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Last Updated: Friday, 10 August 2007, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
Priest is jailed for sexual abuse
A 60-year-old Catholic priest who sexually abused children in Lancashire has been jailed for five years.

Father Edmund Cotter attacked up to 10 girls and one boy while he was a parish priest at two churches in Preston from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s.

He told one of the youngsters, who were all aged between seven and 11, that he was "like God" and that if she was not a good girl she would burn in hell.

Cotter admitted 13 counts of indecent assault at Preston Crown Court.

The court heard that both churches, St Gregory's and St Anthony's, have their own primary schools where Cotter used his position and authority to prey on youngsters between 1972 and 1984.

'Special friends'

Hilary Banks, prosecuting, told the court he befriended the family of one girl and contrived situations where he could be alone with her.

Cotter would tell his victims they were "special friends" and abuse them during church group meetings.

On another occasion he took children for a school camping trip in the countryside.

"During the night the defendant entered the girl's dormitory and got into bed with her and kissed her," Ms Banks told the court.

The girl, now a married woman with children of her own, later told police she could not tell anyone as "she did not think anyone would believe a priest would behave in such a manner", the prosecutor said.

This was a serious breach of trust and authority
Judge Anthony Russell QC

In March 2006 the victim discovered Cotter was working as a priest at Our Lady of The Rosary Church in Dalton, Cumbria.

Ms Banks said the victim became concerned for the children at the school who might be at risk and drove up to Cumbria with her husband to attend a service at the church.

She then went to the police station and made a formal complaint against Cotter.

He was arrested and confessed to having a sexual orientation towards pre-teen females, the court was told.

'Stolen childhood'

After news of the arrest, more victims came forward.

One victim said his actions had "stolen a big part of my childhood", Ms Banks told the court.

Another said the abuse had had a "catastrophic effect and led to countless failed relationships".

Rick Holland, defending, said: "There is deep regret and contrition at what has taken place".

Passing sentence, Judge Anthony Russell QC, said: "This was a serious breach of trust and authority.

"As a priest you were taking advantage of your position, someone the youngsters were brought up to respect."

Cotter was jailed for five years and two months, put on the sex offenders register for life and disqualified from working with children ever again.

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