A CROWN court judge has called for a police investigation into the collapse of a sex abuse case involving the former head of a top public school.

Father George Earle, a past head of Stonyhurst College and the Jesuit order in Britain, was accused of abusing a pupil at the Ribble Valley boarding school.

But his trial at Preston Crown Court collapsed after it was revealed police failed to pass on vital information to Judge Peter Openshaw QC, who also criticised the previous actions of the society and the college. The 74-year-old came back from South Africa after he was accused of abusing a 15-year-old Stonyhurst pupil in the early 1970s.

A charge involving a second pupil was dropped earlier in the case after the judge decided the allegations took place too long ago and a fair trial was impossible.

Several other high-profile cases involving the Jesuit-run school and its feeder school St Mary's Hall have also ended unexpectedly.

Rory O'Brien the former head of St Mary's Hall was found guilty of abusing three pupils but his case was quashed on appeal.

Anthony John, a former music teacher at the school, was facing similar charges but had his case thrown out by the judge. Stonyhurst, near Hurst Green, is run by the Jesuits and has the reputation of being the country's leading Catholic public school.

Judge Openshaw compiled a report on the case in the weeks leading up to the trial after the defence made a request for the charges to be dropped.

He originally ruled for the case to go ahead but was forced to change his mind after it was revealed that Stonyhurst and the Jesuits came to an agreement with the alleged victim's parents.

The family's solicitors had contacted the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for advice and the then assistant director agreed that the unpublicised deal was the best course of action to take. The family agreed not to press ahead with the complaint if Father Earle took early retirement and was no longer allowed access to young boys. There was no admission of guilt.

The case only came to light when Lancashire Police launched the inquiry into allegations of abuse at the school two years ago.

Judge Openshaw said: "Each side had their own agenda. The family was anxious to protect their son from further exposure to Father Earle.

"It is also true they were properly concerned also with the welfare of other boys. I must guard against the dangers of judging the actions of the Jesuits in 1971 in the light of practices and procedures for child protection today.

"However even in 1971 the decision not to inform the police or the social services of the allegations is surely vulnerable to the criticism that the Jesuits gave undue weight to the need to prevent scandal and damage to the reputation of the Society of Jesus and the College." He added: "Although I accept that the non disclosure of information by the police arose out of inadvertence and there is no suggestion whatsoever of a deliberate attempt to mislead the court, in matters of this nature there is a duty to use that degree of care necessary to secure a scrupulous compliance with the duty of disclosure.

"Regrettably this was not done in this case.

"Although the error was detected in time and promptly brought to the attention of the parties and the court, it is self evidently a mistake that should never have happened.

"No doubt there will be an examination of systems to secure against a repetition in some other case."

Detective Inspector Steve Marston, the man in charge of the police investigation, said: "In the light of the judge's comments we will be examining our procedures for bringing information to the courts.

"This information would have had a significant impact on the judge's first ruling and I would apologise for that delay."

Father Michael Smith, a spokesman for the Jesuit order, said: "Obviously we are delighted that these proceedings against a colleague have been halted.

"Father Earle has always denied the charges but we shall continue to look very carefully at our policies and procedures which are designed to protect children in our care."

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