Priest jailed for child abuse images lived on scandal-hit Caldey Island
By Amanda Gearing And Steven Morris
December 12, 2017
|Father John Shannon, who was subsequently caught on the mainland with pictures of children as young as nine, lived on the island off the Welsh coast for nine months. |
Photo by Archant Cambs
|The abbey on Caldey Island.|
|Thaddeus Kotik and two children on Caldey Island.|
Exclusive: revelations mean that four men convicted or accused of sexual offences against children lived or stayed on tiny monastic Welsh island
A priest who was jailed for downloading hundreds of pictures of child sexual abuse is the latest offender to be identified as having close links with the monastic island of Caldey, which is at the centre of a growing scandal.
Father John Shannon, who was subsequently caught on the mainland with pictures of children as young as nine, lived on the island off the Welsh coast for nine months.
The revelation means that four men convicted or accused of sexual offences against children have now been identified as having lived or stayed on Caldey and will increase pressure for an inquiry.
In November the Guardian revealed a string of allegations against a monk, Thaddeus Kotik, dating back to the 1970s and 80s. Kotik was a member of the Cistercian order of Benedictine monks and lived in the monastery on Caldey Island from 1947 until his death in 1992.
It later emerged that police are investigating a second man over accusations of sexual abuse on the island during the same period and that a sex offender called Paul Ashton hid there while on the run from police. Ashton was finally caught on the island in 2011, taken back to the mainland and jailed.
The abbot, Daniel van Santvoort, has confirmed that Shannon, lived on the island in 2008 and 2009.
Shortly afterwards, in 2010, police found 740 indecent images of children on a computer that he had downloaded while working as a lecturer at a Catholic seminary in county Durham. Three of the images were “level five” – of the most serious nature – and 75 were level four.
Shannon’s barrister argued at his client’s sentencing hearing that he had never had a chance to explore his sexuality and viewing the images became a compulsion.
Jailing him at Durham crown court for eight months, Judge Christopher Prince placed Shannon on the sex offender register for 10 years and banned him from working with children for life.
Van Santvoort told the Guardian that Shannon took on the role of priest on a trial basis in 2008 with the abbey’s approval after islanders asked for the parish church of St David’s to be re-opened.
“[Shannon] came with good references and took up residence in a cottage. During this period it was evident the role of a parish priest was not viable and he left the island within nine months of his arrival, in 2009,” the abbot said.
“We understand that some time later, whilst working on the mainland elsewhere in the UK, he was investigated by the police for offences committed on the mainland after he had left the island and was subsequently convicted.
“That inquiry did not involve any allegations of offences committed on the island and the police did not conduct any inquiries on the island in respect of this person. We understand therefore that he had no criminal convictions when he came to the island nor when he left.”
While Shannon was living on the island, Ashton was hiding from police there. Ashton was wanted after police found 5,000 images of child sexual abuse on his computer and in 2011 was found on Caldey , where he had been living under an assumed identity for seven years.
A whistleblower has told the Guardian that another convicted criminal, John Cronin, is suspected to have lived under an assumed name in a cottage owned by the monastery for a month in 2009.
Cronin was jailed in 1992 for sexually assaulting an adult Conservative party volunteer. One of his modi operandi was to pose as a priest.
The source said the man they believe to be Cronin left the island suddenly, taking keys to a property and owing money after he was recognised by a monastery employee from online photographs.
Cronin had allegedly requested through the abbey to stay at a monastery property on the island over winter.
However, Van Santvoort said the abbey did not know of Cronin’s alleged stay.
“We have no knowledge of this person whatsoever. The name is completely unfamiliar to us,” he said.
Caldey Abbey settled civil claims by six women in March this year and Van Santvoort has publicly apologised for the abbey’s failure to report Kotik to police despite its knowledge of his offences.
Another six women and a man have since approached the Guardian alleging abuse by Kotik.
The Conservatives’ children’s spokesman in the Welsh assembly, Darren Millar, has called on the Welsh government to launch an investigation into Caldey Island.