Priest who sexually abused boys at London school jailed for 18 years
By Harriet Sherwood
December 21, 2017
|Andrew Soper was a fugitive for five years after jumping bail and fleeing to Albania in 2011.|
Andrew Soper had been convicted of 19 charges of rape and other sexual offences against 10 boys at St Benedict’s school
A Roman Catholic priest who sexually abused boys at an abbey school in the 1970s and 80s has been sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Andrew Soper, 74, formerly known as Father Laurence Soper, was a fugitive for five years after jumping bail. An international warrant was issued for his arrest.
He was convicted earlier this month of 19 charges of rape and other sexual offences against 10 boys at St Benedict’s school in Ealing, west London. He is the fourth man at the school to have been convicted of abuse.
Following the guilty verdicts, the school apologised unreservedly for the “serious wrongs of the past”.
Sentencing Soper at the Old Bailey on Thursday, Judge Anthony Bate said: “You are an intelligent man with gifts of scholarship and erudition. However, as you acknowledged during cross examination, showing a degree of insight, that is not how you will be remembered.
“Your good qualities are utterly overshadowed by the proven catalogue of vile abuse for which you are now at last held to account. Your disgrace is complete.”
Soper’s disappearance to Kosovo had been “meticulously planned”, the judge said, adding: “You intended to live out your days there in obscurity.”
Jane Humphryes QC, Soper’s defence barrister, told the court: “It’s fair to say Mr Soper maintains his innocence in relation to all the offences, and describes his situation as a serious miscarriage of justice.”
In an impact statement read in court, a survivor described having a breakdown after police told him there was insufficient evidence to pursue his claims in 2004 and 2007.
“I have tried countless times to take my own life as I just cannot cope any more,” he said. “I still hear Soper’s voice in my head. I can still picture him. I have flashbacks and nightmares.
“I feel like I’m living in a black hole and I still can’t climb out of it. He has damaged my life and I’m afraid that that damage will never go away.”
Another survivor said he believed a paedophile ring was operating at St Benedict’s. “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,” he said in a statement.
Soper joined St Benedict’s as a teacher in 1972 and became headmaster of its middle school from 1977 until 1983. He was the abbot of Ealing Abbey, then the school’s parent body, from 1991 until 2000.
After he retired, Soper went to work at the Benedictine headquarters in Rome. In 2004, several former pupils contacted police to claim he had sexually abused them.
In 2011, after being questioned by police, Soper withdrew £182,000 from a Vatican bank account and jumped bail to flee to Kosovo. Five years later he was deported to the UK and arrested when he landed at Luton airport.
During the trial, jurors heard that Soper’s victims were subjected to sadistic beatings for “fake reasons”, such as kicking a football “in the wrong direction”, “failing to use double margins”, and “using the [wrong] staircase”.
One of those abused by Soper said he did not come forward sooner because he felt “too embarrassed” and feared being beaten or not believed.
Soper told jurors he went on the run out of “stupidity and cowardice”, fearing that his life’s work would be wrecked.
“If you want to destroy a priest, vicar, anybody, all you have to do is make an accusation up against them,” he said. “Their future is ruined, their character is ruined.”
An independent review of paedophile activity at Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s in 2011 found that the monastic community had failed to deal with behaviour that put children at risk, and that the governance of the school lacked “independence, transparency, accountability and diversity, and is drawn from too narrow a group of people”.
The inquiry was launched after a former head of St Benedict’s, Father David Pearce, was convicted of abusing five boys. He was jailed for eight years in 2009 for the abuse over a period of 36 years. Four of the victims were under 14.
The then headmaster of St Benedict’s, Christopher Cleugh, apologised “for the trauma and suffering that so many people have experienced”.
At the time Lord Carlile, who led the review, called on Soper to surrender to the British authorities.