Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The schoolhouse of heinous abuse

His trial was told that he had inflicted “unfathomable torture” on the two small boys entrusted to his care.

St John's National School on Temple Street in Sligo town where four former teachers have been convicted of indecently assaulting young boys during the 1970s and 1980s.

St John's National School on Temple Street in Sligo town where four former teachers have been convicted of indecently assaulting young boys during the 1970s and 1980s.

Four teachers from the same primary school have been convicted on hundreds of charges, in a horrific litany of child sexual abuse spanning three decades.

Gardai now believe that at least 50 boys, and probably many more, at St John’s boys’ primary school in Sligo were sexually abused by religious and lay teachers in a period stretching from the 1960s to the 1980s.

But, despite the first informal complaint being made as early as 1983, it took a further 16 years for a dedicated garda investigation team to be appointed.

Last night, victims’ support groups warned that what happened in Sligo could happen again, unless the law is changed to make the State take responsibility for child welfare in primary schools.

Yesterday, former Marist brother Martin Meaney (65) was jailed for two years on five sample abuse charges.

He denied that a paedophile ring was in operation at the primary school where he committed his crimes.

His victim, Paul Gordon (44), who claims to have been abused by three Marist brothers at the school, tried to spark an investigation in 1983, but was not believed because he was facing charges for the killing of his father.

Mr Gordon further claimed that one of the Marist brothers was paying his father for facilitating the abuse.

“He made the complaints in the context of being on remand for killing his father, so there was a credibility problem – but he never actually made a formal complaint until 1996,” a senior garda source said last night.


Following the 1996 complaint, a small garda investigation was launched and a file went to the DPP, but no prosecution was recommended.

In 1999, after pressure exerted by Mr Gordon’s solicitor, Assistant Commissioner Kevin Carty directed that an investigation team be set up, and the extent of the abuse was slowly uncovered by gardai .

Meaney, of Moyle Park, Clondalkin, was the fifth teacher and third religious brother to come before the courts.

Sentencing Meaney, formerly Brother Gregory, the judge expressed shock that so many teachers could be “debauching their pupils” in the same school.

“Any such ring would have been shocking ... to have (so many) teachers operating independently, separately, ignorant of each other’s criminal activity, and that the same victims were used, but not shared, is every bit as bizarre,” he said.

Another former Marist brother, who was jailed after being convicted of sexual abuse at the school, has had his conviction quashed and is facing a retrial later this year.

Despite having information, investigating gardai could find no evidence to support the existence of a paedophile ring.

When they questioned Meaney on whether he had been acting alone, he said: “I thought I was the only one.”

Last night, Deirdre Fitzpatrick, advocacy director of the One In Four support group for sexual abuse victims, said:

“The question has to be asked, who was managing this school during this reign of abuse? As the law currently stands, the boards of management have ultimate responsibility for child welfare and if something goes wrong, they are accountable.

“This loophole was highlighted in the High Court two years ago and we have been calling on the Department of Education to step in and take responsibilitysince then.”

Current chairman of the board of management of St John’s School, Father Tom Hever, said the school “thoroughly regretted” all that had happened in the past.

“What has occurred was terrible and the school acknowledges these terrible happenings, but we are making every effort since then, in terms of child protection, to ensure that such incidents would never happen again,” he said.

Meaney, who has already served a nine-year sentence for buggery, indecent assault and rape at a school in Castlerea where he taught between 1973 and 1991, went through the courts in an effort to stop the latest trial going ahead.

The judge praised investigating gardai, Detective Sergeant Dermot Flannery and Detective Andy Brennan, for their “hard work, tenacity and determination” which had taken up “a chunk of their lives” in bringing the cases to court.

In the course of that nineyear investigation, they interviewed hundreds of former pupils and brought over 1,000charges against five teachers.
Martin Meaney

Sentence: two years in prison

Former Brother Christopher, Martin Meaney yesterday received a two-year jail sentence on five sample counts of indecent assault against one victim, Paul Gordon.

Meaney admitted he had selected his victim carefully because of his impoverished background and because he appeared weak and hungry looking. He groomed him for weeks before the abuse began.

He took advantage of his then seven-year-old victim’s need for attention and kept him back after school pretending it was to give him music lessons.
Michael Cunnane

Sentence: three years suspended

In October 1999, retired teacher Michael Cunnane received a three-year suspended sentence after pleading guilty to 11 counts of indecently assaulting three boys between 1974 and 1981.

In May 2001, the same teacher was back before the courts.

That time, he received another suspended three-year sentence after admitting further counts of indecent assaults against five boys.

The abuse occurred under the pretence of giving horse riding lessons.
Peter White

Sentence: three years in prison

In June 2005, Peter White (74) of Celbridge Abbey, Celbridge, Co Kildare, was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to eight sample charges of indecent assault on two boys, in the 1970s.

His trial was told that he had inflicted “unfathomable torture” on the two small boys entrusted to his care.

White – formerly known as Brother Agnellus – followed the boys into the school toilets where he indecently assaulted them.

Trial Judge Miriam Reynolds said that he had used his cunning and his position as a teacher to terrorise these children in the classroom, where they should have felt protected and safe.
Patrick Curran

Sentence: 12 years in prison

In July 2005, Patrick Curran was found guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court of indecently assaulting nine boys he taught at the Sligo school between 1966 and 1984.

He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Described by the trial judge as a “determined paedophile”, Curran taught at St John’s National School from July 1966 until he was asked to leave when the allegations came to light in 1999.

Curran had denied an initial 237 counts of the indecent assault of 10 boys between September 1966 and June 1984.

At his trial, he described himself as a “gay person” with a sexual preference for old people over the age of 65.

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