A married Church of England minister and his mistress have each been sentenced to four years in prison after persuading an underage girl to become involved in their clandestine affair.
Reverend Stephen Clapham, 61, had been secretly dating 52-year-old cleaner Sally Shaw behind her husband’s back after she told the reverend about her marital problems between church services.
During the affair, the couple accidentally accosted a young girl and persuaded her to undress and watch them have sex.
After the girl informed her teacher about the incident, the pair were arrested.
At Chester Crown Court, Clapham, who was vicar of All Saints’ Church, in the village of Church Lawton near Alsager, Cheshire, and Shaw admitted to having engaged in sexual activity in the presence of a child under the age of 13 and to being an indecent picture of a child.
The couple will now also both have to sign for life on the sex offender registry.
Pictured is Sally Shaw outside Chester Crown Court, where she admitted to circulating an indecent photo
Pictured is Stephen Clapham. In sentencing the pair for their actions, Judge Steven Everett told Clapham: ‘You are a disgusting individual’
Clapham, who along with mistress Shaw – one of his parishioners – each received four years in prison
During police interviews, Shaw fully admitted to the crimes and allegedly described their offense “in detail.”
Clapham, who had been married for 38 years, also admitted to assaulting a girl under the age of 13 by touching him.
While Shaw admitted to spreading an indecent photo.
The Church of England clergyman was suspended by the Bishop of Chester after the scandal came to light. But he has also since resigned and stepped down from his role as rural dean of Congleton and diocesan ecumenical officer in the diocese of Chester.
The court heard how the victim is now 16 and recovering from her ordeal.
In prosecuting, Nicholas Williams said: “The defendants began an affair in 2016 when the Reverend Clapham was the vicar of All Saint. They had started seeing each other in confidential places to discuss her failed marriage and this developed into an intimate and long lasting affair.
On the day of the crime, the girl was asked to undress in front of the defendants. She was then told to sit on the bed and help Shaw get penetrated by the Reverend. The sex lasted five minutes. The victim was then told to put her clothes back on.”
The investigation began in October 2021 after the girl informed her teacher about the ordeal.
Following this, the police arrested Clapham and found indecent images of the victim on his mobile phone, all of which were stored in a specific folder.
In three of his four police interrogations, he did not comment.
Meanwhile, his mistress made full confessions and allegedly described their offense “in detail.”
The vicar was suspended by the Bishop of Chester after the scandal came to light
Shaw out of court. Miss Milena Bennett, softening Shaw, said Shaw was having marital problems and: ‘She hadn’t experienced intimacy for a long time, so she went to her Reverend for help’
Mellowing Clapham, Ms Maria Messellis said: ‘He is well placed to consider the understanding of the long-term effect of his actions on the victim and her wider family, given his previous role in the Church.
“At 61 years old, he is someone who has held a valued position for many years, and the loss of that good character will be greatly felt to him. He was a prolific family man, married to his wife for 38 years.
“Outside of work, he has made a positive impact helping the homeless and his parishioners. This would have undoubtedly caused a rift in the family and his wife has taken the brunt. They have had to leave the area and have lost all but one of the couples in their friendship circle. The man in court today is not a man they recognise.’
Miss Milena Bennett, mitigating Shaw, said: ‘She started going to church when she started having marital problems. She hadn’t experienced intimacy in a long time, so she turned to her pastor for help. Clapham gave her that intimacy.
“She’s always been a follower, not a leader, and in this case she followed Clapham.”
In sentencing the pair for their actions, Judge Steven Everett told Clapham, “You are a disgusting individual. I note your community service and positive impact on society prior to these offenses, but will not take into account your previous good character. It was all disgusting. Really disgusting.
“But although you played the leading role in this, I have no reason to treat you two differently. You were in it together and your shame will be forever.’
The pair will both be required to sign the sex offender registry for life and will be subject to a sexual harm prevention order that prohibits them from having one-to-one contact with children under the age of 13.
After the hearing, the Bishop of Chester, Rt Revd Mark Tanner said: ‘My thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been traumatized by these events, especially victims of the actions of Steve Clapham. Their courage and strength of character helped convict a perpetrator of child sexual abuse.
“I cannot begin to express my shame and anger for the betrayal and pain this young person endured. I am truly sorry for what they have been through and are still going through.’