A VICAR who is suspended while child abuse allegations are investigated appeared in court yesterday to deny the claims against him.

The Reverend Malcolm Jackson, 52, will stand trial on four sex charges at Teesside Crown Court next month.

Mr Jackson, the vicar of Kirkleatham Parish, in Redcar, east Cleveland, is alleged to have committed the offences against a teenage girl.

During a brief hearing at Teesside Crown Court yesterday, he denied all four offences and was released on bail until his trial in September.

He is accused of rape, attempted rape, sexual activity with a child and causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.

The offences are said to have been committed between late June 2007 and the end of March 2008 at Guisborough, east Cleveland.

Mr Jackson, of Mersey Road, Redcar, was ordained to serve as curate at St Nicholas Church, Guisborough, in June 2004. In March 2008, while assistant curate of Guisborough, he was appointed vicar of Kirkleatham.

His parish includes Kirkleatham village, as well as a large part of west Redcar.

It is thought Mr Jackson was first questioned by police at the end of last year in connection with the allegations.

He is well-known in the area and has conducted several notable funerals – including that of Baby Leah in June last year.

The body of the baby, thought to have been born prematurely, was found in Kirkleatham Woods, Redcar, in February 2008.

Despite a high-profile investigation and appeals by police, the child’s mother has never been found.

Leah was laid to rest in St Cuthbert’s churchyard, a few hundred yards away from where she was found.

Mr Jackson will face a trial, expected to last three days, from September 6.

A spokeswoman for the Diocese of York said Mr Jackson had been suspended.

She said: “We are offering pastoral support to Malcolm, his family and all in the parish of Kirkleatham.”