THE long battle to win compensation for the children abused at St William’s Community Home, Market Weighton, could yet run for at least another 12 months, despite a court ruling finding the Middlesbrough Diocese liable for its management.
Judge Hawkesworth, QC’s, decision to grant leave to appeal against his judgement, which followed an exhaustive trawl through the complex management history of the home, is likely to mean more legal wrangling before lawyers go through a final total of 142 individual claims to finalise damages.
The Catholic Church has previously been accused of “prolonging the agony” of the victims by the claimants’ solicitor but the De La Salle Brotherhood will certainly feel vindicated in fighting its corner after being found to be free of liability by the judge.
The case revolves around the alleged systematic abuse of children at St William’s between 1960 and 1992, when the home was closed. It had taken in emotionally and behaviourally-disturbed boys, aged between 10 and 16, referred from local authorities, largely from Yorkshire and the North East.
The school has since been demolished and Linden House mental hospital now stands on the site.
Jordans solicitors took on the compensation case six years ago in the wake of an investigation by Humberside Police into the home’s former headmaster, Brother James Carragher.
In November 2004, Carragher was sentenced to 14 years in prison after being convicted of abusing boys at the home between 1968 and 1992.
He had already been given a seven-year term in 1993 for other offences of serious sexual abuse at the home.
The legal action includes abuse claims involving Carragher but also many claims against other staff. About 2,000 children and 500 staff were at St Williams over the 30-year period.
Some of the individual claims involve serious sexual abuse up to rape and could run to six-figure sums. Lower-end claims revolve around the excessive punishment regime which amounted to physical abuse. About 70 per cent of the claims involve sexual abuse.
The legal action was targeted against the Middlesbrough Diocese and De La Salle as both being corporately responsible for the management of the St William’s. But the defendants pointed the finger at each other.
The recent judgement followed a trial at the High Court in Leeds in July which heard evidence on the home’s employees and historical management structures.
Although De La Salle Brothers were in senior positions, Judge Hawkesworth found they were not actually employed by the lay order and that responsibility instead fell to the diocese, which had the power to appoint employees at the home.
Both the diocese and the claimants are likely to challenge the judgement, essentially on the grounds the Brothers’ devotion and commitment to their lay order, which included giving up their worldly possessions in return for board, lodgings and a small allowance, should constitute a quasi-employment relationship.
Claimants’ solicitor David Greenwood said: “The appeal against the decision could mean that the claimants face a 12- month delay until the Court of Appeal resolves the De La Salle issue. Once again my claimants who are determined and patient may have to pursue a change in the law to secure justice.
“There were a lot of homes such as St William’s which were staffed by members of religious organisations. These religious organisations should not be allowed to escape responsibility for their staff.”
In response to the judgement, Brother Aidan Kilty, Provincial of the De La Salle Brothers, said: “We deeply regret what happened at St William’s” but he added that De La Salle had always rejected responsibility for the management of St William’s.