A FORMER hospital chaplain and church curate who plied two boys with alcohol before sexually abusing them has been jailed.

Judge Philip Parry described Neil Gray, who was chaplain at the Royal Bolton Hospital for three decades, as having committed the worst kind of abuse of trust by abusing the boys over a period of twenty years.

And although he accepted Gray, now 71, had done a lot of good for the people of Bolton and wider afield 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.

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.

The court heard how Gray, of Plodder Lane, 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 at the time, 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 to cope. That eventually led to crime and spells in prison. He also said he had been left homeless in his teens as a result of 'going off the rails' following the abuse and has made three attempts at taking his own life in the intervening years.

Addressing Gray, who had his head bowed in the dock, directly he said: "What you did to me destroyed my childhood. I lost my family and I never got back that relationship or love. You destroyed my life.

"I lost all trust in adults and people. I had no self-worth. I didn't care anymore. I loathed myself."

The victim, who was supported by his family in court, said he still can't sleep alone and has to have the landing light on every night.

He added: "My life could have been so much different if you had never met my parents."

The second victim was abused at Gray's then 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 and 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.

He only went to the police to stop other potential victims being abused.

In a victim impact statement read out on his behalf he said he lost his faith in God as a result of the abuse and lost any respect for authority, something that damaged his relationship with his own father.

He said: "I have never felt good enough. I think that is why I turn to drink for Dutch Courage. I never felt my family or friends approved of me. I have no confidence or self-esteem. I put up a front most of the time."

That victim said he also developed a drink problem as a result of the abuse, having used alcohol as a coping mechanism.

He added: "I want him to understand this is not just something that happened years ago. He handed me down a life sentence."

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

When he was interviewed by police a decade ago, when one of the victims came forward, Gray denied any wrongdoing and said his accuser had never been to the vicarage.

But he told a probation officer compiling a pre-sentence report: "I can't remember the incidents but if they say I did it I must have done."

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

"There can hardly be a worse kind of abuse of trust than a man of the clergy who uses his trusted position to abuse young boys, but that's what you did."

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.

Royal Bolton Hospital confirmed that Gray worked as their head of chaplaincy from September 1987 to March 2015.

In a statement, the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Rev David Walker said: “We are profoundly sorry for the abuse perpetrated by the Neil Gray. We offer an unreserved apology to all survivors and those affected by this news.  We commend the bravery of those who brought these allegations, acknowledging how difficult and distressing this would have been.

 “We remain committed to doing everything possible to ensure the wellbeing of children, young people and adults. To this end we have robust safeguarding policies and procedures in place. The Church cooperated fully with the police during this investigation.

“Should anyone have any further information or need to discuss the personal impact of this news, we urge them to come forward, knowing that they will be listened to in confidence.”

The Rt Rev. Julian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn, the diocese where the abuse took place, 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.”

He was put on the sex offenders register for life.