FATHER Tony McSweeney chalked up a number of notable additions to his CV during a lifetime supposedly devoted to the service of children and God. He said Mass at Norwich City Football Club at the request of its celebrity cook owner Delia Smith, and conducted the marriage of world heavyweight boxing champion Frank Bruno. He also received the prestigious Silver Acorn for decades of ‘dedication’ to the global Scout movement and his co-authorship of its official songbook.
Last week, he even boasted of being the ‘world expert’ on organising campfire get-togethers. But now he must add a chilling new entry to his list of achievements: he has become the first paedophile to be tried and convicted after being linked to allegations of a VIP ring based at an infamous South London guesthouse who preyed on boys from a nearby care home.
And unless police make further progress with their investigations, he could well be the last.
For decades — culminating in his trial and conviction at Southwark Crown Court on Friday — McSweeney, 68, lied and lied.
He broke criminal laws, childcare rules, the bond of trust between priest and congregation and his priestly vows of celibacy, sometimes in the most disgusting fashion.
His offending, as far as we know, goes back to the Seventies when, while training for the priesthood, he worked as a part-time carer at a local authority-run home for vulnerable boys in Grafton Close, Richmond-upon-Thames. He was given the job by the manager, his ‘good friend’ — and fellow predator — John Stingemore.
McSweeney was finally caught when, more than 30 years later, police launched an investigation into historic allegations that Grafton Close boys had been sent to Elm Guest House, a gay hotel in nearby Barnes, to be sexually abused. The list of alleged abusers included Cabinet ministers and MPs, diplomats, spies, policemen, judges, pop stars and staff of the Royal Households.
Detectives are satisfied that the late Liberal MP Cyril Smith, a known but unpunished abuser of boys during his long political career, was one visitor to the guest-house.
As the Mail revealed in 2013, one of the Grafton Close boys, Peter Bornshin, had been so traumatised by his experiences that he later committed suicide.
McSweeney’s conviction last week for offences of indecent assault of a minor and making indecent images of children confirms his four decades as a known, active paedophile, most of which he spent in positions of authority over children and young people. Yet following his trial and an investigation by this newspaper, a number of disturbing questions remain.
One in particular should be addressed by the Roman Catholic Church, whose image in recent years has been severely damaged by revelations of widespread paedophile abuse by clergy and coverups by the hierarchy.
It is this: why in 1998, when McSweeney had just been thrown out of an Essex parish after a cleaner found a video that she believed to show under-age gay sex, did two bishops agree he should almost immediately be given a posting to another diocese, where his history was unknown to the congregation?
As we shall see, at least one Catholic layperson who became aware of the reason for McSweeney’s sudden departure from Essex was shocked when, by chance, he found that the priest had been ‘recycled’ to another part of the country as though nothing had happened.
We can also reveal that one of those bishops behind that decision went on to be the longest- serving English Catholic prelate of modern times. The other, whom McSweeney described in court last week as his ‘friend’, has risen to become the current Archbishop of Southwark, one of the most senior figures in the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. The scandal — for that is what it seems — touches no fewer than three dioceses.
For a decade before he took holy orders in 1978, McSweeney was a warden at Britain’s then largest Scout camp, in Waltham Abbey, Essex.
One can make an educated guess at the motives behind his desire to spend time in the great outdoors with adolescent boys.
Indeed, the court heard that in 1976 he approached a boy in a shower block at a Scout retreat and told him to ‘wash under the foreskin’.
When the boy reported it to another warden, he was told not to ‘ be so stupid and make trouble’ — and no charge was ever brought.
Two years later, McSweeney joined St John’s Roman Catholic seminary near Guildford. The professor of canonical law at St John’s during the four years he spent there was the future Archbishop of Southwark, Peter Smith.
McSweeney told the court that around the same time and ‘by the grace of God and the favour of John Stingemore’, he got the part-time job as a carer at the Richmond care home Stingemore was managing.
McSweeney, who will be sentenced on March 27, had met Stingemore in 1970. The court heard that after they started working at the care home, they took Grafton Close boys on holiday together.
The two men also travelled to Amsterdam, visiting sex shops in the red-light district. Shortly after that trip, the pair sat in Stingemore’s flat at Grafton Close and watched a film featuring sex acts involving boys as young as ten.
