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Lawrence of Arabia made pupil realise priest was sadomasochist, inquiry told

Sean O’Donovan recognised traits of enjoyment on the face of a priest who would beat him and other boys.

Judge Lady Smith is chairwoman of the inquiry (Nick Mailer)
Judge Lady Smith is chairwoman of the inquiry (Nick Mailer)

A former boarding school pupil has told how he realised a priest enjoyed sadomasochism after reading Lawrence of Arabia’s autobiography.

Sean O’Donovan, who waived his right to anonymity, was giving evidence to the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry about his experiences at Fort Augustus Abbey in the Highlands during the 1960s.

The 69-year-old spoke of a “slackjawed and drooling” priest who appeared to get sexual pleasure from giving boys “the strap”.

He said he read Seven Pillars Of Wisdom by T E Lawrence in the school library and recognised sadomasochistic traits described in the author’s experience of being tortured.

Mr Donovan said: “I was aware of what he was because you could tell from the way he looked while doing the strap, that he was enjoying this mightily.

“He was slackjawed and drooling. The jaw drops and you can see there’s absolute delight.”

The witness then told how he urged the priest to hit him softer by letting him know he understood he was a sadist.

He added: “It takes one to know one, that’s basically what it came down to.

“I was convinced that he was a sadist or sadomasochist.

“I said something to the effect that made him understand that I knew what he was, I understood and I was also in a similar position – go easy on it, which he did.”

Seven Pillars Of Wisdom is Lawrence’s major work detailing his experiences serving as a liaison officer with rebel forces during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks of 1916 to 1918.

Describing a beating he received from the Ottomans, Lawrence wrote “a delicious warmth, probably sexual, was swelling through me”.

Film star Peter O’Toole enjoys a game of football during a break in filming for Lawrence of Arabia (PA)

Lawrence of Arabia – the film adaptation of his life – was released in 1962 starring Peter O’Toole.

Fort Augustus Abbey was run by religious order the English Benedictine Congregation.

The witness also spoke of seeing a photograph of paedophile TV presenter Jimmy Savile surrounded by a group of boys in the school.

He told the inquiry he has not been able to find it since seeing it on an alumni website, but believed it to be from the 1970s.

Savile had a home “down the road” in the Glencoe area of the Highlands, he said.

Meanwhile, another former pupil told the inquiry of the physical “brutality” he and other boys were subjected to at the school.

Des Austin, who also waived his right to anonymity, posted a request for information about abuse suffered at the school on an alumni website in 2001.

The 74-year-old received numerous letters from people detailing what they allege happened to them at the hands of priests.

This included physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Mr Austin – who was at the school during the 1950s and 1960s – said the “regime” could only be described as “institutionalised violence”.

The inquiry before Lady Smith in Edinburgh continues on Friday.



From Belfast Telegraph