A FORMER bishop of Chester was “almost certainly” a prolific abuser of children, a law firm acting on behalf of alleged victims has said.

Specialists at Slater and Gordon have been working with a number of men and women who claimed to have been abused by the late Bishop Hubert Victor Whitsey in the 1970s and 1980s.

In total eight women and five men have made complaints about the Anglican clergyman, who died in 1987 at the age of 71.

Cheshire Police conducted a thorough investigation into the allegations and have now concluded that Whitsey would be brought in for questioning, if he were alive today.

However, chiefs have stressed that this is no indication of his guilt.

Whitsey served as Bishop of Chester from 1974 to 1981. Before that he had been Bishop of Hereford and earlier worked as a parish priest in Chorley, South Ribble and Bolton.

In a statement, the archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, and bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, 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.”

They added: “The church will consider what lessons can be learned from this case and whether any action needs to be taken as a result of what these inquiries have shown.”

The team at Slater and Gordon said it appeared the Church may have been aware of Whitsey's involvement in child abuse whilst he was still working as a bishop.

Richard Scorer, head of the company's abuse team, said in a statement on its website: "A lengthy and careful police investigation has revealed that Victor Whitsey, the former Anglican Bishop of Chester, was almost certainly a prolific abuser of children."

The offences are alleged to have taken place whilst 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 by Cheshire Constabulary 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.

Assistant Chief Constable Nick Bailey said: “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.”

Earlier this year the Church of England apologised for the alleged physical and sexual abuse on children and young men by a former colleague of the Archbishop of Canterbury, following a Channel 4 News investigation.

Mr Scorer, of Slater and Gordon, said: “Failings in the Church’s reporting of abuse claims has been a serious problem. In May, 2016, it was announced that senior clergy in the Church of England were to be retrained in dealing with reports of sexual abuse.

“Many of my clients suffered heinous assaults at a young age that may not have happened had there been a mandatory reporting law in place. This would require organisations which have knowledge of actual or suspect abuse to report these concerns to the police so that allegations can be properly investigated and children protected.”

Anyone who is a victim of sexual abuse or knows of someone who is can contact Cheshire Police on 101. Information can also be left anonymously, via Crimestoppers, on 0800 555 111. People can also seek support from the NSPCC via their national helpline on 0808 800 5000.