Charity Commission opens case on Jehovah's Witnesses congregation after member found guilty of sex offences

Mark Sewell, a member of the Barry congregation, was convicted last week of seven charges of indecent assault against adults and minors and one of rape

Third Sector/July 2, 2014

By Sam Burne James

The Charity Commission has opened an operational compliance case on a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation in Wales after one of its members was found guilty of numerous sex offences.

Mark Sewell was due to be sentenced at Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court today after being found guilty last week of seven charges of indecent assault against adults and minors, and one of rape. The crimes took place between 1985 and 1995.

A spokeswoman for the commission said the regulator was aware of the situation. "We have opened an operational compliance case on the charity," she said. "The Charity Commission's regulatory concern is whether the trustees of the charity have complied with and fulfilled their duties and responsibilities as trustees under charity law and how the charity dealt with risks to the charity and its beneficiaries, including the application of safeguarding policy and procedures. We cannot comment further while the case is live."

She said the case would be conducted independently of two statutory inquiries into Jehovah’s Witnesses charities opened last month in relation to issues including child protection.

On 10 June, the regulator announced that it was investigating the Manchester New Moston Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain, the religion’s governing body.

A spokesman for the Watch Tower Society said that the Barry congregation had asked for all media enquiries to be directed to the governing body.

"Our beliefs lead us to abhor sex offences, especially when the victims are children, and deeply to sympathise with all who have suffered abuse of any sort," he said.

He said that the society and the Manchester congregation were preparing appeals against the commission’s decision to open statutory inquiries into both organisations. "We’re taking advice on that at the moment, and will be lodging an appeal in the required timeframe," he said.

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