24th Jan 2017
An Australian Catholic priest accused of child abuse offences at a prestigious Scottish school has been arrested in Sydney more than a year after authorities in the UK announced plans to extradite him.
Denis Alexander is one of several priests accused of sexual and physical abuse at the Fort Augustus Abbey school in the 1970s.
The 81-year-old has always denied the claims and remains in police custody ahead of a second court appearance tomorrow in Sydney.
A BBC documentary first aired the allegations in 2013.
BBC reporter Mark Daly has been investigating allegations of abuse at the school since 2012.
He said while Mr Alexander’s arrest was a “striking development”, it was only one step in a drawn-out process.
“There are very many legal hurdles still to overcome,” he said.
“Father Alexander is in custody at the moment, pending a further hearing at the local court in New South Wales where he may choose to oppose the extradition process.
“He may also seek to apply for bail, which he’s entitled to do.”
An alleged victim of Mr Alexander previously expressed his frustration with perceived delays in the investigation.
Hugh Kennedy, 53, who resides in the UK, said he was abused by the retired priest at Fort Augustus Abbey school, since closed.
But Mr Daly said he had spoken to Mr Kennedy since Monday’s arrest and that the alleged abuse survivor was “very emotional”.
“I had [Mr Kennedy] on the phone this morning in tears telling me that finally, finally it looks as if there’s a chance he might meet the man he says abused him in court,” he said.
“For him it’s been a very long and frustrating journey. This extradition process still has perhaps a long way to run, and there is no guarantee that Father Denis Alexander will appear back in Scotland to face the charges that he’s accused of.”
‘It started with those one or two people’
Mr Daly said he and his colleagues first encountered allegations of abuse at the Fort Augustus Abbey school through a handful of former students on the internet.
“It started with those one or two people who we were able to identify from internet forums,” he said.
“That led to the next person, who led to the next person, and before long what we had uncovered was five decades of allegations of child sexual and physical abuse, with the alleged victims running into the dozens. Between myself and my main colleague, we spoke to at the time more than 50, and in the end there were allegations around a dozen monks for either physical or sexual abuse, or for allegedly covering up allegations of abuse.”
But Mr Daly said that Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was not receiving enough attention abroad.
“I would say the rule is a thing or two that the authorities that Scotland and in the UK could learn from the Australian [royal] commission,” he said.
“From an outsider’s polint of view, looking at it from here, it looks as if they are managing to quite expertly handle a sprawling investigation/inquiry that has very many different strands and tentacles.”
“The survivors I speak to say that they don’t believe that their stories, that this inquiry is a genuine priority.” SOURCE
Father Denis “Chrysostom” Alexander was one of several monks accused of abusing boys at the former Fort Augustus Abbey boarding school in the Highlands.
BBC Scotland confronted the former monk in Australia during a 2013 documentary.
In December last year, the Crown Office announced plans to bring him back from his native Australia to face trial.
But on Monday, 80-year-old Father Alexander, who denies the abuse claims, said he was not aware of any extradition plans, fuelling fears the process was stalling.
The Crown Office, which is responsible for prosecutions in Scotland, received the police report on Fr Alexander more than three years ago, and a year ago, announced plans to extradite him.
The case now sits with the Attorney General’s office in Canberra.
One of his alleged victims has told the BBC of his frustration at the delays, and said he doubted he would ever face trial.
Hugh Kennedy, 53, said he suffered sustained abuse at the hands of Fr Alexander at the private Catholic boarding school in the Highlands, which was now closed.
He said he was frustrated by how long it took the Crown to prepare its case and contact the Australian authorities.
Mr Kennedy said: “The reality of this situation is, you are placated. You are written to in derogatory terms with non-answers to your questions. And after a period of time you’re expected to just disappear. It’s eventually either the individual will die or the individual bringing the case will run out of resilience and run out of capacity.”
He added: “Nothing’s changed. We are where we are last year. My expectations around whether we will ever see Denis Alexander in court have been managed down to virtually zero. I don’t know if there’s much more I can do.”
The Crown Office said it was unable to comment on legal matters in another jurisdiction, while the Attorney General’s office in Canberra, did not respond to requests for comment.
A statement from the Crown Office said: “We are doing everything in our power to seek the extradition of an 80-year-old man from Australia. We are now in the hands of another country’s judicial process but we continue to assist them in any way we can.”
Fr Alexander was returned by the Catholic Church to Australia in 1979, after allegations of abuse were made by another Fort Augustus Abbey pupil, who the BBC has also spoken to.
No report to the police was made, and no warnings were provided about his alleged offending behaviour, to the Church in Australia where Fr Alexander continued as a priest for a further 20 years or more.
He was stripped of his priestly faculties in 2013 after the BBC programme. He has always denied the allegations.
On Monday, when contacted by the BBC at his home in Sydney, Fr Alexander, said he was still being supported by the church, and denied any knowledge of the extradition process.
He also said he was “not prepared to do any such thing” when asked if he would return to Scotland to face charges, fuelling fears the extradition process is far from progressed.
The Roman Catholic Church in Sydney said it was unaware of the extradition bid but said it had offered its cooperation to the Scottish authorities.
The case has sparked local political interest.
MP Stephen Jones, who has played a prominent role in the Royal Commission currently looking into institutional child abuse in Australia, has written to the attorney general in Canberra to ask why there seems to be a delay in the extradition of Fr Alexander.
He said: “It’s a year since the request has been made so it’s far from being expedited. I would like to see this occur very, very soon. It beggars belief, at the same time as we’ve got a Royal Commission going on in Australia into institutional cover-ups and institutional responses to child sex abuse, that we wouldn’t be acting with great haste here in Australia to bring our citizens to justice in a foreign jurisdiction if a charge has been made against them.”
A case against another former monk is set to go to trial in Scotland in January. The Crown Office has had a further seven cases from Fort Augustus “under consideration” for more than 18 months.
In response to the perceived delay in prosecuting these cases, the Crown Office said: “We appreciate the length of time the investigation has taken can be frustrating and upsetting for the complainers. This has been an extremely challenging investigation into historical sexual abuse due to a variety of factors, including the number and the presence of accused in various locations worldwide. Historical sexual abuse cases can be extremely challenging to prosecute given the time which has elapsed since the alleged offences were committed and the requirement to establish corroboration before a case can be brought to court. The passage of time has presented particular challenges in this investigation. Important witnesses are no longer alive or are now unable to participate in the investigation.” SOURCE
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