Rabbi Ephraim Padwa
Rabbi Ephraim Padwa told an alleged victim not to contact the police under any circumstances (Channel 4)

A Channel 4 Dispatches investigation has uncovered evidence of religious officials hiding child sex abuse in Britain after secretly filming a senior rabbi telling a victim not to involve the police.

The documentary, Britain's Hidden Child Abuse, shows how some rabbis within a strict Orthodox Jewish community forbid victims from reporting crimes committed against them.

There are around 40,000 Charedin - strict Orthodox Jews - in Britain. During the investigation, reporters uncovered 19 alleged cases of child sex abuse. None had been reported to the police.

Rabbi Ephraim Padwa, who leads the Charedi community in north London's Stamford Hill, is secretly filmed speaking to an alleged victim of child sex abuse.

The victim tells the rabbi how a member of the Jewish community sexually abused him and that he thought Padwa knew who the perpetrator was.

Padwa says in the film: "I imagine that I know [of] whom you are talking. And if I'm correct, we are dealing with this."

The victim asks if he should go to the police but Padwa says no, explaining it would constitute mesira - meaning it is forbidden to report a Jew to a non-Jewish authority.

Padwa continues throughout the film to say the police must not be involved even if more children have been victims. The police are not to be involved them under any circumstances, he says.

Police informers berated

The victim says: "Now I've got a question - if the police found out about it and they called me in, what would you say to me?"

Padwa: "HaShem (Heaven Forbid), let's hope it wouldn't happen. You shouldn't do anything that can lead to the police."

Another rabbi, whose name was not revealed, told the filmmakers how one family had been berated by Padwa after they reported abuse to the police: "The young man didn't know what to do, and out of desperation, he made the decision to call the police.

"The police felt there was enough evidence to take out the perpetrator from the middle of the Stamford Hill community in handcuffs. And this is disgraceful, a scandal," said the rabbi.

"Then [the victim's father] went to the senior rabbi of the Stamford Hill community, whose name is Rabbi Padwa. [Padwa's] whole concern was to berate the father, 'How dare you go and be an informer?' [Padwa] said: 'You ruined his life, [the perpetrator] was ashamed enough by the arrest and what happened, and therefore leave it go. It's forbidden for you to pursue the case'. Rabbi Padwa never expressed sympathy - not for the child and not for the parents."

The anonymous rabbi added that the community then turned against the family. They were told they were no longer welcome at the synagogue and eventually they left the community.

"There is no question that we do not have the ability to police and deal with perverts, deviants, child molesters. We can't - it's above the pay grade of the rabbis," he added.

Rise in vigilantes

Following the secret filming, the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations sent a letter to Dispatches, explaining it had a "robust" system in place to "deal with child abuse".

Although the documentary does not suggest child sex abuse is more prominent in the Charedi community, the orthodox approach to reporting cases means children may be vulnerable to abuse and perpetrators are shielded from justice, say critics.

The film also looks at how some members of the community become vigilantes because rabbis fail to respond complaints of abuse.

Rabbi Yehuda Brodie, registrar of the Manchester Beth Din, told the Jewish Chronicle: "We offer our strongest support for any victim of any criminal act to report matters to the authorities, including the police, as and where appropriate."

The London Beth Din, which represents modern Orthodox Jews, added: "When abuse has occurred, the police must be informed without delay. Local communities should not attempt to deal with the situation internally.

"Delays in reporting abuse can cause vital evidence to be lost, allowing the abusers to continue violating our children.

Britain's Hidden Child Abuse - Channel 4 Dispatches Special is on at 10.30pm tonight (Wednesday).

(Channel 4)