Ruling paves the way for child abuse claims

St William's School, Market Weighton. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
St William's School, Market Weighton. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
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A ROMAN Catholic lay order must share liability for a multi-million pound compensation claim for child abuse at a former children’s home in Yorkshire, the Supreme Court has ruled.

The De La Salle Brotherhood, which provided staff to the St William’s home in Market Weighton, will have to compensate victims of abuse committed by its members, along with the Middlesbrough Diocese, which had overall responsibility for the home’s management.

The Supreme Court ruled in favour of an appeal from the diocese which had previously been held solely liable. The diocese remains solely liable for any abuse committed by staff who were not De La Salle Brothers.

The ruling clears the way for the settlement of up to 170 claims from former residents at St William’s. Their solicitor, David Greenwood, estimates the total value of the claims, which include the most serious sexual abuse, at around £5m.

But both the diocese and De La Salle are expected to resist some of the claims amid allegations that false accusations have been made.

Humberside Police, which is currently running its third major inquiry into alleged historical abuse at the home, believes widescale abuse did occur at St William’s. However, the force has arrested three people on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice and received a substantial number of further allegations of false claims which are under investigation.

Noel Hartnett, a former member of staff at St William’s, said evidence of 27 alleged victims making false accusations had been sent to the police with more to come.

A number of test cases for the compensation claims may now go before the courts in the new year to establish their validity and a tariff of damages that could be applied to the bulk of the claims.

David Greenwood did not accept false allegations had been made among the 170 claims for physical and sexual abuse at the home, which date back to 1958 and up to the home’s closure in 1992. St William’s took in children between 11 and 18 years old with emotional and behavioural problems.

“It is clear that extensive abuse by staff has taken place at St William’s,” he said. “Since starting the case both organisations who ran the home have attempted to use legal technicalities to evade responsibility, a tactic mirrored in other church abuse cases.

“I have had to witness the distasteful spectacle of seeing the two Roman Catholic organisations blame each other for abuse and this case should have been settled years ago. I hope the recent news events regarding the Jimmy Savile cases and the public’s new understanding of the effects of sexual abuse on victims means that both Catholic organisations are now prepared to reach a sensible negotiated settlement with these victims of abuse.”

So far, only one person has been convicted of sexual or physical abuse at the home despite extensive police inquiries, although Anthony McCallen, a former chaplain St William’s, was convicted of offences committed at his parish in Hull. The Yorkshire Post has also revealed the diocese ordained the late Joseph O’Brien as a priest in 1975 despite his dismissal from St William’s in 1965 for abusing boys when he was a De La Salle Brother.

The home’s former principal, James Carragher, a De La Salle brother, is serving the remainder of a 14-year sentence for serious sexual abuse after previously receiving a seven-year term in 1993 for similar offences at St William’s.

Eight other staff were either cleared at court or had charges against them dropped.

The diocese denied it had sought to avoid or delay compensation payments. A spokesman said: “We appealed this case in the belief that there was an important principle of justice at stake: that those who ran St William’s on a day-to-day basis at the time the alleged abuse took place should share the burden of compensating its victims.

“We are also pleased that, now that the question of who is legally liable for the historic abuse at St William’s has been decided, the individual claims for compensation can begin to be examined by the courts.”

Brother Aidan Kilty, Provincial of the De La Salle Brothers, said the order accepted the ruling and added: “We deeply regret what happened at St William’s and the harm that was done there through the behaviour of James Carragher.”