Catholic Care Home Abuse Claims Could Cost Millions

By Rob Waugh
Yorkshire Post [United Kingdom]
August 2, 2006

A Former Catholic children's home is facing one of the biggest sexual abuse compensation claims of its kind the country has seen, with 140 men suing for damages likely to run into millions of pounds.

The organisations responsible for running the St William's Community Home in Market Weighton, East Yorkshire, are being held responsible for allowing a brutal regime to run unchecked for nearly 30 years, during which time countless acts of severe sexual and physical abuse were inflicted on some of the region's most deprived and damaged children.

It is understood to be the country's biggest child abuse case centring on a single location. Many of the claimants' cases involve alleged rape which can carry compensation of upwards of £50,000.

Last night, the solicitor co-ordinating the legal action said it was less about money than the claimants receiving recognition for the horrendous treatment they endured.

David Greenwood, a lawyer specialising in child abuse at Wakefield-based Jordans Solicitors, said: "The enormity of the case means there are a large number of men whose lives have been blighted by what happened at St William's. Money won't change that but it will provide recognition of what they had to go through at the home.

"Physical abuse was widespread. It was rare for boys to go through the St William's system without being subjected to cruel punishment. But it appears that certain members of staff there selected boys for sexual abuse as well often under the threat of violence or worse punishment."

The action will be taken against two organisations which came under the direction of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Middlesbrough, the Catholic Child Welfare Society and the Middlesbrough Diocesan Rescue Society, and three branches of the De La Salle Brothers, a Catholic order of lay teachers, which managed the home on a day-to-day basis between the early 1960s and 1992.

The home, which received emotionally and behaviourally-disturbed boys referred from local authorities, was then closed when the scale of the abuse first became apparent. Around 2,000 children and 500 staff had been through its doors.

The former principal of the home, Brother James Carragher, is currently serving 14 years in prison after being convicted in 2004 of systematically abusing boys at the home between 1968 and 1992. He had already been given a seven-year term in 1993 for other offences of serious sexual abuse at the home.

Sentencing him at the second trial, the judge said it had been "as bad a case of gross breach of trust as one can imagine." Det Supt Richard Kerman, the experienced officer who led the inquiry, described Carragher as the "most evil man he had ever met."

The claimants, who were aged between 10 and 16 when they lived at the home, are now based all over the country though the majority live in the Hull and Middlesbrough areas.

But many of the witnesses at Carragher's trial and many of the claimants are in prison serving lengthy terms for serious offences themselves.

Mr Greenwood said: "Almost half are in prison. Although many came from poor, difficult backgrounds and could have ended up committing offences anyway, there are still a disproportionate number in prison. Abuse played a part in damaging young people's lives.

"The claimants I see are grown men. Often they are in tears giving statements, often they are reluctant to come forward in the first place because of feelings of shame and worries about how their families are going to react to them.

"The level of detail is such that in my view there are very few false claims and that's a view shared by the police."

One bone of contention remains the lack of an apology from either the Diocese of Middlesbrough or De La Salle for what happened at the home.

Last night, a spokesman for the diocese said it would "not be appropriate for the diocese to apologise because it would be going over the head of the people who were in day-to-day management of the project."

He added that the impending legal case also made it difficult to issue any apology because of the connotations it may carry in deciding liability.

The spokesman did say: "Without prejudicing the cases, those activities alleged to have taken place are to be regretted very much and there is an awareness that the young men involved have been significantly affected. The number of cases is very high... the matter will have to be worked out in court."

The De La Salle Brothers, based in Oxford, said they had been advised not to comment by their lawyers.


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