AN influential conservation group has withdrawn consent for a convicted sex offender to host a lecture at one of Saddleworth’s most iconic churches.

Saddleworth Historical Society (SHS) hired St Thomas’ Church at Friarmere, Delph, from The Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) as the venue for the event to be given by Saddleworth parish councillor Mike Buckley in July.

The church is to mark the 250th anniversary of its consecration in June with a weekend celebration attended by leading clerical dignitaries.

The historical society had scheduled ‘250 years of Heights Chapel,’ a lecture by Cllr Buckley for Saturday, July 7, in their annual programme adding: “by kind permission of the Churches Conservation Trust.”

However, at the time the booking was made, the CCT says it was not made aware Cllr Buckley was carrying out a sentence for a conviction under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

He was found guilty of making (downloading) 16 indecent photographs of a child/children aged under 18 on December 7 2015 and sentenced on January 13, 2016.

Buckley must take part in the Internet Sexual Offenders Treatment Programme, which includes 35 two-hour sessions with extra work in between.

He was supervised by the Probation Service for two years and subject to a Sexual Harm Prevention Order for five years.

But a letter of protest sent to the trust from angry locals warned there could be “public unrest” if the event went ahead at the ancient church.

The trust requested the lecture be given by an alternative speaker because of the local strength of feeling, Cllr Buckley’s continuing sentence and the possibility of demonstrations at the event.

The historical society refused and now the trust has withdrawn the booking pointing out it was within its rights if there is a risk of harm to the protected buildings in its care or to the reputation of the organisation.

Peter Aiers is chief executive of the trust which has HRH The Prince of Wales as president.

Mr Aiers said: “The trust was not aware of Cllr Buckley’s conviction under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 when St Thomas’ Church was booked by Saddleworth Historical Society as a venue for its lecture.

“Upon being made aware by members of the local community, we investigated the matter and owing to Cllr Buckley’s continuing sentence, felt it was inappropriate for him to act as speaker.

“Saddleworth Historical Society declined to replace Cllr Buckley with an alternative speaker and, regrettably, we were left with no option but to withdraw permission for St Thomas’ to be used as a venue for the event.”

Concerns over Cllr Buckley’s lecture were raised by Delph-born John Battye, a former mayor of Oldham, who worshipped at the ancient chapel as a child.

He sent a strongly-worded letter to CCT after consulting with local church officials.

Mr Battye, a father of four, said: “Giving an unrepentant paedophile a public platform in a house of the Lord is repulsive. There is much anger in Delph and the wider community.

“Buckley should consider giving his lecture in the Saddleworth Museum — that's where relics belong.”

In the letter Mr Battye, a retired health care professional, warned the trust: “If you do not cancel this booking you will insist that the Historical Society hires sufficient security to prevent any possible damage to the fabric of the building from protestors.

“Feelings locally remain very high about this man's continued involvement in local politics and community activities.

“Until he has completed his community service he should not be using a much-loved local church to give a talk on the church's history.”

Mr Charles Baumann, publicity officer for Saddleworth Historical Society, said: “Reluctantly, we have accepted the decision of the Church Conservation Trust.

“Cllr Buckley’s presentation will now be held at Saddleworth Museum on Saturday, July 7, at 2pm.”

To mark the church’s 250 years, a commemorative book, "Heights Church and Friarmere . A Potted History 1768-2018," will be launched on Whit Friday in Delph on May 25 ahead of celebrations at Heights on the weekend of June 24 and 25.

Priced at £15 the book researched and written by co-authors Delphers, Geoffrey Dent and Mary Rodgers, gives an insight into the life and times of the church and village life in Delph and Friarmere.