Priest cleared of three more counts, but convicted of making three indecent images
By Tim Wood | 27 February 2015
Priest Tony McSweeney was today found guilty of sexually abusing a boy at a children’s home in the London borough of Richmond.
McSweeney, 68, was convicted of one charge of indecently assaulting a boy aged below 16 at Grafton Close children’s home between 1979 and 1981, but cleared of three further counts.
At a trial that began at Southwark crown court just under a fortnight ago, McSweeney was also convicted of three charges of making indecent images of children. He was clear of one count of taking an indecent image of a child.
The jury of six men and five women deliberated over three days for 16 hours and 34 minutes, and McSweeney sat in the dock with his head bowed as the verdicts were delivered.
The judge, Alastair McCreath, recorder of Westminster, adjourned the case until March 27 for sentencing. He granted bail, but said to McSweeney: “You are not to come to court thinking that, as the judge has given me bail, I am not going to prison, because that would be a false hope.”
The bail conditions are that McSweeney is not to have unsupervised access with anyone under 16. A pre-sentence report will be prepared by the hearing on March 27.
The case was brought under the Metropolitan Police Service’s ‘Operation Fernbridge’, which was launched with Exaro’s help more than two years ago.
McSweeney’s close friend, John Stingemore, ran Grafton Close. McSweeney was convicted of a specimen charge that he and Stingemore together indecently assaulted a 15-year-old boy at the children’s home while he was showering.
Stingemore died, aged 72, a few weeks before the trial began. He was due to stand in the dock alongside McSweeney, and was accused of 11 charges, mostly of sexually assaulting boys.
Two of Stingemore’s charges, including one of buggery of a boy, related to the nearby Elm Guest House. Both the guest house and the children’s home have since closed and been turned into flats.
The court heard that Stingemore had previously been convicted of indecently assaulting another teenage boy at Grafton Close, Peter Bornshin, who later committed suicide, tormented by his abuse.
McSweeney, of Pease Pottage, West Sussex, worked part-time as a priest at Grafton Close.
Sarah Plaschkes, prosecuting, said that he had a sexual interest in boys aged between 14 and 16.
But the court heard that he told detectives: “I completely and utterly deny the allegations,” adding, “At no time have I done any of those things. I am astonished.”
McSweeney was a Catholic priest at St George’s church in Norwich when police arrested him in February 2013. He is also a former part-time chaplain at Norwich City football club and officiated at the 1990 wedding of Frank Bruno, the former world heavyweight boxing champion, and his former wife, Laura.
The jury heard that, before he was at Grafton Close, McSweeney worked in the Cub and Scout movement.
Plaschkes said that Stingemore introduced McSweeney, his “long-term friend”, into Grafton Close.
“Stingemore was a control freak, and very good at picking on people’s weaknesses,” she said. “Stingemore would have been aware of which of the boys were particularly vulnerable.”
Stingemore’s role at Grafton Close “gave McSweeney the opportunity” to seek out teenage boys who would comply and remain silent about his abuse.
A 14-year-old Grafton resident described the priest as the “fat vicar”, and said that he was “very touchy-feely” with boys.
McSweeney admitted to police that he went to Holland and visited sex shops with Stingemore, who bought cine films of what was described in court as “child pornography”. The pair watched one of the films together at Grafton Close.
The court heard that Stingemore lived at Grafton Close, along with one to three others staff members.
Stingemore carried out “mini-medicals” on boys at Grafton Close, the court heard. He carried them out alone in the medical room, with the door shut. He taped one boy aged 9 or 10 to a bed, and touched him all over his body.
Stingemore was sacked in 1981 when members of staff complained about his behaviour to a local councillor.
McSweeney stopped going to Grafton Close after Stingemore’s sacking.
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