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‘Operation Fernbridge’ makes first arrests in paedophile probe

Detectives descend in dawn swoop, as Exaro journalists watch address on south coast

Pic: Exaro
Arrested: ex-deputy head of Grafton Close, flanked by two detectives
Arrested: ex-deputy head of Grafton Close, flanked by two detectives

Two Exaro journalists were watching the address as eight plain-clothes police descended at 7.15am this morning to make the first arrest

Detectives investigating an alleged VIP paedophile ring made two arrests this morning under ‘Operation Fernbridge’, Exaro can reveal.

They swooped on one address on the south coast of England this morning to make their first arrest in ‘Operation Fernbridge’.

Exaro was watching one address on the south coast of England this morning when eight plain-clothes officers from the Metropolitan Police Service made a dawn arrest of a former employee of Richmond council.

It was part of their investigation into a VIP paedophile ring centred on Elm Guest House, in Barnes, south-west London, and the nearby Grafton Close children’s home.

The Met confirmed in a statement that it had arrested a 66-year-old man in Norfolk and another aged 70 in East Sussex. Both were taken into police custody.

Exaro, which broke the news in December that the police were investigating the allegations, has made a series of disclosures about the case.

The operation began when police asked Exaro’s reporter, David Hencke, to accompany a key source to a meeting with them and Tom Watson, the campaigning MP, in the House of Commons.

Watson said today: “All credit to the Exaro journalists who pursued this story when other people were not interested. Now is the time for victims to come forward.”

Last weekend, Exaro and the Sunday People revealed what led the guest house to becoming a paedophile brothel in 1982.

Two Exaro journalists were watching an address in St Leonards-on-Sea in East Sussex as eight police officers from the Met’s paedophile unit descended at 7.15am this morning to make the initial arrest.

The Met did not name the arrested men.

But Exaro can identify one as a Roman Catholic priest and name the other one as John Stingemore, the former deputy head of Grafton Close children’s home, which was run by the London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames until it was closed, converted into flats and passed to a housing association.

Officers went into the two-bedroom flat that Stingemore shares with another man on the top-floor of a 16-storey tower block.

They spent around two hours in the flat, before two officers helped the frail-looking man walk to a waiting car, and he was driven away. He was bespectacled, wearing blue carpet slippers and using a walking stick.

An officer later left the flat with two bags of material. One was a large black rubbish sack containing clothing, and the other was a supermarket bag that appeard to contain pharmaceutical products.

A housing association owns the whitewashed complex, which has a community cafe on the ground floor, has been recently renovated and is in pristine condition. It is one of five identical blocks.

The surrounding area of 1950’s housing has a run-down feel. St Leonards, which is right next to Hastings, is a seaside town that was developed as a resort in the early 19th century.

The officers arrived in three unmarked cars and a Volkswagen van, and went in to the flat with empty bags.

Police sources told Exaro that they were concerned about Stingemore’s health, and may question him locally rather than take him to London. “He is not a well man, quite infirm and elderly,” said one officer.

Detectives are investigating allegations that a paedophile ring was initially centred on Grafton Close from 1977. Victims have told police that abuse was carried out in what was called the “examination room”. They are also investigating the claim that the main centre of abuse transferred in 1982 to Elm Guest House, with boys being supplied from Grafton Close and two other children’s homes run by Richmond council.

Documents in the case reveal that most of the boys supplied to the guest house were from Grafton Close, but others came from Rodney Road and Teddington Park children’s homes. Richmond council ran all three homes.

Exaro has also revealed that part of the police investigation has focussed on the role of Richmond council. Detectives have also discovered that Richmond council secretly paid compensation to at least one person who was sexually abused as a boy in its care.

One man, whose identity Exaro is protecting, has told Exaro that he knows of one case in which Richmond council paid compensation to someone who was ‘in care’ in Grafton Close and who was sexually abused as a boy at Elm Guest House.

He has given a graphic account of the hell of being sexually abused there. He told how he was plied with alcohol, ordered to dress in fairy clothes, photographed and then sickeningly molested at the guest house.

“What went on was absolutely disgusting,” he said. “No one was listening to us then. It has taken 30 years for anyone to listen.”

Anyone abused at Elm Guest House or children’s homes in Richmond in particular is being urged to come forward.

In another joint investigation, Exaro and the Sunday People disclosed how a Conservative party campaign group “strongly recommended” Elm Guest House to members in a newsletter.

If you have information that might help our investigation, please contact us. Keep re-visiting Exaro for more on this investigation.

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Article Comments

John Stingemore was officer in charge at 37 Grafton Close not deputy as reported.

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