Charity begins at home?

Old Boy Chris Mullin – one of my all-time favourite authors, the author of A Very British Coup – wrote an obituary on Joe Homan, the founder of Boys Town:

Joe Homan founder of a network of villages for poor and destitute children in southern India

Homan was educated at St Joseph’s, Ipswich, and taught there later.

I’ve read several old boys accounts of Homan’s conduct at St Joseph’s. They cross-reference with each other and I believe them to be true. They’re disturbing, and seem to confirm the articles below.

The first article, The Queen of Bubble Bath, is by journalist Jon Entine and was published in Brazzil Magazine (date unknown: the date quoted is clearly incorrect). There are other related articles on Entine’s website. It is a critique of the green and fair trade credentials  of Body Shop founder Anita Roddick. Here’s an extract:

In 1987, Roddick began sourcing foot massagers, which she calls “footsie rollers”, made in India at the Boys Town orphanage. In the early 1980s, when Richard Adams was head of the fair trade company Traidcraft (UK), he sourced a different Boys Town product, wood carvings. He soon discovered that Joe Homan, the project’s director, was sourcing the carvings from sweat shops and was molesting the boys. He kept the police at bay by using a slush fund kept full by church agencies that were innocently sending him money.

When Adams found out that the Roddicks had linked up with Homan, he was horrified. He immediately advised them of the problem. “I never heard back,” he says. Two alarmed members of the Catholic order which had kicked out Homan years before also visited Roddicks at their home. Still, nothing was done.

“Gordon was aware of Homan’s reputation,” writes Anne Downer, the former Body Shop head franchisee in Singapore, in a signed, legal affidavit. At the Roddicks invitation, Downer had accompanied the family in India for the dedication of Boys Town. “I slept in accommodations close to where some of the boys lived,” writes Downer. “I was approached by one of the assistants to the project. He informed me about Homan’s behavior and the sexual molestation. He was concerned and extremely anxious that I inform Gordon and Anita.

I remember Gordon saying: “We’ve heard those rumors, but I don’t believe it.” Downer continues: “He didn’t seem unduly concerned and didn’t seem to take it seriously.”

Over the next few years, as Homan went about stealing charity funds and buggering orphan boys, the Roddicks sent out glowing reports to their franchisees. One idyllic account in 1989 reads: “Joe’s work in Boys Town is ceaseless; he cares for the boys and girls and they really appreciate what he is doing for them.” The roof caved in the next year when the story broke in the English and Indian press. The Roddicks first tried to suppress the story and then tried to turn it into a public relations advantage. “This story has not hit the.press yet, but could erupt at any time,” read one memo to employees and franchisees. “It is important that you know your facts. Anita….blew the whistle on Joe.”

The second article is by James Heartfield in 2007: Anita Roddick: prophet of Green Capitalism

This is the relevant piece:

 …foot massagers were made in the Boys Town orphanage in sweat shop conditions while gang leader Joe Homan sexually molested the children (‘Joe’s work in Boys Town is ceaseless; he cares for the boys and girls and they really appreciate what he is doing for them’, said the label);

These allegations have definitely been challenged. For example, there’s this response to it:

Margaret Cianni27 September 2017 at 03:26

This is completely untrue and was proved through the courts of UK. Maybe you feel that the boys worked for little but I am adamant that there was no sexual abuse.

However, a quick internet search revealed that Margaret Cianni is in fact one of Joe Homan’s 12 siblings, so of course she would vouch for him.

I can find nothing online to follow up on this one way or another. I find that a little strange. It’s like most articles relating to this important story have been deleted. Even if a court action was won, it seems odd – Kafkaesque even – that a court victory was not reported on.

However, the authoritative Sunday Times had this to say back in 1995:

Caring Capitalism

The relevant piece:

High among the issues that Body Shop has faced is the controversy surrounding a former Christian Brother who ran the Boys’ Town orphanage in India. Body Shop used to buy “footsie roller” foot massagers from Boys’ Town. It was its first Third World “trade not aid” scheme.

After adverse press reports about Boys’ Town in 1990, Body Shop pulled out. It then resuscitated the “trade not aid” venture at a new facility, Teddy Exports, which employed local teenagers, setting up a hospital and school. But recently dozens of Boys’ Town thugs crossed the road to Teddy Exports. Eleven workers were knifed, two seriously. The woman who ran the project is now home in Ireland, afraid to return. Steve Mitchell, who owns four Body Shop franchises and has worked on both projects, says: “It’s a complete mess. Nobody knows what will happen. This is probably its death knell.”

Boys’ Town has been a long-running problem for the company. Richard Adams, the founder of Traidcraft and director of two “Out of This World” sustainable markets, remembers when he first saw leaflets about Boys’ Town at Body Shop’s stores in 1987. “I was shocked,” he says.

As a Traidcraft director, Adams had carried a different Boys’ Town product, wood carvings. After receiving poor-quality goods, he sent a manager to investigate. He was stunned by the news. “The project’s then director was sourcing carvings from child-labour sweatshops,” he recalls.

When Adams found out about Body Shop’s Boys’ Town link, he wrote to the Roddicks. “I never heard back,” he says. Over the next few years glowing reports went to franchisees about Boys’ Town. “We have the power to change people’s lives for the better,” Roddick wrote.

I have no way of knowing what the final outcome was. If anyone knows more, I’ll happily post it. Certainly The Sunday Times took it seriously. Homan’s behaviour in India – if these accounts are untrue – may well have been very different to the serious allegations I’ve read about him from old boys in the UK.

Chris Mullin is a patron of the Joe Homan Charity, which is the principal funder of the Boys Town Society, and I see its website continues to portray its founder in a very positive light.

