LONDON — A man believed to be Chaim Halpern, a London rabbi, was arrested Wednesday morning in connection with investigations into sexual assault and perverting the course of justice.
The London Metropolitan Police will not name him, but the man appears to be Halpern, a former religious judge for the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, who has been at the center of a sexual abuse scandal that has roiled London’s Haredi community since October.
Three more men were also arrested Wednesday morning on suspicion of perverting the course of justice in the case. They are all in custody at a north London police station and may be held for up to 48 hours without charge.
One is believed to be a brother of Halpern.
According to the London Metropolitan Police, all the arrests were made at addresses in the borough of Barnet, which includes the Orthodox suburb of Golders Green, where Halpern is a resident. The main suspect is 54; the others are 64, 62 and 25.
Last month, a religious court convened by the UOHC began deliberating on the case of Halpern, who has been accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with approximately 30 women who came to him for counseling and religious guidance. The judges were due to reconvene in early March.
Halpern is a member of one of London’s most prominent Haredi families, and attempts to force him out of his public positions have deeply divided the community. Although he resigned as a religious judge and rabbinic adviser to several London institutions in November, he continued to serve as rabbi of his own synagogue. In December, five senior London rabbis issued a public statement declaring him “not fit and proper to act in any rabbinic capacity.”
After months of public silence, Halpern recently went on the offensive, earlier this month securing a high court order for Google to identify the IP address of the owner of Ifyoutickleus, a blog that has covered the case closely, as well as the IP addresses of more than 20 commentators on the site. His lawyers claimed the comments were defamatory.
The London Metropolitan Police’s Barnet Borough Commander, Adrian Usher, said: “In Barnet, we are currently working with members of all our communities to ensure the voices of victims of abuse are heard. My message to those victims is simple: Come forward and we will listen to, support and believe you.”
Three other men, aged between 25 and 64 years, were also arrested, on suspicion of perverting the course of justice in relation to the first man. One is believed to be a brother of Halpern, while another is understood to be a member of the Charedi community's watch group.
Police said the arrests followed an investigation by the Sapphire Unit at Barnet Police Station investigating claims of sexual assault.
While the police have refused to identify the men, several community sources named Halpern as the man detained on suspicion of sexual assault.
News of the four arrests will further feed the infighting and ill-feeling currently gripping London's Charedi community. A former religious judge for the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, Halpern became embroiled in a sexual abuse scandal in October, after he was accused of sexual misconduct with dozens of women who came to him for counselling and religious guidance.
Barnet Borough Commander Adrian Usher made a special plea for victims of abuse in the community to come forward, saying: "My message is simple: Come forward and we will listen to you, support you and believe you."
Halpern, who hails from a prominent Charedi family, was forced to resign many of his communal positions, but he continued to lead his Golders Green shul, to the consternation of other synagogues.
The UOHC, which has been roundly criticised for its handling of the case, belatedly set up a religious court to hear the case, which began deliberating last month. However, events may now overtake them, with police having until Friday morning to charge or release the men.
Victims of sexual assault or sexual abuse are asked to contact the Sapphire Unit Incident Room at Barnet Police Station on 0208 733 5062 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.