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A Terminally Ill Man Convicted His Childhood Abuser Using Eye-Tracking Technology

The 47-year-old survivor died the same day his abuser was convicted.

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St Matthias church in Stoke Newington, north London.
David Holt / Creative Commons / Via Flickr: zongo

St Matthias church in Stoke Newington, north London.

A terminally ill man who was unable to speak or write used eye-tracking technology to help convict the former vicar who abused him more than 35 years ago.

Cyril Ashton Rowe, 79, was sentenced to four years in jail on Friday at Bournemouth crown court after earlier being convicted of three counts of indecent assault against a boy between 1979 and 1981.

The 47-year-old survivor, who was a 9-year-old chorister when the abuse began, was in the late stages of suffering from motor neurone disease and gave evidence via video link from a hospice in Sydenham, south London.

By blinking his eyes, and with the help of an intermediary who translated the blinks into words, he told the court how Rowe would lock the door of St Matthias church in Stoke Newington, north London, and pin him to the floor before sexually abusing him, apologising, and giving him £1.

The survivor died on 8 February, the same day his abuser was convicted. While he never got to hear that Rowe had been jailed, he still achieved what he said was his dying wish of giving evidence against him.

David Nixon, the reviewing lawyer for the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "This man was determined to seek justice against the vicar who had abused him all those years ago and these special measures enabled that to happen.

"They included a live video link into the court from his hospice bed, an intermediary to help him on the day, and help for his sister to use a video link too, as she wanted to stay close to him in his final days.

“As a result the jury were able to hear his powerful testimony which has ultimately led to the convictions and today’s sentence."

Investigating officer Detective Sergeant Hannah Stewart said: "Through his brave determination, his evidence – given to detectives during hours of meticulous interviews, and at court – enabled the conviction of Rowe for these serious sexual offences. This conviction is a fitting tribute to the courage of the victim, who sadly died during these proceedings."


The survivor said Rowe gave him £1 after abusing him. An earlier version of this piece wrongly said it was a £1 coin, but the police statement hadn't specified what denomination was used – and such coins weren't introduced until 1983.

Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

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