Belfast Telegraph

Rubane House 'like Hell upon Earth' for 69-year-old branded a liar for reporting his abuse as boy

By Harriet Crawford

A former resident of a Catholic children's home stayed silent about the horrific abuse he suffered as a 10-year-old boy for more than half-a-century after he was branded a liar when he first tried to raise the alarm.

The witness, now 69, described his eight years at Rubane House as "like Hell upon Earth" in evidence to the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry into child sexual abuse at the home in County Down yesterday.

The four instances of his sexual abuse at Rubane began in 1955 when he was just 10. In the first occurrence he was asked how he was settling into the house before having to "fight off" a Brother who attempted to rape him. He said that he knew that what the Brother was doing was wrong – "even as a child it was something I wouldn't want to do".

The same Brother attempted to rape him again, as well as taking him out of his bed in the boys' dormitory to sexually abuse him. The witness described the fear he felt going to sleep, in case a Brother would come to wake him up for abuse.

Three years later, in response to a county welfare officer asking why he kept running away from the home, he tried to tell him of the sexual and physical abuse he suffered from the Brothers.

The witness reported that the officer branded him a liar, "talking and shouting at him for 20 minutes".

He told the inquiry: "He told me to shut up, that I was telling lies. He as good as called me a liar. He said those were religious men and that they would not do that."

The officer did not take any action in response to his claims, the inquiry heard.

"That scared me off altogether from ever telling anybody else about it, because he didn't believe me. I just kept it all to myself... I suppose I was thinking all along that no one was going to believe me anyway. I bottled it up for years after."

He told the inquiry that it was not until 2010 that he was able to get help for the psychological effects of the abuse. "I blamed myself for a long time for what had happened to me," he said.

Between 1951 and 1985, about 1,000 children stayed at Rubane, near Kircubbin on the Ards Peninsula, a voluntary home for boys aged between 11 and 16.

About a fifth of the residents claimed they suffered abuse, ranging from brothers watching boys in the showers for sexual gratification to rape or physical attacks, a lawyer for the HIA inquiry has said.

The De La Salle congregation of brothers has said that it apologised and paid compensation where it accepted that wrongdoing took place. The order has previously accepted that one of its earliest overseers engaged in sexual offences, which a lawyer for the inquiry said spanned 20 years.

The probe was established by Northern Ireland's power-sharing administration at Stormont and is sitting in Banbridge in Co Down. It is chaired by former High Court judge Sir Anthony Hart and investigating what took place at 13 residential children's homes run by religious orders, voluntary organisations and the State in the 73-year period up to 1995.

The witness told his wife of his ordeal a few years before she died 16 years ago, and spoke publicly of the abuse for the first time in 2010. He received £30,000 compensation from the religious order. "I didn't keep any of it," he told the inquiry. He gave some of the money to his daughter and the rest to his two grandchildren.

Rubane was the subject of a police investigation in the 1990s, the inquiry panel was previously told. Three religious brothers were charged, but none convicted after their trials did not go ahead due to legal issues.

Three other witnesses told the inquiry of their graphic sexual and physical abuse at the hands of the brothers yesterday.

Statements

Witness 1

He was one of the first boys to enter the home, aged 13, in the 1950s and said he was abused by a religious Brother the day after he arrived there.

He said a Brother hit him with a cane.

After a number of strokes he was told he that he was a hardman, and then he was made to turn his hands over and was hit with the cane, which took a nail off his finger.

He claimed that he was interfered with while he was having a shower in 1951 under the guise of "horseplay".

Witness 2

The man, now 70, told the inquiry of an incident of horrific sexual abuse at Rubane's farm which made him so angry that he tried to get the cattle to stampede the brother immediately afterwards. "I wanted them to run him over", he told the inquiry. "I got a hammering for that." On the first day of his stay at the home, a brother got into the shower with him: "He was supposed to be looking after me but he had got into the shower with me and I was made to scrub soap and things on him."

He said that instances of sexual abuse happened two-to-three times a week during his two-year stay.

Witness 3

Now 68, he told of how he arrived at Rubane House aged nine.

"The day after I first arrived I was crying to get home. The Brother hit me across the side of the head four or five times with his hand, telling me to shut up.

"But this only made me cry harder."

"I was living in fear of being taken out of the (dormitory) room.

"I used to be afraid to go to sleep at night.

"If I saw a Brother coming into the dormitory, I would just lie very still."

Witness 4

He compared his experience to the Hollywood film 12 Years A Slave about pre-Civil War America. In a handwritten note added to his witness statement, he wrote: "It is funny that a movie has just been released this year, 12 Years A Slave. This is what I think of my time in homes."

Recalling one particular Brother, he said that: "If you tried to pull away, he would nip you."

When asked if he remembered his birthday ever being celebrated, he replied: "I didn't even know when my birthday was. I didn't know for years after I went out of the home."

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