Beds, Herts & Bucks

Anger as Catholic orphanage abuse inquiry ends

Father John Ryan, photographed in the early 1960s on a trip to Lourdes with some of the residents of St Francis Boys Home
Image caption Fr John Ryan was photographed in the early 1960s on a trip to Lourdes with some of the boys at the home

Former residents of a Catholic orphanage who claim they suffered physical and sexual abuse have expressed anger at a police decision to end an inquiry into the allegations.

In May Bedfordshire Police said it had started an investigation into abuse at the St Francis Boys Home in Shefford in the 1950s and 1960s.

Police said they had ended the inquiry as there was no-one alive to prosecute.

Ex-resident Tony Walsh said he was "disgusted" at the development.

The BBC has talked to former residents of the home who allege they were physically and/or sexually abused at the orphanage, run by the Catholic diocese of Northampton.

'Can't believe it'

In a letter to the complainants, Bedfordshire Police said officers had taken statements from 28 victims and identified a number of new suspects.

Police said the suspects included one priest (believed to be Father John Ryan, who ran the home in the 1960s) and four nuns, who "were found to have died", and two other suspects who cannot be located.

The police letter states that "as those suspects traced have died the investigation cannot be taken any further as there are no living people to prosecute".

The letter adds: "The case will now be closed and only reopened if living suspects are traced."

It also reveals that files relating to previous investigations into abuse at the home in 2002-2003, which police said in October were "presumed destroyed", had now been located.

Gordon McIntosh, a spokesman for ex-residents who says he was physically abused at the home, said: "I am saddened by the decision to close the case.

"How can they close it when they haven't located all the suspects?"

He said ex-residents were still coming forward and closing the case seemed "premature".

Image caption St Francis Boys Home closed in the mid 1970s and was later converted into flats

Mr McIntosh, of Roehampton, south-west London, said former residents would be continuing their fight for justice and a group was bringing a civil case against the Catholic Church.

Tony Walsh, 65, of Ashton-under-Lyne in Greater Manchester, who alleges he was sexually abused by Fr Ryan and has waived his right to anonymity, said: "I can't believe they are dropping the case. It's disgusting."

He called for an independent inquiry into the case.

Bedfordshire Police said any new complaints would be investigated.

A force spokeswoman said: "Officers from the Safeguarding Unit have fully investigated each one and all offenders that could be identified and traced are now dead.

"Much like Operation Yewtree, the Savile inquiry, complainants have now felt able to contact the police where they had not done before.

"Unfortunately, as with Yewtree, the historical nature of the events means that there can be no criminal prosecution."

Northamptonshire Diocese of the Catholic Church, which ran the home, has said it "deeply regrets" any hurt caused, but stresses the "claims are not proven".

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