Monday 24 November 2014

Health board's failings that left school man free to prey on boys

Greg Harkin

Published 03/04/2014 | 02:30

Picture posed. Thinkstock
Picture posed. Thinkstock

A HEALTH board failed in its basic duties to investigate a paedophile who later returned to his job as a school caretaker and sexually abused more young boys there, a damning report has found.

Former student priest Michael Ferry (58) is serving a 14-year sentence after pleading guilty to dozens of sickening sex attacks on young boys at an Irish language college in west Donegal.

There was uproar three years ago when it emerged that Ferry had been convicted in 2002 for sex attacks on another young boy, but had continued in his role as caretaker at Colaiste Cholmcille in Gweedore.

He continued his reign of terror there for eight more years until his arrest by gardai at the former Ardscoil Mhuire secondary school building.

The HSE ordered an investigation into how the case was handled and, today, the Irish Independent can reveal its shocking contents.

The internal review found that, despite warnings from gardai about Ferry's 2002 conviction, none of the procedures established three years earlier under the national 'Children First' guidelines to prevent further crimes was carried out.

No attempt was made to investigate whether Ferry had children of his own and his family members who did have children were never told about him.

In 2002, the report found, no attempt was made to establish Ferry's employment history or role in youth organisations despite the fact he had taught at a local secondary school and worked for the Order of Malta.

"This was a fundamental requirement given this man's convictions and prior history," says the report.

Ferry, the report said, was employed by the Catholic Church as caretaker at Ardscoil Mhuire in the 1980s. When the school closed and became an Irish language summer college he continued his role there.

Gardai had warned the then North Western Health Board of Ferry's arrest in July 2002. A superintendent had repeated the warning later that year – when Ferry pleaded guilty. A review of files also found social workers contacted a director of Colaiste Cholmcille on November 4, 2002, to inform the director of Ferry's conviction.

There was no record that any action was taken in July 2002 despite the garda warning, says the report, and in November 2002 there was no evidence to show the case was pursued. The file was closed two days later.

The report also showed a garda called to the school on June 18, 2005, to inform it that Ferry had been convicted of a sex offence against a 14-year-old boy in 2002. The file showed that Ferry had been caretaker at a pre-school based on the Irish college site until about two weeks beforehand.

TRAUMATISED

The garda visit was prompted by an anonymous call. Gardai passed the information to the health board, and while it was noted, no action was taken.

It was only in 2010 that health staff dealt with the issue correctly when the new allegations emerged and Ferry was arrested. In this instance, the review said, all proper procedures were followed, and staff had developed "a comprehensive response to the allegations".

However, the review found there was still no local written Child Protection Policy in place in 2010, corrected only on May 8, 2012.

The victim in the case of the 2002 conviction told the Irish Independent that he had been left "deeply traumatised" by the revelations in the HSE report.

He had agreed at the time that Ferry should not be named because Ferry had claimed his mother was dying.

"The fact is that I went forward and Ferry pleaded guilty and I went away thinking that no other child would have to go through what I went through," said the man, now in his 40s.

"To my horror Michael Ferry returned to that school.

"The HSE have compiled a report that shows the incompetence and inaction of the health authorities over my abuse. I now know for sure that none of this was my fault. I now know that I could do no more to help other future victims of Michael Ferry because the authorities didn't know what they were doing themselves."

Irish Independent

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