How a Roman Catholic paedophile priest who mixed with celebs nearly escaped justice

Father Anthony McSweeney

Father Anthony McSweeney; Nearly escaped justice Pic Credit: BBC

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One of the successes of the Met Police investigation into the notorious Elm Guest House in Barnes was the arrest and conviction of a Roman Catholic priest Anthony McSweeney who was jailed for three years  in 2015 for sexually abusing a teenager and making indecent images of children.

The inquiry into Elm Guest House led the police to focus on a Richmond  Council children’s home – long since closed – called Grafton Close which at the time was run by a friend of the priest, John Stingemore, who would have been tried alongside him at Southwark Crown Court if he had not died just before the trial.

The allegation that boys were taken by Stingemore to Elm Guest House were never tested in court – though the CPS agreed a charge should be made – because of Stingemore’s death.

But the court heard that McSweeney and Stingemore did take boys away to a flat in Bexhill on sea where they were sexually assaulted. And when McSweeney was arrested   pornographic pictures of children were found on his computer.

Until then Anthony McSweeney had escaped his crimes that took place between 1979 to 1981 and if it had not been for Operation Fernbridge he would still be a popular priest a director of a  Catholic school in Norwich, helping with Norwich City  football youth team and local boxing clubs.

He  was held in high esteem and mixed with some of the great and good. He married the boxer, Frank Bruno and Delia Smith, the celebrity cook and supporter of Norwich City, once asked to arrange a special football service for the club.

But his secret activities could have been stopped nearly 20 years earlier when it was discovered while he was working as a priest in Harlow and Leigh on Sea, Essex, that had a stash of pornographic videos. His cleaner discovered his stash of sex toys, truncheons and pornographic videos at St Peter’s Catholic Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. Instead in 1998 the Roman Catholic Church quietly transfered him to another parish, St George’s church in Norwich.

Now an independent review undertaken by the Dioceses of East Anglia and Brentwood in the wake of his conviction has revealed serious lapses in the whole way the Church handled the discovery in 1998.

In a statement the two dioceses say:

 The Church should have taken more robust action following the discovery of video tapes in 1998, later referred to in Anthony McSweeney’s trial, and should have ensured that the matter was reported to the police so that a full investigation could have taken place.

 Local priests and parishioners were not adequately supported, their concerns were not taken sufficiently seriously, nor acted upon diligently;

 Anthony McSweeney’s subsequent transfer to East Anglia, as outlined above, was poorly managed, lacked insight and was not adequately documented.

The Church defends it behaviour by saying:

“At the time of these events awareness of the need for child protection was in its infancy. The national safeguarding procedures and processes put in place since 2001 would now ensure that such a matter would immediately be passed on to the police, via the Safeguarding Coordinator. Now over 95% of parishes have at least one Safeguarding Representative whose task it is to ensure that the concerns of the local clergy and parishioners are taken seriously, and to refer those concerns to the Diocesan Safeguarding Coordinator.”

However it is clear that the review is not satisfied even today as it recommends the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service, and the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission:

 To review and clarify the existing policy about priests transferring from one diocese to another to ensure consistency and transparency in the process in all the dioceses in England and Wales, and in particular, to ensure that any issues to do with safeguarding are resolved before any such move can take place;

 To issue clear guidelines for managing cases potentially involving indecent images;

 To review the existing “whistleblowing” policy

The Church is refusing to publish the report or even name the author who prepared it on the grounds it was an ” internal report”.

Yet it highlights one of the major perennial problems in tackling child sexual abuse – the decision by authorities to sweep scandals under the carpet – and quietly transfer the person to a new post elsewhere. Not only is this irresponsible but its is dangerous as it puts more children at risk just to preserve the reputation of the organisation.

This a good case  to be referred to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse – either under its Roman Catholic investigation – or the part of the inquiry that will examine safeguarding. Alexis Jay, the chair, should seek out this report as it will help explain in detail what went wrong here and how it can be tackled in future. Otherwise valuable lessons could be missed and the Roman Catholic church will once again have to be taken on trust that it doing the right thing.

 

 

Why let your good smear campaign be spoiled with the facts, David Aaronovitch

David Aaronovitch: Abuse Conspiracies at Westminster? Image Credit: BBC

David Aaronovitch: Abuse Conspiracies at Westminster? Image Credit: BBC

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As the author of Voodoo Histories David Aaronovitch is an expert on modern conspiracy theories. So it is not perhaps surprising that he would treat a story about a  historic Westminster paedophile ring involving VIPs as the latest manifestation of mad conspiracy theorists fuelled by deluded people.

This month he published a detailed article in The Times (behind pay wall) saying the whole VIP paedophile ring scandal at Elm Guest House was in effect one of these fantasies. He said the story had been ” largely created and reiterated by a  former Labour councillor and convicted fraudster,Chris Fay”.

