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No real news yet, but I wanted to let everyone know that the issue is ongoing.
It’s now with the RLSS – the new Safeguarding organisation that represents the De La Salles.
Just to remind you, here’s what their predecessor, the SCOE, said
on the 15th July in a somewhat guarded response to my enquiry:
I have been waiting for confirmation on the outcome to the investigation
following receipt of allegations made against Bro Laurence Hughes (LH).
De La Salle (DLS) in the near future will be making a statement about of the
outcome of the investigation and I understand this statement will contain an
apology to victims and will be published. I will ask DLS to make the
statement easily accessible, through their website or to others if/as
requested (* see note below).
I understand that LH no longer holds any leadership or safeguarding role
I think the promised ‘near future’ has come and gone!
The RLSS has a meeting scheduled with the DLS for the 14th October when I assume this will be raised.
There may be further prevarication, but I’ll wait a month to see.
I want to give everyone an opportunity to fulfill promises before responding and complaining.
Given the wretched track record of the DLS, their considerable skill at avoidance and obfuscation, that’s probably naive of me, but I think it’s important to show due diligence before taking it further.
Finally got into the Crystal Palace site (thanks!) and there are some shocking accounts of violence by Brother James. One account cites him as Brother James Ryan history teacher. I’m assuming that the other accounts also relate to James Ryan, although that will need confirming.
There’s also the photo below. Marked with an arrow.The text says it’s Brother James, but once again I want to be sure it’s Brother James Ryan.
It certainly looks like him to myself and another St J’s Ipswich survivor. But we were in the 60s and this photo is in the 70s. He’s changed his glasses, I think, and his hair is longer, understandable in the 70s. The hairstyle is pretty much the same, though. I’d say it was him.
Anyone who is positive it’s Ryan, do let me know – just to be 100 per cent on this and do due diligence.
An Old Boy wrote in with this question below which someone may be able to help him with.
I left St Joseph’s at 16, in 1972. At some point after that, I am fairly convinced that I was told by one of my contemporaries who’d stayed on, that one of the brothers had either been caught in a compromising position with one of the boys (kissing was mentioned) or otherwise news of what had happened had got out. I had known the boy concerned. Somewhat randomly I remember being told that the incident took place in a large area of wild bamboo, a location I recall from when I was there. I was also told that the brother concerned had been removed from the school. I seem to remember being not remotely surprised at the identity of the brother, in fact I think I felt some satisfaction that he had finally been caught.
Does this ring any bells with you or anyone please? I would really like to know which brother it was.
i discovered that I’d safely downloaded it, although the De La Salles have broken the on-line link. It is interesting to read because it gives a chronology of this man’s life. Note that after a serious sexual assault on a boy in 1965 in Ipswich, he is then transferred to Beulah Hill where he is there initially in 1966. There is nothing to indicate he paid for his terrible crimes. On the contrary, he appears to have been rewarded by the De La Salle order by being made a student at Birbeck.
The Eulogy includes statements like James was ‘the gentlest and most lovely of men’, ‘timid and shy by nature’, ‘kind and considerate gentleman’
The De La Salle Brothers and all those people who got taken in by him clearly believe – or they pretend to believe – in a Ladybird book version of reality. There are not two sides to his character. Just a fake facade of holiness and the darkness within him. There is no true good side to a man who is a serial sex abuser of children and has a terrifying, psychopathic temper as recorded by at least nine pupils. Evil is evil and should not be diluted by excuses, which survivors do not want to hear, unless you happen to have been on the receiving end of his abuse yourself.
Here’s what a Survivor of one of his ferocious beatings thought of him (Damian Moss):
“Brother James in all honesty was a figure of tragic pity. He was inadequate, unloved, deeply frustrated and a raging sado-masochist. Apart from that, he was you’re standard issue christian brother.”
Also – MRS KEARNEY and a visiting Spanish DE LA SALLE ABUSER
First below is the testimony by Old Boy CS who, along with other children, was harmed by Tony Harding.
Given the relatively recent nature, it is possible Harding is still alive.
I’ve yet to contact the RLSS, the new De La Safeguarding organisation, about abusers who may still be alive.
Harding would be such a case.
I’m currently focussing on gathering evidence about Brother James but I hope to get around to Harding in time. And another teacher. Meantime, anyone affected could report him by contacting the RLSS or DLS direct – the details were on my last blog.
