A NORTH-East man who was honoured earlier this year for his fight against sex abuse risks within the church has spoken of his “grave concerns” about evidence given to an official inquiry.

Steve Rose, from Hartlepool, who was once a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses but has now been “shunned” after he raised concerns, said elders had refused to reform the “two witness rule” which they required to throw a member out of the church.

The Royal Commission in Australia is looking into institutional child abuse and requested the governing body of Jehovah’s witnesses to give evidence – but they declined.

Mr Rose said: “The elders wouldn’t budge on the two-witness rule, a 2,000 year rule in the Bible where you need two witnesses to a wrongdoing.

“They also won’t accept women to make a decision at a hearing on child abuse. This can be intimidating for the child or even another woman who has to go in front of three elders in a private room.”

He said if a victim wanted to disassociate themselves from the organisation they were shunned by family and friends.

A spokesman for the church said it “abhorred child abuse”, viewing it as a “heinous crime and sin”, and saying that child abusers faced expulsion from the congregation.

He said: “Jehovah’s Witnesses do not separate children from their parents. We do not have any programmes, such as Sunday Schools, youth groups, or day care centres, in which we take custody of children from their parents. We believe that loving and protective parents are the best deterrent to child abuse.

“The victim and his or her parents have the absolute right to report the matter to the governmental authorities. Whether the victim or parents decide to report the matter is not contingent on the number of witnesses to the offence or whether a confession has been made. Congregation elders do not shield abusers from the authorities. Any suggestion that Jehovah’s Witnesses cover up child abuse is false.”