Oct 20 2011
By Michael Russell, Ealing Gazette
AN INTERNATIONAL man-hunt is under way for a Catholic cleric and former school teacher suspected of abusing children.
Father Laurence Soper, 81, who taught at St Benedict’s School, in Eaton Rise, and was Abbot of Ealing Abbey, in Charlbury Grove, both in Ealing, broke his bail conditions in March.
He is wanted for allegations of child abuse dating back to his time at the independent Catholic school, where he taught between 1972 and 1984.
He was arrested in September last year after alleged victims came forward. On police bail he was allowed to return to Rome and trusted to return for further questioning the following year.
Abbot Martin Shipperlee, of Ealing Abbey, said in a statement: “Early in March he left the monastery in Rome where he had been living to travel to London for an appointment with the police.
“Unfortunately, he failed to keep that appointment and we have heard nothing from him since and all efforts to contact him have been without success. On previous occasions he had returned by arrangement to meet with the police and he was trusted to do so. I cannot comment on the details of the police investigation but I must condemn without reservation his failure to co-operate with them.”
Father Soper was abbot for nine years from 1991, moving to Rome in 2000.
Allegations against Father Soper were made after reports in The Times newspaper about Father David Pearce, who was jailed for eight years in October 2009 after admitting a campaign of abuse against Catholic schoolboys between 1972 and 2007.
His sentence was later cut to five years by the Court of Appeal in October the following year, to the horror of his victims.
Pearce, a former headmaster, taught at St Benedict’s from 1972 until about 17 years ago.
He was tried again over similar charges, along with former maths teacher at the school John Maestri, but they were both cleared of those in July. There is no suggestion that Pearce’s offences are linked to Father Soper.
A report into the school by Lord Carlisle Berriew QC is expected to be published at the end of the month. It was commissioned by the school after the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) criticised its child protection procedures. The school says it now complies with the ISI’s recommendations.
An international arrest warrant is believed to have been drawn up for Father Soper, but both the Met Police and the Crown Prosecution Service would not confirm or deny its existence.
A Met spokeswoman said: “An 80-year-old man was arrested on September 22 on suspicion of historic sexual assault. He was bailed to a west London police station to return in March. The man failed to appear and enquiries are being made to trace him.”