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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Boys Town

Thanks for the latest, Opus. I really enjoyed reading your recollections.

I know Homan started a Boys Town in India, so it must be the same one.  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/12/joe-homan-obituary

I’ve read a most  disturbing account of his conduct at St J’s – think it was at Oak Hill. And also accounts by an investigative journalist linking him to a Body Shop scandal. Cheap labour and worse. I keep meaning to write to the journalist to ask for confirmation on a couple of points.  I also believe that’s where the notorious Brother Solomon headed one time.
So I was disappointed to read fellow old boy Chris Mullin singing Homan’s praises in The Guardian, especially as i’m a huge fan of Chris’s novel and film, A Very British Coup.
I believe these days, if someone said they were going to set up a ‘Boys Town’, they’d be locked up. Thus there was a very recent case of a paedophile who was one of the founders of  ‘Street Kids International.’
I think I remember seeing Lawrence of Arabia with the school and the Brothers flinching at some of the scenes. There was an implied rape – that could have been it.  They also flinched and blushed when they took us to see Guns of Navarone and a woman’s naked back was revealed. Understandable – all these kids watching them for signs of human weakness. The pressure must have been terrible!

 

–Pat

Pat,

Whether my memories are correct or even materially fair (and I obviously think they are) is something I cannot judge.

I thought then that you might appreciate on perhaps a largely lighter note though not unsexually related my further reminiscences:

1. The new chapel had just been completed and was shortly be opened. On a morning on exiting from the dormitories, was, to be seen flying high from its spire, a pair of knickers. How the roof of the chapel was ascended (and descended without injury) and who was responsible for the prank and indeed from where the pair of knickers had been obtained remained a mystery.

2. Aside from being Head Master, Elwin Gerard was, when I was about fifteen in charge of the dormitories in the main house which was where I then resided. In a room on the ground floor was a monochrome television set and chairs for viewing. It being a Saturday night we would crowd into the room to watch whatever the BBC were providing by way of entertainment. On the occasion in question the Beeb had imported in from the United States a light entertainment series featuring the comic actor and singer Mr Danny Kaye. Some way through the show came what would surely turn out to be a comic sketch: it commenced with the camera tracking the back of a woman with long blonde hair and the accompanying music was of the type associated with strippers. The woman’s back was bare. Elwin Gerard who was watching with us promptly jumped up and switched off the television set ordering us all to bed. I will thus never know what the joke was for surely a joke which I would long have forgotten was coming and had Elwin Gerard not been so hasty I think we would have discovered that the woman was a man, Kaye himself.

3. At a time when Lawrence of Arabia was a justly popular film a White Father who was the brother of one of the monks (John?) visited the school, talked about his work in North Africa and to our great delight demonstrated how he put on his arab-style robes. I was told decades later that he was later convicted of indecent assault upon his charges whilst in India at a place known as Boys Town. Would that be right?

4. My little brother was at Oak Hill from the age of just nine commencing at the beginning of the autumn term. When he returned at Xmas my Mother said (later) that she no longer recognised him as the same happy-go-lucky little boy whom she had sent off some three months earlier.

5. I was a boomer and that meant that at that time there was by reason of increased birth-rates pressure on places in schools and thus schools could become a law unto themselves. It was also the case that the La Salles were not able to recruit sufficient men to their order and thus appear to have taken any man who was willing to join them. Certainly the calibre of many of the monks – as teachers – left much to be desired. From my point of view this was to the good such that by the time I reached the dizzy heights of the sixth-form none of my teachers were monks and (I was also studying outside the school and thus was semi-detached from it) a majority of my teachers were not even Roman Catholics. To a large extent then the Brothers faded out of my life for apart from being in Ipswich a fair amount of the week I ended my career at Birkfield living in the little lodge by its entrance where we were without any form of supervision. Neither being a Prefect nor playing in team sports (I never took to Rugby and became bored by Cricket) and by reason of one task I performed happily from the age of fourteen until I left and which gained me access daily to the lay-Master’s Common Room such that I had a good relationship with them I was by then left to my own devices.

–Opus

Magnum Opus

Thanks for the latest, Opus.

You have such great and detailed memories, I hope you won’t mind me putting them in their own blog post. I believe in full transparency, something I was personally denied as a kid by the Catholic system. So fire away without risk of censorship.

