By George Conger
A retired Chichester clergyman has been arrested at his home in Eastbourne on suspicion of sexual assault. On 16 August 2012 the Rev Robert Coles (71) was charged with 29 counts of sexual abuse committed against three boys between 1978 and 1984 in West Sussex, Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and the Isle of Wight.
On 6 March 2012, detectives from the Sussex police child protection team arrested Mr Coles following a six-month investigation. He was released on conditional bail, but charged last week following further inquiries.
The investigation followed the release of a report prepared last year by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss into the Diocese of Chichester’s child protection practices. A criminal complaint was lodged against Mr Coles and investigated by police in 1997, but there was insufficient evidence to support criminal proceedings.
A police spokesman said: “The charges, authorised by the South East Complex Case Unit of the Crown Prosecution Service, follow a nine-month inquiry by Sussex Police detectives into these allegations.
“None of the charges relate to any allegations of recent or current offending and police emphasise that there is nothing to suggest that any children are currently at risk.”
The Diocese of Chichester released a statement in March saying it was aware of the arrest and was “co-operating fully with the police and other statutory agencies in all their activities, including this investigation.”
The Bishop of Horsham, the Rt Rev Mark Sowerby stated: “We are absolutely committed to making sure that our churches are safe communities for children and vulnerable adults and to giving the highest priority to statutory safeguarding practice and Church of England policies on safeguarding. We owe this to those who have suffered abuse and most especially to those who have suffered abuse at the hands of people exercising a ministry in the name of the Church.
“We are resolved to do whatever is necessary to prevent the abuse of children and vulnerable adults and to ensure that no one fails victims of abuse by failing to report information or knowledge of wrongdoing to the police.”
Mr Coles is set to appear at Chichester Magistrates’ Court on 5 September.