Tip-off led to fugitive abuse priest in UK

Gardai claim Fr Patrick Hughes evaded capture for years because the church shielded him

Sunday Independent, Ireland/July 18, 2010

A fugitive priest who was jailed last week for sexually abusing an altar boy spent five years evading the authorities, living under a false name in a guest house in England.

Fr Patrick Hughes was discovered after Catholic child-protection workers in Scarborough became suspicious about the elderly man who attended mass each day.

A tip-off to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin's office led to the priest's identity being confirmed by the child protection office in Dublin, who passed the information to detectives.

When they finally caught up with him, they discovered that his life on the run was being financed by friends who sent him cash, but he refused to disclose who they were.

Fr Hughes, 82, was back in court last week after admitting to sexually abusing an altar boy and was sentenced to 15 months in jail. He had pleaded guilty last February to indecently assaulting a young boy in the Seventies and Eighties.

During his trial, it emerged that Hughes terrorised his victims, in one case blackmailing a child by photographing him in ladies' underwear and then threatening to circulate the images, forcing the boy to stay silent.

Gardai said that the church authorities gave them the "run around" and shielded Fr Hughes from investigations into the complaints.

Fr Hughes is one of the key cases under scrutiny in a garda investigation to find out whether clergy or the authorities broke the law by shielding child abusers.

The inquiry, led by assistant commissioner John O'Mahony, was established after the Murphy report was published. Fr Hughes fled Ireland in 2002 when he learned that allegations of sexual abuse were to feature in an RTE documentary.

Although a number of his victims made complaints to gardai, the detectives never managed to interview him.

Fr Hughes was either out of the country or missing each time his victims came forward with complaints in 1994, in 1995 and again in 2002.

Detective Sergeant Joseph McLoughlin told the court that an investigation in 1995 "ran into the sand" and said when the case was revived in 2002, their attempts to locate Hughes proved fruitless.

He said that a "liaison person" made contact with garda in 2003 to say Fr Hughes would be interviewed but the priest cancelled the meeting.

They were unable to find him until 2007, when they received a tip off that he was in Scarborough.

Fr Hughes was first accused of abusing children in 1974 but the Church didn't appear to take any action against him, although it later emerged he was sent for psychiatric assessment.

During the 1980s, he moved to the US, with a favourable reference from Cardinal Desmond Connell, who later said he was unaware of complaints against him.

When his victim sued in 1993, Fr Hughes paid the young man compensation of £50,000, which he managed to raise at short notice.

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese said "it is the policy of Archbishop Martin and the child protection service to give any information regarding child abuse allegations to the gardai."

The Murphy report included a chapter on the notorious priest, but under a pseudonym, as he faced charges at the time.

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