Investigations into allegations of historical child sexual abuse centring at Grafton Close, a former children’s care home, and Elm Guest House in West London, have this week resulted in the arrest of a Norwich priest, 66 year-old Reverend Tony McSweeney.
A second man, understood to be 70 year-old John Stigmore of East Sussex, was also arrested on Wednesday morning. Stigmore is thought to have been the former deputy head of Grafton Close, which was administered by Richmond Council. These are the first arrests ensuing from Operation Fernbridge after concerns were raised by Labour MP Tom Watson in October 2012 about a powerful paedophile network allegedly linked to and protected by members of Parliament and officials at No 10 Downing St in the 1980’s. Watson has contended that evidence of these allegations — part of a file used to convict Peter Righton, a former consultant to the National Children’s Bureau, of importing child pornography in 1992 — should be investigated by the Metropolitan Police.
These arrests afford yet another disturbing glimpse into the proliferation of cases concerning the sexual harm of minors by those in positions of power and trust. One more time, it appears that the grooming and abuse of children was organised by precisely those entrusted to keep them safe. How is it possible that respected adults can unflappably and callously exploit children under their care?
We ask ourselves these types of questions every day.
Meanwhile for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, we understand the distress and trauma that can ensue as a result of such acts of cruelty. We work with many clients whose undeserved feelings of guilt and shame caused by the criminal acts of their abusers endure for decades, into late adulthood. However, we too see the liberation they can achieve – often through speaking with other survivors, through therapy, and also by trying to seek justice. For some the legal system can offer a way to have their story taken seriously and recognised. This paves the way for healing and empowers other survivors to come forward and speak out. Not only are the guilty and the institutions that protected them held accountable, but future generations of children are made safer.