The court heard the boys at the care home knew McSweeney as ‘the priest’, and that abuse happened ‘almost all the time’ when he stayed over at the home. He would try to kiss them or fondle their genitals, and he made them sit on his lap.
John Stingemore was eventually dismissed — it is not clear exactly when — after the authorities learned he had taken indecent photographs of boys in his care.
When this happened, McSweeney dropped all contact with him. By then, McSweeney had been ordained into the priesthood and was working in the diocese of Brentwood. The bishop was Thomas McMahon, who held the post for 34 years until retiring last year. McSweeney was moved around the diocese — he later claimed that his role was as a ‘troubleshooter’ for the bishop — before becoming parish priest of St Peter’s in Leigh- on- Sea, Essex, in 1997.
But it would prove a short-lived appointment. McSweeney had been there for only a year when his housekeeper looked in a bedside drawer and found sex toys, bondage equipment and videos.
The woman, who was a policeman’s daughter and the mother of adolescent boys, played one of the videos on the presbytery’s television.
In the brief scene she watched, two youths she thought to be as young as 14 were engaged in penetrative sex.
She phoned the police and told them what she had seen. But because she wished to remain anonymous, they did not follow up the complaint, she told the court during McSweeney’s trial.
She then took the matter straight to the diocesan authorities, but ‘wasn’t very satisfied’ by their response.
They admitted that they knew McSweeney was gay, she said, but implied she had misjudged the ages of the boys in the film.
Indeed, in court, McSweeney claimed the youths were ‘Twinks’ — gay slang for 18 to 25-year-olds — who looked younger than they actually were.
This newspaper was told by another lay source in the parish that the diocese’s initial reaction was ‘ Oh no, not again. He promised not to . . .’ which suggests they were aware of his predilection for gay pornography.
The video was found on a Friday and McSweeney had gone from the parish before Sunday Mass, a source told the Mail.
And so, almost two decades after what we now know to be McSweeney’s first serious offending, at the Grafton Close care home, the Church was given the chance to curtail his activities and protect not only its own image but youngsters with whom McSweeney came into contact. Yet it failed to do so. McSweeney told the court that in the aftermath of his housekeeper’s discovery, he was ‘effectively banished’ by Bishop McMahon.
But instead of facing disciplinary procedures and the possibility of being laicised — the Catholic version of defrocking — he simply went to live with ‘various friends’ and had what he called
‘The priest’ would always try to kiss and fondle them The Church had the chance to protect boys
a ‘breakdown’. Then, as he explained to the court, he phoned ‘a friend who was [another] bishop. He accepted everything that happened. He spoke to my bishop’.
Though it is not clear who this other bishop was, within months McSweeney was back in office, in the parish of St George’s, Norwich, in the diocese of East Anglia.
At the time, the Bishop of East Anglia was P eter Smith, McSweeney’s old professor at seminary in Guildford.
The disgraced priest’s resurrection came as a surprise to a Catholic layperson from McSweeney’s former diocese in Brentwood, who had good reason to remember him well.
One evening the year before, this layperson had gone to the St P eter’s presbytery to get the keys for the church hall.
When McSweeney opened the door, he threw the keys in the man ’s face and told him to ‘f*** off’.
Might he have been doing some – thing that made him particularly keen not to be disturbed?
The parishoner recalls: ‘It was the strangest blessing I’ve ever had from a priest.’
It was shortly after this incident that McSweeney was booted out in disgrace. A few months later , the same Essex parishioner attended a conference for Catholic professionals, held in Norwich. The guest speaker was none other than Tony McSweeney. His subject? The joys of Scouting.
‘I could not believe what I was seeing,’ says the source.
McSweeney prospered in Norfolk . He became chaplain and governor of a school.
He rubbed shoulders with local celebrities — hence, presumably , his invitation from Delia Smith, the Catholic cookery writer, to say Mass
at Norwich football club, where she and her husband are majority shareholders. McSweeney also took children on pilgrimage to the Catholic shrine at Lourdes, and continued to burnish his Scouting profile.
Then, three years ago, the Jimmy Savile scandal erupted as a welter of accusations against the former DJ emerged. In the febrile atmosphere that followed, old allegations about abuse by well-known figures at Elm Guest House were revived.
