The first paedophile to be banned from church because he posed a “significant and real” threat to children was allowed to return to worship and join a choir, it can be revealed.
For decades, Michael Copeland, 75, targeted young choirboys and admitted being “addicted to children” culminating in the Church of England barring him from 200 churches across much of Yorkshire.
Now, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal that Copeland is the scion of a Tory grandee whose family owned the famous Spode ceramics company and the Trelissick estate in Cornwall.
In a case that raises serious questions about how the Church safeguards children, it has emerged that after Copeland moved from Yorkshire to Cornwall he was allowed to worship at a Cornish church despite senior clergy knowing he had been banned from South Yorkshire churches.
The paedophile even appears on a church Facebook page seated in the chancel of the Church of St Feock as a member of its choir in 2018.
This year, he was arrested at his £1.2 million home near Trelissick, which his grandmother, Ida Copeland, a former Conservative MP, gave to the National Trust.
He admitted 15 charges of sexually abusing a boy from age eight to 12 in the 1980s and 1990s and was jailed for 16 years in September. It was the third time he was imprisoned for sexually assaulting young boys. He met all but one through the church.
Despite his church ban making headlines around the world in 1998, he kept secret his wealthy background after changing his name to Cope.
It is understood that the first time he was placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register was in September this year following his conviction at Sheffield Crown Court. He will remain on the register for life.
The safeguarding team at the Diocese of Truro has now said it will review how it handled Copeland “safeguarding agreement” and will be “sharing any learning with the national church”.
They insisted he was only allowed to attend St Feock’s Church near Trelissick because the congregation was elderly and children were not among the congregation.
The church, which dates back to the 13th Century, even bears his family crest in one of the stained glass windows.
A Diocese of Truro spokesman said it was informed in 2018 that Copeland had returned to Cornwall and wished to worship at his local church.
“Following a review by Truro’s Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor and a risk assessment based on the risk factors we were aware of at the time, a worship agreement was implemented.
“Worship agreements (or safety plans) are monitored locally in parish with support from the diocesan safeguarding team, who are professional, qualified, safeguarding professionals. We are fortunate in this diocese to have a safeguarding team which currently includes former police officers.
“As soon as the diocese was made aware that Mr Copeland was again under investigation for historic offences in Sheffield, the worship agreement was rescinded.”
A spokesman for the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team said: “A safeguarding practice review is being led by the diocese and they will share any learning with the national team once that has happened.”
The full story behind the Christian ‘addicted to children’
By Steve Bird and Simon Trump
Every Sunday morning, Michael Copeland would take his seat with the choir on the chancel pews in the ancient Church of St Feock.
Above the immaculately dressed and well spoken chorister was his family crest set in the stained glass memorial window of the Cornish church.
Copeland hid behind his veil of inherited respectability and wealth to inveigle his way into church life to repeatedly target choirboys. He used fake names to try to repeatedly escape his criminal past.
But to his fellow worshippers, he was the respected gentleman whose vast family wealth saw them bequeath their 500-acre Trelissick estate to the National Trust.
It was only when the baritone singer was conspicuous by his absence that the congregation learned the scion of a family which once owned Spode ceramics was a predatory paedophile who became the first person to be banned from 200 churches because he posed a “significant and real” threat to children.
‘Hard to take in how far he has fallen’
Many who attend that isolated church remain baffled why a sex offender was allowed in their midst.
Upon learning of his secret, one worshipper said: “We have been profoundly shocked by this disturbing turn of events. Michael was a pillar of the community and from such a well-known and well respected family in this area. It is hard to take in how far he has fallen.”
Born in Gloucester in October 1948, Copeland spent his early years with his mother, Jean, and father, Ronald, at their Cornish Trelissick estate.
His grandmother, Ida Copeland, born in Florence and the daughter of Italian Cavalier Camillo Feniz and his English wife, Evelyne, daughter of Sir Douglas Strutt Galton, had inherited the estate. Sir Douglas’s wife Marianne was a first cousin of Florence Nightingale.
Ida’s husband, also Ronald, was chairman of the Spode ceramics company in Staffordshire.
Ida, who became a Conservative MP for Stoke in the 1930s after defeating Sir Oswald Mosley, was a close friend of Robert Baden-Powell and a leading light in the Girl Guides movement.
The Spode name was used alongside Copeland throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and was often styled as “Copeland late Spode”. The company stayed in the family until 1966.
Copeland was just four when his father, a captain in the British Army, was killed in a car crash in Egypt in 1952.
Copeland recalled: “To this day, when I see young children that age I wonder how much of their busy lives they will later remember and whether some unforeseen event awaits their family.”
However, he had a far darker fascination with children. As a talented baritone, he joined church choirs, including at Sheffield Cathedral, and amateur operatic groups, to target young boys.
Ten years after moving to Sheffield, where he let rooms in his Victorian house to students, he was jailed for nine months for assaulting three choirboys aged 12 and 13 at St John’s Church in the Ranmoor area of the city.
Two years after his mother died in 1993, he was jailed again for 18 months for indecently assaulting a 12-year-old boy he befriended at a city theatre. Using the name Cope, he confessed that he was “addicted to children”.
At that time, there was no requirement for him to be placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register. The Diocese of Sheffield held an urgent meeting with police and probation officers and concluded he posed a “significant and real” threat to children.
In May 1998, its lawyers ordered him to stay away from Sheffield Cathedral (the parents of choirboys were informed) and more than 200 churches between the Pennines and Goole on the Humber estuary. His picture was circulated with local clergy.
The ban – described by the General Synod as “unprecedented” – became front page news as many questioned whether the church should ban a sinner who may be seeking redemption through Christianity.
Copeland said ban was ‘overreacting’
When Copeland was asked his views, he simply insisted the ban was an “hysterical overreaction” and he would no longer go to church. Instead, he was offered pastoral care at his home and then allowed to worship under a “safeguarding agreement”.
In 2018, Copeland moved back to Penhale House, near both the Trelissick estate and the official residence of the bishops of Truro. The Diocese of Sheffield notified their Truro counterparts of his return, explaining how he wished to attend the Church of St Feock, where his family had worshipped for decades.
But Copeland could not escape his past and in November last year a man in South Yorkshire came forward to reveal he too was sexually assaulted by Copeland.