AN East Lancashire clergyman has been investigated by the police over a string of alleged sexual offences against children and adults.

The late Rt Rev Hubert Victor Whitsey, a former Bishop of Chester, who was educated at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Blackburn, was investigated by Cheshire police in connection with sexual offences against 13 victims, five male and eight females.

Whitsey, who served as a curate in Chorley and a vicar in Downham in the Ribble Valley before becoming Bishop of Hertford in 1971, returned to Lancashire during his retirement.

Police said the majority of the alleged offences relate to his time as Bishop of Chester but one is said to have taken place when he returned to the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn and was licensed to work as a priest across Lancashire.

Cheshire assistant chief constable Nick Bailey said Whitsey, who died in December 1987, would have been spoken to by detectives were he still alive when the investigation started in July 2016.

He said: “Cheshire Constabulary has published a report into the findings of an investigation into allegations of non-recent sexual abuse made against a former Bishop of Chester.

“Operation Coverage focused on allegations made against the late Bishop Hubert Victor Whitsey, which date back to the 1970s and 1980s. They relate to 13 victims, five male and eight female.

“The abuse is alleged to have taken place while the Bishop was living and working in Chester and one incident is reported to have taken place outside of the county.

“An investigation was launched in July 2016 following a report from the Diocese of Chester safeguarding officer. Further disclosures were made as part of the investigation, which spanned a period of 13 months.

“Allegations of this nature are taken extremely seriously. The police have a duty to carry out a proportionate investigation into all allegations of sexual abuse, even if the alleged offences took place many years ago and the person being accused has since died.

“Following a thorough investigation and taking into account all of the information available, it has been established that, if Bishop Whitsey were alive today, as part of the investigation process he would have been spoken to by police.

“This would have been in order to outline the details of the allegations made and to provide him with an opportunity to offer an account of events.

“It is important to remember that this is not an indication of guilt, this is a key part of the investigation process and this happens regularly as part of a case to obtain an account whether this leads to further action or not. It is not the role of the police to judge whether someone is guilty or innocent.”

Whitsey was born in 1916 and was a curate in Chorley before becoming he became vicar of Farington from December 1949 to January 1, 1951.

He then served in Manchester Diocese including as rural dean of Bolton and was vicar of Downham St Leonard in the Ribble Valley from 1968 to 1971.

The Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster and and the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu, said the Church of England would now ‘consider what lessons can be learnt from this case and whether any action needs to be taken’.

In a joint statement, they said: “We are deeply sorry and apologise to those individuals who have come forward to share their account of abuse by a bishop in the Church of England who was in a position of power and authority. We appreciate that it is very difficult for individuals to come forward and to give their account.

“Sexual abuse is a heinous crime, and is an absolute and shameful breach of trust.

“We acknowledge that for survivors, the effects of sexual abuse are lifelong. We are offering pastoral support to all those who have come forward and continue to hold them all in our prayers.

“We have supported the police investigation Operation Coverage, which has been comprehensive, and they have informed us that ‘should Hubert Victor Whitsey have been alive today, then the police would have spoken to him in relation to 10 of the witness allegations’.

“Anyone affected should call the CCPAS helpline on 0303 003 11 11 who can offer help and signpost to church-related support and information or alternatively call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000.

“The Church will consider what lessons can be learnt from this case and whether any action needs to be taken as a result of what these enquiries have shown.”

The Rt Rev Julian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn, said: “I would like to echo the heartfelt apology offered by the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Chester, to the survivors who have been brave enough to come forward and tell their story of abuse by a senior figure.

“We are offering pastoral support to all those who have come forward and are continuing to hold them all in our prayers.”

Anyone with information about abuse should call police on 101