A wealthy Catholic religious order of men is being urged to settle damages claims brought by victims of abuse at five of its children’s homes in Scotland before they die.
The call came after it emerged the De La Salle order, some of whose monks were convicted in court of sexual and physical abuse, is now pursing former volunteer managers of schools, claiming they should also be liable for funding the compensation payments.
The order won a legal battle to take the action but now those volunteers have appealed the ruling, meaning former residents are no closer to receiving compensation for their ordeals.
Dozens of elderly volunteers across Scotland, mostly now in their 80s and 90s, could face lengthy and expensive court proceedings over who should be held accountable for paying claims.
Victims and their lawyers criticised the De La Salle action and the delays it is causing to their claims.
Robert McEwan, 68, from Sauchie, Clackmannanshire, who was abused at St Ninian’s school in Gartmore, Stirlingshire, said: “The managers didn’t beat us and abuse us. It was the monks who did that.”
Colin Matthews, 70, from Dundee, who was sent to St Mary’s, Bishopbriggs when he was just 11 years old for playing truant, said: “It’s disgusting that an extremely wealthy Catholic order which has properties and assets worth millions of pounds, are trying to wriggle out of doing the right thing.”
Another victim of abuse at St Ninian’s in the early 70s said he was “disgusted but not surprised” at the latest delays.
The man, now 58, said: “I had a meeting with Brothers from the De La Salle order just last week where they apologised for what happened to me, but then said they were not liable as the school was run by a board of managers.
“I couldn’t believe what I was being told and clearly informed them that no school manager had ever abused me.”
The De La Salle order, worth an estimated £60 million in the UK, first began legal arguments that they should not be held wholly liable more than 15 years ago.
They claimed that they merely supplied teachers and the running of the five residential schools, St Mary’s, Bishopbriggs; St Joseph’s, Tranent; St John’s, Springboig; St Ninian’s, Gartmore; and St Mungo’s, Ayrshire; were the responsibility of school managers who they regarded as “employers”.
Many were senior figures in their local church or community who visited the schools just a few times a year.
Rulings by Scottish law lords, and hearings in the Supreme Court, have swung between excluding the monks from blame to ruling they and the managers should share liability.
Now Scotland has removed the three-year timebar rule which prevented victims of historical child abuse making a claim for damages, the issue of who should now be held responsible has returned.
Frank Hughes, senior partner at solicitors BLM, who represents the De La Salle order, refused to discuss the case when contacted by The Sunday Post this week
But in an email to lawyers acting for victims, he said: “There is an apportionment litigation ongoing between the order and the managers (under the 1961 regulations).
“My clients have succeeded at first instance but this has now been appealed. The date for the appeal is awaited.”
Abuse claims lawyer Cameron Fyfe said: “Scottish victims waited decades for a change to the law which did away with the three-year timebar restriction on making child abuse claims, and this latest move will simply continue to delay claims for even longer.
“Many victims have suffered so badly as a result of the abuse they suffered, a number have already died. There is a very real fear amongst those who remain that they may not live long enough to see their claims being settled.
“The moral thing would be for the order to settle the claims and give victims justice at long last.”
Mr Fyfe said that victims of sexual abuse would have “six figure claims”, and those who suffered physical and psychological abuse could expect to claim around £50,000.
He said: “If the De La Salle order wish to squabble about who should be liable, they can do that later.”
Solicitor David Greenwood, executive officer of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, said the order had attempted to use the same tactic in English cases.
He said: “Their argument was that they did not employ the monks and they were a group of individuals who were not affiliated.
“It was the monks who were calling the shots day to day and it is ludicrous to suggest otherwise.
“The order are now arguing timebar here in England, but they can no longer do so in Scotland.
“This is a religious order who we believe are worth around £60m in the UK.
“We do know they set aside funds of around £12m to settle cases here, but have so far paid out just £10,000 to one victim of abuse at the St William’s children’s home in East Yorkshire.
“We have over 200 claimants, but we’ve already had around 20 victims who have died waiting for justice.”
One volunteer who received a legal letter from De La Salle lawyers was former Renfrewshire MP Tommy Graham, who died in 2015. His widow Joan, 75, said: “Tommy spent his life helping people who could not help themselves.
“He told me, because he’d been a councillor and he’d come to know Cardinal Thomas Winning, he was volunteered to St Ninian’s.
“I actually accompanied Tommy to St Ninian’s several times, and remember very well meeting the monks who were always there and certainly appeared to be running the place.
“We never saw or heard anything untoward or Tommy would have immediately have done something about it.
“Tommy was angry that he and other volunteers were being pulled into the scandal, especially as he’d thought he was doing a public service.
“I remember him getting legal letters which upset him,” she added.
“He’d be speaking out today if he was still here.
“Tommy would be most angry for the victims, but he’d also be annoyed for the volunteers being unjustly held to blame.”
Alan Draper, a former advisor to the Catholic Church on child abuse issues, said: “In many ways organisations like this used these so-called managers as figureheads who had very little to do with what actually happened day to day in those schools.
“Those people naively trusted the organisations, they relied upon them to behave responsibly.
“I’m very sure these people, many of whom will be very elderly, now feel betrayed.”
Both the De La Salle order and the Catholic Church in Scotland refused to comment when contacted by The Sunday Post.
Lawyer Tanya Gordon, who acts for the managers of the schools, said: “This matter is currently before the courts and so it would be inappropriate to comment before the conclusion of the proceedings.”
These monsters who destroyed our lives must be held accountable
Arthur McEwan, 66, and his brother Robert, 68, from Sauchie, Clackmannanshire, were repeatedly physically abused by monk Michael Murphy, while they were at St Ninian’s, Gartmore.
Murphy – who was known as Brother Benedict – carried out a reign of terror there including vicious abuse, beatings and administering electric shocks to children.
Murphy, 85, was twice convicted of abusing boys at two schools – St Ninian’s and St Joseph’s, Tranent.
He was jailed for just a year for the first conviction in 2003 but was then sentenced to seven years in prison in 2016 over a string of abuse at St Joseph’s from the 1970s until 1981.
Arthur became the only victim to be awarded £50,000 damages against the monk in 2004, but because his lawyers argued that he had taken a vow of poverty he paid nothing.
Arthur said: “I was sent to St Ninian’s at the age of nine for stealing the equivalent of 25p to buy food at dinnertime because I was starving.
“Murphy and the others were monsters who destroyed our lives with their vicious abuse.
“It wasn’t school managers who tortured and abused me, it was Murphy – and the De La Salle order must be held accountable if there is any justice in this world.”
Murphy, who was also found guilty of 15 charges of abuse and indecency at St Joseph’s, where he had been sent after St Ninian’s.
One victim lapsed into unconsciousness when Murphy administered electric shocks to him, and another boy who was sexually abused told the court he had been warned he would never see his parents alive if he told anyone what had happened to him.
But alleged victims were furious when further charges against Murphy were dropped because of “administrative errors” in Crown Office paperwork which had not been corrected on three occasions.
Teacher Charles McKenna was 84 in 2003 when he was sentenced to two years for sexually abusing boys at St Ninian’s.
Night watchman James McKinstrey was 74 when he was also jailed for two years at the same trial for sexual abuse at the school.
Seven other men from St Ninian’s were reported by police to the Crown Office but proceedings were only taken against Murphy, McKenna and McKinstrey.