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Three years for voyeuristic priest

Published 01/04/2015

Father Anthony McSweeney arrives at Southwark Crown Court, London.
Father Anthony McSweeney arrives at Southwark Crown Court, London.

A "voyeuristic" Catholic priest has been jailed for three years for sexually abusing a vulnerable teenage boy at a children's home.

Father Anthony McSweeney, 68, preyed on the youngster while working at Grafton Close Children's Home in Hounslow, west London, between 1979 and 1981.

Dubbed the "fat vicar", he was also found guilty of making indecent images of children.

McSweeney abused the boy with his close friend John Stingemore, 72, who managed the care home and was found dead in January - weeks before his trial.

Sentencing him at London's Southwark Crown Court Judge Alistair McCreath recognised there were no evidence to suggest the priest had himself molested the child, but that he had encouraged it.

He said: "He has a voyeuristic interest in children, either in seeing them unclothed, or in seeing them sexually abused by others."

The judge added that he had no doubt the children that had been observed by McSweeney had suffered sexual harm of a psychological nature.

"I would certainly assess that Father McSweeney poses a high risk of serious harm to children.

"The nature of this risk is that of sexual assault and exploitation via indecent images," said Judge McCreath who also acknowledged that the priest's work in the community - in prisons and hospitals - meant that he would have been aware of child protection procedures.

He added the priest had abused the position of trust that he was in, preying on the youngster at the care home where he should have been safe.

Judge McCreath said: "He was convicted on a joint enterprise basis and on clear evidence that the touching of the child was done with his approval and encouragement and for his sexual gratification, and it therefore makes no difference whatever, that he was not the one who in fact touched the child."

The judge acknowledged that McSweeney had been a "good and conscientious priest in almost all aspects of his calling" and had behaved towards his parishioners in a way that was "Christian, loving and kindly".

Dressed in a black suit, white shirt, and red patterned tie with matching pocket square, morbidly obese McSweeney, showed no reaction as he was sentenced.

Prosecutor Sarah Plaschkes QC, said: "This was a joint enterprise by both men, to use the victim for their own sexual gratification. There was grooming behaviour used against the victim - both men used the washing routine at the home as an excuse to confuse the child."

Ms Plaschkes continued: "There was specific targeting of a particularly vulnerable child. Not all children at the home were abused. He (the victim) was targeted because he was a vulnerable boy isolated from his family."

Judge McCreath also imposed a sexual harm prevention order prohibiting the paedophile from spending unsupervised time with boys aged between 12 and 17, and ordering him to present his computer for inspection as and when required.

McSweeney was investigated as part of Operation Fernbridge - the police probe into allegations a VIP paedophile ring existed at Grafton Close and Elms Guest House in Barnes, west London.

During his trial, jurors heard the priest was sexually motivated to watch children shower, and had a collection of child porn.

He watched as his teenage victim was abused by Stingemore in the care home shower.

McSweeney confessed to watching a child porn film featuring boys as young as 10 on a home cinema with Stingemore - but claimed he turned it off.

He argued he could not have molested boys as they sat on his lap because he was too fat to fit a teen on him.

In 1998 McSweeney nearly lost his career when his cleaner discovered his stash of sex toys, truncheons and pornographic videos - featuring boys between 14 and 16 years old - at St Peter's Catholic Church in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex.

He was originally threatened that he would be "banished" from the priesthood, but after around six months was quietly moved to a new parish, St George's, in Norwich.

McSweeney, of Old Brighton Road, Pease Pottage, West Sussex, was found guilty of one indecent assault on a male between 1979 and 1981.

And he was found guilty of three counts of making indecent images of children.

The priest was once involved in a special football service at Norwich City.

And he officiated at the 1990 wedding of boxing star Frank Bruno and his now ex-wife Laura.

He was cleared of three indecent assaults on two other boys at the care home and taking a pornographic photo of one of these boys.

Alison Millar, from law firm Leigh Day, which represents survivors of abuse at Grafton Close Children's Home, said: "We believe the judge, in sentencing Father McSweeney to three years in prison, has done the best he could to reflect the seriousness of the crimes perpetrated on a child who should have found kindness and consideration in Grafton Close Children's Home, but instead found only abuse.

"However, my clients remain bitterly disappointed that due to the postponement of the trial, John Stingemore the care home manager who was charged with multiple crimes against children at the home, died just weeks before the beginning of the trial avoiding the serious charges being brought against him.

"We hope that through the evidence gathered by the police into the actions of both McSweeney and Stingemore, allegations of a paedophile ring operating at Grafton Close and Elm Guest House continue to be thoroughly investigated."

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