March 2004

Pervert priest is jailed for indecent abuse of children


A PRIEST who abused his position to sexually assault children about 40 years ago was last night starting a 30-month prison sentence.

Father Patrick Fitzpatrick, 75, indecently assaulted four boys and three girls while a curate at St Cuthbert’s RC Church, in Hartlepool, in the 1960s.

Durham Crown Court heard that he confessed his activities to a superior in the Roman Catholic church at the time, and underwent a period of self-imposed rehabilitation.

It was only last year, when one of his victims gathered the courage to report what took place, that the respected priest’s activities came to the attention of police.

It emerged last night that the victim, then aged 13, decided to contact police after seeing a television programme about Roman Catholic clergy abusing boys.

Fitzpatrick, who, since he left the parish in Hartlepool, has served as a doctor of philosophy at Durham University and as chaplain to the Little Sisters of the Poor, in Sunderland, confessed to police and told detectives about two other male victims.

Once he was charged, three women came forward to say they had been abused by him.

Tim Clayson, prosecuting, said: “It is clear he enjoyed great trust among the community and he did, on occasions, take advantage of that by grooming these young people so he could then carry out the offences.”

Mr Clayson said that although Fitzpatrick told one victim to keep his activities secret, the boy reported it to a teacher at his school, but was accused of lying.

He added that the victims have suffered psychologically as a result.

Bob Spragg, in mitigation, said: “He fully accepts these matters were a breach of trust and he fully accepts that the person who you should be able to trust more than anyone else is the local priest.

“He feels ashamed of what happened 40 years ago and has managed to stifle this behaviour and he has led a life of great benefit to the community since.”

Fitzpatrick, formerly of Holy Cross Home, Ettrick Grove, Sunderland, but who was staying at a monastery at Minsteracres,Northumberland, in recent weeks, admitted seven charges of indecent assault and asked for two similar offences to be considered.

Judge Richard Lowden told him his actions amounted to a betrayal of trust.