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Inquiry: Sexual, physical and emotional abuse took place at St Ninian’s in Scotland

Children were sexually, physically and emotionally abused while in the care of the Christian Brothers at St Ninian’s, Scotland, an investigation by The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry has found.

The provision of residential care for children in Scotland by The Christian Brothers between 1953 and 1983 at St Ninian’s Residential Care Home, Falkland, Fife, concluded that St Ninian’s was a place of abuse and deprivation.

“Paedophilia, brutality, and ignorance of how to care for children created an environment that conspired to make children’s lives a misery and, in many cases, caused a lasting impact,” said the report.

The sexual abuse of children was endemic throughout the whole period of St Ninian’s existence. During the period from late 1969 to its closure in 1983, many children at St Ninian’s were sexually abused by three sexual predators: Brother William Gerard Ryan, former Brother Paul Vincent Kelly, and former Brother John Bernard Mark Farrell. The environment enabled Brothers to select their victims without any fear of discovery or disclosure. The sexual abuse of children became normalised.

“The sexual abuse inflicted on children was of the most depraved kind,” said the report.

In terms of sexual abuse, the report highlighted:

- Children were induced to engage in sexual activity with each other in groups and in the presence of Brothers.

- The sexual abuse of children was prevalent in the showering facilities where abuse ranged from voyeuristic practices to more direct sexual contact, including rape.

- Two former Brothers, Paul Kelly and John Farrell, have been convicted of serious offences against children in their care in the period from 1979 to 1983. These offences included sodomy and serious sexual assault.

- Two Brothers against whom allegations of sexual impropriety with children had been made - Brother Raphael Gavin and former Brother John Farrell - were transferred to St Ninian’s which was a systemic failure at the organisational level. It enabled these Brothers to sexually abuse children at St Ninian’s.

- A clear warning that John Farrell should not be placed in a residential school was ignored; this was another systemic failure that resulted in children being sexually abused by a sexual predator.

Regarding physical abuse, the inquiry outlined how:

- Children were physically abused, including being punched, hit with a belt, struck with implements, kicked, beaten on the soles of feet, and beaten while naked.

- To increase a child’s humiliation, some beatings were carried out in public.

- Children suffered a catalogue of injuries as a result of brutal treatment and rapes, including severe bruising and anal bleeding.

- Children regularly absconded either individually or in groups.

- Runaways were beaten upon their return and on occasions these beatings involved several Brothers.

- No serious attempt was made to discover why a particular child had run away.

- Children were made to stand in isolation for lengthy periods of time and other children were locked in a basement room that had a toilet and a makeshift bed.

The report also looked at emotional abuse:

- Children who wet the bed were humiliated; their treatment included them having to publicly remove their wet sheets and stand naked in the corridor holding them.

- These practices added to the emotional trauma experienced by children.

- Bedwetting practices were also used as a cover for sexual abuse.

- The Brothers were not trained to provide the children in their care with appropriate emotional support.

- Furthermore, they did not have the natural aptitude to provide emotional support.

- For a significant part of St Ninian’s existence, information about the children’s background was neither provided nor sought.

- Some Brothers thought it better to take the children as they found them, but the Order now accepts it would have been beneficial for the Brothers to have known the background of the children.

The inquiry also outlined how children were used as unpaid labour in a manner that was not age-appropriate. The education provided for children at St Ninian’s was poor and inadequate and this was a serious failure that blighted the adult lives of some.

“In clear contravention of their stated aims, the Brothers missed a real opportunity to improve the lives of children,” said the report.

Some of the children who were abused at St Ninian’s also have some positive memories of their time there. However, in the main, children were unable to complain for fear of reprisals, but also because the abusive environment was seen as the norm. If they did complain, they were not believed.

“The Order now recognises and accepts that there was widespread abuse of children at St Ninian’s including “intolerable and reprehensible sexual abuse”6 perpetrated by Brothers Gerard Ryan and Christopher McNamara, and former Brothers Paul Kelly and John Farrell,” said the report. “The Order offered a genuine apology to survivors of abuse at St Ninian’s while recognising that “sorry” has very little content of itself, and that what really matters is admission and recognition of what happened and that what happened was wrong.”

Hearings in this case study took place between 4 June 2019 and 16 July 2019, during which time the Inquiry heard evidence from 42 witnesses. The report was published in February 2021. These findings are the first in a series of three sets of case study findings in which the residential care of children provided by male religious orders in Scotland is examined.

Chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry Lady Smith will take these findings into account when she analyses all the evidence gathered by the Inquiry and decides what recommendations to make in her final report.

Lady Smith said: “The overall view I formed of St Ninian’s was depressing. It was a place where the Brothers who were perpetrators of abuse could pursue their abusive practices with impunity.

“Abusive Brothers had unrestrained access to the vulnerable children they wished to target. That such abuse was possible for virtually the entirety of St Ninian’s existence represents serious failures in oversight, management, and governance.

“Fundamental deficiencies in training, and a serious lack of relevant life experiences, conspired to enable dreadful abuse of children, who were supposedly being cared for by the Order, to occur.

“Children were betrayed by serious breaches of trust and, for many, it caused lasting damage,” she concluded.

Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry: The provision of residential care for children in Scotland by The Christian Brothers between 1953 and 1983 at St Ninian’s Residential Care Home, Falkland, Fife


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