Jehovah's Witness elders were 'spiritually corrupt and morally bankrupt', court told

Mark Sewell, 53,  has denied 12 sex charges against girls and women across a 10-year period, at Merthyr Crown Court

Wales Online, UK/June 12, 2014

By Ciaran Jones

A trusted Jehovah's Witness kissed a schoolgirl and asked her to remove her top so he could give her a massage, a court heard today.

The witness - now in her 30s - claimed fellow worshipper Mark Sewell would kiss her on the lips and once gave her a massage in the living room of his home where he would also hold weekly Bible study groups.

The woman, who is not one of four alleged victims in the case, told the court she was "intimidated" by church elder Sewell.

The businessman, 53, denies 12 sex charges against girls and women across a 10-year period.

Today a witness told jurors at Merthyr Crown Court how Sewell would turn his face in order to kiss her on the lips.

The woman described herself as a childhood friend of the first alleged victim in the case, who yesterday told the court Sewell would kiss her "with tongues" and at times touched her wearing only his underpants.

Her friend today told the court Sewell was "very kind" but said there was "also an over-familiar side to him as well".

Asked what she meant, she said: "It was quite customary to give a kiss to what we called brothers or sisters in the congregation but he would quite often say 'Where's my kiss?' and turn his face so I would end up kissing him on the lips."

This led to a "really uncomfortable feeling", the witness said, adding: "I probably wouldn't even do it to my mother or father."

She told the court: "At times I would pull a face and he would say 'What's the matter?' and laugh it off or say 'What's wrong?'"

The woman said she was aged between 11 and 15 when that happened "several times".

She added that he would do "exactly the same" to her friend, who is the subject of seven of the charges Sewell faces.

On one occasion, the witness claimed she was at Sewell's house when he told her he had given another one of her friends a massage and added: "It's your turn now."

She said she tried to decline but added: "I was embarrassed not to in a way. I was around 14. I ended up having a massage.

"He gave me a towel to put on the living room floor and said 'Take your top off and I will come back in.' I removed my top and bra."

Sewell then sat on the back of her legs and used oil to give her a back massage, she said.

"I was very uncomfortable. I'll be honest and say it was a massage and nothing else but again I didn't tell anybody about it because I was embarrassed.

"It just didn't feel right.

"I never told my mum because I knew she would go mad."

Prosecutor Sarah Waters asked why it would make her mother angry.

The woman, wearing a black skirt and a black blouse, replied: "Because it was not appropriate."

Ms Waters then asked her if the massage would have been considered "acceptable in the Jehovah's Witnesses faith".

The woman said: "Looking back now, no.

"But Mark was a trusted person, he was an elder and somebody you trusted.

"I was close to him and knew him well and I was close to Mary, his wife.

"He was a very kind person and if he could do anything for you he would."

During cross-examination Marian Lewis, defending, said Sewell had not "touched you inappropriately in any way".

The woman agreed but added that the massage incident had left her "embarrassed, uncomfortable and quite intimidated".

The court later heard from the victim's father who said Sewell had been a close friend of his after they met through the church, even describing him as "the brother I didn't have".

He said his daughter twice approached him when she was aged about 11 or 12 and said she "didn't like the way that Mark was kissing her".

He added: "I'm almost ashamed to say to the members of the jury, as a dad, that I didn't know what she was trying to tell me.

"I knew that Mark was affectionate in the way he greeted and touched and I assumed she was embarrassed."

Both times he mentioned what his daughter had said to Sewell, on the latter occasion telling him to "be careful" about kissing the little girl.

When his daughter was aged about 15, he said, she began self-harming.

She later left a note for her parents on their bed detailing the alleged abuse by Sewell against her.

The man said he and his wife and daughter went to Sewell's house to meet the defendant and his wife where they handed them a copy of the letter.

"He (Sewell) actually laughed but didn't say anything," the witness told the court.

"His wife did all the talking and said 'If you show this to the elders (of the church) we are finished, you won't be coming round to our house any more and we won't be having anything to do with you, you will be cut off.'"

He said despite the fact Jehovah's Witnesses believe that to "bring someone to account and to find guilt" at least two witnesses to an incident were required, the family still felt the matter should be raised with the church.

He added: "The other thing Jehovah's Witnesses believe is that the victim has to do the challenging so I'm afraid my daughter, who was 15 or 16, had to attend a meeting in the Kingdom Hall with two elders."

Following that meeting it had to be decided "whether there was a case to answer", he said.

Around the same time the witness, who was a long-serving member of the church at the time, was asked to meet with a woman and her husband at their home.

The woman claimed she had been raped by Sewell at a meeting which was also attended by the defendant's father, Anthony Sewell, who was then an elder in the church.

Before the pair left the home, the man told the court, Anthony Sewell said something "quite startling" to the woman and her husband.

The witness said they were told: "We will handle this. You might not even hear anything more about it."

Giving evidence in court the man said: "As he said those words I remember thinking 'This is crazy, what do you mean they won't hear any more about it?' But that's what he said."

Outside the house, he said, Anthony Sewell argued for the rape claim against his son to be "kept between us to handle".

He added: "What I was hearing was foreign to what I knew was the right thing to do."

The man said he informed the chair of the elders in Barry - known as the presiding overseer and then a man by the name of Tom Brown - about the claims and he said he would "think about it".

The witness said: "I have to say I was absolutely astounded."

He then met a travelling overseer - an elder from outside of the congregation - and told him what had happened and the matter was passed to the church's head office in London.

"I do remember head office in London saying they would not accept any more phone calls from the people in Barry congregation until they find out what's going on," he added.

Officials at head office appointed a seven-man committee to investigate what had happened.

As a result Tom Brown was stripped of his post as presiding overseer but remained as an elder, while Anthony Sewell was removed as an elder.

A four-man committee then investigated the claims of assault and rape against Sewell, resulting in him being "disfellowshipped", which meant being removed from the church and "shunned" by other Witnesses.

The alleged victim's father told the court: "All I was told was because it was one person's word against another and there weren't two witnesses the matter couldn't really be established.

"But he was disfellowshipped because of his belligerent and unforgiving attitude."

The man also told the court: "During that period, though not necessarily within the Sewell family, some of the elders were spiritually corrupt and morally bankrupt."

The court had earlier heard how respected Jehovah’s Witness Sewell used his “position of power” as an elder in the Barry congregation to “exploit and abuse” women and children for more than a decade.

Between 1985 and 1995 Sewell is alleged to have abused two young girls and also raped a woman, all of whom were fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses.

He is also accused of indecently assaulting another woman by rubbing his groin against her as she made a cup of tea.

Sewell, wearing a grey suit with a white shirt, dark tie and brown shoes, followed proceedings from the glass-fronted dock.

The defendant, of Porthkerry Road in Barry, denies 11 counts of indecent assault and a single count of rape.

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