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Child Abuse In Catholic Schools: "Everybody Knew What Was Going On"

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A recent article in The Times by its chief travel writer, Stephen Bleach, has brought to the fore the terrible abuse suffered by past students at St Benedict’s in Ealing, West London[1].

At the end of November, Andrew Soper (or Father Laurence as he was known), the man who had inappropriately touched Mr Bleach’s backside after viciously beating him with a cane, was sent to jail after being found guilty on 19 counts of child sexual abuse including buggery, indecency with a child and indecent assault.

Soper is one of five teachers from St Benedict’s who have been convicted of child abuse, and complaints have been made by other former members of staff.  In addition, in 2016, the deputy headmaster, Peter Allott, was convicted of possessing nearly 400 obscene images of children[2].

Abuse in Catholic schools – a dark history

In November 2017, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, headed by Professor Alexis Jay, heard how a head teacher at Ampleforth College, in North Yorkshire invited a young boy back to his study one evening and sexually abused him[1]

Two other pupils have come forward and complained about being subjected to beatings at the school.  According to the BBC report, they were: “beaten in classrooms and in the confessional of the Ampleforth College chapel[2].”

The men said they were also sexually abused by a monk and Father Piers Grant-Ferris, who was jailed for abuse in 2006.

Grant-Ferris smacked boys' naked bottoms while masturbating, put his hands into their underwear, and took the temperature of a child rectally, one man told the inquiry.

The witness said he alerted another monk, Father Justin Price, about the incidents and was told Grant-Ferris had "a problem with boys’ bottoms."

Grant-Ferris - who the inquiry was told was nicknamed "Pervy Piers" by pupils - was jailed in 2006 for 20 counts of indecent assault.  Forty monks and teachers at Ampleforth have subsequently been accused of abusing boys[3].

One of Mr Bleach’s fellow pupils referred to his experience at St Benedict’s, stating:

“When I left I put the floggings, the sexual abuse, the mental abuse, to one side. But it never quite leaves you. I remember, when I was 10, being beaten three times in one day. Four, four and six. What an appalling way to treat a small boy.”

He told Mr Bleach that his main abuser was Father Kevin Horsey, then headmaster of the middle school.  Horsey was well-known for getting boys to sit beside him during PE lessons where he openly touched their genitals. 

Previous inquiries into sexual abuse at Catholic schools have led to former teachers being jailed.  For example, David Lowe, whose abuse of children went back as far as the 1980s at Westminster Cathedral School and Ampleforth School, was jailed for ten years in 2015, after being found guilty of 15 counts of indecent assault against boys under 14 years of age.

Pupils still at risk of abuse

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has stated that children may still be at risk in some private Catholic schools[4].

Riel Karmy-Jones, who is counsel to the inquiry, stated that safeguarding issues were still an ongoing problem and that in many instances church officials were continuing to cover up abuse.

Claiming compensation for historic sexual and physical abuse in schools

Those who have survived sexual abuse at the hands of a priest or a teacher have had their childhood stolen from them.  Many go on to suffer depression, anxiety and difficulty forming meaningful relationships as an adult.

Although there is a three-year limitation period on making a claim for personal injury, this is often lifted in cases involving historical sexual abuse due to the recognition that many victims find it almost impossible to speak of what they have suffered for many years.

If you wish to make a claim for compensation, the most important first step is to contact an experienced child abuse and personal injury solicitor.  They can help you make an application to the court to have the claim heard despite the fact it may be ‘out of time’ under the Limitation Act 1980.   They can also provide expert advice and representation, contact witnesses and obtain medical reports to support the claim.

Compensation can never replace the childhood that was taken from you. However it can help to bring a sense of justice for the pain you have suffered.

At IBB, our personal injury team, led by Malcolm Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to make a claim following historical sexual abuse which occurred at a Catholic School. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at enquiries@ibbclaims.co.uk or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.


[1] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news-review/the-monks-who-stole-my-childhood-wfk5rhk9q?

[2] ibid

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42170433

[4] Ibid

[5] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/forty-abusers-at-catholic-school-w75b7wfjg

[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-42143673

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