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London priest who fled to Kosovo found guilty of abusing schoolboys | UK news

A former abbot who fled to Kosovo to escape justice has been convicted of abusing 10 boys at a Catholic-run school in London during the 1970s and 80s.

Andrew Soper, 74, formerly known as Father Laurence Soper, was found guilty of 19 charges of rape and other sexual offences after a lengthy trial at the Old Bailey.

Soper sexually abused pupils while he was master in charge of discipline at St Benedict’s school in Ealing, west London. He would assault them after subjecting them to corporal punishment using a cane.

The first victim contacted police in 2004 after Soper left his role as abbot of Ealing Abbey and moved to the Benedictine order’s headquarters in Rome.

The former pupil was initially told by officers there was insufficient evidence.

Soper was later interviewed at Heathrow police station in 2010 and subsequently fled to Kosovo while on police bail the following year.

He was arrested at Luton airport in August 2016 after being deported by the Kosovan authorities and returned to the UK.

Tetteh Turkson, a senior Crown Prosecution Service lawyer involved in the case, said: “Soper used his position as a teacher and as a priest to abuse children for his own sexual gratification.

“He compounded this by trying to evade justice and fleeing to Kosovo in order to go into hiding. The victims’ bravery in coming forward and giving evidence has seen him convicted of these serious offences.”

A statement on behalf of the fee-paying independent school was issued by Alex Carlile QC after the conviction. He said: “St Benedict’s school is deeply concerned for, and distressed by, the ordeals faced by the victims of Laurence Soper, who have lived with the pain of his activities for so long.

“The school apologises unreservedly for the serious wrongs of the past. The school regrets that Soper did not have the courage to plead guilty.

“The result has been that innocent victims, whom he abused when they were boys in the school, were compelled to give evidence. They were subjected to cross-examination about matters in relation to which they were both helpless and innocent.

“The fact that these matters took place many years ago does not mitigate the pain and injustice endured by them.” The statement said the school was now “a completely different institution”.

Lord Carlile added: “The tough lessons of the past have been learned, and the errors and crimes of the past are in the daily consciousness and conscience of the school management … St Benedict’s cannot and will never forget Soper’s crimes. Nevertheless they are proud of the school as it now is, and as confident as ever they can be that everything is being done to ensure that such events cannot recur.”

The school, which charges fees of about £5,000 a term, counts the former Conservative chair Lord Patten and entertainer Julian Clary among its alumni.

Gillian Etherton QC, who led the prosecution, told the court victims were subjected to sadistic beatings by Soper for “fake reasons”.

They included kicking a football “in the wrong direction”, “failing to use double margins”, and “using the wrong staircase”, leading to a caning and a sexual assault, she said.

“It is the prosecution case that ‘punishments’ as described by the complainants in this case were carried out by Soper in entirely inappropriate ways and circumstances and, on many occasions, with what can only have been sexual motive,” Etherton added.

Many of his victims have experienced flashbacks and nightmares. During the trial Soper denied using the cane as a ruse to abuse boys.

The judge, Anthony Bate, remanded Soper in custody to be sentenced on 19 December. He was convicted of two counts of buggery, two counts of indecency with a child and 15 counts of indecent assault.

Soper was found guilty of buggery, contrary to section 12(1) of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, since the offence took place when that act was in force. The offence was changed from buggery to rape by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

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