Clergymen had ‘unrestricted access’ to abuse children in care, inquiry concludes

Conor Riordan, PA Scotland

Clergymen at a residential facility had “unrestrained access” to vulnerable children they targeted with sexual and physical abuse, a report has found.

The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry has published judge Lady Smith’s findings into the care provided by the Christian Brothers at St Ninian’s Residential Care Home in Falkland, Fife, between 1953 and 1983.

She found that not only were children exposed to risks of sexual, physical and psychological danger, but those risks also became a reality.

Lady Smith, chairwoman of the inquiry, said: “The overall view I formed of St Ninian’s was depressing.

“It was a place where the Brothers who were perpetrators of abuse could pursue their abusive practices with impunity.

“Abusive Brothers had unrestrained access to the vulnerable children they wished to target.

“That such abuse was possible for virtually the entirety of St Ninian’s existence represents serious failures in oversight, management and governance.

“Fundamental deficiencies in training, and a serious lack of relevant life experiences, conspired to enable dreadful abuse of children, who were supposedly being cared for by the Order, to occur.

“Children were betrayed by serious breaches of trust and, for many, it caused lasting damage.”

During the case study, the inquiry considered evidence about the nature and extent of abuse of children in care at St Ninian’s.

It also looked at the systems, policies and procedures in place, how these were applied and whether the abuse arose from systemic failures.

Hearings in the case study took place between June 4 and July 16 2019, with evidence from 42 witnesses.

These findings are the first in a series of three sets of case study findings in which the residential care of children provided by male religious orders in Scotland is examined.

Lady Smith added: “The Order offered a genuine apology to survivors of abuse at St Ninian’s while recognising that sorry has very little content of itself, and that what really matters is admission and recognition of what happened and that what happened was wrong.”

The report highlights two clergymen – Paul Kelly and John Farrell – have been convicted of serious offences against children in their care from 1979 to 1983.

The abuse of children was found to be “endemic”, particularly between 1969 and the facility’s closure in 1983.

Offences included sodomy and serious sexual assault “of the most depraved kind”, and youngsters being used as inappropriate unpaid labour.

The physical abuse included punching, belting, hitting with implements, kicking, beating on the soles of feet, and being beaten while naked.

Some beatings were carried out in public to cause greater humiliation.

Youngsters were made to engage in sexual activity with each other in groups and in the presence of Brothers.

Lady Smith found the clergymen were not trained to give appropriate emotional support – nor did they have the aptitude to do so.

She highlighted a “systemic failure” in her report that one Brother was allowed to work at the institution despite warnings he should not be placed in a residential setting.

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