Former Norfolk Catholic priest faces jail over sex abuse

Roman Catholic priest Father Anthony McSweeney. Photo: Sean Dempsey/PA Wire

Roman Catholic priest Father Anthony McSweeney. Photo: Sean Dempsey/PA Wire - Credit: PA

A Catholic priest from Norwich is facing jail after he was found guilty of sexually abusing a teenage boy at a children's home.

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

Obese McSweeney, whose church was St George's on Sprowston Road, was also found guilty of making indecent images of children.

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

Wearing a black suit and red tie and carrying a walking stick, McSweeney stared straight ahead as the jury of six men and five women returned their verdicts at London's Southwark Crown Court.

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.

The priest was once enlisted by TV cook Delia Smith to hold a special football service at Norwich City and was working at St George's in Norwich when he was arrested.

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He also officiated at the 1990 wedding of boxing star Frank Bruno and his now ex wife Laura.

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.

Stingemore used his connections to help get his close friend a job at Grafton Close, where they molested vulnerable boys.

In 1998 McSweeney nearly lost his career when his cleaner discovered his stash videos and other material 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.

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.

He was released on bail and sentence was adjourned until March 27.

Judge Alistair McCreath warned McSweeney that he faces prison.

Responding to today's verdict, Gillian Norton, chief executive of Richmond Council, said: 'The council is sorry that a child in its care was indecently assaulted.

'The assault happened 35 years ago and clearly the service leadership and management laid bare in court were totally unacceptable.

'The situation today is completely different. Most looked-after children are in foster homes. Only those children needing very specialist services are placed in children's homes.

'All placements are subject to rigorous checks and controls within a statutory regulatory framework and this includes senior social workers who are independent of the child's worker.

'The system today puts much greater emphasis on the views of children and staff are employed specifically to help children to give their views.'

Acting Detective Chief Inspector Keith Braithwaite, from the Sexual Offences, Exploitation and Child Abuse Command, said: 'McSweeney was an abuser who used his role in a position of trust.

'I would like to pay tribute to the courage of the victim in speaking out against McSweeney. It was that testimonial that secured the charges and enabled this case to be brought to court.

'I would also like to thank those witnesses who provided key evidence that ensured the court could hear what sort of man McSweeney really is.

'I am only sorry that McSweeney in denying his offences has forced the victim to relive the experience in court. I hope however that today's result will give the victim some sense of closure.'

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