Former parish priest of St Clare's, Fagley, denies kissing 17-year-old

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: William Finnegan William Finnegan

A jury was today continuing to deliberate whether a Roman Catholic priest, who has confessed he is married, sexually assaulted a 17-year-old girl.

William Finnegan, 59, is standing trial at Bradford Crown Court accused of taking hold of the girl, who cannot be named, and forcefully kissing her.

The alleged offence happened when he was parish priest at St Clare’s RC Church in Fagley, Bradford.

Finnegan denies one charge of sexual assault.

Yesterday the jury heard summing up by the prosecution, defence and the trial judge, the Recorder of Bradford, Judge Roger Thomas QC.

Prosecutor Richard Walters has told the trial that Finnegan had fallen in love with the girl, which led to the sexual assault on Easter Sunday last year.

He has told the jury: “The defendant grabbed [the girl], pulled her towards him, placed a hand on her bottom and proceeded to kiss her forcefully and passionately with an open mouth.

“Two days later he visited her home address and told her he had sexual feelings towards her.”

During the trial it has been revealed that Finnegan, commonly known as Father Bill, was in a secret marriage for more than a decade with a former parishioner, Beverley Dawson, despite having taken a vow of celibacy.

The revelation was made as his barrister Jeremy Hill-Baker opened the case for the defence.

Mr Hill-Baker told jurors that when they heard the case involved a sexual allegation against a priest, maybe they thought “this is something that occurs”.

He continued: “You may be thinking that he is only human, that Father Bill, as a Catholic priest, has taken a vow of celibacy, condemning himself to a single and lonely life filled with perhaps an underlying sexual frustration because, let's face it, it is not a natural state for a human to be in.

“It would be understandable for you to be thinking, ‘well, perhaps it just got the best of him with that 17-year-old’.

“Well, we are going to hear evidence from Father Bill and we are going to be hearing evidence from his wife, Beverley Dawson.

“No, you didn’t mishear me. His wife. He and Beverley Dawson secretly married abroad in September 1999. So deeply in love was he that he was prepared to ignore the Catholic Church’s ban on marriage, a secret which has been kept from almost everyone until now.

“Whatever the outcome of this case, his ministry as a Catholic priest is well and truly over.”

The court heard Finnegan, of Acacia Close, Castleford, met Mrs Dawson, a mother-of-two, when he was a priest in Castleford and she was one of his parishioners. After her previous marriage broke down, they fell in love and travelled to Cyprus to wed in a civil ceremony and only disclosed their marriage to close friends and family.

Jurors retired to consider their verdict at about noon yesterday. They are due to continue their deliberations today.

The trial continues.

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