THE BISHOP of Blackburn has issued an ‘unreserved apology’ after a former hospital chaplain and church curate was jailed today for sexually abusing two boys.

Judge Philip Parry said Neil Gray, who was chaplain at the Royal Bolton Hospital for three decades, committed the worst kind of abuse of trust in the attacks dating back to the 1970s and 1980s.

Prosecuting the case at Preston Crown Court, Francis McEntee said each victim was groomed by Gray and that he used his role in the church – where he was curate at churches in Chorley and Preston and the times of the unconnected incidents – to groom the complainants who had both been adopted at a young age.

And although Judge Parry accepted Gray, now 71, had done a lot of good for the community during his time as chaplain - a role he retired from in 2015 – that could never make up for the psychological damage and emotional damage he had caused his victims.

Rt Rev. Julian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn, whose diocese covers most of Lancashire, said: “Following sentencing today we offer an unreserved apology to the victims of Neil Gray.

“We are deeply sorry for the abuse that they suffered and the impact this will have had on them and those close to them. We commend the bravery of those who brought these allegations forward, acknowledging how difficult and distressing this would have been.

“The Church of England takes all allegations of abuse very seriously and is committed to be a safer organisation for all.

“The Church cooperated fully with the police throughout the investigation and we would encourage any victims, or those with information about church-related abuse, to come forward knowing that they will be listened to in confidence and offered support.”

The court heard how Gray, of Farnworth, exploited one of his victim’s difficult home life and befriended his parents to isolate him at a vicarage. It was there the victim, who was just 12, was given wine, before being sexually assaulted.

That victim read out an emotional statement in court describing how his relationship with his parents, who never believed him to their dying days, had been left irreparably damaged and he had turned to drugs and alcohol. That eventually led to crime and spells in prison and suicide attempts.

Addressing Gray, who had his head bowed, he said: “What you did to me destroyed my life.”

The second victim was abused at Gray’s home in Chorley and said in his statement to the court that he had become heterosexually sexually active younger than he should have to ‘try to prove that he was normal’.

That victim said Gray befriended him and would give him alcohol and cigarettes before massaging him. That led to kissing and then fondling. He was in his mid-teens at the time Gray abused him.

He said it was only in later life that he had told anyone what had happened to him and waited for his mother to die before doing so because she was a committed member of the church and doing so would have destroyed her.

That victim said he also developed a drink problem as a result of the abuse.

Gray, who had been ordained into the priesthood aged 23, pleaded guilty to two counts of indecently assaulting a boy under the age of 16.

Defending, Peter Horgan said his client had done a lot of good for the people of Bolton during his time as chaplain and urged Judge Parry to take that into account when passing sentence.

Sentencing Gray to four years in prison, Judge Parry said: “You have affected the lives of two boys, now men, more than you can ever know.

“There can hardly be a worse kind of abuse of trust than a man of the clergy who uses his trusted position to abuse boys.”

Speaking after the sentencing, the victim abused at the Chorley vicarage said: “I am relieved it’s over. It is a closure. The fact that he was found guilty is enough.

“He has ruined my life but I am not one of those who would say he should burn in hell.”

The victim revealed that he and his friends, who would go to the vicarage where Gray would supply the 13 and 14-year-olds with drink and allow them to smoke, would refer to Gray as “Kinko”, short for kinky.

“With hindsight I knew what he was doing and he was very good at putting you at your ease.”

The victim said he believes there are “undoubtedly” more children who Gray abused.

Gray was put on the sex offenders register for life.