PEJA, Kosovo (Reuters) - A British former priest wanted for child sex abuse lived as a historian in Kosovo, was treated to cakes by his neighbours and almost died in a freak accident a year ago, local people told Reuters on Sunday.
Lawrence Soper was arrested on Wednesday in the town of Peja following an international arrest warrant.
Soper is accused of sex offences while he was a teacher in the 1970s and 1980s in Britain. British media said the former abbot from Ealing, west London, now in his 70s, had jumped bail in 2011 and a European warrant was subsequently issued.
For the past 4 or 5 years he lived under the name Andrew Charles Kingston in a secluded street near the centre of Peja. He had even started to speak Albanian.
“We were shocked,” said a neighbour, who declined to be named.
“He told me he was a historian writing a book about Kosovo, we even gave him cakes, and meat when we had a barbecue. He told us he had a wife and she died and he was alone living on his pension. A very nice person.”
“Whenever it was sunny he would go on to the balcony to read books. We saw him as a poor person and our tradition says you have to help people who are alone. But we saw in the media that we were wrong,” another neighbour said.
Through the window of the house where Soper lived, fresh bread could be seen in a plastic bag on the refrigerator. Plates had been left to dry on a table.
He told neighbours he had tried living in Kosovo’s capital Pristina but it was too noisy and dusty. He preferred the fresh air of Peja, surrounded by mountains that are topped by snow at this time of year.
Soper nearly died in 2015 when he fell into a basement on a construction site and cut his throat on a metal bar. Neighbours said he lost a lot of blood and was rushed to hospital. He gave the name of someone in Britain to be contacted in the event of his death.
Soper’s secret life ended when plain-clothes police knocked on his door this week.
“Police arrested this person after we were notified that he was wanted on a European arrest warrant,” said Veton Elshani of the Kosovo police. “He was put in detention pending extradition.”
A government source said extradition could take about five months if Soper appeals.
Neighbours wondered why Soper had chosen to live in Kosovo, an impoverished country that seceded from Serbia in 2008.
“We asked ourselves what is good about Kosovo and bad about Britain for him to live here,” said one.
Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; editing by Giles Elgood