A FORMER church curate from Bideford who exploited his role to sexually abuse two boys has been handed a 11-year prison sentence.

Julian Wheeler, aged 75 and of Mount Raleigh Avenue, Bideford, was found guilty of 13 child sexual abuse offences at Exeter Crown Court following a seven-day trial.

At the time of the offending, Mr Wheeler was working as a curate in a Bideford church, a role he held from 1975 until 2003.

The court heard how the abuse against the first victim began in the 1980s with Wheeler befriending the boy and his family often visiting the family home. On numerous occasions he would attend the address and sexually abuse the boy over the course of four years.

Wheeler began to abuse the second victim in the 1990s, again after befriending the victim. Wheeler often helped the boy with his homework before exploiting this friendship and subjecting the victim to years of sexual abuse.

In 2017, the first victim came forward to police about the abuse they suffered at the hands of Wheeler. Officers launched an investigation and contacted the other victim who had previously reported similar offences against Wheeler.

T/Detective Inspector Elaine Westerman said: “This man was in a position of trust. He used his role as a church curate to gain access to vulnerable boys which he went on to abuse.

“I am extremely grateful to both of the victims for supporting the investigation. We welcome the outcome today and hope that they can find comfort in justice being served.

“I truly hope that this gives other victims the confidence to come forward to report sexual offences, no matter how long ago they may have happened. We will work with you and support you while we seek the justice you deserve.”

District Crown Prosecutor, Suzie Butler said: “We are very pleased that we were able to deliver justice for the victims in this case and we acknowledge the immense courage and bravery they showed in coming forward and in supporting the prosecution.

“We want every victim of sexual assault to have the confidence to come forward to report abuse, in the knowledge that support is available and that the police and CPS are committed to securing justice”.

For more information and support or information on how to make a report visit the following section of the Police website: Support for rape and sexual assault | Devon & Cornwall Police (devon-cornwall.police.uk) .

He has been placed on the sex offenders register for life. 

Wheeler served in the Diocese of Exeter and the offences he was convicted of occurred while he was an Honorary Curate between 1986-2003 at a group of nine parishes in North Devon. 

The Acting Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Rev Jackie Searle, said: “Today’s sentence is a reflection of the extremely serious crimes committed by Julian Wheeler.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and survivors of his abuse, their friends and families, and all who have suffered as a result of his actions. 

“I hope the justice done today will bring some peace to all affected by this case, including the communities where he lived and worked. It is deeply disturbing and shocking that vulnerable children were abused by a member of clergy who had a duty of care to protect them.”

Support has been offered to all those who came forward in this case. 

The Diocese of Exeter safeguarding team has been working with the statutory authorities and, as per our House of Bishops safeguarding guidance.

The Diocese says it will now be reviewing every aspect of this case to establish what lessons could be learnt from it. 

If you would like to speak to someone in confidence relating to this case, or about any other safeguarding matter please contact the Diocese safeguarding team: https://exeter.anglican.org/resources/safeguarding/safeguarding-team/ .