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Hillsong founder Brian Houston cleared of child abuse cover-up

Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston had a reasonable excuse to not report his father’s abuse of a boy to police more than two decades ago, a court has ruled.

The 69-year-old was a child when his father Frank Houston began abusing Brett Sengstock.

Mr Houston later learned of his father’s abuse and confronted him about it.

Frank Houston confessed and was defrocked in late 1999.

Brian Houston shared the news with other members of the national executive within the Assemblies of God churches during an urgent meeting at Sydney airport.

Word of the elder Houston’s confession eventually reached Mr Sengstock, but he could not remember who told him, telling the court “it was gossip everywhere”.

However, Mr Houston did not report his father to police.

He faced a local court hearing beginning in December, pleading not guilty to a charge of concealing a serious indictable offence, which stemmed from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Mr Houston argued he did not report his father’s abuse to police because he did not believe Mr Sengstock wanted that to happen.

He also suggested Mr Sengstock was by then an adult who could have reported the abuse himself.

Magistrate Gareth Christofi found Mr Houston not guilty on Thursday.

His excuse for not reporting the abuse was a reasonable one, the magistrate said.

“Victims of sexual abuse ought to feel safe to confide in others without being concerned they are exposing those others to a criminal offence,” Mr Christofi said.

Mr Sengstock said he never told Mr Houston he did not want the abuse reported, a point of dispute at the hearing.

But Mr Christofi said regardless of what Mr Sengstock told Mr Houston, the Hillsong leader had been told of the abuse survivor’s attitude by others.

The prosecution said Mr Houston had adopted a convenient excuse to avoid reporting the matter to authorities in order to protect both the church and his father.

Mr Christofi said proving that claim beyond reasonable doubt was “a tall order indeed”.

It was also submitted Houston had used vague language when he spoke publicly about his father’s abuse and removal as a minister.

Mr Houston might have been “euphemistic” when talking to thousands of people, but it was obvious what he was talking about and anyone left wondering needed only to ask around, Mr Christofi said.

The fact he was speaking “widely and freely” about his father’s abuse publicly at all indicated he wanted people to know.

“That is the very opposite of a cover-up,” Mr Christofi said.

– AAP

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