Having seen the coverage in newspapers, the court heard, one of Tony McSweeney’s former victims from Grafton Close, now in his 50s, decided to come forward.
Fully 15 years after the Catholic Church had simply moved McSweeney to another diocese, police from Operation Fernbridge — investigating events at Elm Guest House — raided his Norwich presbytery.
They found on his laptop thousands of recently downloaded pornographic images, including the most serious category of paedophilia. Forensic examination showed that he often used the keyword ‘boy’ when searching for porn.
The judge in his trial refused the defence’s request to have these offences separated from the historic paedophile assaults at Grafton Close. They were all of a part.
In the witness box, McSweeney continued to lie and deny. Morbidly obese and not wearing a clerical collar, he cut a pathetic figure, weeping theatrically while giving his evidence.
But they were crocodile tears. In an extraordinary passage, McSweeney was asked by his own counsel to explain one of the many portrait photographs of adolescents or young men which the police had found in his home.
It was a picture of his ‘godson’, the priest told the court fondly.
This lie was exploded by the prosecuting counsel. A large number of other images of the same male, this time naked, had been found on a CD in the presbytery. They had been taken in a Paris hotel room.
The ‘godson’ was, in fact, an Italian rent boy whom McSweeney had paid for sex. It wasn’t a lie, McSweeney argued pathetically: ‘godson’ was merely ‘shorthand’ for the ‘pastoral care’ he had given the male prostitute.
Much as the conviction of this dangerous man is a victory for the authorities, McSweeney may prove to be the only catch for Operation Fernbridge.
John Stingemore — former manager of the Grafton Close care home — was charged with similar offences, but died just weeks before the trial.
What then of the Church’s role in failing to act decisively against McSweeney? Earlier this year, Pope Francis issued an apology to victims of clerical sex abuse and asked for forgiveness.
Yet commentators observed that Vatican officials remained reluctant to act against bishops accused of orchestrating cover-ups.
One irony of the McSweeney case is that, prior to his current position, Archbishop Peter Smith — McSweeney’s old friend from the Guildford seminary — had been promoted from East Anglia to head the archdiocese of Cardiff. The previous incumbent in Wales had stood down amid claims he ignored ‘warnings about paedophile priests in the archdiocese’.
Archbishop Smith was tasked with restoring the Welsh Church’s reputation, and declared he ‘wanted to help people bind up the wounds and bring healing’. This was three years after McSweeney had been given a new post in Smith’s East Anglia diocese.
This newspaper contacted the archbishop’s office about McSweeney’s claims of friendship, but inquiries were redirected to his former diocese of East Anglia.
In a statement, that diocese claimed: ‘The incident involving the video tapes in Fr McSweeney’s possession [in Brentwood, Essex] … was not investigated by the police on the grounds that they were not illegal. At that time, no allegations of child abuse had been made against Fr McSweeney.
‘ The possession of such tapes was regarded by the Church as a matter of clergy discipline.’
The Diocese of Brentwood and its former head, Bishop McMahon, were asked by the Mail about their role in the affair. The diocese responded: ‘(After) the discovery of these videos in 1998, Fr McSweeney was offered therapy and counselling.
‘He then decided to leave the diocese, and some time later sought an appointment in the Diocese of East Anglia. Following consultations between the two bishops, he was allowed to take up a post in that diocese.’
There is no doubt the conviction of Father Tony McSweeney has seen a predatory man brought to justice. But the feeling remains that many others who abused boys at Elm Guest House and elsewhere have got away with their crimes scot-free.
He hired a rent boy for sex, then claimed he was his godson
Catholic priest known as ‘The Fat Vicar’ convicted of sexually abusing a vulnerable boy at a care home run by his paedophile friend
Daily Mail Online
- Anthony McSweeney is guilty of indecent assault and making child porn
- The 20st priest attacked a young boy 35 years ago at a care home run by his friend John Stingemore, who was found dead last month
- McSweeney, 68, ogled boys in the shower and was caught with videos of children having sex
- Victims were not believed because of McSweeney’s role as a priest
Guilty: Anthony McSweeney has been convicted of indecent assault on a young boy 35 years ago
A Catholic priest dubbed the ‘fat vicar’ was today found guilty of sexually abusing a boy in a care home and downloading child porn onto his computer.
