Exaro News Archive

CPS to drop key charges brought under ‘Operation Fernbridge’

Prosecutors reverse decision on four out of 19 sex charges in setback for Scotland Yard

By Mark Conrad and David Hencke | 2 December 2013

Prosecutors are to drop key charges brought under Scotland Yard’s ‘Operation Fernbridge’ against two men accused of child sex abuse.

Exaro has learnt from sources close to the investigation that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is set to announce the decision at a hearing at Southwark Crown Court in three weeks.

The decision is a blow to the Metropolitan Police Service’s paedophile unit, which is investigating historical allegations of sexual abuse of boys at Grafton Close children’s home in the London borough of Richmond, south-west London, at the nearby Elm Guest House and other sites.

Detectives are understood to be furious with the CPS because it only decided in July to level the charges.

The CPS is understood to have changed its mind about prosecuting three out of 11 charges against John Stingemore, 71, who used to run the children’s home – including the most serious accusation that he faced.

It is dropping the charge against him of conspiracy with persons unknown to commit buggery, along with two counts of indecent assault. But Stingemore, of Stonehouse Drive, St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, still faces six charges of indecent assault against five boys aged between 11 and 15, and two counts of taking indecent images of a child.

The CPS is also understood to have changed its mind about prosecuting one charge of indecent assault against Tony McSweeney, a 66-year-old priest, of Old Brighton Road North, Pease Pottage, West Sussex. McSweeney still faces two charges of indecent assault against a boy aged between 11 and 15, three counts of making indecent images of a child, one of taking indecent images of a child and a further count of possessing indecent images of a child.

The CPS decided to drop the charges that were based on accusations made by what detectives regarded as their key witness.

The witness told Exaro of his bewilderment at his treatment by the CPS, and is seeking an explanation as to why prosecutors are dropping the charges when they had decided to bring them only four months ago.

He said: “I am devastated. It has taken me years to reach this point. The police knocked on my door when they sought information, and now this.” He is asking the CPS to review its decision.

He had also told police how, while he was a boy in care at Grafton Close, he was sexually abused by other men at Elm Guest House.

Detectives from Operation Fernbridge went to his workplace to hand-deliver a letter from the CPS that formally informed him of the decision to drop the charges.

Kay Scudder, a prosecutor in the rape and serious sexual offences unit of the CPS, told him in the letter: “You are the only victim who alleged abuse at a guest house in Barnes. The investigation into that guest house is still continuing, and it is not known if charges will eventually be authorised.”

However, the CPS is mistaken in its understanding of the evidence gathered by the police. Exaro has established that the witness is not the only one to allege to police that he was sexually abused as a boy at the guest house.

Another witness told Exaro that he had been sexually assaulted at Elm Guest House when he was a boy in care in Richmond. “I gave a statement to the police about it,” he confirmed.

Scudder added in her letter: “After consultation with an experienced barrister, it was felt appropriate to separate the offending behaviour which took place at Grafton Close from that which is alleged to have taken place at Elm [Guest] House.”

“You are entitled to a meeting to discuss my decision, but I will not be able to go into detail as the investigation at Elm [Guest] House is still continuing.

“It is not known whether there will be any charges in relation to Elm [Guest] House as this will depend on what evidence is uncovered during the investigation.”

Stingemore and McSweeney are due to appear at a further remand hearing on December 19, and are likely to face trial in spring 2014. They remain on conditional bail.

Update 19 December 2013: John Stingemore and Tony McSweeney appeared at Southwark crown court today to plead not guilty to 14 charges between them.

Stingemore pleaded not guilty to five charges of indecent assault, one count of taking an indecent image of a child, and one of indecency with a child.

McSweeney pleaded not guilty to two charges of indecent assault, three counts of making indecent images of a child, one of taking an indecent image of a child, and a further count of possessing indecent pictures of children.

Five charges were not pressed in total against the pair.

There will be a further pre-trial hearing, at a date to be set. And no date was set for a trial.

Stingemore and McSweeney remain on conditional bail.

Update 21 January 2014: John Stingemore and Tony McSweeney’s trial is due to begin on May 6 at Southwark crown court.

No date had been set at the previous hearing, but witnesses have been told the date so that they are ready to give evidence then.

Update 27 June 2014: The trial was today set for February 2 next year, and is expected to last four weeks.

After a delay to the trial that was due to begin on May 6, there was a further “mentions” hearing today. The court heard that Stingemore had been assessed as fit to stand trial. The assessment was made by East Sussex NHS health trust.

Related Stories : Child sex abuse, ‘Fernbridge’ and ‘Fairbank’: Exaro story thread

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Exaro News investigates matters of public interest and seeks to uncover the truth.