London priest jailed for abusing brothers

 A Westminster diocesan priest was jailed for four years today, over a string of sexual offences against two young brothers. William Hofton, 49, admitted seven counts of gross indecency and nine of indecent assault between 1991-93.

The priest molested one of the boys, aged 15, in at least two churches, a presbytery, on trips and in the boys' home, Middlesex Guildhall Court heard. Prosecuting barrister Peter Zinner, told the court all but two of the offences admitted by the defendant involved the older boy. Mr Zinner said Hofton first met the brothers around 1990 at a church in Middlesex.

He said: "It seems he befriended their family and was considered by the congregation and the church generally as being a lovely, infectious and friendly character to whom the congregation warmed very rapidly."

The boys were showered with gifts, taken on trips, paid a lot of attention and given praise, he said. "Not surprisingly, being two young and impressionable boys, they formed a warm and affectionate relationship with the defendant," Mr Zinner said. Passing sentence, Judge Fabyan Evans told Hofton he had abused the trust of the boys and the church.

"You indulged in grooming which could have led to far greater offences being committed on the younger victim than in fact occurred," he said. "It was extensive and persistent conduct that occurred with great regularity, and it comes as no surprise to me to read the statements of both victims, who are trying to come to terms with what happened, that they came to realise that your conduct had robbed them of part of their adolescence. That can never be replaced."

He said the ordeals had left the brothers "experiencing difficulties in their attitudes to their personal relationships." Hofton, who conducted the funeral of Kenny Everett, was ordained in 1991 and worked in several parishes around the diocese including Hertfordshire and north London.

Before this case, Hofton's behaviour had come to the attention of church authorities. In April 2002 he admitted to his superiors that he had indecently assaulted a 17 year old boy 16 years earlier when he was studying at Allen Hall. His confession was prompted by a message from the victim. Hofton had apologised to him by e-mail. The police were informed but the victim said he did not want to press charges. Hofton was sent on administrative leave from his parish in Borehamwood, and sent to a clinic for four weeks. Afterwards the diocesan child protection team decided he was 'low risk' and allowed him to return to his parish, under strict conditions. He was not allowed to administer to anyone on their own under the age of 21 or work with children. He was obliged to have therapy and meet regularly with his superiors.

Hofton resigned in November 2002 when a BBC programme reported that a priest with his record was still a school governor and working in a parish attached to a school. He was then moved to his last parish in Kentish Town - under similar restrictions.

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