Fort Augustus Abbey abuse victims to sue Church

VICTIMS of physical and sexual abuse by monks at a boarding school in the Highlands are to launch a lawsuit for hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation against the Catholic Church.
Six former pupils of Fort Augustus Abbey school have instructed Switalskis to sue the Benedictines. Picture: Peter JolleySix former pupils of Fort Augustus Abbey school have instructed Switalskis to sue the Benedictines. Picture: Peter Jolley
Six former pupils of Fort Augustus Abbey school have instructed Switalskis to sue the Benedictines. Picture: Peter Jolley

Six former pupils of Fort Augustus Abbey school, which was run by the Benedictine Order, have instructed Switalskis, an English law firm with a reputation for securing compensation for the victims of child sexual abuse, to sue the Benedictines. Legal proceedings are expected to begin within the next few weeks.

A solicitor for Switalskis, David Greenwood, said the firm would be seeking from £30,000 to more than £100,000 per person depending on the abuse suffered and how it has impacted on each former pupil’s life and ability to secure employment.

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However, he criticised the Catholic Church in Scotland and the Benedictine Order in England for failing to offer support to victims.

Despite Hugh Gilbert, the Bishop of Aberdeen, within whose diocese the school was based, insisting that “all should, and must, be done” to help the victims, the Catholic Church in Scotland has extended no assistance and has told victims to contact the Benedictines in England who, in turn, said they should speak to the charity Children 1st.

Greenwood said: “Some people may not have been able to work for a long time, in which case the value of their cases would be very high and over £100,000. These lads have been subjected to the most horrendous regime of physical abuses, in many cases sexual abuse, at Fort Augustus and they are certainly deserving men and how they have managed to cope with all the memories that have happened to them is hard to understand.

“In almost every case I have been involved in, the Catholic Church has fought tooth and nail to avoid compensating victims of sexual abuse by their priests or clergy and I don’t expect any miracles from them, I’m sorry to say.

“I have experience of other cases where they have put together decent counselling packages for people without admitting liability and before legal proceedings are pursued. Some of these religious orders have been quite responsive, but the Benedictines are not going down that line.

“They are not putting any money on the table or counselling, even though they are well aware of the impact on people of these revelations coming out. It can cause a complete breakdown in people’s lives because of these memories being trawled back up.”

Police launched an inquiry into allegations of abuse at the fee-paying school in the Highlands earlier this year, after a complaint from Andrew Lavery, 41, who now lives in Newcastle and who suffered both physical and sexual assault while a pupil at the school.

He said he was unable to work after suffering a serious injury last year that brought back memories of his time at the school, and has been diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Lavery, who is among the victims taking legal action, said: “I’m living in purgatory at the moment. I’m unable to work. I’ve no money and the Catholic Church has offered no assistance whatsoever. When I raised the issue of material support I was treated with ill-disguised contempt.

“It is all very well for a bishop to mouth platitudes about doing all they can, but it should be highlighted that in reality they have chosen to do nothing.

“The terrible impact upon my health of the abuse that I received is only now being realised. However, I’m left waiting, often fighting for access to scarce NHS services and facing a lengthy wait for treatment. The Catholic Church were very interested in me when I was a child, but not now.”

Five men told a recent BBC Scotland documentary that they were raped or sexually abused by Father Aidan Duggan, an Australian monk who taught at Fort Augustus, and at Carlekemp, its preparatory school in East Lothian, between 1953 and 1974. Duggan died in 2004, but a number of those accused of abuse are still alive and are now subject to an ongoing investigation by Police Scotland.

A spokesman for the Benedictines said: “The English Benedictine Congregation is appalled at these very serious allegations of abuse and very sorry about any abuse that may have been committed and any failures to alert the appropriate authorities at the time.

“In terms of offering counselling to potential victims and families who may make contact with us, we sought advice from Children 1st and the police. Firstly, we urge victims of alleged abuse to contact the police. Secondly, we make 
people aware they can contact Children 1st, who have, in 
liaison with the police, set up a support line. Thirdly, people can approach us wanting to talk with us on an individual basis, and we have of course supported those people.”

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: “We deplore acts of abuse at any time, in any place, committed by anyone representing the Church.

“While our diocesan safeguarding teams remain ready to listen to anyone who has suffered, individuals would be expected to access such provision in their own locality.”

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Last week an 80-year-old man was charged in connection with abuse at Fort Augustus Abbey school.

Twitter: @sgmcginty