Andrew Soper has been found guilty of a catalogue of sex offences
A Roman Catholic priest who sexually abused children at an abbey school which became one of Britain’s most notorious dens of paedophilia is set to die behind bars.
Andrew Soper, 74, raped and groped pupils at St Benedict’s School in Ealing in the 1970s and 80s and used £182,000 from his Vatican bank account to flee to Albania when victims came forward decades later.
Former headmaster father David Pearce and former maths teacher John Maestri had been jailed for abusing children at the £12,000-a-year private school.
Soper flew to the UK to be interviewed by police about the claims in July 2004, June 2009 and September 2010, and was allowed to return to Rome, Italy, on police bail until 11 March 2011.
Seven days before Soper was due to attend a police station in the UK, he flew to Kosovo, Albania, with Euro 204,000 withdrawn from his Vatican bank account.
Today Soper was found guilty of two counts of sexual assault, one count of indecency with a child, 10 counts of indecent assault on boys under 16 and six counts of indecent assault on boys under 18 following an Old Bailey trial.
He showed no emotion as the jury convicted him of each charge by a majority of 10-to-two after deliberating for 14 hours.
Judge Anthony Bate is expected to adjourn sentence until a later date.
Soper, himself a former headmaster, got a sexual thrill from caning young boys and ‘cunningly’ used corporal punishment as an excuse to pull down their trousers and act on his perverted desires.
The ‘manipulative’, ‘perverted’ and ‘sadistic’ former monk – also known as Father Lawrence Soper – pulled up his robes to rape one 12-year-old pupil over a desk in his office and warned the boy he could be expelled if he ever told his parents.
His ten victims, who have been plagued by mental health problems after he abused them between September 1972 and July 1983, were initially afraid to speak out because their families viewed Catholic priests with ‘deep respect’.
They came forward after Soper resigned as abbot and went to live at the Benedictine headquarters at Collegio Sant’Anselmo in Rome in 2000.
He was highly regarded as a religious scholar in the Vatican and his views on the catholic church were widely sought.
One victim had described how he had a mental breakdown when police told him there was insufficient evidence to pursue his claims after interviews in 2004 and 2007.
Soper was described as ‘sadistic, perverted and manipulative’ monk who ‘got a sexual thrill from caning young boys’. He will be sentenced at a later date
The abuse took place between September 1972 and July 1983 while Soper was headmaster at St Benedict’s School in Ealing
The man recalled Soper performing oral sex on him and trying to kiss him while he was asleep on the top of a bunk-bed on a school cycling holiday.
He said he didn’t come forward earlier because ‘no one would have believed you’.
‘I would have had the s**t beaten out of me by my father because he’s a devout Catholic,’ he added.
‘Who’s going to believe a 13/14-year-old boy against a priest?
‘I’m so screwed up by it all the thought of doing a life sentence for murder didn’t bother me.
‘I would just sit and rot in a prison cell and not give a s***.’
Another victim said he believed Maestri was running a paedophile ring at the school.
‘When I speak of a paedophile ring, [I say] that there were school masters, lay or clerical, who were or have been convicted of the sexual abuse of children,’ he explained.
‘Therefore it’s reasonable to believe that something like a paedophile ring was operating at St Benedict’s school.
‘I believe that the Benedictine Order should answer for the serial abuse that has gone on in its educational establishments for the last few decades.’
The conviction comes a year after the school’s former deputy head Peter Allott, pictured, was jailed after ‘getting hooked on child pornography’
A third victim described the school environment as ‘poisonous’ and said: ‘You don’t really understand what was going on.
‘It was a horrible place to be and I think you came to the point when most people just said this is a hard part of my life and I want to get through it. It was a dictatorship.’
The court heard pupils were caned, beaten with jocari bats and forced to do severe manual labour such as moving logs until they dropped.
Soper claimed he fled to Kosovo out of ‘stupidity and cowardice’ and told jurors: ‘If you want to destroy a priest, all you have to do is make an accusation of the sort against me.’
His defence barrister Jane Humphryes, QC, suggested his accusers were bitter ‘professional victims’ and fantasists and told one he was determined to ‘squash’ St Benedict’s and become a core participant in the IICSA.
Soper has been expelled from the monastery of St Benedict of Ealing for ‘scandalous behaviour’ but is still a priest.
The child abuser, born Andrew Charles Kingston Soper, entered the monastery at Ealing Abbey and became a Benedictine Monk after a short career in banking in 1964.
He took the name Laurence when he was ordained as a priest in 1970 and became a teacher at St Benedict’s in two years later, eventually rising to become head of the Middle School from 1977-1983.
Soper also acted as the school’s bursar and took control of financial matters until 1991.
He occupied the ‘very senior position’ of Abbot of Ealing Abbey from 1991 until he resigned and moved to the Vatican in 2000.
St Benedict’s paid one former pupil £135,000 to settle a sex abuse claim against Soper out of court in 2010, while another one was paid £5,900 after launching a civil claim.
