Belfast Telegraph

Vicar says sorry for not telling flock about killer

By Jane Hardy

A Church of Ireland rector has apologised to his congregation for not telling them that a convicted murderer and rapist was worshipping among them.

Dr Ron Elsdon addressed the issue at St Bartholomew’s Church in south Belfast yesterday when he spoke to parisioners about the fall-out from newspaper revelations about Richard O’Hara.

O’Hara (now 59) served 25 years in jail for the rape and murder of south Belfast teenager Deborah Robinson in 1980.

After being released from prison, he married Presbyterian deaconess Carole O’Hara. While his wife is Presbyterian, O’Hara is Church of Ireland and the couple are well-known faces at St Bartholomew’s in Stranmillis.

O’Hara stayed in Dr Elsdon’s rectory after his release from jail and in recent years has served Harvest Lunch when children and young people were present.

Amid growing anger among parishioners — who did not know of O’Hara’s background — Dr Elsdon addressed his congregation at a number of services yesterday.

Speaking at the 10.30am Family Service, he told some 30 worshippers that he and wife Janice, a curate at the church, had allowed O’Hara to worship there without informing parishioners.

He confirmed that the couple provided catering for Harvest Lunches on four occasions.

Looking visibly upset, he said that parishioners were probably aware of the media interest since details of O’Hara’s crimes were published in Sunday Life.

He stated that his aim had been to “integrate O'Hara as a responsible member of society”.

He also attempted to reassure his parishioners that the couple had never had unsupervised contact with “children or vulnerable adults” during this period.

Dr Elsdon said that he and his wife had provided supervised accommodation to O'Hara for weekend leave at St Bartholomew's rectory in Mount Pleasant when the prisoner was approaching his release, shortly before his marriage to Carole Cathcart.

Rev Elsdon referred to O'Hara's “very serious” crimes but never specified what they were.

He went on to apologise for bringing St Bartholomew's name into the public eye and for “any unease” parishioners felt.

There was a lower than usual attendance and a reluctance among parishioners to speak to the Belfast Telegraph.

A straw poll revealed them divided over the vicar's statement.

Two gave a curt: “No comment.”

One elderly woman had a message of support for Dr Elsdon.

“He's a very good man and his wife is very good too, that's all I'll say,” she said.

Another woman said: “I'm very happy with his statement, I think it showed the nature of the man.

“I feel for him and think all these pressures shouldn't be put on him.”

Profile

Richard O’Hara (59) served 25 years in jail for the rape and murder of Belfast woman Deborah Robinson in 1980. She had travelled to Dublin for a date. As she waited for her return bus, she met O’Hara, also from Belfast. He lured her to a factory before he raped and strangled her. The next day he drove 30 miles to dump her body in a ditch. He was also charged with abducting Sharon Sparks (9), in 1975. She died after falling from his car in England. The charges were dropped after an accidental death verdict at the inquest.

Belfast Telegraph

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