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A leading figure in Catholic education pleaded guilty in a London court this week to downloading more than 5,000 images of child pornography from the internet to his computer.
Fr Tim Gardner, 41, a former religious education adviser to the Catholic Education Service (CES), admitted possession of the images when he appeared at Southwark Crown Court on Monday. Of the 5,005 images cited many were graded at level four and five – the most extreme – and one depicted bestiality.
A Dominican friar, Fr Gardner taught Philosophy and Religious Education at Maria Fidelis Convent School in Camden, north London, and was Catholic chaplain to the Royal Free Hospital in London. He was also a governor of Rye St Antony, an independent girls schools in Oxford.
Fr Gardner, who had passed an enhanced Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check, is understood to have been arrested last August and charged last month. In court the judge adjourned sentencing until 31 March for reports requested by the priest’s barrister, Louise Sweet, “vis-à-vis an alcohol problem”.
Helen Gill, head teacher of Maria Fidelis, said she was “shocked and saddened” by the case but understood none of the charges related to his time at her school. A spokesman for Camden Council added: “As soon as we became aware of these shocking allegations we immediately launched a safeguarding investigation to reassure ourselves and parents that no wrongdoing happened whilst working in Camden.”
The Royal Free Hospital – where Fr Gardner worked between 2007 and 2010 – sought to reassure patients and the public that it was taking the matter seriously and would be following “statutory safeguarding procedures”.
In a joint statement the CES and the English Province of Dominicans said none of the offences related to his work for the CES or in schools in the Archdiocese of Westminster. They said that following his arrest he was suspended and withdrawn from active ministry and that the Dominicans had co-operated fully with the police.
Bishop Malcolm McMahon, chairman of the CES and a fellow Dominican, said: “I and the members of staff of the CES are deeply upset and troubled at the news of these internet offences by Fr Gardner … Our first thoughts and prayers are with those innocent victims who have been the subject of abuse.”