ROLL OF DISHONOUR

Thanks to NW1 for your comment about Brother Kevin, which I talk about in my post In The Lasallian Tradition 3. I admire your diligence in trying to hold Kevin and the order accountable for their crimes.

Here’s my thoughts on the subject. Firstly, I wonder if any other old boys viewing this site had a similar experience with Kevin. If so, and they are prepared to disclose, that could be useful to NW1. I know one old boy told me recently about Kevin’s violence, but not sexual abuse. That is not so unusual in my experience; the old boys who leave their recollections here only recall Brother James’s violence, but I have a memory of another, far darker side to his character.

My own memories of Kevin are actually positive. He taught me Latin one to one and was a good teacher. But I was aware that he would stare at me intently and I felt he had some unfulfilled agenda with me. I talked about this with my wife several times over the years, long before I read NW1’s post. It could be summed up as ‘Kevin knows something about me I don’t know’ or ‘He’s thinking a lot about me, but I don’t know why.’ It wasn’t threatening, but it was a very strong and unsettling feeling. I may have had a lucky escape.

The challenge we all face, which NW1’s post demonstrates so clearly, is that many (but not all) of the Brothers and teachers we are concerned with are now probably old, sick, demented or dead, even though the order is very much alive and well and seems oblivious to its criminal past. It’s like it never happened, which I believe is what they want us to feel about our own experiences. This is born out not just by what happened at Birkfield, but also in many other De La Salle schools. It makes for grim and sad reading, as I’m sure most readers of this blog are aware. But they only seem to claim in court – when one of their number is being sentenced – that their hearts go out to the survivors. When they’ve been fetched. Otherwise, I think they would just like us to go away.

Here’s such a case. It concerns a different Brother James, a Brother James Carragher who ran a Catholic home for disturbed boys in Humberside and admitted 12 charges of sexual and indecent assault. He was jailed for seven years. One of the boys tried to kill himself because of the Brother’s attentions:

Brother Sean Sellors, a spokesman for the De La Salle Brothers, said Carragher had betrayed the order.

“We totally condemn, without reservation, any action or behaviour which harms young people,” he said.

“During his trial James Carragher said that he was ashamed of what he had done and that he had failed to live up to what he professed.

“His behaviour has been a deep betrayal of the Order’s mission to the young and to the trust that was placed in him as a De La Salle Brother.

“Our hearts go out to those who were victims of abuse and to their families in this case,” he said.

Read full news report here.

Fine words. The order will doubtless claim they cannot speak out equally strongly about Birkfield, where young people were also harmed and betrayed because it hasn’t come to court and it’s on the advice of their insurers or lawyers. That would be convenient. That would mean that, like other parts of the Catholic Church, they are controlled by lawyers and insurance companies. By Suits, who seem to have no sense of shame, and put the requirements of Mammon far ahead of their clients’ Christian ‘mission to the young’. So there’s only acknowledgement and empathy when clerical collars are being felt. When the security of their own order is at stake. The selfishness and hypocrisy of this needs no further comment from me.

I think one way to break through their shameful wall of silence is to have a Roll of Dishonour, a blacklist of those who were provably criminal abusers. So their names are no longer held high in lying eulogies (like Brother James) but are down in the gutter where they belong. So their names are sullied forever more. It’s a lot easier than spraying graffiti on their headstones, which I seriously considered at one point. (I was so angry at the time, I hired a private detective who found out all about a clerical abuser and where he was buried and gave me the plot details.) But a Roll of Dishonour will reach a lot more people.

If the idea appeals and has merit, readers may want to put up their own Rolls of Dishonour, or there may be a place elsewhere on the web better suited to the task. But below is my Roll of Dishonour. All these individuals I know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, are provably abusers of children; although only one – Father Jolly – is provably relevant to me. There are other names mentioned by other old boys in past posts – a lay teacher for example – but I wouldn’t want to add names without their approval.

So I’ll wait to hear from NW1 to get his go-ahead to add Brother Kevin, although he does seem like a prime candidate.

If you have first hand knowledge or proof of other past abusers at Birkfield and would like them added, do say. Bear in mind, this blog does appear near the top on related web searches, so it will rightly impact on an organisation that has harmed so many children.

