Saturday 10 December 2016

Irish priest dubbed 'a celebrity in the playground' sexually abused nine young girls over four decades, court hears

Published 11/05/2016 | 07:50

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A "godlike" Catholic priest dubbed "a celebrity in the playground" sexually abused nine young girls over four decades, a court has heard.

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Many of the schoolchildren were said not to have complained about Father Mortimer Stanley, 84, at the time, because of the "very high regard" he was held in by parishioners and teachers.

The priest allegedly targeted the complainants - who he called his "special girls" - in his presbytery at St Vincent de Paul RC Church in Norden, Rochdale, where he would sit them on his knee and indecently assault them in various ways.

His alleged victims, aged under 11, were either pupils at the adjacent St Vincent's RC Primary School or members of the parish.

A tenth, male, complainant says he too was sexually abused as a child by the canon after he claimed something "like chloroform" was put over his mouth and he collapsed.

Limerick-born Father Stanley, now living in Ballybunion, County Kerry, denies 19 counts of indecent assault said to have been committed between 1977 and 2002.

A jury at Manchester Minshull Street Court heard he retired in 2002 and returned to Ireland shortly after the mother of one of the female complainants informed teaching staff that the canon had inappropriately kissed her daughter.

The court was also told she wrote to Father Stanley before he left the UK to raise her concerns, and he replied that he was "sorry for the upset he had caused".

Opening the prosecution case, Andrew Mackintosh said: "The female complainants were termed the defendant's 'special girls' - girls who he would take out of school and to the presbytery, and there he abused them.

"They will tell you that he would sit them on his knee, abuse them and use them in various manners."

Father Stanley moved into the Norden presbytery in 1977 when he was sent to the Salford Diocese, and also became a school governor.

Mr Mackintosh said: "He was someone who you will hear was held in very high regard by his parishioners and by the teachers, and also by many of the pupils at the school.

"He was described by one of his pupils as 'a godlike figure, a celebrity in the playground'. Someone who children would run to and give a hug.

"It is the Crown's case that his reputation and his relationship with those children masked what was abuse."

Mr Mackintosh said police launched an investigation in the summer of 2013 after a woman in her 30s told detectives she had been abused as a child by the priest on about 20 occasions.

She said the defendant would go to her class and take her and other girls to the presbytery where he would reward them with sweets for counting pennies collected at Mass.

The woman said she would later return there alone but Father Stanley's behaviour began to change as the weeks went by, the court heard.

He would then habitually sexually abuse her on his knee, she said, although she said she did not realise what he was doing was wrong at the time.

Detectives went on to interview another ex-pupil, who told of a similar pattern, where she and her friends would be picked out from the playground to go the priest's home at lunchtime and help him with various jobs.

She too alleged he would sit her on his knee and then he would put his hand on top of her thigh and lean over to give her "a sloppy kiss".

The seven other female complainants came forward with similar allegations against Father Stanley after police publicised their investigation in December 2013.

When interviewed, Father Stanley denied the offences.

Mr Mackintosh said: "He provided a prepared statement in which he said children would often climb on his knee of their own accord but nothing inappropriate had ever happened."

The male complainant came forward in February this year after Father Stanley had already been charged with the offences said to involve young girls.

He told police that the priest approached him from behind and put something over his mouth, "something like chloroform".

When he came round, he found the defendant abusing him, he said.

He said the defendant pulled his trousers up and then also pulled his own trousers up before he left the room.

The prosecutor said: "The defendant was interviewed again. He maintained that the allegations were totally untrue and that he would never ever harm a child.

"It is the Crown's case that he would and he did."

The trial is estimated to last up to five weeks.

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