London child abuse investigation: well-known Norfolk Catholic priest arrested

THE Diocese of East Anglia has issued a statement confirming that:

The Rev Tony McSweeney, a priest of the Diocese of East Anglia, is currently assisting police with their inquiries into historical allegations of the sexual abuse of children.

According to this report, McSweeney, 66, from St George’s Church in Norwich, and another man aged 70 from East Sussex, were arrested yesterday morning on suspicion of sexual offences linked to the former Elm Guest House and the now closed Grafton Close children’s home in Barnes, south west London.

The second man was identified by the Daily Mail as a former deputy head of Grafton Close, John Stingemore, 70.

The Mail also published a photo of Peter Hatton-Bornshin, who reportedly suffered appalling sexual abuse while in the care of social services in the early 1980s.

Tormented by his experience at the council-run Grafton Close Children’s Home in West London, Peter took his own life in 1994 at the age of 28.

Peter Hatton-Bornshin, pictured aged 12

Peter Hatton-Bornshin, pictured aged 12

Detectives are probing claims the guest house was used by people to abuse boys from the home. The arrests were made as part of Scotland Yard’s Operation Fernbridge, launched after concerns were raised in Parliament by Labour MP Tom Watson.

Speaking in Parliament in October last year, Mr Watson said a file of evidence used to convict Peter Righton of importing child pornography in 1992 contained “clear intelligence” of a sex abuse gang.

The Rev Tony McSweeney

The Rev Tony McSweeney

After McSweeny’s arrest, Fr David Bagstaff, diocesan administrator of the diocese of East Anglia, said:

The safeguarding of children and vulnerable people is of paramount importance to the Catholic Church and the diocese is co-operating fully with the police in this investigation.

McSweeney was appointed a director at Notre Dame High School in Norwich in April last year. He has been a priest for almost 28 years, celebrating his silver anniversary in February 2009 with a service in Norwich.

He trained at St John’s seminary near Guildford and is the priest of St George’s Catholic Church on Sprowston Road in the north of the city.

He was also appointed as club chaplain at Norwich City FC in 2003 by Delia Smith, who, coincidentally, spoke out against “militant atheists” last year.

Commander Peter Spindler from the Metropolitan Police said:

This is a complex multi-agency investigation supported by the NSPCC, Ceop and Richmond Social Services involving non-recent allegations of sexual assault against children.

It is vital that anyone who has been affected by or has information about activity in the early 1980s at the Elm Guest House, or the Grafton Close care home, in Barnes speaks to the NSPCC on their helpline on 0808 800 5000, or their local police.

A spokesman for Richmond Council, which ran the care home, said:

Richmond Council considers the safeguarding of all children and young people as an utmost priority and we take any allegations of abuse very seriously. As such we are offering our full support and co-operation to the police during their investigation. As the investigation is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.

The BBC reported that both men have been released on bail pending further inquiries until April.

Hat tip: BarrieJohn & Pete H