He accused me of spreading this  incredible story ” that I always wanted the public to know”. He concluded  by asking journalists like me ” Why am I doing this? And am I sure I’ve got this right.”

This is my answer to why David Aaronvitch has got this wrong. First it is not true that Chris Fay, who worked for an organisation helping children in care, is my sole source. He should know me better that that. I never rely on sole sources. Nor do I rely or refer to this list of VIPs – which appears to be notes from the  wife of the Elm Guest House’s long dead owner, Carol Kasir. I know it is not accurate. I have  seen part of the log of who stayed at this guest house which , of course, tells you nothing because people booked in under pseudonyms.

Second even Chris Fay does not claim the list is accurate.. Indeed in an article on The Needleblog he says almost the opposite saying he compiled a list of victims who claimed they had been abused at the Elm Guest House not abusers.He rightly casts doubt on that list – saying they may have been guests not abusers of children. Given that in 1982 it was not as acceptable as it is now for people to be gay, this is hardly surprising since people also used Elm Guest House as a rare haven for consenting adults to meet each other as well as paedophile activity.

So what is the evidence? There are two separate sources. First my original source – not Chris Fay – who a colleague met – was a former local government officer on Richmond Council. It was he who led me to investigate why Elm Guest House was raided in the first place in 1982.

It wasn’t complaints from survivors but the residents who lived on this smart Barnes street. They were fed up with people coming at all hours, seeing children going into the guest house, and having posh chauffeur driven cars drawing up there. Most ordinary people do not have large posh cars or chauffeurs at their beck and call. It was one of the then residents who identified Leon Brittan not a survivor. Separately in answer to a direct question from a Dispatches investigation, the police confirmed that Sir Cyril Smith visited Elm Guest House and contrary to reports,have not withdrawn it.

The second stream of sources came from either people who stayed at Grafton Close children’s home or were other former staff on Richmond Council who had responsibility for the home. Here the main allegation was that children were taken there and abused at Elm Guest House and elsewhere. Not everybody was, One was rescued  from that fate by a vigilant social worker.

It is a FACT that there was abuse at Elm Guest House. Why? Because one child was taken from Elm Guest House by Richmond Council  to Grafton Close was given a medical examination which revealed horrific abuse. This is confirmed by two former senior officials from the council and the Met Police may have the medical file. The person has long since left the country, has a new life abroad, and has decided in view of the furore over this, not to testify.

Also if John Stingemore, the former deputy manager of Grafton Close, had lived to face trial at Southwark Crown Court, he would have faced a conspiracy to commit buggery charge, which was linked to taking children to Elm Guest House. His friend, Father Tony McSweeney, was convicted  and sent to jail for three years. Evidence was given that showed children were taken by Stingemore and McSweeney from the home to Bexhill and abused,without their parents knowledge.

And Stingemore, it would have emerged, was a convicted paedophile , having sexually assaulted Peter Bornshin, another resident of Grafton Close  said to have been taken to Elm Guest House.  Richmond Council  paid him compensation. He later committed suicide.

Finally it will be a little premature to assume that the Elm Guest House investigation is over.It is not. There are links to the Operation Midland investigation and there are a number of unfinished leads. But that would be tantamount to speculating on a current police investigation.

Am I right to pursue this? Yes. I don’t have the certainty that commentators like David Aaronovitch to make a polemical point. But I am still certain enough that something went very wrong in the London borough of Richmond at that time and it could still be linked to other inquiries in Westminster.

Child sex abuse: Investigators announce a game change decision

The announcement by the Independent Police Complaints Commission that it is to investigate  cover ups  inside the Metropolitan Police on historical child sexual abuse inquiries is  game changing. It means not only are the Met Police convinced that evidence from survivors of a powerful paedophile ring that may have operated in Westminster and Whitehall needs investigating and people prosecuted but the Met Police conduct at the time needs to be held to account

The full statement on the IPCC  site lists no fewer than 14 allegations to be investigated going back to the 1970s. and 1980s to the early 2000s. You can read them in the release.

As the IPCC Deputy Chair Sarah Green said:

“These allegations are of historic, high level corruption of the most serious nature.

“We will oversee the investigations and ensure that they meet the terms of reference that we will set. Allegations of this nature are of grave concern and I would like to reassure people of our absolute commitment to ensuring that the investigations are thorough and robust.”

The press release names Dolphin Square as one of the venues of the ring  and also South London – linking possible venues like Elm Guest House in Barnes  and Lambeth. It covers a number of investigations by exaro and disclosures on a closed website that  former Met  police officers working on these cases believed they had been stopped from pursuing important people.

