Police have obtained a European Arrest Warrant for a Catholic cleric accused of historic sex offences who failed to answer bail.

They have gained the warrant for Father Laurence Soper, who is wanted over allegations of child abuse dating back to when he taught at St Benedict's School, a private independent Catholic school which is part of Ealing Abbey in west London.

Fr Soper, who was abbot of Ealing Abbey from 1991 to 2000, was believed to have been living in a monastery in Rome, and was due to return to London to answer bail in March last year.

However he failed to show up, sparking a police hunt for him.

Scotland Yard said that in June 2010, a man now in his 40s made a historical allegation of sexual assault relating to his time at the school.

Fr Soper, 68, was arrested in September 2010 on suspicion of historical sexual assault, and bailed to return to a west London police station pending further enquiries but failed to appear.

A spokeswoman said: "Officers have made extensive enquiries to trace him without success and a European Arrest Warrant for his arrest has been obtained.

"It is believed he may be in Italy and officers are appealing for anyone who may know of his whereabouts to please make contact on 020 8246 1901; if you wish to remain anonymous call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111."

It is not the first time the school has been in the headlines. In October 2009 a Catholic priest referred to as the "devil in a dog collar" was jailed for eight years over a string of sex attacks on boys.

Father David Pearce was jailed at Isleworth Crown Court after pleading guilty to a series of indecent assaults and sexual attacks on five young boys, four under 14, at St Benedict's School over a period of 36 years.