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Priest who fought extradition from Australia admits at High Court in Edinburgh to sexually abusing two former pupils at the Fort Augustus Abbey school in the Highlands


By Ali Morrison

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Denis Alexander has pleaded guilty to sexually abusing two boys.
Denis Alexander has pleaded guilty to sexually abusing two boys.

Denis Alexander (85) has admitted preying on the boys while teaching history at the fee paying school in the 1970s.

The High Court in Edinburgh heard today how Alexander targeted the young men in his study and during Yoga classes.

Judge Lord Burns heard how Alexander, who was a monk with the Benedictine Order, later left Scotland and became a Priest in Sydney, Australia.

But he was brought to justice after a BBC documentary called the Sins Of Our Father was aired in 2013.

Alexander’s victims saw the show and plucked up the courage to contact police who requested his extradition.

The cleric initially fought attempts to bring him back to Scotland but was returned almost three years after the extradition request was sent to Australia.

He pleaded guilty to two charges of sexual assault.

Prosecutor Jane Farquharson QC told Lord Burns that Alexander’s offending represented a small part of the sexual abuse of the children who attended the school, which closed in 1993.

She said: “These offences committed by this accused, Denis Alexander, are a snapshot of what is believed to be wider systemic abuse of children within the Fort Augustus Abbey School and its preparatory school Carlekemp, also run by the Benedictine Order.

“The Fort Augustus Abbey School has been the subject of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry from July to October 2019, in the course of which the English Benedictine Congregation accepted that physical and sexual abuse of children did take place. A sincere apology was tendered on October 1, 2019.”

Alexander observed proceedings sat in a wheelchair in court with his head bowed. He has poor hearing and his lawyer instructed him to tell him if he couldn’t follow proceedings.

Alexander was known as Father Chrysotum when he was teaching at Fort Augustus school. He also taught bagpipes.

The court heard Alexander’s first victim is now 60 years old and was aged around 13 when Alexander summoned him to his study and ordered him to sit down.

Alexander “pushed” his hand down the man’s trousers and started to touch his penis. After the abuse finished, the man did not tell anybody what happened until he saw the BBC programme.

The offences were committed at the former Fort Augustus Abbey school in the 1970s.
The offences were committed at the former Fort Augustus Abbey school in the 1970s.

Alexander’s second victim is now aged 58. He was abused after Alexander asked him to join a Yoga group which was being held in a part of the monastery where pupils didn’t have access to.

The court heard the man was aged around 12 to 13 at the time of the abuse.

Ms Farquharson said: “In respect of his second yoga class, the complainer found himself alone with the accused, no other persons were present. He described the accused touching him inappropriately. The accused was supporting the complainer in a head stand by holding him and touching and rubbing his penis.”

The court heard that on another occasion Alexander preyed on the boy during another Yoga class and forced him to perform a sex act on him.

The pupil told the headteacher about what happened but the police did not become involved at that point.

Ms Farquharson added: “The complainer told the headmaster what had happened and shortly thereafter the accused visited the complainer’s home address and spoke to his stepmother.

“The complainer was then sent back to school where the accused was still working.

“The complainer expressed his relief when the accused left the school shortly thereafter.”

The court heard that Alexander left the school in the 1970s and stopped being a practising Benedictine monk. He remained a priest and moved to Australia where he was made a priest in the Sydney diocese in 1999.

The police became aware of the abuse allegations at the school following the BBC documentary.

Ms Farquharson added: “He came to the attention of the police as a result of a BBC documentary screened in the summer of 2013 called ‘Sins of Our Father’ that focused on life within both institutions.”

The Crown Office requested Alexander’s extradition from Australia in August 2016.

An extradition warrant was issued by an Australian court in January 2017. However, Alexander did not consent to being returned to Scotland.

In April 2019, Alexander went to an Australian court in a bid to stop an order made by a judge the following month ordering him to be returned to Scotland. However he didn’t pursue the legal action and came back to the UK in January 2020.

Ms Farquharson said: “Significant delays were occasioned in bringing the accused to Scotland as a result of the accused’s opposition to the extradition process.”

Ms Farquharson said that Alexander had already spent a significant time in custody on remand.

She added: “Since his arrest on January 23, 2017 the accused has spent approximately 1599 days in custody to date – that is four years and 139 days.’

Defence solicitor advocate Shahid Latif told Lord Burns that his client was in poor health but planned to return to his “homeland” of Australia at the conclusion of the legal process.

Mr Latif added: “He cannot do anything more than what he has already done by accepting guilt for these offences.

“The Denis Alexander of today is different to the Denis Alexander of that time. He presents today as a geriatric and has significant health difficulties.

“He still plans to return to his homeland – Australia.”

Lord Burns deferred sentence on the first offender for the court to obtain reports about his background. He was remanded in custody.

He will be sentenced at the High Court in Glasgow on July 9.


View our fact sheet on court reporting here



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