Paedophile unit investigates allegations against 20 priests and teachers at Salesian order
By David Hencke, Frederika Whitehead and Mark Conrad | 25 May 2013
Detectives have launched an investigation into widespread child sex abuse at schools of a Catholic order in Great Britain, Exaro can reveal.
The Metropolitan Police Service’s paedophile unit is running ‘Operation Torva’ to investigate some 20 priests and teachers over abuse – dating back to the 1950’s – alleged by up to 30 former pupils at schools run by the Salesian order.
One former pupil who became a police officer and colleague of Peter Spindler, then the Met commander in charge of the paedophile unit, played a vital role in making Scotland Yard investigate the allegations.
The investigation, launched amid strict secrecy two months ago, is expanding to examine historical allegations of sexual abuse in other Roman Catholic schools.
It marks a huge widening of Scotland Yard’s investigation into the Catholic Church in the UK, revealed by Exaro last month. As part of that initial investigation, police are investigating a Catholic bishop who is alleged to have sexually abused children and protected paedophile priests.
The order under investigation is the Salesians of Don Bosco, which dates from 1859.
It is a worldwide order with communities in Africa, China, Europe, South America and the United States. Among the oldest communities are those in Ireland, Malta and South Africa. In England and Scotland, the order runs five secondary schools.
Police are understood to be also investigating allegations about activities at schools that have since closed, including a primary. A former boarding school, Salesian College in Battersea, south London is one secondary that is key to the investigation.
Lord O’Donnell, former cabinet secretary as Gus O’Donnell, was once head boy at the school, and Catherine Tate, the comedian, is a former pupil. Alfred Hitchcock also went there briefly. The school was used as a location for a BBC3 sitcom, Bad Education, starring Jack Whitehall and Mathew Horne.
Graham Wilmer, who was sexually abused while he was a pupil at another school in the order, and director of the Lantern Project, a charity that supports victims of child sex exploitation, told Exaro: “The Lantern Project continues to support of victims of child abuse, from a range of backgrounds, circumstances and institutions, including of late a significant number – including myself – who attended Salesian schools from the 1950’s onwards, and we have involved the police in all of these cases.
“It is a matter of great comfort to us that the response we have had, when talking to the police, has always been very positive, and no one should be concerned about how they will be treated if they report abuse to the police.
“I would urge anyone who has been abused in a Salesian school, or elsewhere, to make contact with the police in the first instance.”
He said that the exposure of Jimmy Savile, the late BBC presenter, as a paedophile was a watershed. “Nobody really wanted to know. Now, everything has changed, and the police, the director of public prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service are actively encouraging victims to come forward and seek help.
“However, there is still no sign from government that they will provide the funding necessary to support survivor groups, such as the Lantern Project, without which the support desperately needed by victims who come forward will simply not be there.”
A spokesman for the order said that it was unaware of the investigation until contacted by Exaro. He said: “We shall co-operate fully with any investigation. We have had one in the past, and we co-operated fully with the police, even to the extent of actually introducing a potential victim to the police.”
“We co-operate fully. It is handled at arm’s length, almost, of the order and it is handled thoroughly and professionally.”
Detectives have already interviewed 23 possible victims and witnesses under Operation Torva. A nationwide alert has gone to all police forces to refer to the Met all reports of sexual abuse at Salesian schools.
A spokesman for Scotland Yard told Exaro: “Officers from the Metropolitan Police have been engaging with members of the Lantern Project in order to work in partnership to encourage those who have suffered abuse to come forward.
“We can confirm that we have received a number of allegations that are currently being assessed.”