A PRIEST has won a battle to clear his name after being put on a Government list which prevented him working with children.
Father Stephen Miller was suspended from his Motherwell parish and faced a police inquiry after allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards teenagers.
Although no charges were brought his name was put on a child protection register which made it impossible for him to continue as a priest.
Now the former school chaplain has been successful in his appeal against that move and a sheriff has also ruled that the Government must pay his legal costs.
Fr Miller, who was brought up in Mossend and ordained in 1993, refused to comment on the case this week, but it’s understood he is keen to resume his duties in the priesthood.
However, Motherwell Diocese insisted this week he cannot be reinstated yet because he is still subject to the church’s own inquiry.
Friends and parishioners at St Brendan’s in Motherwell were stunned when the allegations came to light in March 2009.
Fr Miller, who was also chaplain at Our Lady’s High School and involved with the ALMA pilgrimage group, was suspended and told by Bishop Joseph Devine to leave the parish.
Strathclyde Police later announced no charges were being brought against him, but the priest, who is in his mid-40s and has also served at St Luke’s in Motherwell and as a chaplain at Monklands Hospital, was unable to resume his duties.
The Government used its powers under the Protection of Children (Scotland) Act to put him on its Disqualified from Working with Children List.
Given that priests inevitably have contact with children in their work, the Diocese of Motherwell could not sanction his return.
A Scottish Government official said: “The legislation plugged a gap in safeguards which allowed unsuitable people to move from one child care post to another without detection if they have not been convicted of an offence.
“An individual working in a child care position is to be referred to the Scottish Ministers for inclusion on the list when they have harmed a child or put a child at risk of harm and have been dismissed or moved away from contact with children as a consequence.
“Organisations have a duty to refer such individuals. Failure to make a referral is an offence.
“Those on the list are disqualfied from working with children and will commit a criminal offence if they apply to work with children. It is also an offence for an organisation to knowingly employ such a person to work with children.”
However, an acqaintance of Fr Miller said it was unfair that he had been kept on the list for so long and called on Bishop Devine to re-instate him immediately.
He said: “Father Miller was extremely well thought of and I’m sure everyone in the parishes he served would want to see him back.
“The bishop will need a good reason not to re-instate him. It’s not good enough to say allegations were made against him because these were found to be totally groundless.”
Father Miller had appealed against his inclusion on the list and a hearing was to take place at Hamilton Sheriff Court.
However, Sheriff Thomas Millar was told the Government was not contesting his appeal. The sheriff then ordered the priest’s removal from the list and awarded him legal costs which the Government must pay.
Fr Miller’s solicitor, Paul Hannah, of Livingstone Brown, said the priest is not prepared to comment at this stage as talks with the church are ongoing.
A spokesman for Bishop Devine acknowledged Fr Miller’s ban has been lifted, but added: “ The church operates its own canonical law and its case involving Fr Miller is still proceeding.
“There are other considerations to be taken into account so these proceedings are not yet concluded. I don’t know how long it will take to complete the church inquiry.”