The conviction of a former vicar for the rape and sexual abuse of boys, has stunned a community that knew him as a “normal chap”.

Peter Hedge, 47, 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.

On Friday he was jailed at Bradford Crown Court for 14 years.

During the trial, the court heard he abused boys he met at a church youth group and Sunday school.

His victims cannot be named for legal reasons.

Councillor Michael Walls, (Con, Queensbury), a church-goer himself, said the news of the charges against Hedge came as a great shock to the community.

He said: “I knew him as the vicar but not beyond that. He just seemed like a normal chap.

“He was a well-known figure and it came as a great shock to us all. It was totally out of the blue.

“The case has now reached its conclusion and we have to move forward. Presumably we will be looking for a new vicar and a new start.

“Obviously justice has been done and Queensbury needs to move on and get on with things.”

Hedge, of Chatsworth Road, Pudsey, worked for Keighley and Worth Valley Railway (KWVR) for 25 years as a member of its civil maintenance team.

He was also part of the railway’s Young Persons and Vulnerable Adults Policy Group, which did not involve day-to-day work with young people.

He was suspended in September 2007 after the abuse allegations came to light. None of the charges or allegations centred around the railway.

Since his suspension Hedge has not been allowed to work at the railway or to visit it as a passenger.

KWVR marketing director, Matthew Stroh, said: “Our thoughts are with the victims – it was despicable.

“He was invited to join the policy group because of his work with young people in church.

“Our members are CRB checked and he came with the credibility of being a vicar.

“Everyone is really disappointed – someone like that is very cunning and deceptive.

“No-one here knew anything of what he was like and a lot of other people were duped by him too.

“We are disappointed and upset.

“The fact that he was found guilty I hope gives closure to the poor victims.”