Or the police.
In other countries there would be mandatory reporting to the police because if he is still alive, children could be in danger.
That’s not a ‘maybe’. Police take these matters seriously.
The second testimony about Harding below also mentions Mrs Kearney and rings true to me – it tallies with a private conversation I’ve had in recent years with another Old Boy who was taught by her. He told me how she would call in her husband to whack kids which is a bit weird but not illegal AFAIK. Being a tough kid, he laughed it all off with a kind of gallows humour. But not everyone can or should laugh it off.
I’d say Mr and Mrs Kearney were well suited to each other.
The second testimony below also describes a De La Salle sexual abuser from Spain.
Once again it’s evidence of DLS crimes towards the end of their era of control. Once again this DLS abuser could still be alive.
Therefore it should be of concern to the RLSS who safeguard the DLS and I will certainly bring it to their attention in due course.
Doubtless they will dump it on Operation Hydrant/Suffolk police without reference to their own files.
But it will be noted and they will have to answer for any minimal response or recalcitrance.
My thanks to the Old Boy who wrote the Second Testimony below. I found it very powerful and moving. And important as a description of the appalling final years of the DLS at St J’s.
FIRST TESTIMONY FROM A POST MAY 2021
TONY HARDY. Lay teacher St J’s Ipswich. Era 1986 – 1990. Sexual and physical violence. One testimony in comments – see: CS commented on ROLL OF DISHONOUR:
I attended St Joseph’s College from 86 – 90. I was at the school when David Hennesy became headmaster, he was a very relaxed guy and I liked him a lot. After our GCSE’s a few of us got our ears pierced – stupid, but hey we were crazy teenagers. We were in Birkfield house, Tony Hardy was the housemaster. He was a well known drinker and had a ferocious temper. After being told to take our ear rings out which we ignored as we were so close to school holidays we thought nothing more of it. One night Hardy had been out at a BBQ and came back after lights out, he pulled me and the other lads who had pierced their ears out of bed and made us stand in the corners of his living room. We were made to stand there when he went on a screaming rampage around the house. He came back to his quarters where we were all waiting frankly sh*tting ourselves. One by one he called each of the lads into his bedroom where he gave them all slippers. He then made me stand in a cupboard which he locked me in and then again went on another rampage around the house, when he came back then made me stand in his bedroom drop my pyjama bottoms and then took a cat-o-nine tails out of his draw. He lashed me about 10 – 12 times with it till I was bleeding. The next morning when in the showers the other lads saw the state of what had happened to me and they took me to see Mr Hennesy, when we explained what happened he sent us to his cottage on the grounds and Hardy was got rid of that day. My parents were dealt with by the school’s solicitors and unbelievably agreed that as long as he never taught there again, wouldn’t involve the Police.
SECOND TESTIMONY. NEW POST, FROM ANOTHER OLD BOY WHO JUST SENT THIS TO ME:
Firstly, I would like to say a massive thank you to CS for having the courage to speak about his experiences. What happened to CS was not his fault, it was a criminal act perpetrated by a predatory man with a violent temper and an alcohol problem that should have been dealt with appropriately by the school several years before this incident happened. CS had the courage to speak out at the time and the courage to speak about it here. It is an exceptional thing to do. Secondly, I would like to say thanks to Pat Mills, for speaking out about his own experiences and also creating a platform for others who have shared experiences. Many people were voiceless at the time these events occurred, either through fear of speaking up or knowing that it would be swept under the carpet.
I went to St. Joseph’s at the age of eleven, starting in the 1st Year with Brother Owen. In the grand scheme of things Brother Owen was one of the better ones, in my experience. He gave out the slipper, but he was generally alright from what I can remember. He did keep a lot of contact with Mr and Mrs Kearney, which was odd given many of the comments about them on this blog. I was scared of Mrs Kearney as she had a vicious temper and would humiliate kids in her class. That may just have been standard fare in the mid 1980s at private school though.
It was the experience of going to boarding school that shook me that year though, and I had to learn to adjust and cope like many other children who had left their home at a young age. The school taught a lot of the paradoxical messages that are staple in British boarding schools, ‘It will be the making of you’, ‘the friends you make here will be with you for life’, and all the other messages about being special and elite. These messages create a bind when your experiences don’t match up to them and it is easy to assume there is just something wrong with you. They are also messages that help to keep children compliant when faced with abuse.
