Catholic Priest Who Sexually Abused 10 Male Students, Sentenced 18 Years In Jail

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 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 apologized 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.

The former priest was a fugitive for five years after jumping bail.  In 2011, after being questioned by police, Soper withdrew £182,000 from a Vatican bank account and jumped bail to flee to Kosovo. An international warrant was then issued for his arrest and five years later he was deported to the UK and arrested when he landed at Luton airport.

Soper’s disappearance to Kosovo had been "meticulously planned", the judge said, adding: "You intended to live out your days there in obscurity."

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.

The survivor said: "I have tried countless times to take my own life as I just cannot cope any more. 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's crimes were exposed after he retired from St Benedict's school. He retired in 2000 and in 2004, several former pupils contacted police to claim he had sexually abused them. 

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.

Mr Soper maintains his innocence in relation to all the offences, and describes his situation as a "serious miscarriage of justice". Soper told jurors he went on the run out of "stupidity and cowardice", fearing that his life’s work would be wrecked. 

He said: "If you want to destroy a priest, vicar, anybody, all you have to do is make an accusation up against them. Their future is ruined, their character is ruined."

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