Record damages for man abused by members of religious order

The Tablet [Market Harborough, England]

February 22, 2022

By Madoc Cairns and Brian Morton

A man abused by members of a Catholic religious order at a residential school in Fife has been awarded record damages. Known only as AB, the man was a pupil at St Ninian’s in Falkland at the beginning of the 1980s. While there, he was physically and sexually assaulted by the Christian Brothers.

Damages have been set at £1.4 million, believed to be the largest ever secured in such a case. Although the total sum is derived from different sources, the single largest amount, at around £1 million, relates to lifetime lost earnings due to AB’s difficulties in maintaining employment given the psychological issues resulting from his abuse.

During his time at St Ninian’s, dating from February 1980 to April 1981, he was subject to forcible sexual assault and regularly beaten, as well as suffering other forms of abuse. Due to the weight of evidence his favour, AB was not required to testify during the trial.

St Ninian’s had been condemned by the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI) in 2021 as a place of “shocking and distressing” physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

Inquiry chair Lady Smith said that the institution for vulnerable boys had acted as a “haven for paedophiles” for almost the entire 30-year lifespan of the school. Former headmaster John Farrell and teacher Paul Kelly received sentences in 2016 of five years and ten years respectively for abusing boys in their care. A third brother involved in AB’s abuse died in 2013 before he could be brought to trial.

While at the school AB was, he said, raped, molested and beaten by all three men and was forced to watch attacks on other children. According to SCAI, the institutionalised abuse at St Ninian’s was the result of complete regulatory failure by both Church and state. Even when inspectors raised concerns about the remote boarding school, no action was taken.

Now 54, married and the father of a child, AB had concealed his abuse until 2013 when he gave evidence to the police. He suffered renewed trauma and flashbacks whenever he heard certain music associated with the abuse, and when sexual abuse was discussed or presented in TV fiction. He said: “Even though the crown couldn’t prosecute anyone in relation to my evidence, I am glad the sheriff and court believed me.” However, he said that the eventual verdict was not actually “worth the wait”, not when “you remember why we’ve been waiting”.