A Hindu priest fired by a temple in Tooting for his behaviour around women went on to rape a female worshipper from a temple in Croydon.

Ramanathan Somanathan was found guilty of twice raping the 29-year-old woman, abusing his position as a respected priest at the Sivaskanthagiri Arulmigu Murugan Temple in Thornton Road, Croydon.

Croydon Crown Court heard how the chairman of the Sivayogam Muthumariyamman temple in Upper Tooting Road had decided not to renew Somanathan's contract when he worked there six years ago, because he had become concerned about the defendant's behaviour towards women at the temple.

The court heard that the married 41-year-old from Thornton Heath had told his victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, that they had been married in a previous life.

Gillian Etherton, prosecuting, told the court that Somanathan had also sexually harassed other worshippers at the Croydon temple, and many of them had been afraid to come forward fearing a backlash from the local Hindu community.

She said: "Three members of the Thornton Heath temple gave disturbing evidence and a pattern of behaviour emerges. The defendant treated women in vulnerable and desperate states, and set up a pattern of sexual harassment.

"In due course the defendant gets their telephone numbers and a series of phone calls are made. Initially, the defendant appears to be a concerned priest, but the conversation soon turns sexual in nature."

Somanathan had denied the charges and his defence barrister argued the victim had become obsessed with the priest, which she denied during cross-examination.

Giving evidence, the woman said the second time she was raped at her home in November 2002 she became pregnant and decided to have an abortion. She also admitted attempting suicide several times following the assaults.

Somanathan is due to be sentenced at Croydon Crown Court on February 18.