Bishop who groped women in assaults handed suspended prison sentence
A bishop who hid behind ‘the cloak of respectability’ to sexually assault two women has been handed a suspended prison sentence.
Michael Ward abused his position to grope his victims, leaving one of them terrified to leave her home and driving the other to self-harm, while working for the Old Catholic Church, based in Rugeley.
The 71-year-old, who was thrown out of the church, is now operating as a bishop in a different church, Wolverhampton Crown Court heard.
Judge John Burbidge, QC, said: “It is a matter of some concern that that you have moved churches and retain the title of bishop.”
He ordered that the church elders should be made aware of his convictions.
Defence counsel Ms Sharon Bailey, suggested that Ward’s conduct was not taken seriously, adding he was even known as ‘the naughty bishop’ by one funeral director.
But the judge said groping women without their permission had never been admissable behaviour.
Ward, a married man, denied three counts of sexual assault but was found guilty following a trial which heard he had paid ‘inappropriate and unwanted attention’ to the first victim outside Hawksyard Priory in Rugeley.
A year later he had squeezed her bottom.
Ward assaulted the second woman when he was helping to arrange a funeral. The trial heard he ‘fiddled’ with the 19-year-old’s bra and undid it. On a separate occasion, he touched her chest.
The court heard that Ward had turned his life around after two convictions for fraud offences but had stayed out of trouble since 1976. Fourteen references were handed to the court suggesting that he was ‘a man who does a lot of good’, said Ms Bailey.
But the judge said: “You used the cloak of respectability to hide the reality of what you were doing.” He added that the church should not be confused with the Roman Catholic Church.
Ward, of Edmonton, London, was sentenced to 15 months in prison suspended for 18 months and ordered to pay his victims £900 compensation. He was also put on the sex offenders’ register for 10 years.