Catholic Church Could Face Multi-Million Pound Payout As Abuse Case Is Heard

The Vatican, centre of the Catholic Church. The Church in the UK could face its biggest ever payout following abuse claims being heard in a civil case in Leeds from today.Reuters

The Catholic Church in the UK could face a multi-million pound compensation bill following a test case which opens today on sexual abuse at a former children's home.

The civil case, at the high court in Leeds, comes after the imprisonment earlier this year of the former principal and the chaplain at the home for offences against 11 boys between 1970 and 1991.

Five survivors have brought a civil claim against the Catholic Diocese of Middlesbrough and the De La Salle brotherhood, whose members ran St William's Home in Market Weighton, east Yorkshire.

The Catholic Church in the UK could face one of the biggest payouts in its history if the civil case is successful.

Some 249 people have alleged that they were sexually and physically abused by staff at the home.

In January this year, the former principal, James Carragher was jailed for 15 years for 21 indecent assaults and three serious sex offences. He was cleared of a further 30 charges.

It was the third time that Carragher had been sent to jail for abusing boys at the home.

The former chaplain, Anthony MacCallen, was convicted of 11 charges, including a serious sexual offence. He was acquitted of eight others.

Sentencing the men, Judge Geoffrey Marson QC said the survivors had suffered "severe long-term, continuing psychological harm as a result of what you did".

The residential school was owned by the diocese of Middlesbrough and run by members of the De La Salle brotherhood. It took boys from troubled backgrounds referred by local authorities, until it closed in 1992.

An earlier civil action was launched in 2004, but was delayed because of a dispute between the diocese and brotherhood over which of them was liable for an £8m compensation claim.

Eventually, in 2012, the supreme court ruled that both were liable.

One survivor, Nigel Feeley, told the BBC that he had lived through a nightmare. "He had the power. You couldn't get away from it. You had to live the nightmare," he said. "You couldn't scream at him and say go away, get off me, because he had the power."

David Greenwood of Switalskis solicitors, who has represented survivors since 2003, said: "It is hoped that this trial will bring a positive conclusion to the cases for the many deserving victims of abuse at St William's. There is no doubt that widespread sexual abuse of boys was taking place at St William's. There have been many convictions, in 1993, 2004 and 2015. This case is a test for our civil justice system. I hope it will be able to provide real justice."

The case is expected to last three weeks.