Two things made me feel I really must post something about this. Firstly, I understand the notorious predator Brother Solomon paid a visit to Boys Town when he ‘went to work in the missions’.

Secondly, I read a recent article about a similar, modern day organisation, ‘Street Kids International.’

FORMER SENIOR UNITED NATIONS OFFICIAL FACING PEDOPHILIA CHARGES IN NEPAL

It would seem that missionary work abroad with vulnerable kids does create obvious opportunities for criminal abuse by what we all hope is a minority of sick individuals. The reassuring ‘one rotten apple’ premise.

When it does occur, I feel there’s also the sense that in the developing world, ‘these things go on, unfortunately.’ It’s other. It’s ‘somewhere else.’

However, I also believe, based on my own recollections of my Catholic childhood and as a St Joseph’s old boy, that similar alleged behaviour, under the guise of charity and helping vulnerable children, also happened in the UK.

Of course I’m aware that there are plenty of media accounts of organised abuse in the UK that would easily bear this out, but this is a personal perspective.

From my own childhood recollections and my investigations into Catholic individuals in positions of authority at that time, I’d say there were a lot of rotten apples in that barrel back in Ipswich in the 1960s, that it was organised and endemic, and it had some similarities to these alleged crimes in the missions.

It was like the same ‘template’ was being used by abusers: offer education and advancement to the poor; but at a price.

Of course, as an old boy, if your dad was a fireman, a cop, an accountant, a war hero, a merchant, or whatever, you’re possibly going to say, ‘I have no idea what Pat’s talking about. I don’t remember anything remotely like that happening. I doubt very much it could have happened. In particular, organised abuse could never have happened.’

Lucky for you – because these cowardly predators would leave you alone for fear of physical or legal retribution. They only go for kids at risk, who don’t have a dad or a strong parent to protect them.

There are already on this site a considerable number of accounts of individual abuse, mainly at St J’s. Shocking as they are, they still – just about – fit the reassuring, ‘it was only one rotten apple’ scenario.

Even though, in themselves, they are still a damning indictment, a cause for concern, and surely require a response and an acknowledgement from the De La Salle Brothers that such crimes took place.

In my view, and from my research, they are the tip of the iceberg.

My research is still ongoing but I hope to update more on all this in due course.

If anyone has any knowledge or insights into organised Catholic abuse in Ipswich in my era, I’d love to hear from you.

Needless to say, it can be private and confidential, if you prefer. Thanks.

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4 thoughts on “Charity begins at home?

  1. Thanks for linking to The Guardian’s obit. From his photo I am sure that I never met Homan. It is predictable that Mullin (not exactly a Tory) would use the obit to castigate the parents of boys who paid to attend the De La Salle College in Ipswich. Far more selfish of the parents doing that than spending their wealth on real estate, consumer goods and foreign holidays do you not think? If I recall correctly Mullin (like the blond-haired Brian Eno who was in the same year) was a Day-Boy and there was always a rift between the Day-Boys and the Borders. We Boarders looked down on the as we termed them Day-Dogs for being part-timers and yokels – especially had they the Suffolk accent; they did not obtain the full benefit available skiving off as they did at around 4pm. As it happens I feel somewhat sorry for the Day-Boys for many of them would have been far better placed had they attended a Secondary Modern learning a trade and merely dragged-down the school which with its Grammar-style sylabii which was somewhat beyond most. No wonder the Rev Brother James was prone to losing his formidable temper. Strange school aspiring to be a public-school whilst frequently performing no better than a sec-mod: a whole made of two unassimilable parts.

    Body Shop also receives a mention: doesn’t Body Shop receive criticism for unethical practices but being run by a girl is thus beyond criticism. Charity to the third world is in my view colonialist-lite in its nature and used by those who practice it to virtue signal whilst personally receiving greater benefit – which is what Homan said. In that sense there may be little difference between Roddick of Body Shop and Homan of Boys Town.

    A lot of bleeding-heart virtue signalling going on in that Obit – but then it is The Guardian.

    • Thanks for your latest, Opus. Actually Chris Mullin was a boarder (he came from Chelmsford). On the subject of lefties, did you know John McDonnell was at St J’s in this time, quite possibly when you were there? You might even have been friends!!

      I haven’t checked back on exactly when you were there, but we might well know each other, given that you recall Brian Eno. Talented artist before he became a musician. He was in the year above me. I was there 1960-1964. B stream. Ginger hair.

      There were lots of very successful day boys. I’d estimate it was an equal split academically with just as many day boys getting gold testimonials as boarders. I do recall boarders being more competitive than us day boys. So when I beat a border to some school prize, he said jealously, ‘You must have had a shit summer to have done all that school project work.’ Bad loser, I’m afraid. I’m not sure you could divide it between boarders aspiring to be public school boys and day boys who might be better going off to secondary moderns. There are so many exceptions either way. A boarder ‘yokel’ with a broad and slow Suffolk accent comes to mind, who we did take the rise out of because of his accent. He dreamed of driving his dad’s tractor on his farm, but I recall he was actually rather bright. Your generalisations are very sweeping and potentially hurtful.

      The Day-Dogs made me laugh! I’m sure you guys must have called us that, although I don’t remember. Maybe the boarders didn’t dare call us that to our faces, in case of retaliation. However, growing up on a council estate – Chantry just over the road – I do remember very clearly that there was never any boarder snobbery towards myself or other kids from the estate. That so impressed me at the time because we were aware of the potential. The only exception, the only snob, was Bro James, who pointedly asked me where I lived and sneered when I told him. A moment I shall always remember because he was so different to everybody else.

      I was surprised myself by the obituary – given that these allegations about Homan are well known and Chris Mullin has a truly impressive investigative background (Birmingham Six).

      I’d be interested to know what other old boys think about it all.

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