A paedophile priest says he preyed on children for four years AFTER his evil perversions were revealed to a senior member of the Catholic Church.
Today the Chronicle can reveal Adrian McLeish alleged in a letter to a fellow priest that the former Auxiliary Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle Owen Swindlehurst knew he could be a danger to children five years before he was caged.
He claims at least one other priest knew of his link with child porn.
He alleges he was even promoted from a junior priest in Wallsend to a fully-fledged priest in Durham where he preyed on children for four years.
The evil priest was jailed in 1996 after admitting 12 charges of abusing boys under 14 and six of distributing child pornography.
Today the Catholic Church hit back at the allegations saying there was nothing to prove that the Church knew.
Its spokesman admitted it was "impossible" to say the bishop, who died of cancer in August 1995, had not known of the child porn image from McLeish's computer.
But families of the pervert priest's victims claimed McLeish's words proved a senior church official knew and should have acted.
The mother of one boy said: "From the paedophile's own mouth does he say that his evil tastes were known to at least one senior Church man.
"We believe more should have been done, years of abuse could have been avoided if action had been taken. Instead he went on to destroy my family and those of other young boys."
The allegation follows a landmark payout two months ago by the Catholic Church to families of victims of the perverted priest.
They issued a writ against the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle after alleging the Church knew of his secret. They claimed he was moved from the parish in Wallsend, to St Joseph's, Gilesgate, Durham, to cover his past.
The Church, which has always denied any prior knowledge, paid them £10,000 damages each without admitting liability.
That settlement protected it from any liability for
McLeish's actions and put an end to legal moves.
The claims in McLeish's letter also come after the Catholic Church issued new anti-paedophile rules in an attempt to stop another such atrocity.
The letter uncovered by the Chronicle was written by McLeish while on remand at the end of May 1996 Fr Tony Battle of the Holy Family RC Church in Hylton, Sunderland.
McLeish was awaiting sentence in Durham jail after confessing a month before to a series of child abuse charges.
In his letter to Fr Battle he reveals how in 1991 he abused his first child and details how his taste for sexual depravity grew .
He reveals in spidery handwriting that burglars tried to blackmail him after stealing a video from his Wallsend church.
McLeish wrote: "My time at Wallsend ended badly. In my confusion I had tried to destroy all my pornography but apparently one computer printout of a pornographic picture involving two boys came into the hands of a local funeral director, who gave it to a local priest who confronted me with it.
"He knew I was very close to a couple of lads including the one on whom I committed the abuse, but accepted my cowardly protestations of innocence.
"I went to see Bishop Owen, who let the move - the promotion to St Joseph's in Gilesgate, Durham - go ahead."
A year after receiving the letter Fr Battle handed a copy to lawyers representing the victims' families.
Fr Battle said: "I wrote a very angry letter, full of outrage, trying to make him see how vile his actions had been. It seemed he was trying to win sympathy when all the sympathy should have been with his victims.
"The letter I got back was his explanation."
Fr Dennis Tindall, child protection officer for Hexham and Newcastle diocese, said: "Whether Bishop Swindlehurst knew about the picture is one of the things it is impossible to find out, but in talking to McLeish I would say he was not as forthright with the bishop as he should have been.
"I am pretty certain he did not see it and if he had the consequences for McLeish at the time would have been different.
"The diocese in its investigation into the matter is clear Bishop Swindlehurst acted in good faith and conversations I have had with McLeish back that up.
"The families understanding is that the Church knew about this, my understanding is the reverse."
The Catholic Church was rocked when McLeish was arrested in 1995.
The charges followed the seizure by police of four computers which McLeish had in his presbytery at St Jospeh's to store 6,000 photographs and images of children.
Two of McLeish's victims were nine when he sexually assaulted them. Another boy was assaulted for four years from the age of 10 while the fourth, was abused from the age of 12 to 14.
McLeish, from Newton Aycliffe, Co Durham, was arrested by Durham detectives after a tip-off from a German internet user prompted an American investigation.
The priest, now 49, was freed after serving just two years of a six-year sentence and is believed to be living in the south of England.
Sick Paedophile Priest Adrian Mcleish's Child Porn Network