours and it is reported that Person B was questioned, “Did you ever egg him on?” by an elder. This elder was found to be a close friend of Jonathan Rose.
The Charity Commission began their inquiry in 2014 and found that at least two trustees, who had decided on Rose’s fate within the charity, had been close friends with Rose. Concerns were raised by the Commission as “conflicts of loyalty” were present in the charities dealings.
The inquiry also found that the New Moston Congregation failed to identify Person A’s allegation of child sex abuse initially and then again when she came forward alongside Person B and Person C. Throughout this, they had failed to keep proper records of what was going on.
“The trustees should have made the victims’ welfare their first priority. Instead, their actions and omissions, both in response to allegations of abuse, and in their attitude towards our investigation, fell short of what the public would expect of those running a charity in a modern society.”
“Whether or not there was an intentional cover-up here does not negate the fact that the handling of the situation was completely lacking in empathy for the victims and was not putting the pastoral care of the congregation first.”
“At each stage where Person A came forward, they were batted back by elders. It must have taken an incredible amount of bravery to come forward again after being shunned so brutally the first time.”
“It is so important for any kind of institution whether it be religious, sporting or educational, to learn from mistakes like the ones made at New Moston Congregation. Currently there is no legal requirement to report abuse and then act upon it. A fact that many abuse lawyers campaign to change. This has got to be addressed so that those who fail to report abuse to the police are also brought to justice.”