Father Anthony McSweeney, 68, faces jail after he was convicted of preying on the vulnerable boy while he was working at Grafton Close Children’s Home in Hounslow, west London, more than 30 years ago.
The care home was run by McSweeney’s friend John Stingemore, who was found dead in January weeks before he was due to stand trial alongside the priest.
Southwark Crown Court heard that McSweeney watched young boys shower for his own sexual gratification, and kept a collection of child porn at home.
He denied being a paedophile – but today a jury of six men and five women found him guilty of indecent assault and three counts of making indecent images of children.
The attack on the young boy took place between 1979 and 1981, while the child porn was found on his laptop after he was arrested in 2013.
McSweeney was cleared of three indecent assaults on two other boys at the care home and taking a pornographic photo of one of these boys.
The 20st priest was once enlisted by TV cook Delia Smith to hold a special football service at Norwich City.
And he officiated at the 1990 wedding of boxing star Frank Bruno and his now ex-wife Laura.
McSweeney was investigated as part of Operation Fernbridge, the police probe into an alleged VIP paedophile ring at Grafton Close and Elms Guest House in Barnes, west London.
Stingemore used his connections to help get his close friend a job at Grafton Close, where they molested vulnerable boys together, the court heard.
McSweeney watched as a teenage boy was abused by Stingemore in the care home shower.
Denial: The Catholic priest insisted he had no sexual interest in children but was found guilty by a jury
Three years earlier, McSweeney was seen ogling a Boy Scout as he washed at a retreat.
When the boy reported him to a warden he was told not to be ‘stupid and make trouble’, and his mother slapped him because a ‘priest would not do anything like that’.
A schoolboy from Grafton Close told the court that McSweeney was ‘touchy feely’ and referred to him as a ‘fat vicar’.
He said that the priest went into his bedroom and told him he had to take his clothes off for a ‘medical’, before taking photographs of him on a Polaroid camera.
Friend: John Stingemore was set to face a string of charges alongside Sweeney but was found dead in January this year
The priest confessed to watching a porn film featuring boys as young as ten on a home cinema with Stingemore – but claimed he turned it off in disgust.
And he denied molesting boys as they sat on his lap, claiming he was too fat to do so.
Stingemore was sacked from Grafton Close in mysterious circumstances in 1981, and McSweeney’s visits abruptly stopped as he continued with his career in the priesthood.
In 1998 McSweeney nearly lost his job when his cleaner discovered his stash of sex toys, truncheons and pornographic videos at St Peter’s Catholic Church in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex.
She played one of the tapes and saw it featured two boys between 14 and 16 years old having sex, the court heard.
McSweeney was originally told that he would be ‘banished’ from the priesthood, but after around six months was quietly moved to a new parish, St George’s in Norwich.
The defendant, who now lives in Pease Pottage, West Sussex, was told he could be jailed when he is sentenced in a month’s time.
Judge Alistair McCreath said: ‘You are not to come to court in four weeks thinking to yourself that the judge gave me bail and therefore I’m not to go to prison, because that would be a false hope.’
Responding to today’s verdict, Gillian Norton of Richmond Council said: ‘The council is sorry that a child in its care was indecently assaulted.
‘The assault happened 35 years ago and clearly the service leadership and management laid bare in court were totally unacceptable. The situation today is completely different.’
Detective Chief Inspector Keith Braithwaite of Metropolitan Police said: ‘McSweeney was an abuser who used his role in a position of trust.
‘I would like to pay tribute to the courage of the victim in speaking out against McSweeney. It was that testimonial that secured the charges and enabled this case to be brought to court.
‘I would also like to thank those witnesses who provided key evidence that ensured the court could hear what sort of man McSweeney really is.’
The Bishop of East Anglia, Alan Hopes, said that McSweeney had been barred from the ministry since his arrest and will now face disciplinary action.
He said: ‘These are grave crimes, and I wish to reassure firstly the victims and all of those affected that I take the matter very seriously.
‘As a bishop and as an ordinary member of society, I share the experience of great sorrow and regret that such offences take place.
