MORE than 80 people have come forward to make allegations of sexual and physical abuse at a former Catholic-run children’s home – but very few, if any, are likely to result in criminal charges, the Yorkshire Post has learned.
Humberside Police said the force had received complaints from 83 people in relation to alleged abuse at the St William’s children’s home at Market Weighton, East Yorkshire.
However, the chances of criminal charges are slim with police expressing concern that withdrawal of co-operation from a significant number of alleged victims, on the advice of a law firm dealing with a multi-million pound civil action for damages, has effectively ruled out the possibility of prosecutions.
It has also emerged that police are investigating allegedly false claims of abuse and that three people have been arrested on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice. Several more allegedly false claims are under investigation.
The current investigation – Operation Reno – is the force’s third major inquiry into allegations of serious sexual abuse at the home in the last 20 years but so far only one person has been convicted of offences committed at St William’s.
In all, 18 former members of staff at the home, which closed in 1992, have been interviewed as part of Operation Reno over allegations of sexual abuse. Of those, 14 files were sent to the Crown Prosecution Service but only two remain “live”.
Colin Andrews, who is leading Operaton Reno, said: “I can confirm a large number of files sent to the CPS have not been proceeded with despite the fact the victims stand by their allegations because the victims have withdrawn their co-operation on the advice of their lawyer.
“It’s a frustrating and disappointing decision and means they won’t have the chance to tell their stories to a criminal court.”
He said the situation represented an about-turn from the beginning of the investigation more than two years ago when Wakefield-based Jordans solicitors handed over information on up to 40 cases.
Solicitor David Greenwood is currently handling around 140 compensation claims for alleged sexual and physical abuse at St William’s between the 1960 and 1992.
Mr Greenwood declined to detail the rationale behind the advice provided to the alleged victims. In a statement, he said: “This important case has involved complex issues. Nevertheless I am committed to obtaining fair compensation for all my clients.”
One of the two suspects currently remaining under consideration is understood to be James Carragher, the home’s former principal. He is serving out the remainder of a 14-year sentence for serious sexual abuse at St William’s after previously receiving a seven-year term in 1993 for similar offences at the home.
Carragher, a former member of the De La Salle Brotherhood, a Catholic lay order which ran the home, remains the only member of staff to have been convicted of sexual or physical abuse at St William’s.
Eight other staff were either cleared at court or had charges against them dropped.
Humberside Police may not be able to charge Carragher again as the Crown Prosecution Service may decide it is not in the public interest to seek a third conviction for similar offences.
If no one is charged with abuse, the force may find itself in the awkward position of having spent significant amounts of time and money for little end result.
But Mr Andrews said: “I have never met anyone on this inquiry who doesn’t believe there was persistent sexual abuse going on at that home.
“But our job has been a search for the truth, not simply to support evidence for a prosecution.
“This has been one of the most complicated jobs I have ever dealt with because of the legal complexities, the child safeguarding issues and the age and nature of the offences alleged.
He added: “In my opinion there is sufficient evidence to meet the prosecutors’ code but it’s a matter for the CPS whether they wish to proceed.”