A Bradford vicar has been jailed for 14 years for the “wicked and cynical” rape and sexual abuse of boys in his pastoral care.
A judge told Peter Hedge: “You are 47 years of age and an ordained member of the Church of England, on which you have brought the most dreadful disgrace.”
Hedge was convicted by a jury at Bradford Crown Court yesterday of two offences of rape, 32 of indecent assault and one of committing a serious sexual offence.
The six men and six women jurors returned unanimous verdicts in little over six hours.
Hedge sexually abused six youngsters over an eight-year period in the 1990s while he was curate at St Margaret’s Church, Thornbury, Bradford, and vicar of
Holy Trinity Church, Queensbury.
He stood impassively in the dock with his hands by his sides as Judge Peter Benson told him his offending “defied description in its wickedness”.
“A priest you may be, but I find it difficult to imagine a more un-Christian course of conduct,” the judge said.
He branded the abuse of three of the boys “calculated and systematic” saying Hedge had such a hold on them that he corrupted them with cannabis at his home when they were 11 or 12.
They became addicted to the drug and returned to Hedge for money to buy it, despite suffering systematic abuse.
Judge Benson said Hedge used his financial position to pay the boys inducements and, as they grew older, to ensure their silence.
He targeted two of the youngsters because they had an unhappy home life and a third because he had difficulties reading and writing.
“You saw them as vulnerable and cynically groomed them,” Judge Benson said.
The boys, now young men, were left with feelings of guilt, fear and self-disgust that had blighted their lives irreparably.
“All these young men trusted you as a pastor and a friend,” the judge said.
He branded Hedge highly manipulative and said he used his great intelligence to cynically groom and corrupt the boys.
Despite his arrest in 1997 for an allegation that he groped a boy at his home, he continued to abuse young men.
Judge Benson said that when no charges were brought, Hedge took it as “a green light” to continue his wicked course of conduct.
With sickening hypocrisy, he had boasted to the jury of his pride in pushing through a child protection code at the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway while
continuing to sexually abuse young people.
“Such hypocrisy is breathtaking,” the judge said. Judge Benson ordered Hedge to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
He made a Sexual Offences Prevention Order barring him from working with youngsters under 18 or inviting them unsupervised into his home.
The court heard that one of Hedge’s victims felt robbed of a normal childhood. Another suffered from depression, drank heavily and said Hedge had ruined his life.
Hedge’s wife, Susan, was not in court to hear the guilty verdicts. She told the jury their marriage was unconsummated.
During the trial, the court heard that Hedge, of Chatsworth Road, Pudsey, abused boys he met at a church youth group and Sunday school.
Sexual activity with one young man lasted until 2005 when he was in his twenties. Eventually, he told Hedge “if you do that again, I’ll kill you”, the jury heard.
Hedge, who was born in Rotherham and won a scholarship to Oxford University to read chemistry, was ordained in 1993. His first post was curate at St Margaret’s.
Boys visited him at his home in Upper Rushton Road, Thornbury, and, after he became vicar of Holy Trinity in 1997, at his address in Russell Hall Lane, Queensbury.
Hedge’s first victim, now in his thirties, told the jury he was in his mid-teens when he met “Father Peter”.
“He used to get me to do things that I didn’t want to do,” he said.
He said he did not tell his friends or his parents because he thought no one would believe him.
After the case, Detective Sergeant Linda Christie, from the Child and Public Protection Unit, said: “We are pleased with today’s verdict and hope it brings some closure to the victims of Peter
“He abused his position of trust as a vicar and committed horrendous acts of abuse against vulnerable boys who trusted him.”