Everyone’s experience is different and, just as I have no doubt your recollections are true, I think you might assume that the recollections of others, including myself, are also true. Many of us haven’t met since school days yet our recollections dovetail with each other. And what would we possibly gain by lying or exaggerating? You only have to look at the number of De La Salle Brothers who have faced the courts for abuse to see it’s most unlikely we are fantasising or guilty of misandry. Brothers like Solomon (who you’d have missed) were so notorious there are endless accounts of him as an abuser, including when he returned as a lay teacher after your time. Thanks to Solomon I have a deep love of classical music, but – as a day boy – I luckily escaped his predations.

Like you, I have positive memories of Brother James as a maths teacher. I was so thick where maths were concerned, but he knew how to get through to dense kids like me. I admired his zeal, too, as you describe below. I think I saw him as a kind of role model, even a father figure. But there was another darker side to him, not just his well-known psychotic anger. This darker side also needs recording – particularly for those of us who experienced it.

So many survivors suppress their truth and could be discouraged to come forward by scepticism such as in your posts. I hope not. Only by acknowledging the truth does it set us free.

I notice from your previous post and this one that you’re personally very critical of Brother Elwin. I wish i could remember him better – rimless square glasses, looked like an intellectual, rather aloof? It feels like you were personally ‘burned’ by him, just as other old boys were burned by other brothers.

Because nothing awful happened to you or people you knew, doesn’t mean it couldn’t possibly happen to others. Predators often go for kids who are vulnerable in some way. That may be why you escaped and others didn’t.

I think this site and others like it are a valuable catharsis for survivors. I know this to be true from their responses to me in private e-mails. Most of the brothers are now dead or infirm, but the terrible damage they caused lives on in the survivors and this site provides a useful outlet for our anger, pain and grief.

Judging by recent private correspondence with old boys, I suspect there is much worse to come from other survivors.

At school many of us were forced to keep our mouths shut about what was really going, I certainly was. This site is a way for us all to speak out to ensure the DLS Brothers’ past crimes are well known.

However, I realise there’s also a positive and human side to many of them who, like you, I admired and this is worth noting too. So do please carry on with your critique.

–Pat Mills

The proprietor of this blog having kindly published my above and not altogether in agreement with the tenor of this blog comment and I having had the opportunity to re-read the various comments on this and other threads thought that I might trusting not to try his patience too much make a few further comments which I trust might be of general interest:

1. My own late little brother who left some lengthy autobiographical writings and who attended both Oak Hill and Birkfield as a border does not once mention violence or sexual behaviour by the monks although when as a nine-year-old he broke his collar bone whilst skating during the long winter of ’63 and doing so where he was not supposed to skate he was in mortal fear of their anger: For twenty four hours yet in great pain he failed to seek medical help for his injury and his injury only came to light when some other boy went to the monks. My parents should have sued the order in Tort for negligence but they came from a generation where any person in a position of authority was seen as beyond criticism. My brother does write that once in an Ipswich cinema a stranger (male) attempted to touch him-up. I am certain that had my brother been aware of inappropriate monk behaviour he would have written of it.

2. I refer to Brother Kevin who first taught me some French (the language, I mean). Once aged eleven or twelve I managed to overturn a desk on to my right foot exacerbating a previous injury to my middle toe. I am not sure why i did not attend sick-bay but he assisted me in his room in the 55 wing (which I do not recall as having any visual access to the dormitories – it being across the corridor). He having patched my foot and far from cross with me as he might have been for my foolishness lent me his right bedroom slipper, my own right shoe now being too small given the bandaging to my foot. He asked that I return the slipper in due course. I never did yet I do not know why i did not do so.

3. In the Sixth form I sat next to a boy whom I will not name but with whom I became friends and who joined the school following his expulsion from another local school. He did not and would not give the reason for the expulsion. We all of course assumed what that reason must have been. Is this not to the credit of the La Salles?

4. The school was very violent, yet most violence was boy on boy and it was other boys – bigger, older – that terrified me (as an eleven year old) far more than the monks. Whether it was any different from other schools I cannot say.

5. In my year there were two boys loathed and detested by the remainder of us – they should have been expelled. Both were predatory homosexuals – and I do not for one second believe that propensity was caused by the monks. As a result they were on the receiving end of boy violence. A third boy who I also much disliked was I learnt much later of the same persuasion.

