Jehovah's Witness elders insist they had no legal responsibility for the sick behaviour of aging sex predator, Peter Stewart, whose abuse of a young girl in Loughborough in the 1980s has sparked a £500,000 lawsuit.
Their barrister, Adam Weitzman, argued that much of Stewart’s perverted activities had occurred “in the community” and that elders “could not restrict his movements or who he saw”.
Although Stewart acted as a “ministerial servant” for some of the time before he was “deleted” by the elders, this was not a position which carried any formal authority, he added.
When it was discovered that he had indecently assaulted another child in 1990, elders had taken active steps to remove him from his position.
Stewart had ultimately “disassociated himself from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, before he could be disfellowshipped”.
His withdrawal followed his conviction for sexually abusing a schoolgirl and a young boy in 1995, the court was told.
At London’s High Court, a traumatised woman, aged in her 20s but who cannot be identified, is suing the Trustees of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Great Britain, claiming that not enough was done to protect her from Stewart.
She was molested by the ministerial servant over a five-year period in Loughborough in the 1980s and 90s, her barrister, James Counsell, has claimed.
The trauma she suffered derailed her education and career, and led to harrowing nightmares and recurring thoughts of suicide, the court heard.
Matters came to a head after she “passed out on her bed next to a pile of paracetamol” while on holiday with her husband, “having left him a suicide note”.
Soon afterwards, she had a “bad panic attack” - triggered by seeing a collection of Jehovah’s Witness literature - and it was only then that she decided to sue.
Stewart - an apparently “respected and devout” congregation member - died aged 72 in June 2001.
Mr Counsell said he met his end “shortly before police arrived at his home to arrest him for sexually abusing the claimant”.
The elderly molester had repeatedly preyed on the girl between the ages of four and nine, “using his position as a ministerial servant to commit these acts”, the barrister claimed.
He ensured her silence by invoking the threat of Armageddon and by “telling her that what she was doing was fornication and that she was sinning”.
However, Mr Weitzman pointed out that elders had never had any “direct knowledge of any sexual abuse by Stewart of the claimant”.
“While it is not disputed that some abusive acts took place, they cannot admit the period, nature, scope or circumstances of the abuse,” he added.
And the barrister insisted it would be wrong to hold the trustees “vicariously liable” for Stewart’s actions.
So many years having passed, key documents - including crucial police interviews - had gone missing, and many potentially pivotal witnesses had died.
Mr Weitzman added that Stewart’s role “did not require him to have contact with children”, although some may possibly have seen him as a “mentor”.
Overall, the elders “did not exercise control over Stewart in the community where the abuse occurred”, he told the court.
“He was certainly not expected to develop either a personal or intimate physical relationship with children.
“On the contrary, individual contact with children in the absence of their parents is inimical to the role of ministerial servant,” he added.
The hearing is now in its final stages and Mr Justice Globe is expected to reserve his judgment until a later date.
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