A DISGRACED priest who molested boys for more than 30 years groomed vulnerable youngsters on trips to his family home in Swanage.

The Rev David Smith, 52, of Clevedon, in Somerset, was jailed for five-and-half years for assaults on six boys aged under 16 between 1976 and 2005.

During the two-week trial Bristol Crown Court heard how Smith abused three boys after becoming vicar at St John the Evangelist, in Clevedon, in 1993.

He visited schools recruiting for the church choir and gained boys' trust by inviting them to the vicarage to help with their homework or by taking them on trips to Swanage.

Smith's parents owned a house near the High Street in the seaside town, which he inherited when they died.

Police confirmed they visited the property as part of their investigation.

The Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Right Rev Peter Price, said: "We are shocked and horrified that he has fallen so far short of the very high standards expected of priests in the Church of England.

"We apologise sincerely to David Smith's victims, their families, the parish and all involved in this case. We are all very sorry that these offences were committed by a man in a position of trust.

"We have ensured that proper pastoral care is being offered to all those in this case who need it and we will do all within our power to mitigate the harmful effects of these offences."

Smith became an abuser while he was working as a housemaster at a Berkshire preparatory school in 1976 and continued after becoming a priest in 1979.

At the trial victims, now adults, but still deeply scarred by their experiences, described how he had assaulted them during sleepovers at the vicarage and day trips to the seaside after he had won their parents' trust.

Smith was found guilty of 10 charges of indecency, one of sexual assault and one of sexual activity against six boys under 16 between September 1976 and May 2005.

The abuse came to light through the last of his victims, who wanted to become a priest and saw Smith as a mentor. The boy confided in a female parishioner. Police traced other victims, including one who is now a police officer.