Standing in the dock with shoulders slumped and jaw quivering, Graham Capill looked a broken man.

The former morals campaigner was yesterday reduced to little more than a self-loathing man in a nice suit as he was sentenced to nine years' imprisonment for multiple sexual offences, including rape, against three young girls.

He kept his face down, only looking up at the judge, his lawyer or to blow his nose on a light-blue hankie.

Not once during the hour-and-a-half sentencing did the 46-year-old father of 10 look back to the public gallery where his wife and three teenage boys sat silently.

For her part Judy Capill, dressed in a cream woollen jumper, denim skirt and gold necklace, spent most of her time looking sedate.

She occasionally glanced at her husband, or, when details of his offending were read out in enough detail to make one member of the public leave the courtroom, she looked down and covered part of her face.

Mrs Capill was one of a handful of supporters in the Christchurch District Court yesterday.

The majority of people there were curious members of the public or community groups who wanted to hear first hand what Capill had done to his victims. Many of them were visibly shocked.

The men and women heard how Capill's offending began in 1990 with the indecent assault of an 8-year-old girl. He started stroking her legs before moving to her genital area, touching her over her clothing.

That offending progressed to skin-on-skin contact and eventually, with other victims, digital penetration.

For 12 years, the Christian Heritage Party leader and moral watchdog publicly decried paedophiles, homosexuals and preached about family values. All the while he was quietly putting his hands down young girls' clothing, stroking genitalia and massaging their breasts.

On one occasion one of the victims pleaded with him: "You have a wife, why can't you go to her?"

In an email Capill sent a dozen friends the night before he pleaded guilty to these crimes, the former party leader turned police prosecutor tried to downplay his actions by suggesting the sexual abuse with one of the girls was consensual.

"The law, as it has been explained to me, seems so different to what the Biblical law and indeed common perceptions are of rape," he wrote.

"The fact that [the victim] consented is irrelevant."

That was rejected by Judge Robert Kerr, who described any suggestion of consent as "nonsense" . He described Capill's behaviour as "ugly and sexually corrupt".

Judge Kerr said the email only shed doubt on Capill's remorse for his actions. Defence lawyer Jonathan Eaton said Capill's email was a misguided attempt to portray himself in a slightly better light and what it really showed was that Capill had yet to understand the extent of his offending.

On behalf of Capill, Mr Eaton apologised to the people who had respected and trusted him. He also apologised to his wife and children, who he said still supported Capill.

As he said that, a boy sitting next to Mrs Capill silently shook his head.

Mrs Capill went straight home after the sentencing.

It was there she politely said she had "no comment" to make on the case.

In a typed statement, Capill said he was ashamed and regretful for his past actions.

"I know how many people looked to me as a campaigner for moral values. I recognise the utter hypocrisy between what I said in public and did privately. I apologise unreservedly to the people of NZ for that."

Graham Capill's email newsletter

Sent: Monday, 27 June 2005 10.33am
Subject: Capill Newsletter to Loyal Friends

Dear Friends

I have decided to plead guilty tomorrow morning. The law as it has been explained to me seems so different to what the Biblical law and indeed common perceptions are of rape. The fact that [name deleted] consented is irrelevant.

It is enough that we touched each others private parts - rape is then deemed to take place. Ignorance of the law or the effect of what I was doing to the girls is no excuse and so I must take full responsibility.

There are many aspects of the summary of facts that will be printed in the papers or on TV I disagree with. Some will be pointed out at sentencing.

For example, I believe the girls were a lot older than the age alleged but I have no way to prove it.

Please also pray for my dear family who are very upset at the prospects of me leaving them.

Thank you for your love and messages of support. They mean a lot to us. Thank you to Chris Baigent who is drumming up financial support to try and let us keep our home.

Thank you to those who live in Chch who have been visiting regularly so I can see the children...

For myself, I am praying my walk with God and my bonds with dear Judy and the family will be stronger. Please pray we don't all drift apart.

With our love and God's blessing,