Tony Hardy joined the school when I was in the 1st Year as the Housemaster for the 2nd & 3rd Year at Birkfield House in the centre of the school. The dormitories were above the main building. I knew from the children in the year above that he was unstable and had a violent temper. I felt anxious that I was going up to the 2nd Year and wasn’t picked as a prefect to stay down with Brother Owen for a year to look after the new intake of 1st Years.
The 2nd Year dormitory was a large open hall packed with beds in rows. The 3rd Year dorms were smaller spread down corridors across the old building. The whole place was dilapidated and creaking.
Tony Hardy wasted no time imprinting himself on my psyche as a man who was unpredictable, with a violent temper. He rampaged down corridors; you could hear him screaming and shouting from the other end of the building, getting louder and closer until he would burst into the dormitory, slamming doors and desks. Often, he would pick on individual kids for no discernible reason, so that it was impossible to read how to best keep out of his reach. He would scowl and stare at you before deciding whether to single you out for abuse or move on to someone else. He was like this throughout the 2nd and 3rd Year. Sometimes it would go on for days, literally the only respite was when the school day began. If it was over a weekend there was very little respite. Once during my 2nd Year, the bathrooms got blocked up. He ranted for days, accusing kids of deliberately blocking up toilets, demanding the whole year went down to the TV lounge whilst he shouted endlessly, waiting for someone to crack and admit to it. The culprit ended up being a rat that had died in one of the drains.
I remember the sickening feeling, when after a brief lull in his temper, something would trigger him and he would start another campaign of berating the kids for some usually imagined discretion. Sometimes one of the kids would do something that landed them in genuine trouble. I remember two lads writing on the shower windows, which later steamed up to reveal some crude comments about the deputy housemaster Paul Andrews. They were rooted out and punished with the slipper. One of them told me how he had tried to escape Tony Hardy’s clutches whilst the slippering went on, only to be grabbed by the shoulder and dragged back into the room. It went on for ages, you could hear the sound of it and it was just sadistic. I remember seeing the horrific bruises when they the kids showered the next day. I have never seen bruises like them in my life, it was horrific.
Tony Hardy has complex personality and metal health problems, coupled with a severe problem with alcohol. He would go from being a monster to selecting kids for special treatment. At other times he would hold these weird night prayer vigils at the chapel where he would get kids singing Taize Chants by candle light. It was always paradoxical and always unpredictable.
At the end of the 3rd Year, I had a year of respite at Goldrood, with Paul Begg. He got a bad rap from many of the kids but he was harmless and could be quite kind at times. It felt safe at Goldrood at least.
By the time I was in the 5th Year, a decision had been made to turn Goldrood into the house for the 3rd and 4th Years, if I remember correctly and the 5th Year was to go back to Birkfield and to Tony Hardy. I don’t know what the rationale was, perhaps Brother Hennessey, the Headmaster, and Mr John Reagan, the Deputy Head, had decided that Tony Hardy was not safe to look after younger children, but that is pure speculation. We returned to Birkfield and to Tony Hardy’s escalating unpredictability, violent temper and out of control alcohol use.
In some respects, Tony Hardy seemed to get on better with older kids, but it didn’t stop his violet outbursts. He could be something of a rebellious character, challenging aspects of the school, whilst also berating the kids. I think I developed an element of Stockholm Syndrome at that time, but was always fearful of his wrath. Unfortunately, I also had him as an English teacher and he would shout and scream at the class, flinging desks about and picking on anyone he took a dislike to in the moment. I learnt to show no emotion. Any expression on the face could lead him to accuse you of smirking, or showing some other sign of disrespect, and he would loom over you screaming. I remember the feeling of weariness that pervaded that year. It was exhausting on the nervous system.
At the same time, he would often have kids in his flat drinking with him. I remember a party after a confirmation ceremony where several teachers and us kids stayed up late drinking whisky and getting obliterated. It was wrong.
The incident that CS endured happened not long after this time. The teachers and the school authorities knew that Tony Hardy was a risk to kids. Everyone could see it and hear it. They were utterly complicit and failed to act to safeguard children under their watch. I recognise this was the 1980s and it was different then, but I’m afraid that doesn’t wash with me. Tony Hardy was psychopathic and needed to be stopped. And people failed to act in good time. I also recognise that the school preached paradoxical values about being tough and not showing emotion, as if somehow, we were supposed to put up with this stuff. I imagine some of the kids still live by these rules.
