Journalists from Exaro were watching address in seaside town as dawn arrest unfolded

By Alison Winward, Mark Watts, Tim Wood, Keith Perry, David Hencke, Alex Varley-Winter and Mark Conrad | 7 February 2013
Exaro’s pictures show first arrest in ‘Operation Fernbridge’Exaro journalists captured the moment that detectives investigating an alleged VIP paedophile ring made their first arrest under ‘Operation Fernbridge’.
Two of our reporters were watching an address on the south coast of England yesterday, and took a sequence of pictures that record the dawn arrest of a former employee of Richmond council.

Eight plain-clothes officers from the Metropolitan Police Service’s paedophile unit entered a two-bedroom flat on the top-floor of a 16-storey tower block in St Leonards-on-Sea in East Sussex at 7.15am yesterday.

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

Two hours later, two officers came out of the block with a frail-looking John Stingemore, the 70-year-old former deputy head of Grafton Close. He was taken to a waiting car, and driven away for questioning.

Exaro has complied with a request from police officers on the ground to obscure their faces in the pictures because of security concerns.

The Met said that a 66-year-old Roman Catholic priest from Norfolk was also arrested as part of the operation yesterday. Both were arrested on suspicion of sexual offences, said police.

Well-placed sources told Exaro that both arrested men were later released on police bail, but the Met was unable to confirm this immediately.

The Diocese of East Anglia issued a statement today confirming that the priest arrested by police was Revd Tony McSweeney, and that he was bailed to reappear at a police station in ten weeks.

The statement said that he was arrested “as part of a police investigation into allegations of the non-recent sexual abuse of children”.

It continued: “Revd McSweeney has voluntarily withdrawn from all active ministry and has resigned as director of the Notre Dame high school in Norwich with immediate effect. This is a neutral act that makes no judgement of guilt or innocence, and which is in line with safeguarding procedures of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.”

Father David Bagstaff, diocesan administrator, said in a statement: “The safeguarding of children and vulnerable people is of paramount importance to the Catholic Church, and the diocese is co-operating fully with the police in this investigation. Our thoughts and prayers are with all involved in the investigation.”

Exaro, which broke the news in December that the police were investigating the allegations, has made a series of disclosures about Elm Guest House and children’s homes in Richmond.

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

Peter Spindler, the commander who heads ‘specialist crime’ investigations at the Met, said in a statement after the arrests: “This is a complex multi-agency investigation supported by the NSPCCCEOP and Richmond social services involving non-recent allegations of sexual assault against children.

“It is vital that anyone who has been affected by or has information about activity in the early 1980’s at Elm Guest House, or Grafton Close care home, in Barnes speaks to the NSPCC on their helpline on 0808 800 5000, or the local police.”

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, who first raised allegations in the House of Commons last October of links between senior political figures and paedophile networks, said after the arrests: “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.”

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