Disgraced Buxton priest jailed for 15 years

Francis Cullen
Francis Cullen

A former priest has been jailed for 15 years for committing sex offences on children as young as six, including two girls in Buxton.

Francis Paul Cullen, who served at St Anne’s Catholic Church, on Terrace Road, between 1978 and 1987, pleaded guilty last month to 21 charges, which involve five boys and two girls in Mackworth, Buxton and Nottingham.

The 85-year-old, who had been on the run for 22 years since he skipped bail in 1991, was extradited from Tenerife in August.

The charges include 15 offences of indecent assault, five of indecency with a child and one of attempted buggery, now known as attempted rape, between 1957 and 1991 on children aged between six and 14.

Derby Crown Court heard on Monday that the first victim in Buxton was aged between six and 12 when she was abused.

The victim said she found Cullen overbearing, scary and didn’t want to be alone with him. She recalled sitting on his knees and him bouncing her up and down and singing to her while touching her sexually and getting her to touch him.

At age 12, Cullen would kiss the victim and touch her breasts and bottom.

In later life, she felt the effects of his abuse, turned to drink and tried to take her own life.

The second victim in Buxton was 13 when she was abused by Cullen.

After getting into trouble at school, Cullen paid her a visit at home. Once alone, he moved his chair close to hers and touched her thigh.

He tried to give her a kiss on the mouth but she turned away. When she went to confession, Cullen told her he loved her. She never went near him again.

Both female victims came forward in August, when they heard Cullen had been extradited to the UK.

Judge Jonathan Gosling said: “You were able to continue getting away with your crimes for two reasons. First because of the position you held. In the years that you practised in the Catholic ministry, devout parishioners revered the priest and of course trusted him without question.

“Secondly, you were held personally in the highest esteem: formidable, charismatic, very intelligent and extremely popular.

“You were welcomed into parents’ homes. They could never have guessed that in truth you were a predatory paedophile.

“You were in reality cunning, devious, arrogant, despicable. You took full advantage of your position to satisfy your perverted lust.

“To say that you were a disgrace to your cloth understates your activity. This was gross hypocrisy. In a sentence, your entire life was a lie.”

Detective Constable Ed Mellor said: “The courts have today imposed a significant sentence on Francis Cullen. I hope that it goes in some part of bringing closure to the victims of the abuse.

“Cullen has not only ruined the many lives of his victims but deeply affected the families and friends of those who support them. Cullen is a predatory paedophile who targeted children misusing his position of great trust over several decades.

“This has been a long, difficult and sensitive investigation spanning several years. I hope this will give other Victim’s the confidence to know we will always take reports of this nature very seriously, be supportive of them and tenacious in bringing offenders to justice.”