Diocese turns to Supreme Court over costs of abuse case

A ROMAN Catholic diocese at the centre of a huge child abuse scandal has formally applied to the Supreme Court in a bid to overturn a ruling that left it facing an £8m compensation and costs bill.

The Middlesbrough Diocese is petitioning the highest court in the land to overturn October's Court of Appeal decision which found the diocese solely liable for the management of the St William's children's home in Market Weighton, East Yorkshire.

About 150 alleged victims of sexual and physical abuse at the home are claiming compensation – the largest historic abuse case the Catholic church has faced in the UK.

The Court of Appeal upheld an earlier High Court ruling that the diocese and not the De La Salle Brotherhood was responsible for the management of St William's.

Although De La Salle, a Catholic lay order, provided staff at the home, the diocese was found liable largely through its power to appoint staff.

The Court of Appeal refused the diocese's initial application to appeal to the Supreme Court but the diocese has exercised its right to apply directly.

The latest legal move will further escalate costs which are already in excess of 1m for the diocese alone. De La Salle's costs are at a similar level and the claimants' costs are about 2.5m. Compensation could amount to as much as 4m, with the entire bill potentially falling on the diocese if it remains solely liable for management of the home.

The diocese declined to comment but David Greenwood, solicitor for the claimants, criticised the move for "a delay which will cause more pain".

The compensation claims revolve around alleged systematic abuse of boys aged between 10 and 16 who were placed at the home between 1960 to 1992 after being referred from local authorities largely in Yorkshire and the North East.

Claims were first launched six years ago, when the home's former headmaster, Brother James Carragher, was sentenced to 14 years in prison after being convicted of 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.

A former chaplain at the home, Father Anthony McCallen, who was not a member of the De La Salle Brotherhood, was jailed for three and a half years in 1993 for offences against children, but these did not take place at St William's.

The legal action includes abuse claims involving Carragher but also many claims against other staff. About 2,000 children and 500 staff were at St William's over the 30-year period. Carragher and other St William's staff were De La Salle members but the claims also include allegations against workers who were not part of the brotherhood.

Humberside Police began a fresh criminal inquiry into abuse allegations at the home earlier this year, with 21 complainants making new claims against former staff.

The force was previously the subject of criticism from the Independent Police Complaints Commission after nine people made complaints over its handling of the investigation into St William's. The criticisms included a lack of resources to fund a large scale inquiry and "a failure to pursue reasonable lines of enquiry which would have helped prove/disprove witness and suspect accounts".

Sixteen officers are working on the current inquiry which is expected to last for at least a year.