‘The later offences of accessing indecent images of children whilst serving as a priest have both served to compound the abuse already committed on the children themselves, and breached the trust that was placed in him as a minister in the Church and those who held him in high regard.
‘I wish to assure the victims and their families that their suffering is taken seriously by the Church.’
Father Anthony McSweeney guilty of abuse at children’s home
BBC News London
27 February 2015
A Catholic priest has been found guilty of sexually abusing a teenage boy at a children’s home in west London.
Father Anthony McSweeney, 68, abused the teenager while working at Grafton Close Children’s Home.
McSweeney, from West Sussex, was also found guilty at Southwark Crown Court of making indecent images of children.
He was investigated as part of a police probe into allegations of a paedophile ring at Grafton Close and Elm Guest House in Barnes, south-west London.
Judge Alistair McCreath warned McSweeney he would face jail.
“You are not to come to court in four weeks thinking to yourself that the judge gave me bail and therefore I’m not to go to prison, because that would be a false hope,” he said.
‘Too fat’ McSweeney confessed to jurors that he had watched a child porn film featuring boys as young as ten on a home cinema with his friend John Stingemore, but he denied molesting boys when they sat on his lap claiming he was too fat to fit a teenager on him.
He was cleared of three indecent assaults on two other boys at the care home and taking a pornographic photo of one of these boys.
Mr Stingemore, 72, who managed Grafton Close, was found dead in January, weeks before the start of his trial for sex abuse.
Mr Stingemore used his connections to help get his friend a job at Grafton Close, where they molested vulnerable boys together, until Mr Stingemore was sacked from the children’s home in 1981, the jury was told.
The court heard the priest watched children in the shower and collected child porn.
In 1998 McSweeney nearly lost his job in the church when his cleaner discovered pornographic videos featuring teenage boys at St Peter’s Catholic Church in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, the court heard.
The jury heard he was threatened with being “banished” from the priesthood, but after six months he was moved to a new parish, St George’s, in Norwich.
‘Totally unacceptable’Police said McSweeney worked at the children’s home on an ad hoc basis as a “helper” and was never formally employed by the council.
Gillian Norton, the chief executive of Richmond Council, apologised to the victim.
She said: “The assault happened 35 years ago and clearly the service leadership and management laid bare in court were totally unacceptable.
“The system today puts much greater emphasis on the views of children and staff are employed specifically to help children to give their views.”
McSweeney, of Old Brighton Road, Pease Pottage, West Sussex, was found guilty of one indecent assault on a male between 1979 and 1981 and was also found guilty of three counts of making indecent images of children.
He was released on bail and is due to be sentenced on 27 March.
Accused priest weeps at porn hoard
Daily Mail Online
A Catholic priest broke down in tears today at his sex abuse trial as he recalled his gay and S&M pornography collection.
Father Anthony McSweeney, 68, denied molesting three teenage boys at Grafton Close children’s home in Hounslow, west London, between 1979 and 1981.
But he admitted being shown a child sex porn film by his close friend, the care home manager John Stingemore, 72 – who was found dead weeks before the beginning of his trial.
Anthony McSweeney wept as he gave evidence
McSweeney did not tell the authorities as it “did not occur” to him.
He also confessed to going to Amsterdam’s notorious red light district with Stingemore, where he bought gay porn.
The priest became emotional as he told how his secret pornographic collection was discovered by his cleaner at his parish, St Peter’s in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex in 1998. She alerted church authorities.
Obese McSweeney fought back tears as he told his trial at London Southwark Crown Court: “There were seven to my memory, two gay, two straight, lesbian. You can imagine…”
Teary-eyed, he added: “I find this very difficult. I think one was S&M.”
McSweeney was threatened with being “banished” from the priesthood, but after around six months was moved to another parish in Norwich.
The priest, who is gay, said he was “ashamed” at his porn collection but just could not quit his porn habit.
Years later police found seven indecent images of boys on his laptop.
The former scout leader regularly visited Grafton Close children’s home, run by his close friend Stingemore, but denied abusing teenagers there.
He admitted being shown a child porn clip by Stingemore but said no “alarm bells” rang and he did not alert the authorities.
Describing the clip he said: “My best guess would be they (the children) were 10, 11 or 12. Pre-adolescent.
