Sunday, 15 May 2016

Abbot Laurence Soper

The Metropolitan Police have their man. Laurence Soper was arrested last Wednesday in the town of Peja (or Peć in Serbian) in western Kosovo. I have little doubt that he will be extradited to Britain to stand trial on one or more charges of child abuse. While I was out last night my phone went crazy with all the people phoning me and texting me with the news.

It has made it as a news item in most of the media including the Daily Mail, the Guardian, the Daily Express, the Telegraph, Sky, the Sun, ITV, and the BBC.

Just about all the articles have some minor inaccuracies in them, so here are the background facts as far as I know them and as far as they can be stated in public without prejudicing any future trial.

Soper, now aged 72, was a pupil at St Benedict's School, run by the monks of Ealing Abbey. His original name is Andrew Charles Kingsdon Soper. Several former pupils who have since spoken to me remember him. After a short career in banking with Barclays he entered the monastery in 1964 and was ordained as a priest in 1970. He taught at St Benedict's School from 1973-84. When he retired from teaching he was Master of the Middle School (years 7-9). In 1984 he was appointed Prior and in 1991 was elected Abbot. He retired as Abbot in 2000 and immediately moved to the Benedictine headquarters at Collegio Sant'Anselmo in Rome where he became general treasurer of the International Benedictine Confederation in 2002 until his disappearance in 2011. His successor as Abbot of Ealing is the present Abbot, Martin Shipperlee.

In June 2010 a man, by now in his 40s, made a complaint to the police concerning alleged abuse by Soper during his time as a teacher, and in September Soper returned from Rome at the police's request to answer questions. He was arrested, released on police bail and allowed to return to Rome. He left Rome in March 2011 supposedly to attend a police bail appointment in London but instead disappeared. A European Arrest Warrant was issued for him in 2012.

In addition to his roles at Ealing Abbey and St Benedict's School, he was a visiting chaplain at Feltham Young Offenders Institution from 1988 to 2000 and was Roman Catholic chaplain at Harrow School from 1981 to 1991. There have been complaints about abuse of inmates at Feltham, and Ealing Abbey subsequently confirmed that the police interviewed Soper at the time in connection with those complaints.

There was a great deal of publicity following the conviction in 2009 of Father David Pearce (also a monk and priest at Ealing Abbey and the former head of the junior school at St Benedict's) for a series of sexual crimes against pupils spanning 36 years. As a result, Lord Carlile was commissioned by Ealing Abbey to write a report into abuse at the abbey and St. Benedict's School. Published in 2011, the Carlile report mentioned two complaints made against Soper, both dating from the 1970s. In his report Lord Carlile was seriously critical of the monastic community, describing "its lengthy and culpable failure to deal with what at times must have been evident behaviour placing children at risk; and what at all times was a failure to recognise the sinful temptations that might attract some with monastic vocations."

According to news reports Soper was living under his own name of Andrew Soper at the time of his arrest. Laurence is the monastic name he took when he became a monk.

In addition to Father David Pearce, two former teachers at St. Benedict's (John Maestri and Stephen Skelton) have been convicted of sexual abuse of pupils, and the school's deputy headmaster Peter Allott was arrested in late 2015. He subsequently pleaded guilty to possessing, making and distributing child abuse images and was sentenced to 33 months in jail.

If you were a victim of or witness to abuses by Soper at St. Benedict's or anywhere else, I urge you to contact the police and tell them everything you know. Similarly, if you were a victim of abuses by anybody else at St. Benedict's, please also tell the police.

I have spoken to a number of victims of abuse at St. Benedict's and elsewhere. From speaking to them and from other learning about the subject, I have come to understand the huge amount of courage it takes for somebody who was abused as a child to come forward, even decades later. But the great majority who have done so say that the load has been lifted somewhat as a result of sharing. If you have been thinking that you might finally feel able to tell somebody, now is a good time.

Note: Although comments are open on this article, I will not publish anything which describes or speculates about what crimes Soper may or may not have committed. Please remember that there is an ongoing police investigation and it is important not to prejudice any trial that may occur if and when Soper is extradited from Kosovo to face justice in Britain.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Allott's sentence

I've just learned that today at Blackfriars Crown Court Peter Allott was sentenced to 33 months imprisonment. Will follow up with more details when I have them.


The Evening Standard has an article on this, as does the Daily Telegraph.