CHURCH bosses were made aware more than two decades ago of allegations a pervert pastor was abusing congregation members, the Keighley News can exclusively reveal this week.

Assemblies of God (AoG) says it suspended Pastor John Wilson pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing when accusations surfaced in the early 1990s.

Wilson was stripped of his accreditation when he was found unanimously guilty by the church panel, yet he continued to commit offences until 2010.

Wilson, now 70, of the Liberty Pentecostal Church in Keighley, was jailed for 21 years last week for sexually abusing female worshippers.

AoG, an arm of the Pentecostal movement, said it had subsequently co-operated fully with a police investigation.

The AoG told the Keighley News it condemned all forms of abuse and took safeguarding “very seriously”.

And it voiced its “deepest sympathy” to all those affected by the case.

“We believe everyone has a right to protection,” said a spokesman.

“In the early 1990s, we were made aware of an allegation the pastor was systematically abusing members of the congregation during a particular method of spiritual deliverance ministry.

“As he was accorded AoG status at the time, the matter was referred to senior leadership, which initiated an investigation into the details of the complaint.

“The minister was immediately suspended pending the outcome of the investigation and a disciplinary hearing.

“The disciplinary panel unanimously found the minister guilty of the allegation made and he had his accreditation immediately terminated.

“AoG has fully co-operated and worked with the police throughout a recent, lengthy investigation, which resulted in successful convictions.”

The spokesman added: “AoG Incorporated would like to clarify that Liberty Pentecostal Church has never been a church affiliated or in any way connected with AoG.

“Furthermore, AoG churches are all autonomous organisations, either independent charities or companies, separately registered with the Charity Commission, totally separate from any AoG management, and as such each has their own board of trustees with legal responsibility for all aspects of managing their church.

“As an umbrella organisation, we are committed to encouraging those ministers of religion and their self-governing trustee boards who connect to AoG to embed effective support structures within all their independent church charities, and we would like to reassure all those involved that we take safeguarding extremely seriously.

“As part of that support, we would advise anyone who has concerns to contact CCPAS, an independent charity providing professional advice, guidance and support on all matters relating to safeguarding and abuse, on 0303 0031111."

Shocked leaders of an organisation representing churches across Keighley this week said they are “deeply sorry” for the trauma caused by Wilson.

Keighley Churches Together (KCT) said its heartfelt sympathies went out to all those affected.

In a statement issued to the Keighley News, KCT – a multi-denominational partnership of churches – said it was “shocked and appalled” at what Wilson had done.

“Our sorrow and sympathy goes out to those who were abused by him, their families and other church members,” it added.

“Such gross abuse of trust by a Christian minister leaves all of us angry, confused and betrayed. It is deeply wrong and sinful.

“Jesus shows God’s love and compassion in our messy, painful world. So should Christians.

“Churches – like all organisations – need clear and robust safeguarding procedures. Churches Together in Keighley all have these.

“We have a responsibility to protect all in our care and to name abuse when we see it.

“We’re deeply sorry for the trauma and scars of this abuse by a Christian minister.

“And we pray for all affected to the God who brings justice and healing to us all.”

The Liberty Pentecostal Church in Keighley declined to comment.

Also in court last week were Wilson’s wife, Mary, and church minister, Laurence Peterson, who were found guilty of aiding and abetting indecent assault.

Peterson was also convicted of three charges of conspiracy to commit indecent assault.