Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry publishes fourth set of case study findings

On 17 February 2021, the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI) published its fourth set of case study findings.

The latest findings follow evidence heard at Phase 4 of SCAI’s public hearings between 4 June and 16 July, both 2019 on a residential care home, St Ninian’s in Fife, run by The Christian Brothers, a male, Catholic, religious order. The findings cover the period between 1953 and 1983. A link to the findings is here.

Lady Smith, a Scottish Judge and Chair of SCAI, finds that St Ninian’s was “a place of abuse and deprivation” where sexual abuse was “endemic”, “normalised” and “of the most depraved kind”. Other physical abuse was also routine, with the Brothers not recognising “any boundaries to their physical abuse of children, subjecting them to what can only be described as serious criminal assaults.” Emotional abuse “involving denigration and humiliation” was also, “for many, debilitating in the long term.”

On a structural and organisational level, “there were obvious deficiencies at St Ninian’s from the outset. Those responsible for the care of children in this residential setting were ill-equipped for the task.” It was “apparent from the visitation reports that the deficiencies in the regime were well recognised by the Order” but “they were not acted upon”. The Brothers who were perpetrators of abuse “could pursue their abuse practices with impunity” and had “unrestrained access to the vulnerable children they wished to target”. Lady Smith concludes “that such abuse was possible for virtually the entire existence of St Ninian’s represents serious failures in oversight, management and governance.”

Many of the children were too scared to make reports of the abuse at the time. Nonetheless “some did manage to report the abuse … to a variety of people including … police, social workers and the Children’s Panel” but “these serious reports by children, which called for proper investigation, were not taken seriously or investigated.”

Lady Smith makes the point that she has applied the civil standard of proof, balance of probabilities, rather than the criminal standard of proof, beyond reasonable doubt, when assessing the evidence and making her findings. Nonetheless, two former Brothers, Paul Kelly and John Farrell, were convicted  in a criminal court in 2016 of serious offences, including serious sexual assault, against children in their care in the period 1979-1983. In addition to Kelly and Farrell, Lady Smith finds that there was another “serial sexual predator” at St Ninian’s, Brother Gerard Ryan who died in 2013. Further findings are made that the transfer of Kelly and another Brother, Raphael Gavin, to the home “despite the Order being aware of the previous allegations against them, constitute serious systemic failures at an organisational level … The clear warning that Farrell should not be in a residential school was ignored; this was an incomprehensible systemic failure.”  

The Order’s “approach to keeping records for children in its care was inadequate. Any records kept were not safeguarded and retained … This failure in record keeping and record retention constituted a serious failure in care.”

No recommendations are made in the findings. Lady Smith will take the findings into account at a later stage when analysing systemic failures and deciding what recommendations to make.

Phase 6 public hearings on the abuse of children in boarding schools remain postponed at present because of the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions and will be rescheduled “as soon as possible.”

The total cost of SCAI, which began work in October 2015, to 31 December 2020 was £40,946,729, with £2,714,509 expenditure incurred between 1 October 2020 and then. SCAI will release updated cost figures on or around 15 April 2021.

Frank Hughes,  Partner at BLM
Fiona McEwan, Associate

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