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Caretaker of embattled Soul Survivor Watford church was child sex offender | #childpredator | #kidsaftey | #childsaftey

The caretaker of the embattled Soul Survivor Watford church was convicted of a child sex offence, it has emerged.

The church is embroiled in a safeguarding scandal after its vicar, the Rev Canon Mike Pilavachi, was suspended pending an investigation into allegations that he ran a ‘cult’ in which he encouraged young men, usually aged about 18 to 21, to engage in full-body oil massages on his bed, as well as vigorous wrestling matches that lasted up to 20 minutes.

Last month, The Telegraph revealed how his victims claimed that the vicar’s “toxic behaviour” and “horrible cruelty and obsession” with certain young men was an “open secret” within the church, but that nothing was done.

Separately, it has also emerged that the church’s former caretaker was convicted of attempting to facilitate the commission of a child sex offence. 

Matt Robinson was suspended from Soul Survivor Watford in 2018 while he was being investigated by Hertfordshire police. 

He was convicted of attempting to facilitate the commission of a child sex offence at St Albans Crown Court in 2021 following a trial and received a two-year suspended prison sentence.

In October 2018, Soul Survivor Watford released a statement regarding the “disturbing news” that it was forced to suspend the caretaker following his arrest amid allegations “that he had groomed children online”.

It is understood that the initial arrest was made after members of the public claiming to be an online child protection group reported inappropriate online chat.

In November 2018, Soul Survivor Watford updated its statement to say that the caretaker had resigned from his role and that he “continues to receive pastoral support from outside of the staff team during this time”. 

There is no suggestion that the church failed to cooperate with the police investigation.

An investigation into Pilavachi is currently being carried out by the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team (NST) and the Diocese of St Albans into the allegations surrounding him and the church. 

Earlier this week, The Telegraph reported that more than 100 people have come forward to accuse the vicar of spiritual, psychological and emotional abuse, with sources saying that the complaints range from the 1980s to the present day.

On Thursday, it was revealed that the two pastors stepping up to replace Rev Canon Pilavachi have also been suspended following allegations that they failed to act on reports of abuse.

The Rev Andy Croft, who is the son of the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, and Ali Martin, the church’s assistant pastor, led Soul Survivor Watford after Pilavachi’s suspension last month. 

However, it can now be reported that both have been suspended “over the handling of allegations” regarding Pilavachi. It is believed that they failed to act on reports of abuse that were raised before the NST investigation was launched.

At the time of Robinson’s arrest in 2018, the Soul Survivor Watford congregation was urged to contact Mr Croft if they were approached by the media, adding: “The safety and well-being of everyone who comes to Soul Survivor Watford has always and will always be of prime importance to us. Our first thoughts are with those who may have suffered harm.

“We have to be a place where adults and children are welcome and are safe. Now is the time to hold all involved or allegedly involved in this situation in our prayers.”

Pilavachi founded the Soul Survivor Watford church as well as its popular namesake summer festivals which ran from 1993 to 2019, and had an average attendance of 30,000 teenagers from around the world each summer.

The Soul Survivor movement’s reach was global and spawned offshoots in South Africa, Holland, Canada, New Zealand and the US.

He received an award from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, at Lambeth Palace in 2020 for his “outstanding contribution to evangelism and discipleship amongst young people”, and was appointed an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List in 2020 for his services to young people.

A spokesperson for Hertfordshire Police said: “A man from Watford was handed a 24-month prison sentence suspended for two years at St Albans Crown Court on 4 November 2021 having been charged with attempting to facilitate the commission of a child sex offence.

“Matthew Robinson, then aged 28, of Watford had been arrested on 12 October 2018 before he was subsequently charged.”

The NST and Diocese of St Albans are continuing to call for anyone affected by the allegations surrounding Pilavachi to come forward.

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