THE LEADING CATHOLIC SCHOOL WITH A ‘TERRIBLE LEGACY’
St Benedict’s reputation as one of the UK’s leading Catholic schools has been blighted by a ‘terrible legacy’ of sex abuse by paedophile priests.
Soper is one of seven senior figures either convicted or accused of preying on pupils at the £15,000-a-year private school during the last 25 years.
Former headmaster Christopher Cleugh admitted the school ‘could have, and should have, done more’ to protect victims following a damning 2011 inquiry which concluded that Ealing Abbey monks had to lose their control of the school.
TIMELINE OF ALLEGATIONS AND CONVICTIONS:
1992: The junior school’s former headmaster Father David Pearce is accused of sexually abusing a boy, but police take no further action.
2001: Former abbot Rev Dom Martin Shipperlee receives complaint about Pearce and makes police aware of it.
2003: Former middle school master John Maestri admits three counts of indecent assault against two pupils between 1980 and 1984.
2005: Maestri pleads guilty to another count of indecent assault relating to a sex attack in 1982.
2006: The High Court awards damages to one of Pearce’s victims.
2007: Rev Shipperlee allows Pearce to return to Ealing Abbey as bursar. Pearce sexually assaults a child within months.
2007: Father Stanislaus Hobbs, part of St Benedict’s middle school staff between 1969-1984, stands trial for one count of indecent assault in 1984 but is cleared by a jury.
2008: Former middle school headmaster Father Anthony Gee is accused of caning a boy on his bare buttocks but no further action is taken.
2009: Father David Pearce is charged with 22 counts of indecent assault against six boys between 1975 and 2007 – prosecutors accepted his guilty pleas to 11 of the charges.
2009: Maestri admits one count of indecent assault between 1979 and 1981.
2010: Father Gregory Chillman is accused of one indecent assault between 1975-76, but no further action was taken.
2010: Two female pupils at another school complain about Father Chillman’s ‘inappropriate’ behaviour in 2004 and he is later put on restricted ministry and barred from access to children.
2010: St Benedict’s teacher John Skelton is convicted of indecent assaults against two pupils in 1983.
2011: Pearce is charged with four counts of indecent assault against another boy between 1977 and 1978, but he was cleared following a trial.
2011: Maestri is charged with three counts of indecent assault against another former pupil but is cleared by a jury.
2011: Former headmaster Christopher Cleugh apologises for ‘terrible legacy’ of sex abuse following damning inquiry by Lord Carlile.
2011: Father Andrew Soper withdraws £182,000 from his Vatican bank account and flies to Albania while on bail for sex offences against pupils.
2016: Deputy head of St Benedict’s Peter Allott, 37, is jailed for ‘getting hooked on child pornography’ and taking part in chemsex ‘paedophile sex parties’
2017: Soper convicted of 19 sex attacks on pupils at St Benedict’s in the 1970s and 1980s following an Old Bailey trial.
Prosecutor Gillian Etherton, QC, said: ‘Whilst this trial concerns Andrew Soper, you should know that St Benedict’s School and Ealing Abbey have in the past come under critical scrutiny.
‘There have been numerous large scale inquiries into the failure of the school to protect and safeguard children in their care.
‘There have been investigations, against both monks and teachers, and this has led to a number of prosecutions.
‘It is fair to say that over a number of decades, the 1960s to 1990s, both violence and sexual abuse by the adults in charge against the young pupils was prevalent at the school.’
One victim claimed the Benedictine order which ran the school was responsible for covering up a ring of abuse involving many teachers and pupils who were too ashamed to come forward.
Comic Julian Clary, who won a scholarship to St Benedict’s in the 1970s, described Pearce ‘touring all the school toilets in the hope of finding who knows what’.
He says he was never personally sexually abused, but is expected to give evidence about the school at the upcoming independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA).
A 2011 inquiry led by Lord Alexander Carlile said Ealing Abbey monks must lose control of St Benedict’s, prompting the school’s then headmaster Christopher Cleugh to apologise for its ‘terrible legacy’ of sexual abuse.
Pearce, a twisted pervert described as a ‘devil in a dog collar’, was jailed for eight years in 2009 after pleading guilty to a 10 indecent assaults and one sexual assault on five boys at the school between 1972 and 2008.
Maestri, previously St Benedict’s ‘master of discipline’, was jailed for 30 months in 2003 after pleading guilty to three counts of indecently assaulting schoolboys under 16 between 1980 and 1984.
The sex offender was let off with a community order two years later after admitting indecently assaulting another boy under 14 between 1982 and 1983.
Maestri was spared jail again and given a two-year sentence suspended for two years for indecently assaulting a boy under 14 when another victim emerged in 2009.
Last year ‘respected’ former deputy head Peter Allott was jailed for 33 months after it was revealed he spent £600 a week on Class A drugs and attended chemsex child porn parties with paedophiles he met on Grindr.
The depraved teacher pleaded guilty to three counts of making indecent photos of children, one count of possessing extreme pornography, one count of sharing indecent photos of children and one of possessing a Class A substance at Blackfriars Crown Court.