BBC to aid police with church abuse inquiry

Today broadcast prompted police investigation

The BBC has agreed to co-operate with a police investigation into claims that the head of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales covered up the activities of a paedophile priest.

Radio 4’s Today reporter, Angus Stickler, has agreed to provide details of documents he saw while investigating claims that Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, had ignored professional advice about the priest’s paedophile tendencies when he employed him in his diocese and that he ignored complaints made against him.

Stickler has agreed to give details of 25 letters he saw during his investigation, broadcast two years ago, written by Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor to the priest, health professionals and church officials.

The BBC said he had agreed to do so on condition that he would not reveal the identity of his sources. "He was happy to help the inquiry on that understanding," a BBC spokesman said.

The police inquiry began after Stickler’s story was broadcast on the Today programme two years ago and a member of the public made a complaint to the police.

The Roman Catholic Church has already been rocked by a series of allegations of child abuse and cover-ups in Ireland, the US and Australia. Now the reputation of the Church in the UK has also been brought into question by this investigation.

The BBC was aware that the police were investigating whether Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor hampered the prosecution of the priest but had agreed not to report the story until the Crown Prosecution Service had decided to press charges. The story was revealed as an exclusive by the Sunday Mirror this week.

Police from Sussex, Surrey and Scotland Yard are concentrating on a period in the Eighties when the cardinal was Bishop of Arundel and Brighton and one of his priests faced accusations of child abuse.

The priest, who cannot be named as he is currently on trial for different charges of abuse, was moved to a different post after allegations were made against him to Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor. He was later convicted of offences over a 20-year period.

By Julie Tomlin

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