The current regime at Saint Josephs is unconnected with these terrible events; a famous old boy pointed out to me recently how very different and better they are today; I’m sure they are, but that’s not the point. They are still proudly proclaiming in their advertising and on the school entrance that they are ‘in the Lasallian Tradition’. They presumably want prospective pupils and parents to think it is a good thing to be associated with a past where criminal abuse was endemic, as the pages of this blog show – and I clearly recall. To me, that’s like saying ‘in the tradition of the Krays’, because they did some good, as well as far more harm.

The – I’m sure unintended – subtext of ‘in the Lasallian Tradition’ to old boys like myself is that the abuse doesn’t matter that much. Or it only happened to a few of us and the good outweighs the bad. Or it wasn’t really that bad. Or it was all a long, long time ago. Or it’s not really a crime unless we can actually prove it in court, and anyway the allegedly guilty monk is now dead. Or ‘that’s life, get over it’. And many of us did, although we still bear the scars. I met a once distinguished national journalist who was a St Joseph’s and Oak Hill old boy and a broken alcoholic and client of Mind (the mental health charity). He described his traumatic experiences at the school to me, and he didn’t ‘get over it’.

The strong connection to the Brothers is still there, not to mention the scholastic records, the uniforms, the mottos, the traditions and so on. And there are numerous other current links to a dark past – e.g. the Kearney chemistry prize, which honours the memory of a sadistic, vicious chemistry teacher from my day, who I will write about another time. It is not a brand new school, it has an infamous heritage, with which it is still associated, and wants to be associated with. Why not disassociate themselves from the negative aspects, with an expression of regret for what happened to so many past pupils? It’s not a matter of it being ‘unproven’ anymore. Particularly in the case of Brothers Solomon and James. And Brother Kevin. The order’s own records I’m sure will confirm what so many of us have described, if they won’t do us the courtesy of believing our numerous written statements which cross-reference each other and bear out we are telling the truth.

If the De La Salle Order or the local Catholic diocese (because the diocese surely has an over-arching responsibility for its Catholic members) are similarly wondering what to do about it, an expression of regret might also be a first step. Assuming the Suits that control them, or they hide behind, will permit it. It’s never too late to do the right thing.

 

ROLL OF DISHONOUR

St Joseph’s College, Birkfield, Ipswich, Suffolk.

Time Span : 1960s to 1980s

 

 

  • Brother Solomon aka Mike Mercado, ‘the Swinging Monk’. Sexual abuser.
  • Brother James. Physical abuser.
  • Father Jolly. School Chaplain. Sexual abuser

 

 

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IN THE LA SALLIAN TRADITION 3

I wanted to write a new post in response to further comments on my About page from St Joseph’s old boys Nick and NW1 – thanks guys, and great to hear from you both.  I have appended NW1’s comment at the bottom of this post, because I think his story is incredibly important and I think it’s proving valuable for all of us who survived a dark period in the school’s history. Hitherto, it was unacknowledged, and I’m sure is still denied. Actually, just ignored.  But the sheer number of witnesses coming forward and confirming what happened makes a provable case.

For some of us it will be a catharsis; the knowledge that we were not alone in what we experienced or witnessed. For others it will be a resource for confronting whoever should take responsibility for these crimes and, at the very least, acknowledge them. Whether that is the De La Salle Order, its inheritors who claim they are still “in the Lasallian Tradition”, or the Catholic Diocese, remains to be seen.

I’d imagine there would be a certain amount of buck-passing and “no comment”, based on what I’ve read so far. The idea that a supposedly moral organisation that claims to care for its followers cannot speak out, on the advice of lawyers or insurers, is shocking and shameful. This would mean the Church or its relevant branches is controlled by lawyers, insurers and bankers. A fine Christian example.  I have the impression that they think if they say nothing and keep their heads down, we will all just quietly go away.

I certainly won’t. My particular viewpoint is that I believe abuse was organised and endemic in my parish in the Catholic Church in the 1950s and 1960s and presumably it went much further afield. I believe it was a way of life and, worse, it had a sick belief system to justify it. I have some evidence already to back this up and the comment by NW1 about Brother Kevin also points in that direction.

For me, the one rotten apple in the barrel idea (or in the case of St J’s, it’s about 5 rotten apples so far and counting) simply does not stand up to scrutiny.  They want us to believe this was the case – it was just one or two bad guys, whereas the rest were exemplary. Not so. Even though, of course, there were decent teachers there who we may remember with respect and admiration.  But they weren’t that decent, because they looked the other way when everyone knew what was going on. Everyone. They knew, and it’s to their shame they said nothing.  I was a day boy, so my knowledge and experience was restricted, but we still knew much of what was going on.  In a sense, the crimes of Solomon/Mike Mercado are so outrageous they obscure some of the others. The account about Brother Kevin, for example.

