Priest Laurence Soper jailed for sexually abusing boys

image copyrightMetropolitan Police
image captionLaurence Soper fled to Kosovo in a bid to avoid prosecution for abusing the boys at St Benedict's School in west London

A Catholic priest who abused boys at a London school in the 1970s and 1980s has been jailed for 18 years.

Laurence Soper, 74, fled to Kosovo with £182,000 from the Vatican bank in a bid to avoid prosecution for abusing boys at the independent St Benedict's School, in Ealing, where he taught.

He was extradited to face 19 charges of indecent and serious sexual assault against 10 former pupils.

He is the fourth man to be convicted of molesting children at the school.

Sentencing, Judge Anthony Bate said Soper's conduct was "the most appalling breach of trust" and he had "subverted the rules of the Benedictine order and teachings of the Catholic Church".

He said the former abbot and headmaster's life would now be "overshadowed by the proven catalogue of vile abuse".

image copyrightGoogle
image captionLaurence Soper was a senior priest at the Catholic school

Prosecutor Gillian Etherton QC told how the victims were subjected to "sadistic" beatings by Soper for "fake reasons" and on many occasions "with what can only have been a sexual motive".

The "reasons" included kicking a football in the wrong direction, failing to use double margins and using the wrong staircase.

St Benedict's apologised for the "serious wrongs of the past" while Ealing Abbey said: "We apologise to everyone who is affected by the crimes Soper committed.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with his victims. We admire them for their courage in coming forward as witnesses."

Soper's victims, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were supported by relatives in court when he was sentenced.

'Numb the pain'

One victim suffered from nightmares and flashbacks after the abuse, but chose not to come forward out of fear of more beatings, the jury heard during the trial.

Another victim said he was left faithless and suicidal.

In a statement read out in court, he said he wanted to be a vet or pilot before his life was ruined.

He said he began drinking to "numb the pain of what was happening to him".

Having been brought up a strict Catholic, he said he had since lost his faith, adding: "I have tried countless times to take my own life - I just could not cope."

St Benedict's: A history of abuse

image copyrightPA

Soper is the latest in a string of men to face allegations relating to their work at St Benedict's.

In 2010, Abbot Shipperlee announced an independent review of safeguarding arrangements, policies and procedures.

The following year, Lord Carlile produced a damning report calling for tougher rules to protect all faith pupils and stripped monks of control at the school.

Soper resigned as an abbot at the £5,000-a-term school in 2000 and moved to Rome, during which time victims started to come forward.

He then skipped bail and spent six years living in Kosovo, with a European Arrest Warrant issued for his extradition.

Judge Bate said: "You have been a clandestine sex offender since your early 30s. Your disgrace is complete."

Soper was attacked while on remand at Wormwood Scrubs prison, the court heard. He is now being held in segregation for his own protection.

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