Vicar who spied on naked woman and girls faces defrocking after judge spares him from jail
A “WICKED” priest who filmed a naked woman and children faces being defrocked after avoiding jail.
Richard Lee spied on his victims while he was the vicar of St Augustine’s Church in Locking and St Mary’s Church in Hutton, near Weston-super-Mare, as well as during an earlier placement.
When one of his victims raised the alarm police found he had some 454 indecent images of children.
Lee, 49, pleaded guilty to eight charges of voyeurism and 18 charges of making indecent photographs of a child last month.
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Magistrates, who could have jailed him, referred his case to Bristol Crown Court after deciding they did not have the powers to properly punish his offences.
But Judge Neil Ford QC yesterday decided that Lee should be given an eight-month suspended sentence.
The judge said he had received references sent by parishioners.
“They said how you are a good listener, compassionate, gentle and understanding,” said the judge.
He said that parishioners had described Lee as “the best vicar we’ve ever had, bringing the church to the people in a way no other cleric has done; more than just a caring vicar, he was a friend to all”.
Lee was given two years’ supervision, told to register as a sex offender for ten years and attend a treatment programme. He was disqualified from working with children indefinitely.
He declined to comment as he left Bristol Crown Court, surrounded by family and friends.
The court heard the offences spanned ten years, from 2002 to 2012.
Lee moved to North Somerset from in Kent in 2007 and previously worked at a church in London.
Richard Posner, prosecuting, said Lee spied on his victims using a covert camera, at a time when “they believed, sought and trusted they had privacy” .
“He was regarded as a pillar of the community, involved in music, schools, worship and community groups,” said Mr Posner.
Lee was arrested in July last year and found to have downloaded hundreds of child abuse pictures, as well as 85 indecent movies.
Mr Posner said: “He admitted going to child abuse websites. He admitted it was sexually gratifying and said he didn’t share images.”
Robin Shellard, defending, said his client was “a truly broken man” who had “through his own folly, criminality, lost everything that he has worked for, for the whole of his life”. Mr Shellard said Lee was tormented every day by what he had done and was genuinely remorseful.
He said: “People who read about the case will struggle to reconcile the man who tried to do so much good with a man who has behaved with such a degree of wickedness.
“They now feel so let down.”
After the case the Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Rev Peter Price, said: “I am dismayed and extremely sorry that (Lee) has failed to meet the very high standards of personal integrity we expect of priests in the Church of England. He has brought lasting damage and pain to those people directly affected by his actions and my thoughts and prayers are with them.
“In accordance with the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003, I suspended Mr Lee from active ministry as soon as he was arrested in July 2012.
“Now that Mr Lee has been sentenced, the Church’s own disciplinary proceedings will be started against him as soon as possible. Sanctions can and are likely to include depriving Mr Lee of the right to ever act as a priest again.”