THE Jehovah's Witnesses have been ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation to a child sex abuse victim in the first case against the church in the
In the groundbreaking case, which uncovered how the victim was abused aged four in Bible study classes, the religion's governing body has been told to bear legal responsibility for a ministerial servant's actions.
As well as paying £275,000 damages, they must also meet the victim's £455,000 legal costs.
The woman was just four-years-old when Peter Stewart began using his position in the church to molest her at Limehurst Congregation where her family worshipped.
The abuse continued for five years in Loughborough, Leicestershire, until 1994 when Mr Stewart was arrested and jailed in a separate child sex abuse case.
In that case the victim's mother gave evidence in support of Stewart's good character. And the turmoil of the abuse caused his victim to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She would vomit when the memory of the abuse surfaced.
Following the news of his first victim, the latest woman confided in her mother who wrote to Mr Stewart in jail concerning her daughter's allegations.
He admitted to the victim's mother he was a pervert and said he was sorry for the hurt and damage he had caused.
The victim went to the police who interviewed her in 2001.
But Mr Stewart escaped justice as he died a month later, aged 72.
The woman's barrister, James Counsell, said the abusive minister was a "respected and devout" member of the congregation who used his reputation and position to carry out the despicable acts.
The abuse took place during bible study classes and involved sex acts in the living room of the victim's home and in the loft at Stewart’s home.
The manipulative minister would keep his victim silent because he would explain "what she was doing was fornication and that she was sinning and that she would not be saved from the Armageddon because of what she was doing."
The trustees of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the religion's governing body, who were facing the huge compensation claim, tried to argue Stewart was never an "employee" of the congregation and could not be held legally responsible for his abuse of the little girl.
But Mr Justice Globe ruled that, with Mr Stewart's other abuse allegations, the elders of the congregation failed in their duty to warn their congregation, and parents in particular, about the minister.
He added Mr Stewart's role meant "no one who saw him questioned his being alone with her".
The judge said: “Throughout, he told the claimant it was their secret and that she should say nothing about what was happening. He told her that she would be damned as a sinner if she said anything to anyone.”