‘I will always have flashbacks’ – Ex-student raped and abused by Fife school staff is awarded record £1.4 million damages

The Courier [Fife, UK]

February 15, 2022

By Jamie Buchan

A man who was raped, abused and beaten by monks at a notorious Fife school has secured a record £1.4 million in damages.

It is the highest known sum ever awarded to an abuse survivor.

The victim, known as AB, suffered at the hands of Brothers Paul Kelly, John Farrell and Gerry Ryan throughout the 14 months he stayed at St Ninian’s School, Falkland, in the early 1980s.

The monks would play Ashes to Ashes by David Bowie during their assaults, a civil court has heard.

Victim AB, now 54, said to this day the song still spark horrific flashbacks.

The abuse began as “punishment” for swapping tuck shop snacks with other children.

The school, which closed in the 1980s, was operated by the Christian Brothers, a religious sect that tried to have AB’s legal case thrown out.

Now AB – who cannot be named for legal reasons – hopes that his landmark victory will encourage others to come forward.

Silent for decades

“Finally, after nearly 40 years, I have been acknowledged and those responsible can be exposed,” said AB.

He was 12-years-old when he was sent to St Ninian’s in February 1980. He stayed there until April the following year.

During his time, he was raped, molested and attacked by all three Brothers.

He was even forced to watch other children getting assaulted.

AB said that Kelly, Farrell and Ryan commonly targeted children from a dormitory that they sinisterly referred to as “the favourite boys’ room”.

It was decades later, in 2013, when AB opened up about the ordeal that he kept secret from his wife and children.

“I just broke down in tears,” he said.

“Until then, I’d been living in my head for 30 years.”

He said: “I used to hide all my emotions. If there was something about abuse on the TV, then I’d go to the toilet and hide so no one would see the reaction on my face.

“So when I finally spoke to police there was a strange duality to everything.

“It was terrifying, but empowering. Exhausting but freeing. Painful but therapeutic.”

He added: “I still wonder if speaking out when I did was the right time, and how things might have been different if I waited one more year.

“But it’s all hypothetical. All that matters is that I did speak, and I was believed.”

The mental scars from his ordeal have prevented AB from finding employment.

Brothers jailed

Headmaster and teacher Farrell and Kelly were convicted of abuse charges at Glasgow High Court in 2016.

Farrell was jailed for five years and Kelly for 10. Ryan died in July 2013, before he could be investigated.

The court heard that the pair abused the boys – many who already had chaotic upbringings, who they should be protecting – to satisfy their depraved needs.

AB’s evidence did not play a part in their conviction, but this month a sheriff ruled that the abuse did occur after being presented with a volume of support evidence by Digby Brown Solicitors.

The Christian Brothers had tried to get the civil action dismissed, claiming matters could not be properly investigated following Ryan’s death.

But Sheriff Christopher Dickson rejected the argument and ordered the sect to pay £1.39m in damages to AB in recognition of the lifelong impact of their abuse.

In his judgement, the sheriff describes how AB is raped by Ryan, sexually abused by Farrell and punched repeatedly by Kelly who “flew into a violent rage” when he caught him swapping items for a bottle of juice at the school tuckshop.

“At night, the brothers would drink alcohol and play music,” the sheriff wrote. “They played the song Ashes to Ashes by David Bowie.

“The Brothers would come into the pursuer’s (AB) dormitory at night and he would cower under the covers hoping that one of the Brothers would not take him.

“The pursuer has, to this day, a recurring dream where he in his bed in the dormitory and one of the Brothers – he sees a white collar but not a face – comes into the dormitory.

“If the pursuer hears Ashes to Ashes, it takes him right back to his dormitory.”

‘I will always feel the pain’

Welcoming the decision, AB said: “Even though the Crown couldn’t prosecute anyone in relation to my evidence, I am glad the sheriff and court believed me.”

He added: “I will always feel the pain. I’ll always have flashbacks.

“But at least now I’m not alone. I am supported. I have been recognised.

“And I can now slowly look to the future, instead of being chained to my past.”

Kim Leslie, of Digby Brown, said: “Firstly, I would like to pay tribute to AB for speaking out then staying steadfast as he took on a religious organisation.

“It makes this ruling all the more poignant.”

She added: “We’re not aware of any higher sums ever being awarded to a survivor, so this settlement is truly a landmark one – not just for AB, but for survivors everywhere, as it shows legal actions offer recognition even when the criminal system cannot.”