Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry publishes fifth set of case study findings

On 11 August 2021, the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI) published its fifth set of case study findings, link here. These findings arise from evidence heard from 43 witnesses at public hearings between 18 July and 1 October, both 2019, on the provision of residential care in boarding schools run by the Benedictine monks of Fort Augustus Abbey between 1948 and 1991 at Carlekemp Priory School, North Berwick, and Fort Augustus Abbey School, Inverness-shire. Fort Augustus Abbey was a member of the English Benedictine Congregation (EBC) for much of its existence.

The findings include that “Children were sexually abused at both schools”, Children were cruelly beaten by sadistic monks at both schools, and some beatings had sexual overtones”, and “Children were humiliated and punished inappropriately and excessively.”

At an institutional level, the findings conclude that “The monks were not trained to look after children on a residential basis. They lacked the capacity and ability to do so. The notion that untrained monks could care for school-aged children was seriously flawed.”  It is observed that “Some children complained to monks in positions of responsibility about being abused. They received either non-existent or inadequate responses.” There is also a finding that ‘A number of monks were serial sexual predators and, because of the movement of monks between Fort Augustus and Carlekemp, they were able to target victims at both schools.”

On record-keeping, the findings conclude that “the Benedictine monks of Fort Augustus Abbey failed to create or preserve relevant records that children entrusted into their care could subsequently scrutinise, and that constitutes a failure in care.

On inspection, the findings note that “The adequacy of inspection regimes generally over the whole period of SCAI’s terms of reference is a topic that SCAI intends to consider at a later stage” but add that “if the gaps in inspection identified did occur, in particular the apparent gap between the 1972 and the 1985 inspections, then they demand explanation.”

Whilst the findings note that “Some children had positive experiences at the schools” and “Many children, whether with positive or negative experiences – or both – went on to lead fulfilling and fruitful adult lives”, they also record that the EBC “acknowledged that children were abused” at both schools and acknowledged that “the monks of Fort Augustus Abbey were a dysfunctional group, incapable of providing adequate care to children.” The findings also note EBC’s acceptance both that “children were deprived of the education to which they were entitled” and “that lasting damage was caused to children and to families because of the abusive regimes that dominated children’s lives” at both schools. The findings also confirm that “EBC offered a genuine apology for the abuse experienced by children entrusted into the care of the monks of Fort Augustus Abbey” at both schools.

As with the previous four sets of case study findings published by SCAI, no recommendations are made in the fifth set. Recommendations are likely to be included in SCAI’s final report to Scottish Ministers. This final report was originally to be delivered by October 2019 but the deadline was extended before the 2020/21 COVID-19 pandemic to “as soon as reasonably practicable” after then.


Frank Hughes, Partner
Fiona McEwan, Associate

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