6. In the media, Headmasters can do no wrong yet in the early 1970s a couple of the Dailies (the Mail and Express, I think) ran articles criticising Elwin Gerard. He, of course, doubled-down and having the support of the order ignored the criticism. I forget what it was that had incensed the press. Haircuts?

7. A year younger than me was a boy by the name of George Phillips. He was likable, slightly overweight and had just passed eleven O’levels and as such was a shoe-in for Oxbridge and probably also Head Boy. One day at the beginning of term Elwin Gerard passing him ordered Phillips to get a haircut – not that his hair was in any sense long. Phillips refused and on the spot Phillips was expelled. I appreciate that a head master can not allow his authority to be treated lightly but this was stupidity on the part of Elwin Gerard – especially as Phillips was his star pupil. Happily for him Phillips had the support of his parents who he explained to me were increasingly concerned about Elwin Gerard’s running of the school. St Joseph’s loss would have been the gain of some Six-form academy.

8. One day Elwin Gerard came into class somewhat speechless and informed us that he had just interviewed the mother of a boy named Masters and that the said mother had then accused Elwin Gerard of sexually assaulting her. None of us boys believed such an obviously insane accusation.

9. The regrettable arrival of girls at the school also produced a Nun and this nun seemed to spend inordinate amounts of time in the physics Lab with a monk – Cecil?. Were they? We thought so. On the arrival of the first batch of four girls it was only a day or so before one of the four girls found her way predictably down to one of the lodges which of course was out of bounds for females. The boys who slept there were of course blamed. I blame firstly the La Salle’s for their stupidity and secondly the girl – not the boys, the La Salle’s blaming the boys for the free actions of the strong and empowered girl.

10. I refer again to Brother James; he was my first form master. It is said elsewhere here that the monks did not care for black people. I beg to disagree: I will never forget (to cut a long story short) how in consecutive weeks I parted with my entire pocket money at James’ suggestion and encouragement (doubtless following yet another blue testimonial) for the black babies. One can never ask for change when giving charity and being shamed by James (in front of the entire class) for meanness was something I wished to avoid. In the third week when again encouraged to give reparations to the Africans I sat on my hands and have since that time avoided all forms of charitable giving. My parents did not pay my pocket money just so that it could be given away!

11. On the subject of money a perusal of the appropriate school magazine will reveal Elwin Gerard (at speech day) berating parents for not yet having purchased his new school uniform and where he implies that all parents are rolling in money as if money grows on trees. I think that revealing as to the true attitude of the (unpaid of course) La Salle monks. Catholicism frequently looks much like Marxism – an ideology of envy. My parents and especially my mother went without for the sake of what passed for my education whilst wrecking the family’s finances.

12. In one of his nightly exhortations – we were then about fifteen years of age – to us standing on and around the Birkfield staircase we were informed as usual that although we were irredeemably bad and hell bound that had we any complaint or information of which the head master should be aware it was our duty to report the matter to him. Some days later I led a deputation of boys to Elwin Gerard as some matter I now long forget was I felt of sufficient importance that it needed to be reported. They always shoot the messenger do they not and on explaining myself to Elwin Gerard I was irate-ably dismissed and informed to stop causing trouble. The hypocrite!

Men are leaving the teaching profession in droves as boys are feminised. Is not the attack on the :La Salle brothers whatever their failings just thinly disguised Misandry?

–Opus

 

BROTHER JAMES – A Survivor’s Story

Pleasure is to mingle with study, that the boy may think learning rather an amusement than a toil. Tender youth is to suffer neither severe thrashings nor sour and threatening looks, nor any kind of tyranny, for by such usage the fire of genius is either extinguished or in great measure damped.

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey 1473-1530

 

This is an account by an old boy of St Joseph’s College, Birkfield, Ipswich, Suffolk, UK, of an assault by Brother James Ryan, De La Salle Brother, and “Prefect of Discipline”.

It is not an isolated attack on a child. There are numerous accounts of Brother James’s crimes recorded earlier on this blog. Primarily physical assaults and one further sexual assault.

 

This one has me tonight in all its horrible glory. I spent years of therapy with a psychologist with CASA here (Centre for sexual assault). Many breakthroughs were made, but not this one. This has got me by the balls at the moment.

What I am going to do is sit here and write it down and get it right in my head. I know from experience that to get it out of your head onto paper is half the battle. Then there has to be some form of forgiveness and I am not religious.

