A CATHOLIC priest was due to appear before Blackburn magistrates today on 66 sex charges as part of a police probe at a prestigious Ribble Valley preparatory school.

Father John James Pearson, 87, faced 20 charges when he appeared in court last week.

Today the Jesuit priest was accused of a series of indecent assaults and acts of indecency against children.

The charges include 21 indecent assaults on a male under 14, 19 alleging gross indecency with a male, 12 indecent assaults on a girl and nine acts of gross indecency with a female.

Pearson is also accused on three counts of taking an indecent photograph of a child and one of possessing an indecent photograph of a child.

Pearson, 87, from Winckley Square, Preston, was due to have his case committed to Preston Crown Court where he will stand trial in the new year. The charges date back to 1973 and are linked to St Mary's Preparatory which is a feeder school for the Jesuit run Stonyhurst College. Pearson taught at St Mary's Hall in the 1970s.

He first appeared at Blackburn magistrates court in April and has been on bail throughout the inquiry.

The Ribble Valley college is one of the top Catholic public schools in the country. The charges were brought as a result of a long running police inquiry named Operation Whiting.

Eight other men, including three other Jesuit priests, are also facing indecency charges.

The former head teacher of St Mary's Hall preparatory school has been charged with a further sex offence.

Robert O'Brien, 56, is currently awaiting trial on six charges of indecently assaulting boys under the age of 14 at the Stonyhurst school between 1972 and 1998. O'Brien now faces one further charge of indecent assault.

O'Brien, who was suspended following the launch of the police investigation, took early retirement last year.

O'Brien was bailed to appear at Blackburn Magistrates' Court tomorrow and his trial is due to take place at Carlisle Crown Court on January 4.

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