Operation Torva: ex-pupil joined police and triggered Met probe

Commander Peter Spindler was determined to investigate sex abuse at Salesian schools

By David Hencke | 25 May 2013

Scotland Yard’s paedophile unit launched an investigation into a Catholic order because a senior police officer went to one of its schools.

Exaro can reveal the extraordinary background to the decision by the Metropolitan Police Service’s paedophile unit to investigate Salesian schools in Great Britain.

An ex-pupil at one of the order’s former schools, Salesian College in Battersea, south London became a police officer at the Met and a colleague of Peter Spindler, who was then the commander in charge of the paedophile unit.

“Within a matter of just a few days, I received an e-mail from Commander Spindler himself” – Graham Wilmer, director, Lantern Project

Graham Wilmer, a victim of sexual abuse while he was a pupil at one school in the order, had tried three times to persuade the Met to launch an investigation, but he met with no success.

He is director of the Lantern Project, a charity that supports victims of child sex abuse. He described on his website how he was sexually abused at a Salesian school.

That description prompted an e-mail from another Salesian pupil. Wilmer writes in his book to be published next month, ‘Sins of the Fathers’, how this “started a remarkable chain of events.”

The contact said that after he left Salesian College, he joined the Met and was working as a senior officer with Spindler, who was overseeing ‘Operation Yewtree’, which was triggered by the exposure of Jimmy Savile, the late BBC presenter, as a paedophile.

Wilmer writes: “X said that he could introduce me to Spindler, if it would be helpful in any way. I jumped at the chance, as I had been ignored by the Met on a number of occasions recently, when I was trying to have them to respond to other cases of child abuse on which I had been working.”

The Met’s attitude changed suddenly when they realised that one of its own had been at a school where child sex abuse was alleged.

“Within a matter of just a few days, I received an e-mail from Commander Spindler himself, informing me that he would appoint an officer on his team to take up my concerns, which he did.”

Wilmer told Spindler that there were many Salesian victims of child sex abuse.

He writes: “The reaction was swift. I had a telephone call a couple of days later informing me that Commander Spindler had instructed that my concerns would be handed to the Met’s Child Abuse Investigation Command, and I would be hearing from them soon.”

Wilmer prepared a list of 25 cases, and the police duly launched ‘Operation Torva’ amid strict secrecy two months ago.

The Salesian order says on the website for its youth ministry that it runs five secondary schools and “a good number of parish primary schools” in England and Scotland.

However, a spokesman for the order insisted that it had no primary schools.

The investigation is also reaching beyond the order to investigate historical allegations of sexual abuse in other Roman Catholic schools.

Spindler has since quit the Met and moved to HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, an official police watchdog. His departure, revealed by Exaro last month, raised questions about the direction of Operation Yewtree.

As commander, he was also overseeing ‘Operation Fernbridge’, which is investigating allegations that boys in the care of the London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames were sexually abused at Elm Guest House by prominent people – including MPs – and others.

But Spindler left strict instructions before leaving the Met that Salesian and other Roman Catholic schools should be investigated.

A small team on Torva is working alongside Fernbridge and Yewtree. The Met is likely to change the name of Operation Torva shortly.

The Met is appealing for witnesses to come forward. A spokesman for Scotland Yard said: “The Metropolitan Police takes allegations of sexual abuse very seriously regardless of when they took place.”

“We shall continue to work with our key partners to help bring support to those who have lived through abuse, and where possible bring criminal prosecutions against those responsible for committing these crimes.”

Exaro has run a series of reports exposing authorities over their treatment of child sex abuse. Last week, Exaro revealed that the Ministry of Defence was forcing children of service personnel to stay at schools in the face of allegations of sexual abuse.

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