Churches 'must take abuse allegations seriously'

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A WOMAN who was verbally attacked by fellow Presbyterians for taking a Sunday school teacher who sexually abused her to court, has spoken out about the incident.

Simone Walker, who has waived her right to anonymity to highlight the issue of sexual abuse within religious circles, said a move by the church to remove the abuser – her cousin – from the church committee was merely a "publicity stunt".

Ms Walker, now 24, was abused when she was a child, aged between five and 11, by her cousin, Ivor Hogg, a prominent figure in their local church.

Mr Hogg was a Sunday school teacher and Boys' Brigade leader at Drumreagh Presbyterian Church near Ballymoney.

When he was charged in 2006, he admitted three indecent assaults, and last month he received a suspended sentence.

Ms Walker said that Mr Hogg received support from some members of the church community, a number of whom hurled verbal abuse at Ms Walker during the court proceedings.

The Presbyterian Church recently announced their intention to remove Mr Hogg from the committee where he holds a senior position.

But yesterday Ms Walker said: "I think it's a publicity stunt. Church House really needs to investigate it. They need to take it seriously."

She said that Churches "of all denominations" need "to be there to support people".

"If it wasn't for my family and friends I would be long gone," Ms Walker said.

She said that such abuse cannot be "blown under the carpet" and forgotten about by churches, "because I'm not the only person this has happened to".

Ms Walker claimed that senior figures in the church were informed about her intention to bring the case to court.

She said that Mr Hogg was doing work within the church "right up to two weeks before the sentencing".

Ms Walker said she hoped her speaking out about her past would give others who experienced similar ordeals "a glimmer of hope".

But she said the religious community needs to look harder at the issue of how to handle abuse.

No one from the Presbyterian Church was available for comment.

Earlier this week a senior administrator in the Church, Lindsay Conway, called on the congregation to take steps to avoid a repetition of outbursts such as the one that Ms Walker was subjected to in court.