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Child abuse survivors take their former Catholic diocese to court

Published 26/01/2016

Child abuse survivors are bringing a case against their ex-Catholic diocese which should reach the High Court in the summer
Child abuse survivors are bringing a case against their ex-Catholic diocese which should reach the High Court in the summer

Survivors of child abuse within the Catholic Church are taking their former diocese to court after allegations of an institutional cover-up going back decades.

The claims - dating back to the 1950s and featuring pupils at a church school in the north west of England - mirror those in the recent Spotlight film, tipped for Oscars success for its real-life depiction of similar allegations in the Catholic Church in Boston, US, in the 1980s.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the British victims, who were aged between 11 and 15 at the time of the abuse, said they hope the positivity met with Spotlight's release will help give other victims the strength to come forward and make allegations.

Thomas Beale, representing victims with London-based child abuse lawyers AO Advocates, said there were "significant" similarities between Spotlight and the allegations of abuse at St Bede's Catholic school in Manchester decades ago.

He said: "I hope society is moving in the right direction and the film can only help that.

"In our clients' case, knowing there are other people suffering in the same way gave them strength to come forward. I hope the film only adds to that. The church is not dealing with this in the way it says it will.

"In one case, my client complained against a member of staff, and he was simply moved elsewhere, we are seeing the same happening in Boston in Spotlight."

The film, starring Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo, tells the true story of how the Boston Globe's journalists uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic archdiocese.

The allegations at St Bede's, with a reputation for being the finest Catholic grammar school in the north west at the time, relate to Monsignor Thomas Duggan, Father Charles Mulholland and Father Vincent Hamilton - three senior figures at the school who carried out the alleged abuse.

They died before being brought to justice, but the survivors are now taking out a civil case against the Diocese of Salford for what they say is a failure to protect them from abuse.

Allegations range from inappropriate touching to rape.

Rick Merrin, one of the survivors, whose police witness statement has been seen by the Press Association, said: "My time at St Bede's was consistently marred by these sexual interactions - protracted grooming, sexual abuse and rape - with a number of priests and the often gratuitous violence of the disciplinary system."

He said it was "difficult to believe" other priests at the diocese were unaware of what was happening to some of the boys.

But he said he was speaking to police and lawyers because he hoped that he "can play even a small role in minimising future clerical abuse and cover-ups".

Lawyer Mr Beale said: "I think it's important to remember that these boys came from very devout, working class families in Manchester.

"They had scholarships to attend this hugely prestigious school. They were deprived of the opportunity to flourish and meet their full potential because of the horrific abuse they suffered.

"These individuals left school with little or no qualifications, their relationships broke down and a number have suffered from alcohol problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety as a result of the abuse they suffered.

"It wasn't just the sins of the individual, it was the failure of the church to address these complaints properly."

The case is expected to reach the High Court in the summer.

St Bede's is now a co-educational Catholic day school.

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