Man sexually abused by monks awarded £317,000 damages for ‘life-long‘ suffering

Sheriff Court
Sheriff Court

A man who developed a “life-long psychiatric injury” after being physically and sexually abused by monks while staying at a residential school nearly 40 years ago has been awarded more than £300,000 in damages.

The All-Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court ruled that the pursuer would “suffer for the rest of his life” as a result of the abuse he experienced during his two-year stay at the residential home in Fife, which justified an award “near the top of the scale”.

‘Physical and sexual abuse’

Sheriff Kenneth McGowan heard that the pursuer “T”, who wished to remain anonymous, stayed at St Ninian’s School in Falkland between January 1979 and December 1980.

There he was raped, beaten and sexually assaulted by Brother Ryan, who died in 2013 and sexually assaulted by Brother Farrell, who was jailed in 2016.

Brother Ryan would frequently get drunk and enter T’s bedroom to rape him, while Brother Farrell would also consume alcohol and abuse him on separate occasions.

He was also repeatedly assaulted by Timothy Foxhall, a music, art and PE teacher at the school.

On one occasion Mr Foxhall dragged the pursuer down two flights of stairs and on another the teacher forced his head down onto a gravel path, as a result of which the pursuer required an operation to remove a stone from his ear.

The pursuer raised an action for damages against the defenders, the Congregation of Christian Brothers, in respect of the physical and sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of the three individuals while staying at the school in his early teens.

The court was told that the pursuer suffered life-long consequences as a result of the abuse.

During his late teens, he was anti-social, aggressive and “tended to look for trouble”.

His life changed for the better when he met his wife, whom he married when he was 20. She noticed, however, that he was “not good around other people” and it took a long time for him to form a physical relationship with her.

While the couple’s children were growing up, T was “untrusting and overprotective”, and would not allow his children to have or attend “sleepovers”.

Having left the residential school with no qualifications, the pursuer’s education and employment were also adversely affected, and it took some time before he started to work steadily and full-time.

Despite the effects on him of the abuse he suffered and ongoing limitations in his literacy and numeracy, he worked hard and has managed to obtain and hold down a managerial post in a cleaning business since 2016.

‘Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’

However, the pursuer suffered long-term health problems as a result of the abuse.

Although it was not diagnosed at the time, he developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) shortly after leaving the residential school - a condition that has persisted to the present day. 

The pursuer’s mental health has been affected by his PTSD throughout his adult life. 

He suffered from emotional instability, difficulty with trust and establishing relationships, low mood and anxiety, flashbacks of the abuse, nightmares, behavioural problems, abuse of alcohol to cope with problems, sleep problems, recurring feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness and hyper-vigilance and avoidance behaviours.

In 2007 he was diagnosed with depression and in 2010 he attempted suicide by hanging.

Throughout his adolescence and for most of his adult life, the pursuer did not tell anybody about the abuse which he suffered at the residential school.

He told his wife he had been in care and she knew that something had happened, but not any detail.

During the 1990s, the police embarked on enquiries into events at the residential school and the pursuer was contacted by officers, but he did not wish to become involved and actively avoided engaging with them.

Following the death of Brother Ryan in 2013 the pursuer was contacted again by police and provided a statement.

He was later called as a witness in the trial of Brother Farrell in 2016, who was ultimately convicted in the High Court of sexually assaulting the pursuer.

‘Loss, injury and damage’

T was seeking more than £1 million in damages for the “life-changing injuries” and “life-long damage” suffered as a result of the abuse, but the defenders argued that a total award of £140,000 would be “justified in the circumstances”.

The sheriff ordered the Christian Brothers to pay a total of £317,224 in damages.

In a written judgment, Sheriff McGowan said: “The severity of the abuse in this case and the damage suffered by the pursuer justify an award near the top of the scale for cases of this nature.

“A number of seriously aggravating features were present. The damage caused by the abuse had resulted in life-long psychiatric injury in the form of PTSD which T will suffer for the rest of his life; he had suffered a profound and permanent effect in his well-being and quality of life; major aspects of his life had suffered impact; he had specific problems with anger-management, stress, depression, low-self-worth, problems with sleeping and nightmares, hyper vigilance, lack of trust and had attempted suicide; on repeated occasions; the pursuer was unable to disclose the abuse for many years; suffered the ordeal of giving evidence at Farrell’s trial and in this action; and his employment options have been restricted and his career progression hampered and delayed.”

He concluded: “I find that the defenders are liable to make reparation to the pursuer for the loss, injury and damage which he suffered as a result of the actions of Brothers Ryan and Farrell and Mr Foxhall, for which the they are vicariously responsible; and thereafter grant decree for payment by the defenders in the sum of £317,224 including interest to the date hereof.”

St Ninian’s is one of the institutes that have featured in the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, chaired by Lady Smith.

© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2020

Other judgments by Sheriff Kenneth McGowan