Hereford & Worcester

Hymns and screams: Abuse at St Gilbert's approved school revealed

cadets and Christian brother Image copyright unknown
Image caption One of the abusers, Brother Roderick (pictured centre) with the school at RAF camp in the early 60s. He died in 2012

Pupils who were beaten and raped at a school run by a religious order have for the first time revealed a 30-year campaign of sadistic and degrading abuse.

The former schoolboys, who were as young as 11 when they were convicted of petty misdemeanours and sent to St Gilbert's in Worcestershire, are demanding answers from the De La Salle order, which ran the school under the governance of the Home Office.

They want to know why a teacher convicted of sex offences against boys continued to be employed? Why were parents who complained about severe beatings ignored? And why did police ignore the boys who asked for help?


What happened?

Image copyright BBC/unknown
Image caption Joe Riley pictured now, and as a child sitting with his uncle

Joe Riley, now 68, was the first to come forward. He currently lives in Northern Ireland where the order, also known as the Christian Brothers, is being investigated for alleged offences there.

Mr Riley, who kept his abuse a secret for 55 years, said that inquiry was the trigger for bringing his own case to public attention.

He was 12 in 1959 when he was sent to St Gilbert's in Hartlebury after being convicted of housebreaking and vandalism.

Mr Riley said he was raped by the headmaster, sexually abused by another brother and by a visiting priest.

"I remember lying in my dormitory, hearing the screams of other boys echoing through the house at night.

"I remember being beaten. I remember blood running down my legs. And then Brother Joseph tried to interfere with me.

"One minute you'd be singing hymns in church and everything and you'd come out and that's what they'd do to you after church.

"One minute you're on your knees praying to the Lord and then you'd be doing things the good Lord said you shouldn't do".

Another former pupil, 74-year-old Tom Graham from Boscombe in Dorset, described his treatment as "degradation and humiliation".

He was at the school from 1950 to 1956 and said he still struggles to swallow after a time when two of the Christian Brothers force-fed him his own vomit.

Mr Riley and Mr Graham have waived their right to anonymity to talk about the abuse - and a further 10 former pupils have spoken without being named.

One man said he was raped by older boys. Another said he was molested in the middle of the night in his dormitory.

Documents prove another boy was so badly beaten his father made a complaint to the police, and Home Office inspection reports show the Brothers were told to reduce the amount of corporal punishment they inflicted.


Who were the pupils?

Image caption Joe Riley's conviction sheet, showing his referral to St Gilbert's approved school

"Delinquent" boys were sent to St Gilbert's from all over the country, for crimes such as vandalism and petty theft.

Aged between 11 and 15, their sentences ranged from six months to three years - although many boys remained there significantly longer.

The aim of approved schools was to get troubled boys back on the straight-and-narrow, while providing them with an education and training for future employment.


Why was nothing done?

One boy's father had his concerns dismissed by the police and the Home Office. He wrote a letter and made a formal statement which said: "I was horrified at what I saw and felt like crying - that's the truth.

"I have no objection to normal chastisement as I understand they have to keep discipline… but these bruises were worse than any I've seen.

"If I had done it I would expect to be prosecuted in court."

An investigation concluded the boy had formerly been "indulged" by his family and that the beating was not inappropriately severe.

Mr Riley said he and others posted a note through the policeman's postbox in the village of Hartlebury while they were at the school - but nothing was done.

Because the school was a home for young offenders he says he thought they would not be believed.


What happens now?

Image caption A 1964 letter (l) from the Home Office notifying the order that deputy head teacher Brother Maurice had admitted indecent assault. Other files (r) were embargoed until 2044

Reports of the Home Office inspections are at the National Archives in London, where some were embargoed and had been intended to be unavailable until 2044.

But they were recently released under the Freedom of Information Act - and indicate serious concerns about the school.

It was revealed the deputy headmaster, Brother Maurice, had been convicted of six counts of sexually abusing boys at St Gilbert's but was reinstated as a teacher after being given a sentence of three years probation on condition he spend a year in a hospital.

The file also showed there had been previous complaints about him to the De La Salle order - which sent him to Scotland.

West Mercia Police has opened an investigation into abuse at the school in the 40s, 50s and 60s.

None of the St Gilbert's employees are still with the De La Salle order.

The two Christian Brothers who abused Joe Riley were Brother Robert Joseph McHale and Brother Joseph Roderick Nicholson.

They are both now dead.

Image copyright BBC/unknown
Image caption St Gilbert's building now and in the 1950s

  • 1944: De La Salle Order buys Waresley House in Hartlebury, Worcestershire
  • 1945: St Gilbert's is designated by the Home Office as an approved school for Roman Catholic "delinquent" boys
  • 1952: Home Office tells approved schools they must report all "indecency" to police
  • 1969: The Children and Young Person's Act 1969 abolishes the approved school system. Responsibility for St Gilbert's transfers to Hereford and Worcester County Council but it is still run by De La Salle
  • 1975: De La Salle Order leaves school and sells the Waresley estate to Worcestershire County Council. The catchment area narrows to Herefordshire and Worcestershire
  • 1986: School closes

Response from the order and the Home Office:

A statement from the De La Salle order said: "The order reaffirms its unreserved condemnation of abusive behaviour and its unreserved apology to victims and their families, along with its commitment to support them."

A statement from the Home Office said: "If anyone has been a victim of abuse, or knows of any abuse that has taken place at St Gilbert's approved school, they should report it to the police so it can be properly investigated."

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