“I have never seen anything inappropriate of John when he was with the kids. I didn’t think much (about it) to be honest.
“The police asked me why I didn’t do anything about it and that was a fair question. The answer is I don’t know.
“We didn’t know then what we certainly know now – that child porn does severe damage to people and I deprecate the whole business.”
McSweeney also referred to the controversial Paedophile Information Exchange, which campaigned to legalise sex with children.
He said “Last year there was a great conversation about an organisation which was pushing for intergenerational sex and was getting official money to lobby politicians from the National Council of Civil Liberties.
“There was a whole lot of misunderstanding. It just didn’t occur to me to do anything.”
Stephen Spence, defending, asked: “Did it concern you that a man who ran a children’s home might have a sexual interest in children?”
He replied: “Then, no. It didn’t occur to me, I can’t answer why. I suppose I was a bit surprised, a bit shocked and I just got rid of it.”
He added: “I just blanked it out I guess. I didn’t give it any more thought. I’m desperately ashamed.
“I wasn’t shocked, I just said ‘John stop this’. I turned off the projector and we never spoke of it again.
“He knew I was homosexual after our trip to Holland and he may have thought I was interested in small children.
“He couldn’t know if I was interested in boys because it was never discussed but he might have surmised that.”
McSweeney, of Old Brighton Road, Pease Pottage, West Sussex, denies four counts of indecent assault on three boys under 16 between January 1979 and July 1981, and one charge of taking indecent photographs of one of the alleged victims during the same period.
He also denies three counts of making indecent photograph or pseudo-photographs between January 18 2012 and February 6 2013.
McSweeney said that although he had taken a vow of celibacy on joining the priesthood, he yearned to be a father and had photos of boys in his home.
He allegedly ogled teens as they showered naked and molested them as they sat on his lap.
But the priest denied this and said: “I’m not trying to be amusing but I’ve not got much of a lap. They wouldn’t be very comfortable and neither would I.”
He told jurors he got on well with the children at Grafton.
He said: “I was quite popular with the kids, at least I thought I was.”
He also denied having a man sit on his lap at a seminary. And he denied sexually abusing a teenager while wearing a cassock, a full length priest gown.
Jurors were told Stingemore was convicted of sexually assaulting a boy who later committed suicide.
McSweeney told jurors a young man whose photo he had at his home was his godson – but it was actually an Italian male prostitute he paid for sex.
He made the reference while explaining why he had a framed picture of a young man at his Norwich home. But he also had a cache of racy photographs of the male escort, named in court only as Andreas, posing naked and topless and touching himself erotically.
In one image he is lying on a beach towel looking seductively at the camera. On the same roll of phographs was a picture of a church, jurors heard.
But McSweeney denied deliberately misleading jurors and said he had grown so close to the Italian that he considered him his godchild.
Sarah Plaschkes QC, prosecuting, said: “The man that you told jurors is your godson is actually a male prostitute that you have naked photos of?”
McSweeney replied: “He was a male prostitute, he isn’t now.” He said he took sexy photos of Andreas in a hotel bedroom in Paris and the escort sent him others. He denied “lying” to jurors about the relationship by describing him as a godson.
Pausing over his words slightly, he said: “I’m not terribly proud of having had a relationship with a male prostitute. But we actually became friends over quite a lot of years, which is fairly unusual. “I started to have more of a pastoral care with him.”
He said he described him as a godson as “shorthand” and insisted he is close to Andreas’ family, who live in Italy.
Probed on why he said he was a godson, McSweeney said: “Because I’m very embarrassed by the fact that I ended up having to pay for fairly obvious reasons for not very succesful sex.”
He said the pair became close and he said he helped Andreas, who is now living in Germany, through the breakdown of his civil partnership.
He said: “Fat people have enough trouble getting sex with anyone. It’s not a natural thing. He was very kind to me, even though originally it was for money.”
He added: “In another world I could have adopted him. He is happy with his dad but we became very close.”
He accused his alleged victims of lying, telling jurors: “A priest told me a long time ago we are in the risk business, you better get used to it.
“I couldn’t believe these things had been said about me when I know I didn’t do them. Kids I got on quite well with had said it about me. I was really low.”
The case was adjourned until 10am tomorrow.