A controversial sex shop has lost its third bid for a licence to sell hardcore porn films.

Christian protesters hugged each other and said prayers of thanks after councillors threw out the application from Secret Desires in Rowlands Road, Worthing.

They had earlier packed the public gallery at Worthing Town Hall to hear church leaders speak of people's overwhelming opposition to a sex shop in the area.

But Jacqueline Sutton, secretary for Shoptonight Ltd, the company which runs Secret Desires, said: "There has been tremendous support for us."

However, after almost an hour of secret debate, councillors on Worthing Borough Council's licensing committee ruled against granting the shop a licence for the third year running.

Without a licence, Secret Desires is unable to stock hardcore R18 films, but can admit children under the age of 18.

Andy Hickford, minister of Maybridge Community Church, Worthing, and spokesman for Worthing Churches Together, said sex was a gift from God, but pornography was addictive, destructive and corrosive.

He said 45 businesses between Heene Road and Crescent Road were opposed to the sex shop getting a licence.

Mr Hickford warned that the whole area could go downhill if reputable businesses did not want to be associated with that part of town, undermining the town's reputation for sun, sea and shopping.

Mark Weeden, pastor of Worthing Tabernacle, believed a sex shop should not be allowed in a residential area.

Veteran campaigner Steve Stevens, of Rowlands Road, said: "Pornography is evil. If you say 'no' to a licence I am sure this shop is going to die."

But Ms Sutton hit back saying: "A lot of the things said are quite unjust and untrue. We have had tremendous positive feedback from the public who use the shop.

"Since we have been there new businesses have come in, and a new block of flats has been built. Surely if we were bringing the area down these people would not want to come here.

"We go about our business and there have been no complaints. There has been no crime. There is no increase in prostitution."

Ms Sutton said the company ran fully-licenced sex shops in Bognor, Eastbourne, Hastings, St Leonards and Tunbridge Wells, without any problems.

When asked by coun Paul High whether staff checked children's ages, Ms Sutton said 'no', prompting coun High to reply: "I find it deplorable that a 12-year-old could go into a sex shop."

Earlier, two councillors, Ann Sayers and Keith Sunderland, withdrew from the meeting on legal advice, and were not allowed to vote, after their comments were deemed to be possibly prejudicial to making an impartial decision.

A third councillor, Carol Molineaux, was also advised to leave after quitting the committee room for a "comfort break", and missing submissions, without warning the chairman in advance.

The committee turned down the licence because it was inappropriate "having regard to the character of the locality", Rowlands Road being a main thoroughfare into the town centre along which many people walked, including children going to school.

Ms Sutton said the shop had a long lease and would continue to trade whatever the decision.

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