Respected Jehovah's Witness groomed and molested young girls over years

Yorkshire Post, UK/December 15, 2009

A respected Jehovah's Witness who served as an elder betrayed the trust placed in him by abusing young girls.

James Michael O'Brien followed one schoolgirl into a kitchen when she was alone away from adults making tea at meetings he was hosting.

He pulled her towards him, sexually assaulted her and began to kiss her.

On another occasion he conducted a further sexual assault, Richard Wright prosecuting told Leeds Crown Court yesterday.

She felt very angry about what was happening because adult worshippers in the Kingdom Hall "had a significant amount of trust placed in them", he said.

A second girl said when she was aged between 10 and 11, O'Brien touched her many times over her clothing when they were together for religious activities.

She described how she too was helping in the kitchen on one occasion when it happened, while on others they were out in Pontefract making calls door to door.

She said he sexually assaulted her in a lift, while travelling in a car and while looking at a computer together.

The court heard he also admitted offences against three other girls when they visited him or when he was helping to look after them unconnected to his role as an elder.

He told an 11-year-old he would teach her to kiss properly and proceeded to kiss her. He also told her to close her eyes when he kissed her to "make it sexier."

With his final victim he also touched her regularly, with the incidents becoming more serious, and on occasions getting her to touch him.

O'Brien, 60, of School Road, Chequerfield, Pontefract, who the court was told is no longer associated with Kingdom Hall, was jailed for six years with an extended four years further on licence.

He admitted 13 charges of indecent assault, one of engaging in sexual activity with a child, one of sexual assault and a further sexual offence.

Sentencing him, the Recorder of Leeds, Judge Peter Collier QC said he considered O'Brien posed a risk of further offending since the charges covered more than 30 years "which is more than half of your life".

He said O'Brien had developed a "pattern of grooming" which evolved, increasing his sexual activity in seriousness as he moved on to different girls.

He used the "cloak of religious activities" to abuse some of the girls, in doing so betraying the responsibility placed in him as an elder in the community.

John Nixon representing O'Brien told the court he was ashamed and remorseful.

As a result "his marriage has disappeared and he has been stripped of many possessions, being made bankrupt".

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