Survivors and victims should at last be pleased that they are being taken seriously and must hope that this will really be a thorough detailed investigation that will not shy away from finding out who in the Met agreed or was told to close down such investigations .

However a word of warning it is to be – as the Danny Shaw, the BBC’s home affairs correspondent points out –  a ” managed ” inquiry – meaning that the Met police’s own Professional Standards Body will carry out the investigation into the Met police. They will be overseen by the IPCC which is hit by not having enough resources due to the austerity measures.

In some ways this investigation parallels the equally appalling murder of Daniel Morgan – current the subject of an independent panel inquiry into  the murder of the private investigator. The evidence from the Met Police finally handed over late last year should also open up inquiries into why leading figures in the Met never got a successful prosecution.

What can be said now is that these lurid allegations against MPs, senior Cabinet ministers, spies and the various churches- which some commentators believe must be false – have to be taken seriously and cannot just be ignored.

The investigation I hope will go some way to restore trust in the police to conduct such inquiries in the future and also show those who thought they could cover up matters in the 1970s and 1980s will not get away with it.

The inquiry has to be seen to be robust, transparent and thorough and getting to the root of the many scandals in the capital. If it doesn’t suspicions will remain. it will require nerves of steel  to tackle the prominent people who stand accused.

Leon Brittan: Why Lawson is wrong and there is a real case to answer

Leon Brittan

Leon Brittan

There has been anger  and disbelief among many of the late Leon Brittan’s friends that his name has become public in connection with the current Met police investigation into  historical child sex abuse dating back to the 1980s. In one sense it is understandable. Who would want to believe that the person they invite to dinner, meet in the House of Lords, have known for years, could be remotely considered a serial paedophile. So the reaction from Lord Deben ( better known as John Selwyn Gummer), Edward Garnier MP and David Cameron after his recent death is not unusual.

But the attack in the Sunday Times by Dominic Lawson, a former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, is a different matter. By taking the argument that those who say that he could be a paedophile – such as Tom Watson and Simon Danczuk  are part of a  frenzied Labour left-wing plot to get back at Tories close to Margaret Thatcher,he is way off the mark.

As an investigative  reporter  not only does this line of argument not stand up – but the facts of the case are against him.

For a start  he questioned whether “Nick’s ” account  about  Leon Brittan and others sexually abusing him was accurate. Yet ” Nick” has already been described by the  Met Police as ” a credible witness”. They do not do such a thing lightly. and they certainly don’t do it just because Tom Watson or Exaro News say so. They make up their own mind.

Second if he started to examine the known facts about  the allegations against Leon Brittan he might have pause for thought. ” Nick” is not the only person to make these allegations. Separate allegations have been made by more than a handful of other survivors and a number are still being followed up by the police because they involve other people.

As a journo if you want to establish the probability of a fact – one of the most compelling arguments is when two or more people who did not know each other give a similar story. So unless Dominic Lawson is going to argue that there is a wicked conspiracy among survivors across England to name and frame Leon Brittan for some unknown reason this does not stand up.

People also forget that the case against Leon Brittan is not only made by survivors – who as kids as young as nine or eleven would not easily recognise Cabinet ministers – but by members of the public.

The original reason why Elm Guest House was raided in 1982 was not initially because children complained about sexual abuse but because the residents in Barnes got thoroughly fed up with an unruly B & B in a  quiet street, with cars turning up at all times of night. It was a resident who allegedly said she saw Leon Brittan going there. Certainly the police from separate sources have established that Sir Cyril Smith went there.

And other people, not just survivors, are now coming forward saying at least there was one flat in Dolphin Square where young people were invited to gay sex parties.

Of course they may now be a clamour for the Met to stop investigating him – but the investigation is on going because they are people who were allegedly there with Leon Brittan who are still alive.

Finally if  some one is likely to be charged – the most likely person which both Leicestershire and Met Police say they are currently investigating – it is Lord Janner. Now unless Dominic Lawson knows something I don’t ,I can’t recall Lord Janner ever being in Thatcher’s Cabinet. He is a  former Labour MP and if his argument is that the sex abuse scandal is based on Leftie political revenge on the Tories – I have not seen Tom Watson or Simon Danczuk rushing to protect him for the sake of Ed Miliband.

Frankly the thesis of Dominic Lawson is a bit of old tosh – pressure for an overarching child sex abuse inquiry had all party support – Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green. It was precisely the idea of Conservative Mp, Zac Goldsmith, to do it this way – to prevent it becoming a party political matter.

In his frankly partisan piece Lawson – I suspect in grief for a friend he sees unjustly accused- has broken that. And shame on him for suggesting it.

I now see following the Times revelations today(July 23) that indeed the Cabinet Office did have documents which named Leon Brittan in connection with child sex abuse allegations but they were suppressed. I hope Dominic Lawson will reflect on the findings.

