Exclusive: Investigating officer speaks out after sentencing of former priest as historic child abuse is uncovered

A Met cop has spoken out about her role in the investigation into historic child sexual abuse by a former priest and his recent sentencing.

James Murphy, 77, of The Alders Mallow, County Cork, Ireland was sentenced on April 29, at Inner London Crown Court.

Murphy pleaded guilty on February 16, at the same court to seven offences of indecent assault relating to four victims aged between five and 11. The offending took place between 1975 and 1988.

PC Helen French spent almost five years developing the case against Murphy, after one of his victims came forward to police in 2019.

PC French said: “My colleagues on the response team started to get reports against Murphy.

“Because the allegations involved a priest, we knew it was going to be a complex case and there was the potential of a large victim base.”

PC Helen French (Picture: The Met)

As the investigation progressed, officers established that Murphy’s offending went beyond the church, with some offences taking place in the wider community in Sydenham.

PC French made contact with each victim over the phone, via email or by sending officers to speak with them in person to explain how they could progress their claims.

She said: “It might be the phone call they have been waiting for for years – for some they had it buried for 20 years.

“It’s everyone’s right to progress with an investigation. In this case all but one of the victims wanted to progress.”

Murphy had previously been convicted of 11 counts of indecent assault against five boys in 1977.

PC French said: “A couple of the victims had heard about the case. One of them had watched a documentary and it inspired them to come forward.”

After gathering statements and evidence from the victims, PC French travelled to Ireland to interview Murphy, with the assistance of Garda officers. 

James Murphy (Picture: The Met)

She said: “The Garda were extremely cooperative, which was vital because we were working in a different jurisdiction. 

“Because of Murphy’s previous convictions, he was on the sex offenders register, so I organised the meeting through his officer.”

During his interviews, Murphy accepted guilt when presented with the evidence against him, but he denied one accusation relating to one of the victims. 

PC French said: “He’s a Catholic priest – there is an element of asking others to confess their sins, maybe admitting to what he did was his way of following suit.

“There was one victim he couldn’t remember. He didn’t deny it. He just couldn’t recall it, like the others.”

But, when Murphy was brought to the UK for his pre-sentencing hearing, he changed his plea to guilty for all victims.

He was jailed for 31 months. Because the offences happened in the 1970s and 1980s, Murphy was sentenced under the law that applied at the time.

A more recent image of Murphy (Picture: The Met)

PC French said: “We now have the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, which brings higher sentences and greater penalties.

“No amount of prison time will seem enough for the victims who endured the abuse, and the years of suffering that followed that abuse.”

But PC French said some of the men felt they had receive justice when they were believed.

She said: “We’re talking about the family priest in the Catholic community – parents were almost in awe of him, they would get their best china out when he came for tea.

“Because of who they were having to talk against, the boys felt silenced.”

Following the sentencing, PC French said the Met was committed to preventing offenders like Murphy from harming young victims.

She said: “We work closely with school officers and that side of things has really improved. Schools have started speaking to children from a much younger age about what should and shouldn’t happen.

“We will do all we can to tackle sexual abuse and bring predators to justice. It doesn’t matter if it’s historic, we will work just as hard.”

Pictured top: PC Helen French, James Murphy (Picture: The Met)

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