Tony Hardy’s legacy for me is one that I still wrestle with. For years after, and I left the school at the end of the 5th Year, I had nightmares in which he was stalking me down the corridors, shouting and throwing things. He was a looming and menacing presence in my dreams. I still do get dreams in which he appears, particularly if I am stressed. When I am in any conflict situation, I can feel myself locking down, my facial expressions go into neutral and I can feel myself dissociating. It doesn’t have to be a major conflict; it can be someone just raising their voice. I get a fight or flight response. It impacts on my ability to trust people and form attachments, although I accept that even a good boarding school experience can have that impact too. (Nick Duffell’s ‘The Making of Them’ is a good book to read about the whole boarding school experience).
Whilst at St Joseph’s I was also sexually assaulted by a visiting religious Brother from Spain, who had come over with a group of Spanish students. He groomed me into coming back to his flat to help him translate a book he was reading into English. For years I felt ashamed and stupid for having fallen for his ruse. It was naïve, but I had no idea. At his flat he sat groping me whilst I read the English translation, until I was finally able to get away. It could have gone a lot further but it left me angry and ashamed. I didn’t tell the school; I think I knew they would have swept it under the carpet or somehow blamed me. They certainly wouldn’t have involved the police.
A quick note on the De La Salle Brothers – they were on their way out by the time I was 13 or 14. Brother Cuthman was there, Brother Damien was retiring and Brother James was mostly out of the way keeping bees.
(Note from Pat. I’m wondering if this is the same Brother James from my era, the 1960s. It’s possible he could have returned to St J’s after some years at Beulah Hill to retire and keep bees.
If anyone can confirm this, it would be useful because it would mean that he was still potentially in contact with children at this later period.)
Brother Owen was around for a few years; he was still teaching the 6th Form. Strangely he wrote to me a few years after I left wanting to meet up. I don’t know what for or why me. I ignored it. I had better things to do with my time, like sitting in the park drinking bottles of Thunderbird wine.
Like CS concludes, there were certainly good times. I was lucky to have some good friends, although I don’t keep in touch with many people from that time now. When I left, I was scarred by the experiences and I didn’t want too much to do with the place. I had something of a breakdown as I was leaving and I knew I couldn’t go back. I do go back to Ipswich for work from time to time and it evokes a lot of memories.
I hope CS has managed to find some peace. I remember him as a good person and he didn’t deserve to be singled out that night. Nobody did.
A breakdown can be a breakthrough to a new beginning, so I hope the people get the life they are owed if they have been through tough times and are still waiting. Get help if you need it. It is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of courage and strength.
I’ve written many times about Brother James Ryan of my old school St Joseph’s College, Ipswich from 1960 to the late 1960s, after which he went to Beulah Hill. He was a serial sex offender and a notorious violent abuser – his excessive and terrifying use of corporal punishment was infamous. Both in Ipswich and in Beulah Hill.
He sexually abused me and two other St J’s Ipswich pupils. And possibly a further pupil. All our testimonies are on this site.
This and much more are still with Operation Hydrant and it’s still – theoretically – with this ‘independent investigation’ commissioned by the De La Salles which I haven’t heard from after seven months. I waited all this time to be sure; my questions were not answered, so it’s clearly not going to happen.
Of course we all know the DLS files will be bulging with allegations against James, but the DLS are never going to admit that or give us access.
So that’s enough. Their time is up.
This matter is now being taken further.
As you will appreciate, it wouldn’t be sensible for me to go into all the details here, but you’ll doubtless be able to join the dots yourselves. If you’d like to know more, you can email me and I’ll tell you what I can.
I chose James because he abused me personally and because there are the statements of others confirming his crimes. And because of his clearly sociopathic nature. He genuinely needed psychiatric help.
As we all know, there are many other DLS abusers, but in a crowded field of contenders, James was arguably the worst.
With such an individual, and such a crime, the more witnesses, directly or indirectly, the better.
There are several layers to this, but, please – ALL of you are important and what you may have to say could be relevant and make all the difference. Needless to say your anonymity is guaranteed.
I’m looking for:
1)Anyone else who was sexually abused by Brother James – in whatever manner, ‘minor’ or ‘serious’ – please get in touch with me in confidence. There are options for you to consider that I can describe to you. I stress your anonymity is ensured.
