Bishop's Stortford law firm Nockolds appeals for victims of paedeophile priest Michael Studdert to claim compensation from £4.7m estate
A Bishop's Stortord law firm is co-ordinating the international search for victims of a paedophile priest who lived in the town.
Michael Studdert is suspected of carrying out sex attacks on children in England, Wales, Italy, Poland and Denmark. Nockolds Solicitors is appealing for them to come forward and claim compensation from his estate of £4,717,515.
Studdert, who lived at The Wraglings, off Beldams Lane, made his will in February 2016, 18 months before he died "peacefully" in August 2017 and left the bulk of his assets to EAC Educational Trust. He was 78.
The former priest, Anglican minister and school chaplain set up the fund in 1985 "to relieve poverty and to advance education for the benefit of the public and particularly amongst the families of clergy of the Church of England, single-parent families and other poor families".
However, in a case which has echoes of the Jimmy Savile scandal, Nockolds is central to legal action to ensure the estate is not distributed before any victims have had the chance to come forward. It is understood some individuals have now made contact.
Following court instructions, the Market Square law firm has set up websites in English, Italian, Polish and Danish plus social media content to raise awareness of Studdert's grim legacy.
The judge who made the orders, Chief Master Marsh, said: "There needs to be a reasonable opportunity for claims to be made and a bar on distribution altogether is proportionate for the time being. It remains to be seen how long that bar should remain in place."
Studdert's veneer of respectability as a former Charterhouse School pupil, graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, and 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps disappeared in 1988 when he was convicted of four counts of possessing indecent images of children and fined £4,000 while he was chaplain at Eagle House School, Berkshire.
His clerical and teaching career also took him to Manchester, Fleet in Hampshire and Guildford in Surrey. For most of his life, he lived in Hindhead, Surrey.
In 1996 he was back in court and convicted of attempting to import indecent images of children. He was fined £1,000.
A decade later he pleaded guilty to 26 counts of possessing, making and distributing indecent images of children. More than 100,000 such images were found at his home, including 56,000 on his computer. Of these, 578 were categorised as being level 5 – the most serious.
As a result, in December 2006 he was sentenced to four years in jail and put on the sex offenders register for life. His co-accused was Thomas O'Carroll, the notorious founder of the Paedophile Information Exchange.
As a result of his crimes, in 2007 Studdert was banned from being a Church of England priest.
In effectively freezing his estate, the court has concluded that although he was never convicted of assaults on children, he had strong connections with Poland, where the age of consent is 15, and a family member told Nockolds there were indications he had sexual contact with children there. That view was shared by acting Detective Chief Inspector Neil Thompson in the 2006 case.
He also had links to former BBC Radio 1 DJ Chris Denning, who is serving a 13-year sentence and has a history of sexual offences committed in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
In 2015, two years before his death, Studdert applied to the Crown Court at Southwark in London for permission to spend time with two Polish families who had children under 16. Judge Loraine-Smith refused and said: "The evidence before me shows this applicant is capable of being extremely cautious about disguising his interest in children."
Nockolds has been asked to comment on the progress of its victims appeal.
For more information see https://www.michaelstuddert.org/#home .