Lancaster Cathedral canon Stephen Shield found guilty of sexually abusing young man

Father Stephen Shield
Father Stephen Shield
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A Lancaster Cathedral canon has been found guilty of sexually abusing a young man more than two decades ago.

Father Stephen Shield’s victim, who had hopes of joining the priesthood, said he felt like his soul had been “ripped out” after the sex attacks by the Catholic priest.

Father Shield, who trained in Rome, had denied sexually assaulting the man in the presbytery at English Martyrs Church, Garstang Road, Preston, on two occasions after first meeting him at Castlerigg Manor in Cumbria – where he also abused him.

But today, a jury at Preston Crown Court found him guilty of three charges of indecent assault after a trial.

The offences were committed between 1985 and 1992 when the victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was aged 18 and 24.

Shield, 53, of Balmoral Road, Lancaster, became Canon at Lancaster Cathedral before he was arrested and charged with three counts of indecent assault.

Giving evidence by video link at Preston Crown Court, the victim said he first encountered Shield at a retreat in the Lake District but after another priest confronted him about the sex attack, Shield packed his bags and left in the night.

But several years later, the victim was sent to English Martyrs parish – not knowing until he arrived that Shield was also based at the church.

He described a dinner party hosted by Shield and attended by a number of local priests as well as other guests where Shield sexually assaulted him under the dinner table.

The man said he felt “paralysed” and was convinced other guests must have known what was going on.

He told the court: “I’m absolutely convinced they knew and they didn’t do anything.

“I had the impression they thought it was all right, it was normal, but it wasn’t normal to me.”

Shield was due to officiate at a funeral service two hours after his arrest, he told the jury.

Dressed in a blue jumper and shirt, he took to the witness stand to be cross examined at his trial.

He said: “I was supposed to conduct a funeral at 9.30am that morning.

“I was lying in bed going through the last few words of the service in my head.

“I was concerned about the family that I knew very well having another priest.”

Shield was taken to a police station and interviewed, with a female duty solicitor present.

The court heard that he made no comment to officers.

When he was asked to explain why, he said: “I was so shocked by the arrest I couldn’t think clearly about anything so I was grateful for her presence.

He added: “I didn’t answer the questions because I was advised not to.”

During his evidence, Shield told the jury - made up of five women and seven men - that he had been questioned before by “safeguarding” staff in the Lancaster Diocese regarding the same victim.

Speaking after sentencing, Detective Chief Inspector Jo Edwards, of Lancashire Police, said: “I am pleased that Mr Shields has been convicted of these offences.

“The victim in this case had lived with the knowledge of Mr Shield’s offending for a long period of time; this has had a significant impact upon him.

“It was a difficult decision for the victim to come forward and I am pleased that he felt confident enough in the constabulary to help bring this man to justice.

“The fact that these convictions come a long time after they were committed shows that we will always take any allegations of sexual abuse extremely seriously and will investigate them thoroughly no matter how long ago they happened.

“I would encourage people with any information about sexual abuse or who has been a victim of sexual abuse to come forward and report their concerns confident in the knowledge it will be investigated appropriately and with sensitivity.”

Joanne Cunliffe, Crown Advocate for the Crown Prosecution Service North West Complex Casework Unit, said: “The defendant was in a position of trust within the Roman Catholic Church and in the community he served.

“He abused this position for his own sexual gratification showing complete disregard to any long term effect his crimes may have had upon his victim.

“The victim has shown great courage coming forward and I would like to thank him for his assistance with the prosecution case which has enabled us to bring Stephen Shield to justice.

“This case serves as an example that time is not a barrier and it is never too late to report such offences, no matter how long ago they took place.”

Shield will be sentenced on December 13.