A ROMAN Catholic priest has been found guilty of 19 counts of non-recent abuse against boys at a school in Ealing.

Andrew Soper, known as Father Laurence, 74, of no fixed address, was found guilty on Wednesday fter a ten-week trial at the Old Bailey. He will be sentenced on December 19. 

Soper was found guilty of 19 counts of indecent assault against ten boys who attended St Benedict’s Middle School between 1975 and 1982.

The court heard Soper was a former Abbot at Ealing Abbey and a headmaster of the middle school between 1972 and 1991. He taught boys aged 11-14 and, as headmaster, was in charge of discipline.

The first allegation made against him was in 2004 by a former pupil, who said he was sexually assaulted by Soper, in his office, while he was being punished.

In February 2008, another former pupil was interviewed by police and disclosed that Soper had sexually assaulted him before he was caned.

Another former pupil contacted police in June 2010 as the result of publicity regarding the conviction of a different monk at St Benedict’s.

Soper, who had moved to Rome, was contacted and arrangements were made for him to attend Heathrow police station in September 2010, when he was arrested, interviewed and then bailed.

Two more victims were interviewed and reported similar allegations of sexual assault by Soper while they were caned by him.

In March 2011, Soper failed to answer his bail to be interviewed and a European arrest warrant was issued.

Last year, the investigation into Soper was taken over by detectives from Operation Winterkey, the Met’s investigation into allegations of non-recent child abuse by prominent people  and within institutions.

In May last year, Soper was arrested in Kosovo and deported to Luton Airport. He was remanded in custody after appearing at Ealing Magistrates’ Court.

While he was in custody, detectives interviewed another five victims who made allegations of indecent assault. Soper denied all the charges against him and said there would not have been any inappropriate or sexual contact during disciplinary action.

Det Supt Ang Scott said: “Soper was a manipulative individual who abused his position of trust as a headmaster of a middle school, who was responsible for discipline.

“While preparing the boys for a caning, which is now illegal in schools, Soper asked them to remove clothes and he would then sexually assault them. 

“This was a gross breach of his position, which has resulted in psychological trauma caused to a number of former pupils of St Benedict’s.

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“I would like to pay tribute to the victims for the bravery they have showed in coming forward and reporting these offences and giving evidence.

An NSPCC spokesperson said: “Instead of protecting the children in his care, Soper abused his position of trust and subjected his victims to sustained, sickening abuse.

“The impact of that suffering will have had consequences not only during childhood but also into their adult lives.

“This case highlights once again that victims of past abuse can come forward and achieve justice no matter how long ago the offences took place and no matter who their abuser is.”

A spokesman for the current Abbot, Martin Shipperlee,  said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with his victims. We admire them for their courage in coming forward as witnesses in order to secure his conviction.

“We apologise to everyone who is affected by the crimes Soper committed while he was a monk of Ealing and a teacher at St Benedict’s School in the 1970s and 1980s.

“The prosecution of non-recent sexual offences is an important element in ensuring that, so far as possible, such event s do not occur in future.

“Soper, whose religious name was Laurence, was Head of St Benedict’s Middle School between 1975 and 1984 and Abbot of Ealing from 1991 to 2000.

“After stepping down as Abbot, he became Bursar at S’Anselmo, the Benedictine University in Rome.

“When allegations were made against him, these were subject to investigation by police and social services with the co-operation and assistance of the Abbey and St Benedict’s School.  

“Soper was immediately placed under restrictions at S’Anselmo, which included no unsupervised contact with children or young people.

“Having agreed to co-operate with police by returning to London for further questioning, in March 2011 he failed to return for a police interview and left the monastery in Rome.  

“To our knowledge, nothing further was heard from or about him until he was arrested in Kosovo in May 2016.

“Soper was dismissed from the monastery in 2011. This had the effect of suspending him from all priestly ministry and from presenting himself as a priest.

“This action was confirmed by the Holy See in January 2012. His conviction will now be reported to the authorities in Rome, who will take action following conviction.

“Both the Abbey and the school have robust and approved safeguarding policies in place. 

“St Benedict’s School was inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) in 2015 and also in April 2017.

“On both occasions, the school’s arrangements for safeguarding and child protection were found to be fully compliant.

“In addition, following an independent review instigated by the Abbey, the governance of the School was totally revised.

“The new governance arrangements mean that, although it remains a school with a Benedictine ethos, it is fully independent of the Abbey.

“We are confident the type of offence in the Soper trial is now no more likely in St Benedict’s than in any other well-regulated school.”

Anyone with information about offending against children at St Benedict’s School, Ealing Abbey or elsewhere should inform the police.

The NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 will assist anyone to get in touch with police.