A Catholic monk carried out a catalogue of brutality and degrading abuse against pupils at a residential school during a “regime of fear”.
Michael Murphy (82) was known as Brother Benedict or Brother Ben to children in his care at St Joseph’s List D School in Tranent in East Lothian, where he perpetrated indecency and violence against youngsters.
Irish-born Murphy denied a string of charges against him during his trial at the High Court in Edinburgh claiming: “I should not be here in this court at all.”
But a jury convicted him of 15 charges of assault and indecent assault yesterday involving eight boys spanning the decade up to 1981. Murphy was acquitted of a further two charges.
Victims told his trial that he had laughed when administering electric shocks to boys using a hand-wound generator dubbed “The Tickler”. One boy had his hands burned and another lapsed into unconsciousness.
One pupil was locked in an unlit cupboard overnight and another was urinated on by the De La Salle brother.
One 57-year-old man told the High Court in Edinburgh: “Because of what happened to me in there my children never went to a Catholic school.”
Another former pupil at St Joseph’s described how he was painfully molested by Murphy during a sex attack. He told police that he had asked the brother what he was doing during the assault. “He said he was checking me.”
The 49-year-old man said that as a boy he did not know what was happening but when he looked round saw that his assailant was carrying out a sex act on himself.
“As soon as he saw me turn around he punched me on the jaw to make me turn away,” he said.
The victim said he had started crying and found the indecent assault “painful”.
Like some of the other troubled children placed in the school the effects of the abuse haunted his later life. He said: “There has been a lot of confusion within my whole life.” He later underwent rehabilitation and attended Narcotics’ Anonymous.”
Another boy was subjected to a rape ordeal by the monk and an accomplice when he was aged 14 or 15 in the showers. He was also warned that if he told anyone of the sexual abuse he would never see his parents again.
One former pupil, who had been taken into care after his mother had difficulties coping, ended up at the East Lothian school where he recalled the Catholic brother administering electric shocks and “squeezing my wee hand”.
He said. “I am 44 now. This is when I was 11, but I can remember the shock. It was sore.”
He was asked how Murphy appeared as shocks were given and replied: “As if he was getting enjoyment out of it.”
Another ex-pupil said Brother Benedict had “a wee box” and when it was wound up it would generate electric shocks through clips or sometimes bare wiring. He said he ran off from the residential school many times in a bid to get home.
One former pupil said of the institution: “It was just run on a regime of fear.” He was asked by advocate depute Paul Kearney if Brother Benedict had played a role in that regime and said: “He was the housemaster. You usually had to answer to him.”
He said boys attending a “club” at the school would be offered prizes, such as cigarettes, during an electrocution session with Brother Ben turning the handle on the device. “The person who could take the most punishment got the prize,” he said.
“Everyone in the group stood in a circle and held hands. That’s when the electricity was passed from one person to another,” he said.
He said it was presented as “a game with a prize at the end of it”. He told the court: “You didn’t want to look a coward.”
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“It was like getting a wee shock off a plug. Then it would intensify the more it got turned. It was painful,” he said. He added: “Any time I ever brought it up I was told ‘don’t talk about these things’.”
“The more and more I saw, the more and more I learnt, I started absconding at every chance. They told me I kept absconding I would be put in another approved school. That’s what I wanted,” he said.
One 59-year-old, who had been at the school as a boy of 14 and 15, told the court he was abused by a monk as he slept at a cottage in the grounds of the school.
“I used to wet the bed and Brother Ben would come in and put his hand under the covers to see if I was wet. He would feel my private bits,” he said.
He said it was “very wrong” what the religious figure was doing, but he did not tell teachers or care workers. He explained: “I didn’t want any shouting or bawling. I wanted home for the weekends.”
He said he was frightened of Brother Ben. He had also attended the club where he was subjected to electric shocks. He said the monk was “happy, laughing” giving the shocks and added: “I didn’t like to say no to Brother Ben just in case he picked you up by your ears.”
He said on occasions the brother would grab a victim by the ears and pull until they were on their tiptoes.
The man also told the court that Murphy would also resort to more serious violence and kicked him at the bottom of his spine. “He knew where he was hitting you, because it was really, really sore. I was crying and everything. He would just do it anywhere.”
He was asked what the brother wore on his feet and said: “A pair of tackety boots, steel toe caps. I will never forget it.”
“You always tried to stay out of his way. You didn’t know what mood he was in,” he told Murphy’s trial.
He had served as an altar boy at chapel but said that the monk had molested you. “He would grab a hold of you, cuddling you, but at the same time he was touching your private parts,” he said. The man said that later in his life he had suffered a breakdown.
A 57-year-old man told the court that he suffered a boyhood beating at the school that left him screaming as a belt was wielded on him. “The marks are still on my back today,” he said.
“You got that if you brought the school into disrepute, if you brought the police to the door,” he said.
He was also subjected to electric shocks with Brother Ben winding the handle on the generator. “I got it on both occasions. I never went back to his club,” he said.
He said of Brother Ben: “He thought it was really, really funny. He was heehawing and laughing.”
“I thought he was a lunatic. I thought he was off his head. You didn’t mess with Brother Ben,” he said. He said he was “elated” when he left St Joseph’s and told the court: “Because of what happened to me in there my children never went to a Catholic school.”
One teenager who struck back against violence at the school was electrocuted until he blacked out.
He was asked by Murphy’s defence counsel, Peter Ferguson QC, how the electricity was applied to him and replied: “I couldn’t really tell you. All I felt was getting undressed, tied round my privates. The shocks were all over me, my head and my arms. It was like a stabbing sensation I was getting.”
He said: “Brother Benedict bossed the school. He was the one. He was the boss.”
Murphy, of Clayton Court, Rogate Road, Liss, Hampshire, who trained as a social worker, had maintained his innocence and told jurors: “As a matter of fact I should not be here in this court at all. I have done nothing wrong in St Joseph’s.”
He claimed he had always treated children with respect and said: “I am very unlucky.”
He said he had taken three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and told the court: “I am a member of a religious order. I have never been involved in sexual abuse in my life with a man, woman or child.”
Under cross-examination by Mr Kearney Murphy said his nickname at the school had been “Bootsy”, but denied it was because he kicked boys with hobnail boots. He said it was because of a TV programme, Bootsy and Snudge.
The trial judge, Lord Uist, adjourned the proceedings after the jury returned its verdicts yesterday afternoon.
On Friday, defence advocate Peter Ferguson QC said Murphy maintained he was innocent of any wrong doing.
Mr Ferguson also said his client accepted a prison sentence was inevitable.
Lord Uist also placed Murphy on the Sex Offenders Register for life.
He added: “You are now 82 years old. I take into account that you have otherwise done some good over the years, but I must have regard to your previous conviction for ten earlier assaults on boys during the years when you worked at St Ninian’s School, Gartmore between 1960 and 1969, which resulted in a sentence of 12 months imprisonment.
“On all the charges of which you have been convicted, taken together, the sentence which I impose is 7 years imprisonment.
“As a result of that sentence you now become subject to the notification requirements of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 for an indefinite period”.