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St Ninian’s: Lives of boys at Fife school were ‘dominated by three serial sexual predators’

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Boys at a school run by a religious order in Fife lived in fear of attacks by serial sexual predators who had unrestrained access to their victims, a judge has found.

A report by Lady Smith, published on Wednesday as part of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, said vulnerable boys were raped, beaten and humiliated at the former St Ninian’s Residential Care Home run by the Christian Brothers near Falkland.

Lady Smith said the abuse went on for virtually the whole of the school’s timespan between 1951 and 1983.

Three predators contributed to horrors

And she said three serial sexual predators in particular had contributed to the reign of terror endured by children, many of whom had already suffered trauma and neglect before arriving at St Ninian’s.

“Abusive Brothers had unrestrained access to the vulnerable children they wished to target. That such abuse was possible for virtually the entirety of St Ninian’s existence represents serious failures in oversight, management, and governance,” she said.

“Children were betrayed by serious breaches of trust and, for many, it caused lasting damage.”

The Christian Brothers – a worldwide religious community within the Catholic Church – set up a school for orphans and homeless boys in the House of Falkland, an imposing mansion surrounded by woodland about a mile from the village.

The House of Falkland, formerly St Ninian’s Residential Care Home.

The abuse began almost immediately, the inquiry heard, with the earliest account of a sexual attack being provided by a boy who attended the school between 1953 and 1955.

Lady Smith said over the years “the abuse was pervasive, and it became normalised”.

The St Ninian’s case study is the first of three relating to residential care of children provided by male religious orders in Scotland.

It named Brother Gerard Ryan, who died in 2013, and former Brothers John Farrell and Paul Kelly, who were jailed after a High Court trial, as the most prolific predators.

Between them, they subjected boys to horrific ordeals over a period of 14 years – from late 1969 up to the school’s closure in 1983.

Children pulled from beds

Former pupils said Ryan would “creep around” the younger boys’ dormitories at night, and children were pulled from their beds to be abused.

He told one boy he raped he would not see his parents again if he spoke about what happened.

In evidence, survivors recounted brutal physical violence they suffered at the Falkland school.

Frank McCue, who is now involved in supporting others abuse survivors, said he was targeted in the 1970s and told of one sustained and prolonged attack during which he was hit with a golf club with such force the metal head snapped off.

Lady Smith.

Lady Smith said: “The physical abuse included punching, belting, hitting with implements, kicking, beating on the soles of feet, and being beaten while naked.

“To increase a child’s humiliation, some beatings were carried out in public.”

Lady Smith’s findings paint a grim picture of boys living in constant fear and unable to escape.

‘The whole thing is a massive cover up’: survivor’s anger after inquiry into abuse at Fife boys’ school

‘Runaways were beaten upon their return’

“Brothers who acted as housemasters also had rooms in the dormitory area and had
ready access to children,” she said.

“In one of the shower areas the batwing doors to the shower cubicles, which would have allowed for some privacy, had been quite deliberately removed.

“The showering areas were locations where the sexual abuse of children ranged from
voyeuristic practices to more direct sexual contact, including rape.”

Boys at St Ninian’s regularly tried to run away because they were scared of subsequent attacks, she found.

“Runaways were beaten upon their return,” said Lady Smith.

“On occasions these beatings involved several Brothers. No serious attempt was made to discover why a particular child had run away.”

Children at St Ninian’s were also forced to carry out unpaid labour, which the report described as “not age-appropriate”.

Lady Smith said there was a “systemic failure” which allowed the abuse to continue.

“The transfer to St Ninian’s of two Brothers against whom allegations of sexual
impropriety with children had been made – Brother Raphael Gavin and former Brother John Farrell – was a systemic failure at the organisational level,” she said.

“It allowed these Brothers to sexually abuse children at St Ninian’s.

“A clear warning that John Farrell should not be placed in a residential school was ignored.”

She added: “The Order offered a genuine apology to survivors of abuse at St Ninian’s while recognising that ‘sorry’ has very little content of itself, and that what really matters is admission and recognition of what happened and that what happened was wrong.”

Kim Leslie, a specialist abuse lawyer at Digby Brown Solicitors, said: “We have acted for numerous survivors affected by abuse at the hands of the Christian Brothers and I hope this report encourages others to step forward and secure their own justice and recognition.

“This report rightly shines a lot on the horrifying campaigns of abuse children while in the care of the Christian Brothers.

“These physical and sexual attacks were utterly horrific and life-changing and permanently harmful to those who were subjected to them.”

The Christian Brothers have been approached for comment and have yet to respond.