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London vicar Rev Jonathan Fletcher could face criminal inquiry

by Ruth Sax

A leading Church of England vicar may face a criminal inquiry after alleged abuse victims claimed they endured naked ice baths, beatings and massages.

Rev Jonathan Fletcher, 77, was already banned from preaching at his church in Wimbledon in south west London, following a string of allegations he 'spiritually abused' vulnerable adults.

But further details emerged on Thursday of disturbing acts the former vicar allegedly inflicted on his victims, who are calling for a fresh police inquiry.

Five anonymous victims claim they suffered sexually inappropriate comments and questions about masturbation, bullying and intimidation, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Some were made to join Mr Fletcher in a naked sauna and endure nude massages with oil, it was claimed.

One said he was beaten with what was referred to as 'six of the best with a gym shoe on a bare backside'.

They say the reverend was also known for his 'good sense of humour' which, combined with his 'manipulative and controlling tendencies', could legally constitute an abuse of power.

Mr Fletcher's permission to officiate in the Diocese of Southwark was revoked in 2017 over allegations dating back to his tenure as vicar of Emmanuel Church in Wimbledon between 1982 and 2012.

Further abuse allegations were made in September 2018 but police did not continue their investigation.

The alleged victims are now seeking legal advice to see if his actions warrant criminal charges.

Emmanuel Church, they claim, did not take their concerns seriously, despite their reporting of the abuse.

One victim said: “We don't feel that we can go anywhere, basically. There's no one high up that we trust.”

An Emmanuel Church spokesperson told The Telegraph an independent review has been commissioned into safeguarding and Mr Fletcher, with alleged victims encouraged to participate.

Mr Fletcher denied he humiliated people or made derogatory comments about their appearance, and said he never gave ice baths, but 'very rarely' gave a 'cold bath'.

He said “anything that happened was totally consensual and non-sexual' and 'the punishments were a) consensual, and b) mutual”.

He said he was “deeply, deeply sorry for anybody that I have hurt or harmed in any way”, adding: “If I knew the individuals that I had harmed I would seek their forgiveness and ask to apologise.”

In June this year, after an article exposing Mr Fletcher's preaching ban, Southwark Diocese confirmed allegations had been made around his potentially 'harmful' conduct against 'vulnerable adults who may be seeking his spiritual guidance'.

At the time, Sarah Hall, the safeguarding officer and women's worker at Emmanuel Church, said: “We are appalled and saddened by what has been disclosed.

“We apologise to all those who have been affected.

“Whenever we have become aware of Jonathan Fletcher seeking to minister, and although it is not our formal responsibility to do so, we have taken such steps as we can to stop him.”

The church also offered 'independent pastoral and counselling support' to those who came forward and added it was 'actively taking steps to identify others in need'.

Mr Fletcher subsequently admitted to inflicting sanctions on his prayer group including 'going without chocolate, cold baths and school-type gym punishments.'

In a statement he said: “Although at the time we definitely did not think we were doing anything wrong, I've seen since that it could have caused much harm both to individuals and to the reputation of conservative evangelicalism for which I am profoundly sorry.”

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