The hunt for a fugitive monk who faces pedophile allegations is being stepped up by Scotland Yard during the weekend with the release of the first clear photograph of him since his arrest and subsequent disappearance 18 months ago.
The image of 68-year-old Laurence Soper, wearing a traditional habit, was taken about ten years ago and will appear on police websites.
Religious magazine Faith Today will also circulate the picture and alert monasteries worldwide.
The former Abbot of Ealing Abbey and leader of the attached St Benedict’s School is the most senior British Catholic to have been caught up in the abuses scandals rocking the church.
Scotland Yard’s decision to renew the appeal follows the appointment of a new lead investigator.
Following allegations by a former pupil, Soper was arrested and questioned by appointment by the Metropolitan Police in September 2010. However, investigators allowed him to retain his passport and did not take a picture, asking him through his solicitor to return to London.
Instead, after leaving St Anselmo on March 4, 2011, apparently to fly to Heathrow, Soper skipped bail and vanished.
A source close to the investigation said: ‘He knew he was about to be charged.’ Police admit they have no idea whether Soper is still in Italy.
A former worker has also raised concerns about Soper’s time as part-time chaplain at Feltham Young Offender Institution between 1988 and 2000.
In the mid-Nineties, Scotland Yard investigated an alleged paedophile ring visiting boys there.
An Ealing Abbey spokesman said of Soper: ‘All efforts to make contact with him have been without success.
‘He was trusted by the police in England to return. He has betrayed that trust.
‘If anyone has information as to his whereabouts, we urge them to contact the police.’
He added that the abbey ‘wholeheartedly’ supports the new appeal. ‘People here are so angry with him. The school and abbey cannot move on while he evades justice.’