Former Preston and Blackpool vicar Neil Gray, 71, jailed for four years for abusing boys from Chorley and Blackpool

For decades he was a pillar of the Christian community - but today former vicar Neil Gray is exposed as a paedophile who used his role in the Church to groom then abuse two boys.

By Stef Hall
Friday, 10th May 2019, 3:46 pm
Neil Gray
Neil Gray

Gray, 71, now of Plodder Lane, Farnworth, Bolton, groomed and abused a 13-year-old boy while he was a curate at St Lawrence's in Chorley, living in church accommodation on Highfield Road South in the 1970s.

Then, while vicar at St Christopher's church in Blackpool, he befriended the family of a 12-year-old boy, going out with them for meals and visiting their home.

When Gray moved to the St Paul and St Oswald's parish off Blackpool Road in Preston - no longer in existence - in the 1980s, he would invite the boy to stay with him and abuse him.

Neil Gray

The victim, now 50, bravely addressed Gray face-to-face in court, revealing the devastating impact on his life - including both parents refusing to believe him and disowning him.

Gray's other victim, a 61-man from Chorley, has today shared his ordeal in the hope of bringing other potential victims of abuse forward - and the court heard a second curate, now dead, was involved in the abuse.

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St Lawrence's church

Preston Crown Court heard in both cases, the families of the boys trusted Gray to look after them and they would stay at his home, where they were plied with wine.

The court heard they could "do whatever they wanted", with one boy revealing he was allowed to smoke, and the other saying he was taken for meals.

Wearing a grey suit, Gray, clutched a wooden walking stick in the dock at Preston Crown Court as prosecutor Frances McEntee said he had pleaded guilty to two counts of indecently assaulting a child.

The proceedings were watched by the clergyman's family, as well as relatives of his victims, who sat in the public gallery.

Mr McEntee said: " There are clear similarities between the two sets of allegations, the offences being 10 years apart.

"The complainants had been adopted into families associated to each church. Each of the complainants showed a high degree of academic attainment.

"It was the link with the church that afforded the defendant access to each of these boys. The families entrusted them into the care of this defendant.

"The basis of the grooming is that the defendant gave each of them a degree of freedom that perhaps they did not experience at home. In each case he would use the provision of wine as a means to facilitate sexual abuse, which was carried out at residences attached to the parishes.

"The first complainant's reports abuse by another curate, now deceased, who it transpires was a friend of this defendant.

"It was late 1971 to early 1972 that he first met Neil Gray as part of a group of friends.

"From early 1972, he started to go to the defendant's home with friend once or twice a week, where they'd relax, listen to music and chat. He makes it plain they were allowed to smoke and to drink.

"In his own words: 'The bottom line is when we went there we could do what we wanted.'

"As he came to reflect, with a degree of hindsight, he could see he was somewhat singled out by the defendant. He used to go to his address more frequently, often alone.

"He gives a candid reaction, he said it 'didn't upset me - but when it progressed to other things I didn't like it, but I didn't object because I thought that it wasn't that bad and maybe it was a price to pay to keep his friendship."

The victim met his first girlfriend in 1973 and later went to University which broke contact with the defendant.

The court heard Gray then moved to St Christopher's in Hawes Side Lane, Blackpool, living in a bedsit nearby.

He became a friend of the second victim's family and used to go out with them for meals and go to their home.

He stayed in touch with the family when he moved to St Pauls and St Oswald's parish in Preston, now no longer in existence, off Blackpool Road.

The 12-year-old would regularly go to stay at the vicarage there for two or three nights at a time.

He was given alcohol before Gray touched him.

In a statement read to court he described the devastating effect the abuse had had - adding: "I never got the love of my parents back."

He reported the matter in the early 2000s but Gray denied it and the case was not proceeded with at that time.

Gray went on to gain a respected position as the chaplain of the Royal Bolton Hospital, where he spent 30 years, and several colleagues gave testimonials to the court.

Defending, Peter Horgan revealed a string of people, including clergy, had given references and said they "reflect a different man altogether".

He said there was no evidence of any other victims than than the two in this case.

He said: "He had worked for two and a half decades at Bolton Hospital as the chaplain there.

"He is described as an individual who would always put the needs of others above his own, especially in times of crisis.

" It's not just a man who has lived his life thereafter without further offences - it is specifically a man who has assisted others in times of crisis in ways which reflect positively upon him."

He added Gray had physical and mental health difficulties.

Jailing him for four years, Judge Philip Parry said there could "hardly be a worse kind of abuse of trust that that of a member of clergy" and added: "You cannot now remember the incidents, but you say: 'If they say I did it I must have done.'

"I also note you were arrested and interviewed for offences against one complainant as long as 14 years ago and you denied all these allegations then, claiming he hadn't set foot in your vicarage.

"You could have spared a decade of heartache for him.

"That was calculated, callous, and in my judgement deceitful.

"You were ordained almost from school. You were a highly regarded member of the local parish communities and you were trusted without question by the parents of your parish to take care of their children."

Describing a range of medical issues, including a stroke, the judge revealed as his sentence approached Gray has 'presented with recent suicidal ideations' to medics.

He said: " You Neil Gray, have affected the lives of these two boys more than you could ever know.

"I've no doubt you've achieved an awful lot of good, but these offences cannot and will not be overlooked by your behaviour since then."

Afterwards Rt Rev. Julian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn, said: “Following sentencing today we offer an unreserved apology to the victims of Neil Gray.

“We are deeply sorry for the abuse that they suffered and the impact this will have had on them and those close to them. We commend the bravery of those who brought these allegations forward, acknowledging how difficult and distressing this would have been.

“The Church of England takes all allegations of abuse very seriously and is committed to be a safer organisation for all.

“The Church cooperated fully with the police throughout the investigation and we would encourage any victims, or those with information about church-related abuse, to come forward knowing that they will be listened to in confidence and offered support.”