Scotland Yard’s probe unmasks priest as Salesian order’s ‘equivalent to Jimmy Savile’

By David Hencke | 30 September 2014

“The children were brought to Fr O’Brien by their parents in the belief that he was a child psychotherapist” – Report by Met’s ‘Operation Torva’

Detectives have discovered that a Catholic priest and teacher who masqueraded as a child psychotherapist was a “prolific paedophile”.

An investigation by Scotland Yard into the sexual abuse of children at schools run by a Catholic order in Great Britain – the Salesians – has exposed the priest’s shocking activities over many years.

Graham Wilmer, a member of the panel for the overarching inquiry into child sex abuse (CSA), told Exaro that the priest was “the Salesians’ equivalent of Jimmy Savile”, the late BBC star who was unmasked as a paedophile two years ago.

Exaro revealed last year that the Metropolitan Police Service’s paedophile unit had launched ‘Operation Torva’, amid strict secrecy, to investigate the sexual abuse of children at Salesian schools.

A Met report, a copy of which has been obtained by Exaro, details Operation Torva’s findings on the priest – Father Terence O’Brien. The investigation’s chilling conclusions are revealed by Wilmer in his book, ‘The Devil’s Advocate’, published tomorrow.

“Fr O’Brien was a prolific paedophile,” says the Torva report. He would strip children, says the police report, going on to set out graphically how he sexually abused them “under the pretext that they were being rid of bad spirits that made them behave badly.

“The children were brought to Fr O’Brien by their parents in the belief that he was a child psychotherapist, and could treat them for their behaviour.

“This abuse was practised on children on a weekly basis, sometimes for years. The victims were instructed never to inform anyone of their treatment, or it would not work. Fr O’Brien was not a psychotherapist at all, yet he was allowed to practice his trade upon the grounds of the Salesian school without question, on a regular basis.”

He operated at Salesian College, a former boarding school in Battersea, south London. Ex-pupils include Lord O’Donnell, former cabinet secretary as Gus O’Donnell, who was head boy, and Catherine Tate, the comedian. The school was used as a location for Bad Education, the BBC3 sitcom.

Two of O’Brien’s victims – a brother and a sister – told Operation Torva of how the priest abused them. The report does not name the two, but says: “Both victims were subjected to sexual abuse at the same time and at the same location.”

“This is not the first allegation of a similar nature that has been made against this man who was previously arrested and interviewed in relation to identical allegations made against him.”

“He made admissions to his so-called therapy during interview,” the report says, but he denied specific allegations of serious sexual assault.

“He stated that he had dedicated his life to the study of child psychotherapy. He was charged in 1996 with the sexual assault of three children. Unfortunately, he was never tried at court.”

The report author adds: “I have no doubt that there are many other children who were brought to Fr O’Brien over the years because of their bad behaviour.”

The report says that O’Brien was not prosecuted because of “his age and very poor state of health”. Prosecutors felt that he was unable to instruct defence counsel properly. He died four years later.

A spokesman for the Salesian order rejected the finding that O’Brien worked from the Salesian school. He was based at a Salesian property in Battersea, the spokesman said.

According to Wilmer, O’Brien’s base was “right next to the school”.

The Salesian spokesman also told Exaro in a statement: “We are co-operating fully with the police in their inquiry, and unable to comment further beyond saying that there were no allegations concerning Fr O’Brien until the late 1980’s and 1990’s, and allegations were dealt with by the police.

“In accordance with the safeguarding policy of the Catholic Church, we do not investigate any allegation of offences against children. These are passed to the police.”

Wilmer, who was sexually abused as a pupil at a Salesian school, is director  of the Lantern Project, a charity that supports CSA victims. He says that profits from his book will go to the Lantern Project.

Meanwhile, Fiona Woolf remains under pressure over her appointment to head the abuse inquiry.

Tomorrow on Exaro, Graham Wilmer’s clash with Michael Gove when he was education secretary, over allegations of child sex abuse at Salesian schools.

Related Stories : Child sex abuse, ‘Fernbridge’ and ‘Fairbank’: Exaro story thread

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