Elm Guest House: Child abuse charges to be reinstated

A very important decision has been taken by the Crown Prosecution Service to reinstate charges against John Stingemore,the former deputy manager, of Grafton Close children’s home in Richmond.

Stingemore and Father Tony McSweeney,already face  a trial next February on a series of child sex abuse charges and have pleaded not guilty to all the charges against them.

The full story by my colleague Mark Conrad is on the Exaro website.but in essence it involved the CPS reviewing the  charges after a complaint from Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale, who revealed the scale of the scandal against Sir Cyril Smith, and planned action by Tom Watson MP to help the witness involved.

Exaro revealed last December that the CPS had withdrawn four charges based on accusations by one witness, but had made a serious mistake about the evidence gathered by the Metropolitan Police Service’s paedophile unit under Operation Fernbridge. It led to an adverse view of the witness’s credibility.

 

While it would be wrong to reveal the full details of the circumstances of the case in order not to prejudice the trial, the decision is important for two reasons.

First it shows that survivors accounts should not be brushed aside and second it suggests that the pressure the police and the CPS are under to handle so many child sexual abuse cases at the moment that they may not have had the time to examine all the details.

If it was not for active MPs like Simon and Tom who are prepared to take up cases like this, we would still be facing the danger of further cover ups and evidence not being tested by the courts.

The last thing we want is anything else not properly investigated when people have waited so long for justice.

Elm Guest House : Crown Prosecution Service handling leads to MP’s complaint

A second MP, Simon Danczuk,,has complained to the Director of Public Prosecutions over the handling of  Met’s Operation Fernbridge investigation into Elm Guest House.

This time the complaint is against the Crown Prosecution Service who have told a victim who says he was sexually abused there he is the only case where this has happened.

The official reply from the CPS is patently untrue since the Met Police themselves have admitted to Channel Four’s Dispatches that Sir Cyril Smith visited the house and was involved with rent boys there. And the person who says he was assaulted there was not involved with Cyril Smith.

The full story by my colleague Mark Conrad is on the Exaro website. It comes after Tom Watson complained to the DPP about the way the Met Police handled a rape claim from a woman against a former Tory minister which was also investigated by Fernbridge.

All this suggest that part of the  Fernbridge investigation is not going well. And it strengthens the case for an overarching inquiry into historic child sex abuse investigations now demanded by 135 MPs of all parties.

Operation Fernbridge: A worrying failure over a rape case

Before Operation Fernbridge was  launched I received a high level promise from the police that whoever participated in the Richmond child sex abuse scandal – however high and mighty – would be prosecuted if the police could get the evidence.

 This ” no holds barred” approach gave me confidence that despite three failed attempts to get to the bottom of the scandal at Richmond’s Grafton Close children’s home and the notorious Elm Guest House that we would get a result.

 My belief is now being severely tested following a series of events – including the fresh disclosures from  the Labour MP for Rochdale Simon Danzcuk about how the police never took any action against Sir Cyril Smith, despite ample examples of his connections to paedophile activity..

 What has particularly shaken me are the revelations meticulously put together by my colleague Mark Conrad and disclosed in a series of articles in Exaro News this week and in the Sunday People about the principal suspect in more than one historic paedophile scandal- A former Tory Cabinet minister.

 The  detailed allegations this time from a woman about events when she was just 19 and the man was at the beginning of his career make chilling and dramatic reading – and under today’s standards very few people would doubt she was sexually assaulted without her consent. I need not repeat the full circumstances – you can read  them in a series of articles in Exaro News if you want a blow-by-blow account.

The good news is that Tom Watson – the MP who first raised the issue of  leading political figures being involved  in historic paedophile rings – has written to Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, demanding a review of the police’s handling of the case and he is very critical of the way the police have handled it. I hope she takes notice.

The Met Police have of course said little about this. However the nearest explanation for their non action is on The Needleblog  .

My concern about this is three-fold. First of all it appears that there has been a serious failure by the Met police to take seriously a claim from a credible witness at a time when people are being encouraged to report historic rape and sexual abuse cases. This provides little confidence for others to come forward.

Second it appears that the allegations are far stronger than many of allegations being put to celebrities facing trial at the moment.

Third it is not clear that Crown Prosecution Service was presented with a full file by the Met Police who never even put such strong allegations to the perpetrator.

All this is worrying. The most worrying aspect of it all is that the police appear to be losing their appetite to pursue this high profile figure – suggesting there is one rule for celebrities and another for anybody with real power like a politician. The failure to pursue this is not an isolated incident in  Operation Fernbridge. On the contrary other allegations when they refer to the notorious Elm Guest House appear to be dropped or ignored as well.