A vicar accused of molesting an 11-year-old church helper admitted having a gay lover but branded the child abuse claims a figment of the boy's imagination.

Father Edward Michael Wright, 69, allegedly repeatedly sexually assaulted the schoolboy more than 30 years ago, jurors heard.

Wright, the vicar of St Barnabas Church, in Jericho, Oxford, since 1980, was also allegedly involved in a 'group rape' attack involving a number of men.

The Edinburgh-born clergyman denies a catalogue of sex crimes while at St Stephen's Church, in Lewisham, south-east London, in the 1970s.

The complainant, now 44, has also claimed he was plied with alcohol before being molested.

During a police interview after his arrest last year, Wright admitted having had a male sexual partner.

He said the man accompanied him to the UK in 1972 from the Bahamas, where they met while Wright was on a posting.

The lover returned home in 1975, Blackfriars Crown Court heard yesterday.

Wright said young church helpers would often make tea at vicarage social occasions. Asked if they were ever given alcohol, he replied: "Absolutely not."

The interviewing detective told him the alleged victim had also claimed that during games "he would wrestle and touch us". Wright replied: "This is a figment of his imagination."

Asked about the sex claims, he added: "I utterly and completely deny it."

Wright recalled being contacted by a colleague from St Stephen's, who relayed the man's claims to him.

Wright replied: "He said it was something to do with marital problems. He made some allegations against me.

"There was no substance to it anyway, so that was the end of it."

He also explained he left the Lewisham diocese in 1980 to make way for new blood.

Rosina Cottage, prosecuting, told the court the boy made no complaint at the time because he feared not being believed.

She said initial horseplay turned to fondling and more serious forms of sexual assault in the vicarage, often after services.

Miss Cottage added: "Clearly by this time Father Wright would be aware he was someone willing to submit to what he wished him to do."

The vicar allegedly made the boy perform oral sex upon him when he was 11.

Wright denies six charges of a serious sexual offence and six of indecent assault between December 1973 and December 1976.

The trial continues.