Suspended sentence for paedophile pastor James Clarke over historic sexual abuse

Paedophile former Pastor James Henry Clarke leaves Belfast Crown Court following sentencing -  image credit Alan Lewis
Paedophile pastor James Clarke Credit: Alan Lewis

A former minister who was extradited from Canada to face historic sex abuse charges was sentenced for the offences in Belfast today. James Clarke (81) was handed a two-year sentence, which was suspended for three years, by Judge Mark Reel. Belfast Crown Court heard the indecent assaults were committed against two teenage males in the 1960s and 70s when Clarke worked in two children's homes in Belfast.

He emigrated to Canada in 1977 where he gained a theology degree and became a Church Minister. As part of this work, Clarke was involved in a child abuse enquiry and he also helped to set up a home for boys in Ontario. The pensioner, with an address at Cloncore Road in Portadown, admitted abusing his first victim on two occasions on dates between January 1, 1966 and January 1, 1972. This complainant contacted the RUC in 1980 and alleged that he had been abused by Clarke when he was aged around 13. The victim told police he had been residing at a children's home in Bawnmore and was abused by 'the head' of the home. The first incident occurred when the child was feeling unwell and was lying in bed, with the second occurring at Clarke's mothers home. Following his complaint in 1980, the RUC travelled to Canada and spoke to Clarke about the allegations of abuse, which he denied - and at that stage a decision not to prosecute him was made. Five years later Clarke was interviewed by police about an unrelated matter and at this point in 1985 he admitted abusing the Bawnmore resident and said his earlier denial had been false. In August 1985 Clarke wrote a letter to the Detective Inspector from the RUC who had travelled to Canada to interview him in 1980. In this letter, Clarke admitted abusing a second young male whilst he was employed as the deputy senior matron at Conway House children's home. He provided a name and when the police contacted this male, he confirmed he had been in care and was abused by Clarke when he was around 13. The victim said he and another resident were taken to Newcastle on a fishing trip by Clarke. All three slept in a tent and the victim was abused in the middle of the night by Clarke. Like with the first victim and despite his confession, he was not charged with any offences. The BBC became aware of the allegations against Clarke via the Historical Institutional Abuse Enquiry. A team from the BBC travelled to Canada in 2017 and interviewed Clarke, and at this point he admitted sexually abusing two boys in Belfast in the 60s and 70s. He also told the BBC he admitted the abuse to police but no action against him was taken. Following this the Public Prosecution Service launched extradition proceedings. Crown barrister Michael Chambers told Judge Reel that when these proceedings were launched, Clarke didn't consent to them. Defence barrister Michael Boyd said the extradition was a "harrowing experience" for his client who spend over a month in detention in Canada before being brought to Belfast and interviewed at Musgrave Police Station. Mr Boyd spoke of elderly client's complex medical conditions as well as the caring responsibilities he and his 83-year old wife have for one of their children who sustained a brain injury as a child and who requires round the clock care. The defence barrister also raised the issue of Clarke's confession to abusing the second victim, saying his client had acknowledged the gravity of his actions. He added that Clarke was "ashamed and deeply sorry" for what he did, pointing out "he did everything to facilitate the prosecution of himself by virtue of his confessions." Regarding the second victim, Clarke pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting him on a date between May 14, 1970 and May 14, 1974. Judge Reel said that after reading statements from the two complainants "both men speak of the long-lasting memories of the abuse that they suffered at the hands of this defendant. "They say those memories effect every day of their existence." Judge Reel said he had taken into considerations Clarke's admissions of guilt, his caring responsibilities in Canada and his health issues. Also noted by the Judge was no evidence of further offending in Canada "despite his access to children." Addressing Clarke as he stood in the dock, Judge Reel imposed the suspended sentence and warned Clarke of the consequences should be re-offend within the next three years.

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