The former Abbot of Ealing Abbey who abused boys at a Catholic-run school in the 1970s and 80s has been sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Andrew Soper, 74, formerly known as Father Laurence Soper, was convicted earlier this month of 19 charges of rape and other sexual offences against 10 boys at St Benedict’s school in Ealing, west London. He is the fourth man at the school to have been convicted of abuse.
Following the guilty verdicts, the school apologised unreservedly for the “serious wrongs of the past”. Ealing Abbey said that Soper has "finally been brought to justice” and praised the courage of his victims in coming forward as witnesses.
Sentencing Mr Soper at the Old Bailey on Thursday (20 December), Judge Anthony Bate said:
“You are an intelligent man with gifts of scholarship and erudition. However, as you acknowledged during cross examination, showing a degree of insight, that is not how you will be remembered.
“Your good qualities are utterly overshadowed by the proven catalogue of vile abuse for which you are now at last held to account. Your disgrace is complete.”
The judge said that Soper’s decision to flee to Kosovo while he was on police bail in 2011 had been “meticulously planned”. “You intended to live out your days there in obscurity,” he added.
Jane Humphryes QC, Soper’s defence barrister, told the court: “It’s fair to say Mr Soper maintains his innocence in relation to all the offences, and describes his situation as a serious miscarriage of justice.”
In a statement read in court, a survivor described having a breakdown after police told him there was insufficient evidence to pursue his claims in 2004 and 2007.
“I have tried countless times to take my own life as I just cannot cope any more,” he said. “I still hear Soper’s voice in my head. I can still picture him. I have flashbacks and nightmares.”
Another survivor said he believed a paedophile ring was operating at St Benedict’s. He said that the Benedictine order should answer for the "serial abuse that has gone on in its educational establishments for the last few decades.”
Soper joined St Benedict’s as a teacher in 1972 and became headmaster of its middle school from 1977 until 1983. He was the abbot of Ealing Abbey from 1991 until 2000.
His first victim came forward in 2004, after Soper had left his role as Abbot and moved to the Benedictine headquarters in Rome. He was initially told by police there was insufficient evidence.
Soper was interviewed by appointment by Police at Heathrow airport in 2010, but he fled to Kosovo while on police bail in 2011.
He was arrested at Luton Airport in August 2016 after he was deported by the Kosovan authorities.