Police obtain European Arrest Warrant for cleric wanted over sex abuse claims

 

Police have obtained a European Arrest Warrant for a Catholic cleric accused of historic sex offences who failed to answer bail, they said today.

They have gained the warrant for Father Laurence Soper, who is wanted over allegations of child abuse dating back to when he taught at St Benedict's School, a private independent Catholic school which is part of Ealing Abbey in west London.

Fr Soper, who was abbot of Ealing Abbey from 1991 to 2000, was believed to have been living in a monastery in Rome, and was due to return to London to answer bail in March last year.

However he failed to show up, sparking a police hunt for him.

Scotland Yard said that in June 2010, a man now in his 40s made a historical allegation of sexual assault relating to his time at the school.

Fr Soper, 68, was arrested in September 2010 on suspicion of historical sexual assault, and bailed to return to a west London police station pending further enquiries but failed to appear.

A spokeswoman said: "Officers have made extensive enquiries to trace him without success and a European Arrest Warrant for his arrest has been obtained.

"It is believed he may be in Italy and officers are appealing for anyone who may know of his whereabouts to please make contact on 020 8246 1901; if you wish to remain anonymous call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111."

It is not the first time the school has been in the headlines. In October 2009 a Catholic priest referred to as the "devil in a dog collar" was jailed for eight years over a string of sex attacks on boys.

Father David Pearce was jailed at Isleworth Crown Court after pleading guilty to a series of indecent assaults and sexual attacks on five young boys, four under 14, at St Benedict's School over a period of 36 years.

Judge Andrew McDowall told him: "Only the recording angel will know what was going on, what was done and what was not done.

"At some later stage, a higher court than this will be deciding the exact balance to be put upon your conduct."

After the case, one of his victims described him as the "devil in a dog collar".

Pearce admitted 10 counts of indecent assault and one count of sexual assault on five victims between 1972 and 2008.

In November last year a top QC called for tougher rules to protect all faith pupils as he stripped monks of control at the school.

St Benedict's School chiefs offered a "heartfelt apology for past failures" as Lord Carlile of Berriew detailed 21 attacks over 40 years.

The peer said he hoped his decision to take powers away from Ealing Abbey would "set a template" for other schools.

In his inquiry, Lord Carlile outlined a catalogue of failures by the abbey to intervene as allegations of abuses came to light.

"I have come to the firm conclusion ... that the form of governance of St Benedict's School is wholly outdated and demonstrably unacceptable," he wrote.

"The abbot himself has accepted that it is 'opaque to outsiders'."

The report added: "In a school where there has been abuse, mostly - but not exclusively - as a result of the activities of the monastic community, any semblance of a conflict of interest, of lack of independent scrutiny, must be removed."

Two trusts should be launched to remove "all power from the abbey" while maintaining the Benedictine connection for the parents, Lord Carlile said, with changes to be in place by the beginning of the next academic year.

According to campaigners, those affected by sex attacks may number in the hundreds.

Lord Carlile urged Fr Soper then to surrender himself to officers, saying: "I regret very much the difficulties he has caused."

PA

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