A gravedigger raped four schoolgirls in a church yard after claiming he was a warlock who could pass on his magic powers by having sex, a court heard.

William Lambert, 74, of Malden Road, Sutton, preyed on vulnerable girls while he ran a youth club called “the Shed” in an outbuilding in St Dunstan’s Church yard in Cheam more than 20 years ago, Croydon Crown Court heard yesterday.

A jury heard the church worker “spellbound” the girls, aged between 11 and 15, into letting him have sex with them, saying his powers could solve their problems, including aborting the baby of one girl who thought she was pregnant.

On multiple occasions the former soldier would rape a girl while another of his victims held her hand.

The attacks took place in a room adjoining the main club room where other children were socialising, the jury was told.

The girls were invited into the room with an “occult-style triangle” on the wall as part of “initiation ceremonies” to pass on the next level of his “witch powers”.

The court was told he hugged one tearful victim and told her: “It’s all right sweetheart, you have done it, you have done it”, the court heard.

Continued from front One girl also alleged Mr Lambert raped her on a tombstone saying she would “get power from the black floating monk” who haunted the church, the jury was told.

The alleged attacks are believed to have taken place between 1985 and 1990, the court was told.

Gillian Etherton QC, prosecuting, said Mr Lambert began to run the unofficial youth club after being invited to clean and tend graves at the cemetery, telling the War Graves Commission he wanted to care for the graves of those who had died in conflict.

She said he beguiled the girls, who had personal problems such as abusive and alcoholic parents, into his trust by offering “an alleged safe haven”.

She said: “He would listen to their problems, they would trust him and confide in him.

“He showed no concern for them giving consent. He hoodwinked, deceived and manipulated them. Without that manipulation... the children would never have allowed any physical activity with this deranged man.”

She said the case was unusual but fact was “often stranger than fiction”.

The court was told a police investigation into the alleged historical rapes was launched when one woman, now 37, came forward to Sutton police claiming a therapy session with her daughter of 12 jogged memories about what had happened to her when she was a similar age.

The other alleged victims, who have similar accounts of the alleged rapes, were then traced, the court was told.

Mr Lambert denies four counts of rape and three counts of sexual assault. The court was told he accused the girls of “malicious fabrication”.

The trial continues.