“Judge Kerr also ordered the pervert to spend 10 years on the police sex offenders' register.
“Prosecuting lawyer Rosemary Walsh had told an earlier court how the abuse happened on each occasion when Gardiner, who was in his late teens at the time, was staying overnight at the victims' houses, whom he knew through associations with Monkstown Baptist Church in Newtownabbey.
“It was alleged in court that members of the Church were told of the abuse but decided to deal with it 'in-house' rather than inform the authorities.
“Last April Gardiner, from Cusher Road in Markethill, pleaded guilty to a total of 13 counts of indecent assault he committed against the girls who were aged seven, nine and 14, on dates between January 1978 and March 1980.
“The married father-of-four has in the past made recordings with top gospel singers and has also worked as a youth pastor.
“Yesterday Judge Kerr told Gardiner that had he not pleaded guilty he would have jailed him for two years and nine months . . . .
“Victims campaigner Michael Connolly criticised the Church's handling of the allegations against Gardiner.
“‘Those who have stood in the way of justice and those who have covered up the abuse of children have to be brought to book and made answerable for their actions,’ he said.”