2)If you know of any sexual assaults by Brother James on other pupils at Ipswich, Beulah Hill, or elsewhere – do please get in touch. Even ‘hearsay’ could be relevant because it could be followed up.
3)I’ve guestimated there are TEN cases of extreme violence by James on this site. You may have already related them on this site. Often they make horrifying reading.
Once again, do please get in touch with me direct. E.G. Confirming a past testimony you made or relating a new one. They are regarded as secondary to sexual violence, but they may still be significant , relevant and important.
And they help build a composite picture of this man.
4)If you were sexually abused by a lay teacher or a DLS brother who was contemporary with James, do also get in touch.
I’m thinking, particularly, of Brother Kevin and Brother Solomon. But there may be others.
In this context, it would be Brother Kevin in early years 1960 – 1965 approx. (Rather than his later era at Oak Hill). Ditto Solomon 1959 – 1962 approx (Rather than his subsequent era at Beulah Hill and return as Mercado)
It builds a picture of just what was going on at St J’s when Brother James was abusing children sexually and physically. There may be some relevant detail that could be useful– E.G. location.
For instance, I remember him making threats like ‘I will give you six on the bare’. And ‘I will give you six in your pyjamas’.
Both these threats I remember were said with a questionable relish. Anyone else recall this? It suggests the cross-over from legitimate corporal punishment into something very different.
It may also be important if things develop from James to a much wider scenario.
James may just be the starting point.
It would be premature for me to say more on this post, but I can enlarge privately.
5)Any general information you recall about James may be useful, even if you didn’t witness or were the victim of his abuse. Just to build up a character portrayal of this man.
Thus I recall him as my form teacher 1B in 1960. Brilliant Maths teacher for someone as hopeless as I was! An okay ‘deeply religious’ Scripture teacher. He took over as Prefect of Discipline from Solomon, approx 1961 and probably held the post until 1966. He was a loner who IIRC looked helpless and lost when a St J’s boy in 1962 had a serious bike accident on Stonelodge Lane. He was a fanatical advocate for vocations. He was never shy or timid to my knowledge as claimed in his obituary, now removed. He was also provably sectarian and anti protestant. He was Irish and IIRC was an ex DLS pupil himself.
Anything anyone would like to add could be put on this post or sent to me. For example – did he sleep in one of those cubicles at the end of a dormitory? Which ones? Did he ever supervise games, showers etc? I don’t remember him doing so, but I was a day boy. Did he go on any of those school holidays abroad?
6)I’m going to write to some important figures to gain more information and possible support, regarding James.
We’re moving forward at last. It’s finally happening.
It’s time the truth about this dark period of St J’s history was revealed. With your help it could be. No more cover-ups and dismissing it as ‘all in the past, those were different times, it never did me any harm, and I don’t remember a thing, and why can’t these troublemaking Old Boys just get over it, move on and get a life?’
So many boys were harmed by this man as part of a continuum of serious physical and sexual abuse by the De La Salle brothers.
A source in Thailand, who I’ve kept anonymous, sent me a couple of videos of the De La Salles in Thailand. This is the second video. It is only viewable here via YT unlisted.
The first video shows a De La Salle teacher at a DLS school slapping a kid around the back of the head in a way which all of us who went to St Joseph’s DLS College Ipswich will be familiar with and saw as ‘normal’.
But both these videos are very recent.
I wanted to focus all the attention on the second video which is the most important. It shows a DLS teacher caning a boy with six strokes of the cane. The boy is standing, rather than bent over.
Then the DLS teacher gives the boy a further four strokes of the cane on his feet, I think. You can hear the cane strike the ground and the boy shakes and rubs his feet.
It was filmed in 2019 in a DLS ‘Novice House’ in Nakorn Sawan, Thailand. My source also included a photo of the DLS brother featured in the video. As you will see from the film, the brothers don’t wear the DLS robes we are familiar with.
I assume these young men – as novices – are being trained to be DLS brothers.
My source tells me that many similar videos have been found and deleted by the DLS. This is one of the few that ‘luckily escaped’. I would guess they have been circulated amongst DLS pupils, clearly concerned at DLS violence. He hopes to send me more.
He says ‘Soon DLS will (be) aware and hunt me down’.
Needless to say, I have urged him to take extreme care and not do anything that could identify him and thus jeopardise his education
I asked him specifically about the legal position on corporal punishment in Thailand.
