THE jury in the trial of a "respected and trusted" Jehovah's Witness elder accused of a campaign of sexual abuse against girls and women have retired to consider their verdict.

The three week trial at Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court, has heard the prosecution claim that businessman Mark Sewell, 53, of Porthkerry Road, Barry is a "predator" and a "bully" who used his position of power within the church to commit a string of offences in the late 1980s, through to the late 1990s

The jury of four men and eight women heard how Sewell allegedly committed a series of sexual assaults against a girl under the age of 14. The witness, now in her 30s, claims that Sewell would kiss her using his tongue, touch her inappropriately, manufacture situations where he would lie down and rub her on top of him and once forcibly removing her underwear.

The court also heard from another witness who claims she was raped by Sewell in the early 1990s after befriending him through the church. She became pregnant after the attack but miscarried a few weeks later.

Both of these allegations were investigated internally by the Jehovah's Witnesses and Sewell was subsequently "disfellowshipped" from the Barry church, shunned by other members and stripped of his elder status, only to return a few years later at a different congregation in Llantwit Major.

The court has also heard from a witness who says she was given inappropriate topless massages by Sewell when she was a teenager and from a woman who claims she was once locked in a car and propositioned for sex by him after a campaign of inappropriate behaviour and unwanted advances.

Sewell denies all the charges, claiming that his friendly, flirtatious and jocular behaviour has been misinterpreted and that some witnesses and alleged victims are acting out of various grievances and vendettas toward him, making their claims only after one alleged victim appealed for other women to come forward earlier this year to support her historic allegations.

Sewell's wife Mary gave evidence in court, saying that although their marriage had seen difficult times, particularly when her husband was suffering bouts of depression and was drinking heavily, she "had no concerns about his behaviour towards other women".

A former business partner described Sewell as an honest, generous and kind man who was a tactile person. He also had no concerns about Sewell's behaviour towards women.

No verdict had been returned at the time of going to press.

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