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.

Advertisements

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