Pagan ceremonies with a coven of white witches in mid and west Cornwall were cited when the trial of two men accused of sexually abusing children over a number of years began at Truro Crown Court on Monday.

In the dock were 69-year-old Jack Kemp, of Grenville Road, Falmouth, and Peter Petrauske, 72, who at the time of his arrest last December was living at The Beacon, Falmouth.

Petrauske has denied raping one girl and three charges of assault. Kemp has denied aiding and abetting attempted rape and 15 charges of assault.

Prosecutor Jason Beal told the jury of nine men and three women that the children involved ranged in age from three to 15.

The abuse charges relate to a period between the late 1970s and 2009.

Kemp, revealed Mr Beal, had previous convictions for child abuse in 1972.

When police officers began investigations, one witness told of children being told to take their clothes off and dance around “like models”.

A girl who was aged seven or eight at the time told of children being with adults dressed in robes – one of them Petrauske.

She had been tied to a chair and blindfolded, and on another occasion her wrists were bound and a ceremonial dagger was drawn over her body.

Another witness, said Mr Beal, spoke of Petrauske being “really into witchcraft” and that he would refer to himself as a chief or lord.

Petrauske and Kemp would attend witches’ meetings, often up to three times a week, at a place near St Ives.

Petrauske told police officers: “I am a white witch, a pagan and not a Christian. Peter Solheim was a member of my white witch coven for which I am the high priest.”

Among items found at his home were a suitcase containing a ceremonial dagger, a cup and table covering, books relating to witchcraft and paganism, a blue and silver gown, a purple gown, a black eye mask, a red robe, a black leather whip, a gold chain and dagger, a black handled sword and a bag containing candles, incense and lavender.

The trial is expected to run for at least three weeks.