Lawyers have vowed to fight on with a long-running, multimillion-pound compensation claim over alleged sex abuse in a Catholic children’s home in East Yorkshire, despite losing three out of four first “test” cases.
A total of 249 men have lodged claims against the Diocese of Middlesbrough and the De La Salle Institute which ran the St William’s children’s home in Market Weighton.
They claim to have suffered sexual abuse there and, in one of the largest joint compensation claims against the Catholic Church, potential payouts could run into millions of pounds if successful.
Five men gave evidence during the recent civil claim hearing involving St William’s and were cross-examined by lawyers acting for the defendants.
But today a judge at the High Court in Leeds ruled on the first four cases and only one was successful.
Judge Mark Gosnell ruled against three of the claimants, but awarded £14,000 in damages to the single successful claimant. His ruling is expected on a further, fifth case, in January.
David Greenwood, from solicitors Switalskis, who has been pursuing the cases since 2003, said he will seek to appeal against the judge’s decision on the unsuccessful claims.
Outside court, he said: “I would say, obviously, on the central issue of whether it happened or not, there was compelling evidence given by all four, all five, of these claimants, and that should be the main issue that we are talking about.
“Disappointed that the judge did not see through all these arguments about minor inconsistencies but this is a skirmish, we will win the ultimate war. There are 245 cases still to go, so I’m very confident we will succeed.
“There was a lot of sexual abuse going on at St William’s and these boys deserve justice.”
Earlier this year, the former head of St William’s, James Carragher, was jailed for the third time after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys.
Carragher, 75, had already been sentenced to 21 years in prison for sexually abusing boys when he was jailed for a further nine years in January.
He was jailed for seven years in 1993 and a further 14 years in 2004 for offences he committed at St William’s, which closed in 1992.
Co-defendant Anthony McCallen, 69, a former chaplain at St William’s, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for a series of historical sex offences.
The jury heard how McCallen had also been convicted before - of abusing two boys in the 1990s when he was also found in possession of indecent photographs of boys, some of which he took through spyholes as they showered and used the toilet.
The criminal court cases heard how boys had been placed at the school because of difficult circumstances in their lives and were among the most vulnerable in society.
Another set of compensation claims is expected before the High Court sometime in late 2017.
This evening, a victim of alleged abuse at the home spoke of his heartbreak and frustration at the ruling.
Darren Furness, of Leeds, is one of 249 men who filed for compensation after saying they were abused at the St William’s before it was closed in 1992.
He has campaigned vigorously for a full public enquiry into what happened here, securing more than 100,000 signatures and the backing of Leeds MP Hilary Benn.
“I’m distraught,” said the 48- year-old. “To all the victims I know, this is a massive kick in the teeth. It’s taken 31 years to get to this point today - and the pain and suffering and misery for us victims still goes on. I don’t know where we go from here. But I will take the Catholic church on, I will carry on fighting.”
Mr Furness said, while today’s hearing was about compensation, it was also about securing an acklowedgment that what had happened was wrong.
He had been living at St William’s over a 10 month period from the age of 17, he said, and what happened to him here has impacted on his life ever since.
“I’m heartbroken,” he said. “I’m disappointed in the whole British system.
“How can people be convicted of abusing boys in their care, owned by the Catholic Church, and yet we can’t get justice at all because of a time issue.
“This fight is not about money, it’s about recognition of what happened at St William’s. They were there to protect these boys and yet they were abused.
“It’s destroyed my life - but it’s not about me. It’s about 249 boys and probably many more. It’s also about hundreds of thousands of people who have been abused by authorities and it’s still covered up today.”