He tells me: ‘The corporal punishment in our country is rarely enforced. Even public schools.’
But he adds that DLS still go in for it, as the two films show, presumably because there is some leeway in the law which they take advantage of.
I believe this is what he means when he says, ‘But DLS use this, make it easy for them to cover up.’
So when it’s barely legal to thrash and slap children around the head, the DLS will take full advantage, just like they did in our day.
The source goes on to say that there is an organisation that will support him. ‘DLS doesn’t get me easy.’
Finally, at the core of this abuse, he reveals a DLS antipathy towards Buddhism.
This reminds me of the antipathy towards Protestants that many of us were aware of at St Joseph’s. Brother James notably showed hostility towards non-Catholics.
He concludes, ‘Most of the victims of the DLS in our country are Buddhists.’
That statement is very disturbing and, along with further details I haven’t included to protect him, suggests the DLS are practising some covert form of sectarian violence.
Generally, we know very little about the activities of the DLS in the Global South today. I recently published info about DLS abuse in South Africa and possibly this is why the Thai source wrote in to me. The worldwide activities of the DLS certainly need looking at.
Finally, I’d say to the source, ‘Thank you so much for sharing with us survivors of the De La Salles in Britain. You’re very brave. Take care and make sure the DLS don’t get you easily.’
I’ve been prompted to write again about Mike Kearney, the lay Irish chemistry teacher at St Joseph’s College, Ipswich. For anyone not familiar with this man, he taught from the late 1950s to the 1980s. There’s plenty of accounts of his brutality on this blog, seen by apologists as ‘normal’ for the time, and one account by an Old Boy of his racism. Whether this is connected to Kearney having spent some time in apartheid South Africa, I have no way of knowing. It has been challenged by a white Old Boy as ‘not true’. Several Old Boys also thought he was a poor chemistry teacher. Personally, I thought he was ‘okay’, but then I was a poor chemistry pupil. I think Old Boys generally are divided between seeing him as ‘stern but fair’, ‘his bark worse than his bite’ and others regarding him as a violent, cruel sadist. Given that he punched a boy in the face and had to apologise to him, I subscribe to the latter camp.
i don’t accept these were ‘different times’. Punching a child in the face, then and now, is a criminal offence.
St Joseph’s today, although it claims to have no connection with its dubious and criminal De La Salle past, where organised sexual abuse in the 1960s and beyond is now a matter of record, had a Mike Kearney Memorial Chemistry prize. I think this has now been withdrawn, I certainly hope so because this individual does not deserve to be remembered in a positive light.
But my concern has always been about a much darker side to him which resulted in my spending considerable time and money in therapy trying to make sense of really terrible memories about him. The more I looked into them, the worse they got. Daymares, nightmares, PTSD flashbacks, you name it. I tried blocking my memories of him, but it didn’t work. My experience of recovered memories was similar to the account below.
Where other St Joseph’s abusers are concerned, I’ve pretty much laid them to rest. Although, I’m touching wood here, of course. Kearney was more problematic and there’s a reason for this. The awful events concerning him happened outside the school, so there were not the usual witnesses to validate my recovered memories.
Nearly all survivors who write into this site are boarders and I used to thank my lucky stars I was a day boy. In fact, it’s an illusion I used in order to survive. Day boys could also be in danger and I’m sure I wasn’t alone. My mother was a devout, Irish Catholic widow with no income, no job and recurring mental health problems, probably worsened by medication both legal and illegal. Father Jolly, our parish priest and St Jo’s chaplain, whose crimes have been detailed on this blog by at least one other Old Boy, was a drug supplier which may sound unlikely but I can assure you is true. He was not the only one. Leaving aside for now the question of how my mother could afford to send her two sons to a posh Catholic grammar school (neither of us had passed the eleven-plus), it meant we were a prime target for Catholic predators.
These predators, from my primary school days through to secondary school, were sometimes given the right to act ‘in loco parentis’. It was felt boys needed ‘a strong fatherly hand’, especially in 1950s Britain and –if they had been genuine – I would possibly agree. It’s also the supposed norm in Catholic communities that the poor and the widowed are supported and so a series of predators used this to their advantage. In our tightly knit Catholic community, Catholic widows were also considered ‘fair game’ and a better alternative to having affairs with Protestants or not ‘sullying’ unmarried Catholic women. I’m pretty certain it also had some pseudo-religious rationalisation.
