A test court case claiming compensation against a Catholic diocese opens today, after a former principal and a chaplain at a children’s home run by the diocese were imprisoned for historic sex offences earlier this year.
Five survivors have brought a civil claim, due to be heard at the high court in Leeds, against the Catholic diocese of Middlesbrough and the De La Salle Brothers, whose members ran St William’s Home in Market Weighton, east Yorkshire.
If the case is successful, the Catholic Church in the UK could be liable to pay compensation of millions of pounds.
In January, James Carragher, former principal at the home, was jailed for 15 years after being convicted of indecent assault and serious sex offences against 11 boys at the home between 1970 and 1991.
Anthony MacCallen, the former chaplain, was convicted of 11 charges.
The residential school, which closed in 1992, took boys from troubled backgrounds referred by local authorities.
A civil action launched in 2004 was delayed by a dispute between the diocese and the Brothers over which was liable for an £8m compensation claim. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that both were liable.
David Greenwood of Switalskis solicitors who has represented survivors since 2003, said: “It is hoped that this trial will bring a positive conclusion to the cases for the many deserving victims of abuse at St William’s. There have been many convictions, in 1993, 2004 and 2015. This case is a test for our civil justice system. I hope it will be able to provide real justice.”
In a statement, the de la Salle brothers said: “We repeat our total condemnation of the serious criminal behaviour of James Carragher, a former member of the De La Salle Brothers, during his time on the staff at St William’s.
“We condemn, without reservation, any action or behaviour which harms young people. We deeply regret what happened at St William’s and the harm that was done there through the behaviour of James Carragher. We unreservedly apologise to all who have been affected by his behaviour. Our hearts go out to all victims of abuse and their families.
“The De La Salle Order is committed to the Safeguarding procedures of the Catholic Church. These are robust procedures and have been in place now for over 20 years. These procedures are followed rigorously and are subject to regular external independent inspection.
“In view of the ongoing legal matters before the courts we cannot comment further at this time.”
The Diocese of Middlesbrough said it “condemns unreservedly any action which causes harm or distress to others. Abusive behaviour has absolutely no place in the Catholic Church, or anywhere in society, and is against everything we stand for.
“These offences are historic and relate to individuals who have not been associated with the Diocese for some time, but they are a matter of profound regret, for which we apologise.
“We have in place robust safeguarding policies and procedures, overseen by a strong safeguarding team and in line with the comprehensive national safeguarding policies of the Catholic Church, to ensure all our parishioners, particularly children, young people and vulnerable adults, are as safe as possible.”
The case is expected to last three weeks.