Campaigning hero Graham Wilmer: Picture reproduced courtesy Rory Wilmer Photography
Over the last two weeks the Met Police Child Abuse Investigation Command has been secretly running a new investigation into alleged child abuse involving former schoolboys who went to primary and secondary schools run by the Roman Catholic Salesian Order in England and Scotland.
Some 23 alleged victims have already contacted in one of the biggest operations since Operation Yewtree which involved Jimmy Savile and Operation Fernbridge investigation into sexual abuse at Elm Guest House in Barnes – including tracing people who had left the country for Thailand.
The full story is revealed today in The People (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/paedo-probe-catholic-schools-20-1911825) and Exaro News( http://www.exaronews.com/articles/4979/met-investigates-catholic-order-s-schools-over-child-sex-abuse ). It is known to involve at least 30 victims and 20 priests and teachers, some of whom are now dead, and stretching back some 50 years. Some of the figures were prominent members of the Order which was set up in London in the late nineteenth century and now stretches world-wide.
The impetus for the new investigation comes from one former pupil of a Salesian school, Graham Wilmer, who was sexually abused himself, and has tirelessly and heroically campaigned for a full-scale police investigation into the order for decades.
He now runs the Lantern Project (http://www.lanternproject.org.uk) in the Wirral which counsels victims of child sexual abuse and has managed to pass to the police 50 names of victims and abusers, some of whom had left the country.
The extraordinary decision to launch the investigation was finally prompted – after three false attempts – by a former pupil of a London Salesian school who was a senior colleague of Commander Peter Spindler, now at HM Inspectorate of Constabulary. He knew of the abuse in the order and directly contacted Spindler. His intervention led to Spindler launching the inquiry and the contacting of victims. (See http://www.exaronews.com/articles/4980/operation-torva-ex-pupil-joined-police-and-triggered-met-probe )
The Scotland Yard codename for the exercise is Operation Torva.
One of the schools where abuse by staff was alleged to have taken place was a Salesian College in Battersea, south London. Famous pupils there include Catherine Tate who attended the sixth form and Lord O’Donnell, the former cabinet Secretary, who was head boy.
The Met Police said: “The Metropolitan Police takes allegations of sexual abuse very seriously regardless of when they took place. All allegations when reported will be recorded and investigated and where possible evidence will be put before the court in order that offenders will have to answer for their actions. Officers from the Metropolitan Police have been engaging with members of the Lantern Project in order to work in partnership to encourage those who have suffered abuse to come forward.
Graham Wilmer said: “It is a matter of great comfort to us that the response we have had, when talking to the police, has always been very positive, and no one should be concerned about how they will be treated if they report abuse to the police. I would urge any one who has been abused in a Salesian school, or elsewhere, to come forward and make contact with the police in the first instant.
“It has always been a matter of real concern to me that, up until the Jimmy Savile case, it has been very difficult to get justice for victims of sexual abuse, as nobody really wanted to know. Now, everything as changed, and the police, the DPP and the CPS are actively encouraging victims to come forward and seek help.
However, there is still no sign from government that they will provide the funding necessary to support survivor groups, such as the Lantern Project, without which the support that victims who come forward desperately need, will simply not be there.”
The police are taking calls from victims on 101 or 999 and victims can also contact the Lantern Project on 0151 630 6956 if they don’t want call the police to report child abuse in the Salesian Order.