One of the most alarming Jehovah’s Witness sex abuse cases ever seen in the UK has ended with the conviction of former elder, Mark Sewell, on eight historic sex charges, including rape, between 1987 and 1995.
Sewell, 53, faces a lengthy jail sentence after the jury at the Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court delivered their verdicts, which included unanimous guilty verdicts on five counts of indecent assault against two young girls.
“By a combination of bullying, bluster and hypocrisy you managed to avoid being brought to account for this utterly disgraceful behaviour for many years,” said Judge Richard Twomlow as he remanded Sewell into custody, adding: “Fortunately the jury were not fooled by you and you now face a very substantial prison sentence.”
Clear negligence revealed
But perhaps just as disturbing as Sewell’s litany of abuse has been the way allegations against him were mishandled by his local elders, who according to instructions from Watchtower were under the direction of the London Branch for all child abuse cases.
As full details of the trial continue to come to light, it has emerged that…
- Evidence of allegations against Sewell dating back 20 years was “shredded” by the organization.
- Of the “eight or nine” Barry Congregation elders involved in judicial committee hearings against Sewell, only one agreed to give evidence in his Crown Court trial. The rest refused, claiming that they either couldn’t remember or were unwilling to assist.
- Despite disfellowshipping Sewell 20 years ago, Jehovah’s Witnesses provided no help to police and prosecutors in their investigations.
It was also revealed earlier in the case that the London Branch appointed a seven-man committee of elders to investigate allegations against Sewell. But although this resulted in Sewell being stripped of his position as an elder and disfellowshipped, this action was supposedly taken due to claims of his “belligerent and unforgiving attitude” rather than his sexually abusive behavior. His sex offenses were thus left unacknowledged and unreported.
And in a further indignity, Sewell’s victims were made to confront him personally if they wished to see justice served. As SNAP director David Clohessy remarked in response to the judgment: “The internal church ‘process’ followed here was awful. Victims were sworn to silence and had to be in the room with this predator when they reported their pain, both of which are cruel demands to make on brave but deeply-suffering crime victims.”
Statements conflicting with actions
All of the above flies in the face of PR statements made by Watchtower in the wake of the ruling.
A Watchtower spokesman has reportedly offered the following comment (bold is mine):
“As Jehovah’s Witnesses we have an absolute and unequivocal abhorrence of child abuse and [offer] our support for any victim or parent who reports this crime to the authorities. This is in line with what the Bible says at Romans 12:9. We feel that the care and safeguarding of children and the promotion of their welfare is extremely important. Jehovah’s Witnesses act in harmony with the law and do not condone child abuse in any circumstance or endeavour to shield from the authorities those committing offences of this nature. The spiritual and physical welfare of Jehovah’s Witnesses is of paramount concern to the elders who have been appointed to ‘shepherd the flock’. Individual members of the congregation who seek guidance on personal matters rightly expect that their concerns are treated confidentially. In the shepherding setting the elders offer personal support in a sensitive and caring manner. Therefore, we are unable to comment on the details of any specific case. Mark Sewell has not been a member of the Barry Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses for 20 years.”
If Jehovah’s Witnesses truly have an “absolute and unequivocal abhorrence of child abuse” why were the allegations made against Sewell not reported to the police straight away?
And if Jehovah’s Witnesses “act in harmony with the law” and do not “endeavour to shield from the authorities those committing offenses of this nature,” why did all but one of the elders involved in judicial action against Sewell refuse to offer evidence at trial, why was evidence destroyed, and why was no help given to police or prosecutors during their investigations?
The Mark Sewell case clearly demonstrates that, when it comes to the handling of child sex abuse, Watchtower is willing to say whatever will tickle the ears of the public even if such statements entirely contradict their actions.
Justice finally served
Despite the horrific nature of Sewell’s crimes and the way they were effectively covered up by his elders (and arguably the branch office), there can be at least some consolation in the fact that yet another predator has been brought to justice – even if this is with no thanks to Watchtower.
That Sewell’s victims pursued justice so doggedly despite so many setbacks is worthy of huge admiration.
As SNAP’s David Clohessy noted: “Given the mean-spirited treatment by JW officials, it’s a miracle that Sewell’s victims are willing to cooperate with the secular justice system. We applaud them for doing so. We hope they take some comfort from the jury’s wise decision today.”
Two witness rule increasingly exposed
The case has also been very helpful in bringing to light the shocking inadequacy of Watchtower’s approach to child abuse, including its increasingly notorious “two witness rule.”
In his coverage of the case, journalist Ciaran Jones told of how “Judge Richard Twomlow touched on the church’s two-witness rule and told the jury it meant anything alleged to have happened in private ‘can never be proved’ unless both people involved agree.”
Judge Twomlow is said to have remarked that “almost all sexual activity, whether consensual or not, happens in private,” noting that the first victim must “challenge” an offender at a judicial committee. “How effective that can actually be as an actual judicial inquiry may be open to doubt,” the judge reportedly commented.
It is a relief to see the absurd and immoral two witness rule finally receiving some much-deserved exposure, not just by journalists investigating these cases, but by law enforcers.
It remains to be seen whether Watchtower can continue its charade as a “charity” in the UK, where indifference and credulity by regulatory bodies such as the Charity Commission is slowly giving way to greater scrutiny – especially over safeguarding measures in which the organization falls so woefully short.
Though the Governing Body stubbornly refuses to bring its child protection policies into line with basic principles of decency and community responsibility, the tide is slowly turning as thinking Witnesses grow weary of having their children placed in harm’s way out of mistaken allegiance to archaic traditions.
As this website has repeatedly insisted: “Let the bible judge sin, let the law judge crime.”
- Elders labelled “spiritually corrupt and morally bankrupt” in Mark Sewell trial
- WalesOnline article: “Jehovah’s Witnesses destroyed documents showing child abuse allegations against church elder“
- WalesOnline article: “Jehovah’s Witness leader guilty of rape and seven other indecent assaults“
- BBC report
- SNAP response to Sewell conviction
- JWsurvey articles on child abuse