The other way these things manifest themselves is in a physical way. I have a rotten back and remembering this sort of trauma just sends it into spasm causing horrendous pain.

It may help you and others and me, of course.

I have been through so much of this shit over the last two or three years with this Australian Royal Commission and the press throwing it out on a daily basis. I have not been involved in it, but it is really in your face all the time and I do have friends that are in it. Fortunately I have great friends and support and that works both ways. My partner hates me going through this but she has agreed to do the editing etc., meanwhile stating that she won’t like it but she will do it for me to make sense for everyone.

Sexual abuse comes in many forms and with sadism it makes it a lot worst. As we put it out here, “he was a fair bloody bastard”. (I love this country with swearing as part of the culture) Just after I left St Joes there were two teachers from Ipswich School Prep charged and convicted. They did not have the protection of Holy Orders. Head Master Mermigan did have some good points it seems. Both my older brothers went through similar violence at Ipswich School and put it down to post traumatic stress syndrome.

I am not so sure, I think that the worst of these predators joined priesthood or orders so that they could live out their sickness. They may have had their networks as well.

I was 16 when I went to sea and there I met equally violent ones, even worse because, as junior ratings, we ranged in age from 13 1/2 to 18. The nastiest bastard was an ex brother of some sort, he was Irish and hard, very dangerous. Petty bullies at best, dangerous at worst. It was bad but we were allowed to fight back.

Enough said of the side tracking because I have a bit of work to do and it doesn’t come easily to me.

I was very disruptive in class, which is a sure sign of someone crying out for help and safety, how the hell I survived, I have no idea. Many will remember me like that and that is fair enough. I hope I didn’t mess their education up too much. If I did I am sorry.

I do not resemble the person I was before. I am positive and happy (most of the time) but I always remember that to not deal with this stuff as it comes up can open the floodgates to all the negativity and swamp me to drowning point. Thanks for being there and co-ordinating peoples chances at recovery.

I was to be beaten, for what I do not remember. I think it was to be four with the cane. He did not go about this with his usual out of control. This was calculated for maximum effect. This was a new one. He told me he would beat me in three or four days’ time. Good terror tactic in his sadistic mind.

The day came and I think it was lunch time and he called me into the hall. He locked the door and led me to one corner well out of any possible chance sighting of anyone who could possibly see in. He told me to take my trousers down and bend over to touch my toes. I didn’t take my underpants off and he started to get a bit nasty and made me take those down as well. He was very controlled after that. He was breathing heavily. I was told that on no account was I to turn round at any time or he would increase the punishment. This guy was lethal with a cane when you had clothes on.

The first stroke was full swing but the next stroke did not come for an eon, one or two minutes. I made the mistake of looking round. He lost it a bit and the next one was harder and with the threat of additional strokes. He was breathing very heavily and I realized he was masturbating between strokes through the pocket in his cassock. He really took his time. I don’t remember whether it was nine or more. I was in agony.

When it was over I was threatened that if I ever told anyone he would make my life more of a misery than it already was.

He was also smiling in a way that I had not seen before.

There may have been more like this but I hope there were not.

I remembered the beating but not the rest until reading some of the blog. It’s funny what things jog your memory. Like most survivors of sexual assault, you know that something is there but I could never get at what it was.

This happened to me in another assault. When I was finally told about it I instantly remembered the incident vividly. I remembered what was said and by whom and I was very young at the time. It was as if I was marked as fair game after that. People like James can pick it in a child. That closed the book on another phase of my life. It was as if all the cogs finally slotted into position—-for a while. I didn’t know about others at school and they not about me. There were rumours.

My lovely partner asks me why I have to keep digging and not let the past be past and move on. She sees what it can do to me and she has to watch as I consume myself, hoping that I can pull out of it, which sometimes I only do by the skin of my teeth. She supports me and puts up with it maybe understanding or not. She has that gift of character that enables her to move on and I love her for it.

I hope to God that there is not more. I enjoy life and I really don’t need this shit but if me putting this down can help me it might also help others. We have lived with this long enough. It is time to deal with it and move on. I am not religious in the sense of organized dogma and cultism but I firmly believe that there is some greater purpose to human existence. What it is, I have no bloody idea. Each to his own. South Africa and Rwanda have given us a lesson saying that forgiveness of some kind will enable us to be alive again. I find that hard but it is something to work on.

I am alive unlike many who were unable to live with it.