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Last Updated: Friday, 28 July 2006, 16:22 GMT 17:22 UK
Child rape minister to serve life
Simon Thomas
Thomas worked at Hythe United Reformed Church for 10 years
A church minister who pleaded guilty to 35 counts of child abuse, including two charges of raping an 11-year-old boy, has been sentenced to life in prison.

The Reverend Simon Thomas, 44, of Hythe, Hampshire, admitted the charges at Southampton Crown Court.

The court heard he had used internet chatrooms to groom his victims.

A judge said Thomas, a former minister at Hythe United Reformed Church, must serve a minimum of eight years before he is eligible for parole.

Thomas, who had worked in Hythe for 10 years and was married, was suspended by the United Reformed Church pending disciplinary proceedings.

The charges against him included inciting children to engage in sexual activity, meeting children following sexual grooming, indecency with a child, sexual activity with an 11-year-old and making indecent photographs of children.

The same good social skills that made you a successful priest were used to harm those young boys and breach their trust
Judge Jeremy Burford QC

Judge Jeremy Burford QC said that only a life sentence was appropriate for the serious offences of rape because it was not clear when Thomas would be "safe to be released back into society".

He said: "You used the internet through those years to contact and groom boys using a mixture of flattery and obscenity.

"The same good social skills that made you a successful priest were used to harm those young boys and breach their trust."

When police examined computers seized from Thomas' home they discovered a schedule of 1,200 names of people he had met on the internet, 97 of whom were boys aged under 16.

'Double life'

The material included details of the boys as well as comments about them.

Thomas also arranged to meet four of the boys in town centres and then drove them to secluded spots where he abused them.

The court was told that the 35 offences, which included 19 indecent images and video footage on his computer, were committed during a four-and-half-year period.

Judge Burford said that Thomas had led a "double life", which had deceived not only his family but his employers and congregation at his church.

"You have been convicted of serious specified sexual offences, there's no doubt there's a significant risk to young boys of serious psychological harm by you committing further offences," he added.

You cannot blame the internet, these people will always find a way but you have to make sure to do everything possible to protect your children
Father of a victim
On Friday, the mother of one of the victims urged families to make sure they supervise their children's use of the web at all times.

"I urge parents to take every care with their children's use of the internet and make sure they know what their children are doing at all times," she said.

"Children should never meet anyone they meet on the internet."

And the father of a 14-year-old victim said: "You cannot blame the internet, these people will always find a way but you have to make sure to do everything possible to protect your children."

Det Insp Adrian Prangnell, of Hampshire Police, said: "This has been a terrible but perhaps timely reminder to us all of the need to ensure our children can use the wonderful opportunities the internet offers in a safe and secure way.

"It is highly possible that there are other victims who are yet to be identified."


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Thomas used internet chatrooms to groom victims



SEE ALSO
A question of trust
28 Jul 06 |  Hampshire
Church minister faces sex charges
14 Feb 06 |  Hampshire

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