Lecture at iconic church rearranged after convicted councillor concerns

AN influential conservation group has withdrawn consent for a convicted sex offender to host a lecture at one of Saddleworth’s most iconic churches.

Cllr Mike Buckley

Saddleworth Historical Society (SHS) hired St Thomas’ Church at Friarmere, Delph, from The Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) for the talk to be given by Saddleworth Parish councillor Mike Buckley on Saturday, July 7.

The church is to mark the 250th anniversary of its consecration in June with a weekend celebration attended by leading clerical dignitaries.

SHS had scheduled ‘250 years of Heights Chapel’ a lecture by Cllr Buckley in their annual programme adding “by kind permission of the Churches Conservation Trust”.

However, at the time the booking was made, the CCT says it was not made aware Cllr Buckley was carrying out a sentence for a conviction under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

He was found guilty at Manchester Crown Court of making (downloading) 16 indecent photographs of a child/children aged under 18 on December 7, 2015 and sentenced on January 13, 2016.

Buckley took part in the Internet Sexual Offenders Treatment Programme and is subject to a Sexual Harm Prevention Order for five years.

A letter of protest sent to the trust from angry locals warned there could be “public unrest” if the event went ahead at the ancient church.

The trust requested the lecture be given by an alternative speaker because of Cllr Buckley’s sentence and the possibility of demonstrations at the event.

SHS refused and now the trust has withdrawn the booking, pointing out it was within its rights if there is a risk of harm to the protected buildings in its care or to the reputation of the organisation.

Peter Aiers, the trust’s chief executive, said: “The trust was not aware of Cllr Buckley’s conviction under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 when St Thomas’ Church was booked by Saddleworth Historical Society as a venue for its lecture.

“Upon being made aware by members of the local community, we investigated the matter and owing to Cllr Buckley’s continuing sentence, felt it was inappropriate for him to act as speaker.

“Saddleworth Historical Society declined to replace Cllr Buckley with an alternative speaker and, regrettably, we were left with no option but to withdraw permission for St Thomas’ to be used as a venue for the event.”

Concerns over Cllr Buckley’s lecture were raised by Delph-born John Battye, a former mayor of Oldham, who worshipped at the ancient chapel as a child.

He sent a strongly-worded letter to CCT after consulting with local church officials.

In the letter Mr Battye, a retired health care professional, warned the trust: “If you do not cancel this booking you will insist the Historical Society hires sufficient security to prevent any possible damage to the fabric of the building from protestors.

“Feelings locally remain very high about this man’s continued involvement in local politics and community activities.

“Until he has completed his service he should not be using a much-loved local church to give a talk on the church’s history.”

Mr Charles Baumann, publicity officer for Saddleworth Historical Society, said: “Reluctantly, we have accepted the decision of the Church Conservation Trust.

“Cllr Buckley’s presentation will now be held at Saddleworth Museum on July 7, at 2pm.”

Cllr Buckley was approached for a comment but said he had “nothing to say about it”.