So, do please add your voice if you feel it will be useful to you. It will certainly be useful to me.  I’d  love to hear more from you and I’m sure that applies to other old boys who read this site.

 

Comment from NW1 on 17 September.  Read all comments on my About page (most of which are St Joseph’s related) here.

Hi there. Have just stumbled across this blog, drawn to it by a Guardian story I read this morning about child abuse in a Suffolk school, which I initially thought referred to St Jo’s but I then realised was about another Catholic order.

Just a quick comment of my own regarding St Joseph’s, Birkfield, and also Oak Hill, the prep school just down the road. I was a pupil at both between 1967 and 1974, when I was expelled mid-way through the year. As I was mid-way through my lower sixth, they allowed me to complete my studies at St Peter’s, in Bournemouth.

Many of the Brothers’ names mentioned in other posts are familiar to me and other boys used to talk about them as “homos” at the time, but I have no proof of this.

In my case, I was sexually abused by Brother Kevin, a diminutive shit who was at OakHill when I started there before transferring to Birkfield later in that year. My abuse began while I was at the prep school. Kevin was in charge of the boarders and used to summon me, as well as other boys, to his bedroom after lights out.

After he moved to Birkfield, Kevin used to come down to Oak Hill on Sundays, seek me out and try to abuse me in the biology rooms. The abuse continued when I moved to Birkfield myself and during my first year there, during which time I was a boarder in one of the dormitories in the so-called 55 Wing. Kevin, whose room looked out on one of the dormitories, continued in a similar vein as before, summoning me and others to his room after lights out.

He was transferred to France at the end of that school year (1968) but returned to St Peter’s, where I re-encountered him after my expulsion from St Jo’s. Inexplicably, he was once again in charge of the junior boarders. By then, I was too old for him, so was left in peace. I have no doubt whatsoever that he continued to abuse kids there. Sickeningly, the young boarders’ section included kids who wee six or seven years old.

About 20 years ago, I reported my abuser to the police in London and he was briefly detained, made a partial admission and was released on bail pending further inquiries. The next time he was interviewed he showed up with a solicitor and denied everything. He was never charged.

Simultaneously, I sued the Order in 1996 and after six years they settled out of court in return for me signing a confidentiality agreement which I suppose I’m breaking today. The settlement just about paid for seven years of therapy. However, the Order refused to offer an apology because to do so would imply that they were culpable. Even today, 15 years later, that refusal to admit what happened and apologise for it – despite paying me compensation – makes me feel incredibly angry.

I remember I went up to Oxford in the mid-90s to confront the order at its “Mother House”: they didn’t seem remotely surprised that Kevin was in the frame as a sex abuser. I mentioned another brother, (AKA Squealer) who I was fairly certain had abused children, although I did not have 100% definitive proof. They effectively admitted he too had been an abuser and it was suggested to me that I should consider whether giving his name to the police would be worthwhile as he now had dementia. I did name him to police but nothing happened to him either.

While I was at St Peter’s, there was another Brother – Cyril – who was in charge of the middle year boarders (3rd and 4th year). He too was talked of as an abuser by some pupils, although I did not have any personal knowledge of this. Cyril became head teacher at another school in Southsea, was subsequently charged and cleared of sex abuse.

Three years ago I was contacted by police in Dorset who had received another complaint of abuse at the hands of Brother Kevin by a pupil at St Peter’s. Dorset police managed to track down my name and other details from the 90s and I went through the another set of interviews, filmed this time, and waited several months before the CPS decided not to go ahead with a prosecution, again. My evidence and that of the other person were not considered credible enough.

I’m aware of several other kids who were abused during my time there, also by Brother Kevin. I once met up with one of them many years later. He and another lad were abused a year or so before me and I still remember him telling me that when Kevin started on me he felt jealous a being supplanted by someone else. There was also talk about several other Brothers being abusers while I was at Birkfield, including Squealer, but I have no personal evidence of that. It does make me wonder whether they had their own little circles and agreed not to poach kids from each other.

Almost 50 years later, the abuse still affects me. My entire personality has been affected by the experience and I know I will never be free of what happened. But I’m glad others are talking about it publicly here and in one or two other corners of the Web. It’s about time the Order was forced to face up to what so many of its members were doing. It should make a public apology. I would also like to all the abusers brought to trial. I’d be happy to work with anyone here to make sure that happens.