I’ve been able to prove the conduct of a number of these predators to my satisfaction: Canon Burrows (Knight of St Columba), Father Wace (probably KOSC), Father Jolly (KOSC, St Joseph’s chaplain and our local parish priest), two or more lay Knights of St Columba, and… a couple of lay teachers from St Joseph’s. That sounds like an awful lot, but we’re talking over a fifteen year childhood and some of these characters may have only had brief involvement as ‘do-gooders’ or rather ‘do-badders’.
Kearney had such a ‘loco parentis’ role.
The predators’ exact terms of reference and their relationships with my mother must have varied considerably. Some may have been interested in my mother, others her sons, yet others in both. Certainly widows – then and now – are prime targets for predators and it’s a well-known technique for abusers to relate romantically towards the mother in order to get at the kids. Canon Burrows, the first, typically always around our house doing ‘little jobs’ and mysteriously paying for school extras, was a truly vile sexual abuser. So were most of the other ‘father figures’ that I’ve listed that followed him, although not necessarily all. Some may well have just been interested in my mother and not her children. It’s not easy to be sure every time. In some cases I’ve had to speculate about the real nature of the relationships and, of course, it’s impossible to know with absolute certainty. Much of the time everyone was very ‘discreet’.
The dynamics of just how Catholic predators exploit Catholic widows like my mother and the way she would have been groomed to fulfil a certain role in her Catholic community, I would only have been dimly aware of as a kid. It’s a role Catholics will, of course, deny then and now. Like they’ve denied so much abuse that’s subsequently been proven.
Here’s a brief example. She was ‘put in charge’ of a young French Father Gonnet who, mysteriously, was having an extended ‘holiday’ in our industrial town. She was told to ‘look after him’, so he was always round our house having tea when I came home from school. They got on extremely well and he was always making a fuss of me, too. We would also go on picnics to Stratford St Mary, a couple of miles down the road from East Bergholt where Gonnet was staying with the local Franciscans . Their place was a very convenient location for him to abuse. Gonnet and these far from holy Franciscans left a deep trauma scar on me, which I still resent, because my abiding recollection of this particular predator is ‘The bastard was only staying in Ipswich for a few weeks.’ A few weeks is all it takes.
I knew my mother had a kind of exalted status in the parish and this was certainly her own perception of herself, but I knew also there was something ‘not right’, something ‘odd’, ‘evasive’ and ‘mysterious’ about her. Trying to make sense of her behaviour, her constant absences for instance, I was a latch-key kid yet she had no job, I read everything I could about fictional women like her and that helped considerably. As an adult, I can fill in the blanks from my life experience and examples such as Gonnet. Doubtless you can do the same. I’ve had to outline the role of my mother because it’s most relevant to Kearney as he, too, had this loco parentis role which will be more defined in later posts.
Kearney was a particular threat because I was older when we clashed and starting to make sense of the world. And, unlike the previous men, he didn’t have a typical ‘cover story’ for his involvement with my mother AFAIK, e.g. he wasn’t in the church choir. In fact his cover story was to go boot camp on me, to ‘bring me to my senses’, to stop being a rebellious teenager. But there was much more to him than this.
As you can imagine, in such a world, everything is ‘smoke and mirrors’, everything is deliberately mysterious, vague and hard to pin down in order to keep victims off balance.
My agenda in writing about Kearney is firstly as a catharsis. Secondly, because it may help other survivors dealing with recovered memories and highlight how predators work. Thirdly, it’s to name and shame him.
Finally, because it may resonate with other Old Boys who may have other information about Kearney that dovetails with my account, although – as I’ve said – because this happened outside the school, it’s far less likely. But do get in touch if you can shed any light.
And this account, of course, bears out that I have no financial agenda. The De La Salles can’t be held responsible for or be financially liable for what this creep got up to outside school hours. And so it adds to the validity of my case. Why would I spend so much time and energy on Kearney, when I have far better things to do with my life?
I’ll write more about Kearney in subsequent blogs.
This woman’s experience below of recovered memories (she’s not a Catholic AFAIK) pretty much dovetails with mine and I’m sure with many survivors of the De La Salles.
I realise all this may be upsetting or triggering to read for some, so I’d like to end with a cheerful anecdote to show how, despite everything, we survivors can beat these scum.
