Tom Watson claimed there is “clear intelligence of a widespread paedophile ring” involving senior politicians then in power (Reuters)
Tom Watson claimed there is “clear intelligence of a widespread paedophile ring” involving senior politicians then in power (Reuters)

A Catholic priest is one of two men arrested in connection with allegations of child abuse at London guesthouse and children's home in the 1980s.

Reverend Tony McSweeney, 66, from Norfolk, was arrested along with a 70-year-old man from east Sussex on suspicion of sexual offences.

The allegations are linked to claims senior politicians and other high-profile individuals sexually abused boys at the Elm Guest House in Barnes, south-west London.

The arrest of the 66-year-old priest was confirmed by his diocese. Father Mark Hackeson, of the Diocese of East Anglia, said: "The church diocese takes safeguarding of children very seriously and so we will be co-operating fully in any way with the police investigation."

Met police confirmed no current occupants of Elm Guest House, which is now a private residence, are connected to the allegations.

The arrests were made by detectives as part of Scotland Yard's Operation Fernbridge, which was launched after concerns about historical abuse were raised in Parliament by Labour MP Tom Watson.

Speaking under parliamentary privilege in the Commons in October, Watson urged police to re-investigate evidence against former consultant to the National Children's Bureau and convicted paedophile Peter Righton.

Watson claimed the evidence file on Righton contained "clear intelligence of a widespread paedophile ring", adding: "One of its members boasts of a link to a senior aide of a former Prime Minister, who says he could smuggle indecent images of children from abroad.

The investigation is also looking at links between the guest house and the nearby Grafton Close children's care home, which was run by Richmond Council.

The 70-year-old man arrested is believed to be former deputy head of the children's home John Stingemore. Both men have been released on bail pending further inquiries.

A spokesman for Richmond Council said it "considers the safeguarding of all children and young people as an utmost priority and we take any allegations of abuse very seriously.

"As such we are offering our full support and co-operation to the police during their investigation.

"As the investigation is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.

Director of the NSPCC helpline Peter Watt said: "We are assisting the police on Operation Fernbridge and are asking anyone with information to come forward. We will assist the police in gathering evidence and supporting those who come forward."

Cmndr Peter Spindler from the Metropolitan Police said: "This is a complex multi-agency investigation supported by the NSPCC, Ceop and Richmond Social Services involving non-recent allegations of sexual assault against children.

"It is vital that anyone who has been affected by or has information about activity in the early 1980s at the Elm Guest House, or the Grafton Close care home, in Barnes speaks to the NSPCC on their helpline on 0808 800 5000, or their local police."