• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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Patrick Sookhdeo Supporters Make Case For the Defence

From the BBC News, February last year:

The founder of a Wiltshire-based Christian charity has been found guilty of sexually assaulting a female member of staff.

Patrick Sookhdeo, from Barnabas Aid International, was also found to have intimidated two employees who were due to give evidence against him.

Sookhdeo continues to maintain his innocence (although he has declined to appeal for health reasons and due to the expense), and his cause has been championed in particular by David Virtue of Virtue Online:

The “touching” as it turned out was little more than brushing of one breast; the Rev. Albrecht Hauser, Chairman of Barnabas Aid International refuted the charges of intimidation. He wrote: “The alleged witness intimidation relates to a short extempore speech made by Dr. Sookhdeo to the entire UK staff and most of the trustees, at a meeting called by the board, which I pressed him to attend (against his inclination) and at which I urged him to speak (also against his inclination). There were over 50 people in a crowded room, and many of us saw no sign of any intention to intimidate witnesses.”

Virtue’s article (he has also written others on the subject) is headlined “In Sex Crimes One Must Prove One’s Innocence”, and I’m full agreement that that there is cause for concern about how the police and courts in the UK are currently handling “historic” allegations of a sexual nature in particular (see this post). However, I’ve also seen how Sookhdeo has a tendency to twist and misrepresent information, and this must affect how I regard any continuing “case for the defence”.

This case includes not just an alternative narrative of what actually happened (as put forward by Hauser), but also inferences about the court operated. It is suggested that the conviction was secured because the jury was white and mostly female, and that the sentence was lenient and as such indicates that the judge was sceptical. This is not convincing – Sookhdeo’s lawyers could have raised an objection to the make-up of the jury before the trial got underway, and the sentence was (as Mark Woods of Christian Today has pointed out) in the middle range for this kind of offence.

Virtue has also now, in my opinion, damaged Sookhdeo’s cause by promoting a bizarre screed by one Richard Carvath. Carvath denounces the assault complainant as “Jezebel”, and refers to the prosecution witnesses as the “Satan gang”. The rhetoric is extraordinary; discussing one witness who formerly worked at Barnabas, Carvarth writes that her

current Facebook profile photo provides a good example of the sort of dress and attitude which so concerned Sookhdeo, given the specific nature and focus of the Barnabas ministry.

In a ‘look at me’ photo, [redacted]‘s arms are uncovered and she wears a figure-hugging dress, her buttocks clearly presented to the beholder.

Carvath goes on to complain about Facebook links between complainants and Andrea Minichello Williams of Christian Concern.

Carvath has also been using Twitter to fire accusatory questions at Mark Woods, who has written a number of critical articles about Sookhdeo for Christian Today (not to be confused with the American evangelical Christianity Today, although Virtue is critical of that publication’s reporting on Sookhdeo as well). In a series of Tweets, he has asked whether Woods is working with Sookhdeo’s pro-Palestinian critic Ben White (reply: “No.”); what the “nature of the relationship” is between Woods and one of the intimidation complainants (reply: “None.”); and whether Woods has been in direct contact with any complainants (reply: “No.”). Despite this last reply, Carvath then pressed on with asking whether a new allegation was due to “your encouraging the complainant” (reply: “for the record: no.”).

Carvath was previously expelled from the Conservative Christian Fellowship for what he describes as his “views on homopervuality… and islam.”