I was sixteen. I would leave home a few months later and Kearney’s connection with my family was over, as short-lived as all the previous predators. My brother and I were drinking beer in a pub by the Old Cattle Market –I think it was the Plough. I was excitedly talking to my brother about a gig we were going to at the Assembly Rooms next door. I believe it was Murray and the Mints, they were St Jo’s boys who had a real ‘Animals’ sound, mouth organ etc, and I’m a huge fan of the Animals. ‘We’ve got to get out of the place’ wasn’t just an anthem for Vietnam soldiers, it was my anthem to escape the Catholic Church.
Then Kearney came in, ordered a pint and sat at a table on his own. We both recognised each other but said nothing. There’s a look lonely men who drink alone in pubs have, which we all recognise, and Kearney had that look big-time. His shoulders were rounded, drooping with depression, as he stared down into his pint. I think his first-wife had died some years earlier, but that was something I’d been told on the playground grapevine, so I may well be wrong. Whatever the reason, he was definitely down in the dumps.
Then he looked across and I could see he was weighing up whether or how to rain on my parade. As he had done until recently. In those days, there was no ID and anyway, like any self-respecting 16 year old, I’d have lied. And bar tenders don’t care. So he knew his options were limited.
I knew he was going to do something, because he always had to win, but I was ready for him. I’d taken more than enough shit from him and I was a very feisty teenager.
He finished his pint and came over. He looked sternly down at me, hoping to intimidate me.
‘Does your mother know you’re here?’
‘Yes,’ I lied defiantly, ready for him to use physical force on me. Again.
The expression on my face was clearly saying, to paraphrase the Animals, “It’s my life and I‘ll do what I want. Drink what I want. I’ve left school, you’ve got no power over me anymore.’
There was an awkward pause. Then Kearney nodded, defeated, impotent to do anything other than show his disapproval. He stumbled off into the night. A sad, lonely loser.
That was the last time I ever saw Kearney and I can still remember the feeling of exhilaration that I’d defeated him.
Then I got back to talking about much more important matters than this odious prat – like that forthcoming gig watching Murray and the Mints.
I was finally free.
Below is a survivor’s account on Instagram which I found incredibly useful and sums up how recovered memories work.
Brother Kiern is described below by an Old Boy of Oak Hill. Kiern was on temporary secondment to Oak Hill, maybe that’s why we haven’t heard of him before. But making children play PE and swim in the nude is very disturbing.
The Old Boy also indicates Kiern was unpredictably violent and had other ‘abnormalities’.
If anyone has anything to add on this man it could be relevant and I’ll certainly pass it onto the SCOE Safeguarding people – although I’ve yet to receive a reply and discover what current progress they are making.
Brother Kevin may have been absent in 86/87 when he went to France to escape justice. Part of the De La Salle Rat Run that has been discussed on an earlier blog.
If Safeguarding are trying to ignore us all that would be a mistake because I’m not giving up until the De La Salles have properly acknowledged their crimes and publicly hung their heads in shame.
A terse ‘sorry for whatever’ posted rather late on an obscure website doesn’t cut it and they should know it.
Hello Pat, I was in the same year as Zach, we were friends and partners in crime (small fish). What surprises me is that the worst abuser in our time at ‘Oak Hill’ has not been mentioned nor hinted at. Bro Kevin was absent in 1986/1987 for at least a term but a certain Brother (Bro Kiern as I recall, but Mercado fits the bill) was present and his abnormalities and penchants were manifested in unpredictable violence (Bro Kevin was a disciplinarian within ‘reason’) and making us boys play PE and swim in the nude. This temporary clerical staff member was a monster in look and action, yet he has not even been hinted at in your survivors testimonies. Bro John was not violent, rather indolent and lazy (as a teacher). Mr Mack was a violent man who beat me on my first night (aged 8) for having the temerity to question the cooks expertise. I suffered insomnia at Oak Hill and Bro Kevin used to find me late at night on the landing and invite me to his rooms in the tower where we would discuss religion.literature and high fantasy, he didn’t abuse me sexually then (though he did beat me often in public; I was and still am a rebel). Unlike you and some others I am a Catholic yet. I see things through the lense of humanity. Nobody is Perfect. Not me, not you, not the clergy. That is the whole point in Catholic faith learned the hard way, it is a human and living faith. Everyone falls short but love, truth, wisdom and faith overcomes all of the BS.