Retired Yorkshire vicar who made vulnerable mother call him 'Master' and beat her is spared prison

A retired Yorkshire vicar has been given an absolute discharge by a court after abusing a trusting and vulnerable parishioner.

Hilary Alflatt, now 87, entered into a bizarre relationship with the woman following her divorce in their Sheffield parish in the early 1980s.

Then known as Malcolm and married, he forced her to take a 'vow of obedience and poverty' that turned out to be invalid under Church of England doctrine.

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He also beat her with a bamboo cane while she was naked as a punishment for defying him.

The case was heard at Hull Crown Court

Mr Alflatt now has advanced dementia and lives in a care home in Northallerton. Hull Crown Court found him unfit to stand trial due to his poor health, but a jury found him to have committed actual bodily harm in relation to the caning.

They were undecided on a further charge of branding the victim with a heated needle, but Mr Alflatt admitted to this in a police interview.

However Judge Sophie McKone was unable to impose a custodial sentence due to Mr Alflatt being 'in the final months of life' and he was discharged by the court.

The abuse took place between 1983 and 1992, while he was working as a priest in the parish where the victim lived. She sought support from him after her husband left her and their two young children, which also placed her in financial difficulties.

Although she made a complaint about Mr Alflatt's behaviour in the 1990s, there was no further action taken by either the police or the Church. She agreed to testify when South Yorkshire Police reapproached her in relation to the allegation as part of an investigation into historic offences involving the Church of England.

The court heard that when she confided in her vicar that she was struggling in the aftermath of her marriage breakdown, he suggested that she take a five-year vow of obedience to him. As she sought 'some security' she agreed, believing it to be legitimate. It later transpired that the vow was usually only taken by monks or nuns, and in public rather than in private.

The woman described My Alflatt as becoming 'like a Jekyll and Hyde character' who was no longer kind to her and who forbade her to look at him. She had to call him 'Master' and kiss his feet, and would be beaten if she did not comply.

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The abuse only came to light when she wished to remarry and asked to be released from the vows, only to be told by a more senior clergyman that they were not valid.

Mr Alflatt was arrested in 2019 and interviewed by police, at which point he was considered mentally fit to be questioned. He said the relationship and the beatings were consensual and that the victim had asked him to cane her. He denied causing bruising to her body.

Two doctors who reported on his current state of health agreed that Mr Alflatt, who is now bedbound, is unlikely to survive for more than a year.

Judge McKone said: "She turned to him for support and he breached that trust in the most bizarre and cruel way. She had to give money to the Church and at one point was made to walk down the street wearing only a raincoat. The welts from the canings lasted for weeks and it was a very painful experience for her. She lived in permanent fear and felt trapped. The Church took no proper action.

"As he is in the final months of his life, he does not pose a risk to others."

The Bishop of Sheffield has apologised to the victim after passing on her original complaint to police as part of a review into historic allegations against clergy.