Former Bexhill vicar sentenced for child sex offences

Ifor Whittaker. Picture: Sussex Police
Ifor Whittaker. Picture: Sussex Police

A former Church of England priest has been given a 16-year prison sentence for sexual offences against a young boy in his Sedlescombe vicarage.

Following a nine day trial, Ifor Whittaker, 73, of Rectory Road, Sutton, previously known as Colin Pritchard, was convicted of and sentenced at Hove Crown Court on Thursday for seven offences against a boy between 25 and 30 years ago, police said.

He was sentenced for two offences of inciting a boy to commit an act of gross indecency, two offences of gross indecency, two offences of buggery, and of conspiracy with another vicar Roy Cotton to commit acts of indecency.

Whittaker is also a former vicar of St Barnabas Church, in Bexhill, but none of the offences relate to his time there.

The court heard that in 2008 Whittaker, then Pritchard, had been sentenced to five years imprisonment after pleading guilty to sexual offences against two young boys whilst he was a vicar in Wellingborough. At that trial he pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to sexually assault one of them with Cotton, and to commit buggery, and those charges were ordered to lie on court file, police said.

As a result of that case he was made a registered sex offender for life and changed his name by deed poll from Pritchard to Whittaker.

This investigation began in 2012 when police followed up information from the Diocese that the victim may have been sexually assaulted by Roy Cotton, then vicar of Brede, who died in 2006, and that Whittaker, a close friend of Cotton, might have been involved.

At that stage and again the following year, the victim discussed the way in which Cotton had assaulted him, and had met Whittaker through Cotton but did not disclose any offences by Whittaker.

In 2014 officers contacted the victim again to seek to resolve the enquiry. At this point the victim disclosed that he had not been telling the full story. He described how Whittaker had systematically abused him at the Sedlescombe vicarage, police said.

To begin with he was only abused by Cotton at Brede, but sometimes felt they were being watched, with Whittaker appearing in the room almost immediately afterwards.

Whittaker then invited the boy to come to Sedlescombe under the guise of doing some gardening, often taken there by Cotton, where he would be plied with a drink of coke which he felt was spiked with alcohol. Then the assaults would begin, police said, with Whittaker telling the boy nobody would believe him if he spoke out.

Detective Constable Chris Smith of the Sussex Police Complex Abuse Unit said: “The victim was a vulnerable child when Whittaker took cynical advantage of him for his own sexual gratification. The victim told us that Cotton, although his principal abuser, ‘passed me over like a toy to be borrowed by a friend’.

“We are glad that Whittaker has finally faced justice, and we have ensured that the victim, who gave evidence in court, has had access to sources of advice, counselling and support.

Sussex Police said detectives had full co-operation from the Diocese of Chichester throughout the investigation and ‘there are no current safeguarding issues for the Church or the local community in relation to the case’.

An NSPCC spokesperson said: “This is a disturbing case in which Whittaker abused his position and the trust placed in him by the community which he served.

“He has caused his victim great suffering, the effects of which will doubtless have lasted long into adulthood. We hope they have received support to overcome their experiences.

“This case shows once again that victims of abuse can come forward and achieve justice no matter how long ago the offences took place and no matter who their abuser is.”