A former Borehamwood priest who admitted sexually abusing young boys was jailed for four years on Tuesday.

Father William John Hofton, 49, sobbed loudly as his persistent and ongoing sexual harassment' of two teenage altar boys in the early 1990s was described in court.

He was priest at St John Fisher and St Thomas More Roman Catholic Church in Rossington Avenue, Borehamwood, from 1998 until December 2002, when he was first arrested.

He was then allowed to move to a Kentish Town church but was re-arrested in 2003 after one of the altar boys he molested contacted police.

Hofton, who once conducted the funeral of comedian Kenny Everett, admitted nine charges of indecent assault and seven counts of gross indecency against the two brothers between 1991 and December 1993.

Prosecutor Peter Zinner told Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court how Hofton became "both sexually and emotionally obsessed with both boys".

The priest, who told police he very dearly loved' the brothers, groomed them from the age of 11 and showered them with gifts and praise.

"Being young and impressionable boys, they formed a warm and affectionate relationship with him," said Mr Zinner.

The court heard that both boys, now aged 26 and 28, had been left scarred by the abuse.

Defence barrister Joe Copper told the court that Hofton bitterly regretted the damage caused by his actions.

"This behaviour has been the subject of much soul searching, not just since he was arrested.

"He found, in 1991, to his horror and his shame, that he was sexually attracted to one boy the older brother."

Imprisoning him for four years, Judge Fabyan Evans told a tearful Hofton: "You were in a position of trust not only to your church but to the families of the boys entrusted to your care.

"You indulged in grooming which led to substantial and serious offences. Your conduct robbed them of their innocence".

A case of abuse of another boy dating back to 1986, which was dropped two years ago, may now be reopened, police said. Hofton will now be defrocked and placed on the Sex Offenders Register for life.

Reacting to the news this week, a long-time parishioner at the Borehamwood church said: "The whole parish is absolutely stunned, it's an awful shock".

He said the parish would put the shock behind it with the help of new priest, Father Frank Azzopardi, who took up the post on Monday.