A Church of England vicar has been given a suspended jail sentence after admitting using secret cameras to spy on and film intimate pictures of three girls and a woman.
The Reverend Richard Lee, 49, received the eight-month jail term, suspended for two years, at Bristol Crown Court yesterday after admitting eight counts of voyeurism and 18 counts of making indecent images. The offending took place over a ten-year period in Weston-super-Mare where he was a priest in the diocese of Bath and Wells, and also in
Judge Neil Ford, QC, said: “I have agonised about my public duty in this case. While sentences of imprisonment must be imposed, they can be suspended.”
Outlining the case, prosecutor Richard Posner said: “For ten years, Richard Lee has been watching young girls. This was at a time when they believed, thought and trusted they had privacy. This was all for his sexual gratification. He breached the trust... and undermined the faith his community had in him.”
The court heard Lee, who was suspended from his post when he was arrested in July last year, used secret cameras to spy on his victims, but was found out when the pictures were spotted on his laptop.
Following police searches of the Locking vicarage in Somerset and churches, officers seized a number of computer equipment and found 400 category one images – the least serious – and 84 movies of the same category. Hi-tech examination of computers seized also revealed 51 category two images, three category three and four images and one category four movie.
He also searched for images of child abuse on the internet, the court heard, although there was no evidence to suggest any of the material was shared with anyone else, while most of it was likely deleted, the judge said.
He moved from Kent to work at two churches in Somerset. Lee previously officiated at All Saints’ Church in Hempstead before leading the congregations at St Augustine’s Church in Locking and St Mary’s Church in Hutton.
Lee, who has since moved to Bodmin, Cornwall, to live with his parents, made a full confession to police upon his arrest.
Defending, Robin Shellard said his client “behaved with a degree of wickedness”.
He said: “Richard Lee appears in front of this court today a totally broken man. He has, through his own folly but more importantly his own criminality, lost everything he has worked for, for the whole of his life.”
In a letter from one member of the public, the author described Lee as “the best vicar we’ve ever had, bringing the church to the people in a way no other cleric had previously”. The judge added: “You’ve lost your calling as a clergyman.”
Lee was banned from working with children indefinitely and must complete a sexual offenders’ programme.
The Diocese of Bath and Wells previously confirmed that, in accordance with the Clergy Discipline Measure, the Bishop of Bath and Wells Rt Revd Peter Price suspended Lee from active ministry as soon as he was arrested.