Former Buxton priest admits child sex offences

Francis Cullen
Francis Cullen

A former priest has admitted committing 21 sex offences on children as young as six, including two girls in Buxton, a court heard.

Francis Paul Cullen, who served at St Anne’s Catholic Church, on Terrace Road, between 1978 and 1987, pleaded guilty to the charges, which involve five boys and two girls in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, at Derby Crown Court on Monday. The 85-year-old, who has been on the run for more than 20 years since he skipped bail in 1991, was extradited from Tenerife last year.

The charges include 15 counts of indecent assault between January 1, 1957 and March 24, 1991 on children aged between six and 14, and five counts of indecency with three boys aged between eight and 13 between July 2, 1960 and March 24, 1991.

Cullen, who is currently in HMP Nottingham, also admitted one charge of attempted buggery on a 14-year-old boy between August 6, 1969 and August 5, 1970.

Detective Constable Ed Mellor, who investigated allegations made by two women in Buxton, said: “I hope that his guilty plea brings a collective closure to the whole community and to the victims who, for their own reasons, have chosen not to come forward.”

He will be sentenced on March 24.

Dublin-born Cullen, who was ordained in 1953, also worked in Scunthorpe, Leicester, Alfreton, Derby and Nottingham, until he retired in 1991.

DC Ed Mellor added: “More than anything I want to express my gratitude to the victims. Their determination in seeking justice and their strength throughout this traumatic experience has been overwhelming. This result will hopefully allow them to move on with their lives.”

Father Andrew Cole, spokesman for the Diocese of Nottingham which covers Buxton, said: “We are pleased that he has taken responsibility for his terrible crimes and pleaded guilty to the 21 offences with which he was charged.

“We have been working closely with the police throughout the preparation of this case, both before and after Cullen’s arrest in Spain and return to the UK, and have encouraged them to bring him to justice and are grateful to them.

“I would like to offer our sympathy to those who have been affected by this tragedy in any way and assure them that we will do whatever we can to support them.

“I also wish to thank Cullen’s victims for their bravery in coming forward after many years of silence. Nothing can take away the horror of what happened to them, but I hope that Monday’s verdict will help them in some small way to find peace.

“The abuse of children is abhorrent, by whomsoever it is perpetrated, as is any attitude of mind which somehow tolerates it. The Catholic Church takes the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults extremely seriously, and it is our hope and expectation that no child or vulnerable adult should ever suffer at the hands of others.

“We will continue to work with the police and other statutory authorities whenever allegations of abuse arise and will ensure that our churches and parishes are safe and welcoming for all members of the community.”

Detective Constable Matt Goodwin said: “The assistance I’ve received from the Catholic Safeguarding Board and the Catholic Diocese of Nottingham has been invaluable.

“They have willingly given me access to their records and acted on information they’ve received about Father Cullen. They made their own inquiries to trace Cullen after they were alerted to his alleged behaviour in 2005.

“Cullen’s abhorrent behaviour has had a significant impact on his victims. If anyone else wants to report any abuse against them they should be confident that we will take their allegations seriously and carry out thorough investigations.”