Northern Ireland

Former minister extradited from Canada to face historic sex abuse charges given suspended sentence

Former Pastor James Henry Clarke leaves Belfast Crown Court following sentencing
Former Pastor James Henry Clarke leaves Belfast Crown Court following sentencing

A former minister who was extradited from Canada to face historic sex abuse charges has been sentenced.

James Clarke (81) was handed a two-year sentence, suspended for three years, by Judge Mark Reel.

Belfast Crown Court heard indecent assaults were committed against two teenage males in the 1960s and 70s when Clarke worked in two children's homes in Belfast.

He emigrated to Canada in 1977, where he gained a theology degree and became a church minister. As part of this work, Clarke was involved in a child abuse inquiry, and also helped to set up a home for boys in Ontario. 

With an address at Cloncore Road in Portadown, he admitted abusing his first victim on two occasions between January 1 1966 and January 1 1972.

This complainant contacted the RUC in 1980 and alleged that he had been abused when aged around 13. He told police he had been residing at a children's home in Bawnmore and was abused by 'the head' of the home.

Following his complaint, the RUC travelled to Canada and spoke to Clarke about the allegations, which he denied. At that stage a decision not to prosecute was made.

Five years later, Clarke was interviewed by police about an unrelated matter and at this point he admitted abusing the Bawnmore resident and said his earlier denial had been false.

In August 1985, Clarke wrote a letter to the detective inspector from the RUC who had travelled to Canada and admitted abusing a second young male whilst he was employed as the deputy senior matron at Conway House children's home.

Again, he was not charged with any offences.

The BBC became aware of the allegations against Clarke via the Historical Institutional Abuse Enquiry.

A team from the BBC travelled to Canada in 2017 and interviewed Clarke. At this point, he admitted sexually abusing two boys in Belfast in the 60s and 70s.

He also told the BBC he admitted the abuse to police but no action against him was taken. Following this, the Public Prosecution Service launched extradition proceedings.

Defence barrister Michael Boyd said Clarke was "ashamed and deeply sorry" for what he did, pointing out "he did everything to facilitate the prosecution of himself by virtue of his confessions".

Judge Reel said that after reading statements from the two complainants, "both men speak of the long-lasting memories of the abuse that they suffered.

"They say those memories effect every day of their existence."

Judge Reel said in senetncing that he had taken into considerations Clarke's admissions of guilt, his caring responsibilities in Canada and his health issues.