A VICTIM whose claims of abuse at the hands of a former clergyman were dismissed for years has spoken of his relief after his attacker was finally jailed.

Peter Ridley, who has waived his right to anonymity, was speaking after the once highly-respected, now retired cleric, from Darlington, began a 12-month prison sentence, as he was led down to the cells at Durham Crown Court.

Granville Gibson, the former Archdeacon of Auckland, was convicted on two counts of indecent assault in early August, on the ninth day of his trial at the court.

Returning for sentence today, the 80-year-old former member of the Church ‘parliament’, the General Synod, received concurrent sentences of two and 12 months, respectively, for the offences.

He will also be subject to notification as a sex offender for ten years.

The offences dated from Gibson’s time as minister at St Clare’s Church, in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, in the late 1970s and early 80s.

One offence involved a young churchman and the other was against Mr Ridley, who as a teenage offender was sent to St Clare’s to perform community service work.

Judge Christopher Prince said Gibson, then 41, took advantage of his role in the Church, and his position of trust, to commit the offence on Mr Ridley, who was described as, “a particularly vulnerable” 18-year-old petty offender.

Following the incident, once Mr Ridley managed to prise himself from Gibson’s grasp, the defendant was said to have merely rubbed his hair and carried on as if nothing had taken place.

Although Mr Ridley complained to his Probation Officer, saying he did not want to go back to the church to finish his community service work, he was not believed and told he must complete his allocated hours there.

As he refused he was subsequently fined for failing to comply with the terms of the order, and, two days later, was sent to detention for a further offence of theft.

Judge Christopher Prince told Gibson’s sentencing hearing that the magistrates in passing that custodial sentence would have born in mind that Mr Ridley had previously apparently “failed” to complete his community service work.

Not only did he go on to serve that three-month sentence in detention, but the court heard he has subsequently suffered mental and physical health issues during his adult life, during which he has made attempts to take his own life.

The court heard Mr Ridley’s claims were not believed by his own mother who refused to have anything to do with him for stating that a respected churchman could have committed such acts.

Due to the ongoing family conflict it caused, Mr Ridley was unable to attend her funeral and said he was forced to watch from afar.

Speaking after Monday's sentence was passed, the now 58-year-old Mr Ridley, from Spennymoor, said: “I never dreamed I would see this day.

“It’s not so much that he’s been jailed, it’s more that I have finally been believed.

“For all these years I’ve been branded a liar. I’ve lived in the shadows for too long and I’ve got no reason to. I’ve got nothing to hide.

“I did want him to go to prison, though, to reflect what the impact has been.

“It wasn’t so much the physical impact of what he did. I could have dealt with that. It’s the impact since then, the mental effects.

“My biggest relief is that now, at last, I’ve been believed.

“I can’t praise the police enough for the way they have handled it. They have been brilliant.

“It’s only a pity it wasn’t taken seriously at the time,” added Mr Ridley, who is still suffering long-term heart problems, for which he is due to attend hospital for potential further surgery tomorrow.

The jailing of Gibson completed the downfall of the once highly-respected churchman.

Born in the old West Riding of Yorkshire, he spent ten years working in mining engineering, before becoming a trainer of youth leaders for the Boys’ Brigade movement, of which he had been a member himself since childhood. 

He turned to the cloth as a “mature student” in 1969, training for the clergy at theological college in Oxford, and, after ordination in 1971, taking up his first Church post as assistant curate at Cullercoats, North Tyneside, before becoming Team Vicar in Cramlington, Northumberland, in 1973. 

Gibson agreed to transfer from the Newcastle to Durham dioceses in 1977, when he took up the post at St Clare’s and later served as Rector of Sunderland Minster and Rural Dean of Wearmouth. 

His elevation to become Archdeacon of Auckland, overseeing deaneries of Stanhope, Auckland, Barnard Castle, Darlington and Stockton, between 1993 and retirement in 2001, also saw him being appointed to sit on the Church ‘parliament’, the General Synod. 

Among many other roles, he has acted as a Church Commissioner, a trustee for the Church Urban Fund, and served as a school governor. 

He was also briefly brought out of retirement to act as interim priest at St James the Great Church, in Darlington, following the departure of the previous priest and some of the congregation, in 2012. 

But his previous unsullied reputation was brought into question following his arrest at his former home in West Crescent, Darlington, in April 2014, which resulted in the ultimate fateful charges being brought the following month.