Saga puts family in spotlight of social history
THE McCOLGAN family from County Sligo yesterday became part of Irish social history securing a £1m court-approved settlement the first of its kind in their case against the North Western Health Board and Dr Desmond Moran. The settlement will be implemented by the health board.
The gruelling 13-day High Court civil case, which dragged out over seven weeks, followed a shorter but no less traumatic criminal trial in 1995 which saw paedophile Joe McColgan sentenced to 12 years in jail.
Gerard, Sophia, Michelle and Keith McColgan, still deeply traumatised by the effects of his cruel physical and sexual abuse, have travelled a huge distance in the four short years since they made their first formal statements to gardai.
Over that time, they decided to throw off the cloak of anonymity to more fully expose the tragedy of their case and point the finger at those they felt should carry the blame for their actions or inaction their father, the health board and Dr Moran.
The day Joe McColgan was convicted, Gerard and his mother met two reporters from the Irish Independent and recounted the horrific litany of abuse and the missed opportunities for intervention by professionals.
Mrs Patsy McColgan said: ``I don't want any dealings with him anymore. He knew what he was from the start. He had no right to ask anybody to marry him.
``When I heard his statement in court `I'll be thinking of you always', he'd always love me. I mean how can you love somebody and do that to them?''
Days later, Sophia told her story by telephone and joined in their criticism of the authorities saying: ``I am not out to get money, but I would like to see the professionals pay for what they did.''
In the mid-1970s Sophia and Gerry McColgan spent two or three idyllic years with their maternal grandparents Joe and Sally Berreen in Co Sligo while their parents' struggled by on just Patsy's working wage in England.
Sophia McColgan was six and had not made her First Communion when her father first violated her on a sunny day on the bog. He later defiled the memory of her communion day by taking her home from church and abusing her.
ISPCC director of services Paul Gilligan, reviewing the health board file on the McColgan family, noted that after Sophia had been admitted to hospital in 1979 with a badly broken nose her mother told social workers that her husband had been beating the children and she wanted them taken into care.
While the sexual abuse was always covert, the mother and other children were forced to sit ``like a court'' and watch as their father interrogated and beat his eldest son and the two girls.
It was his maternal grandfather Joe Berreen who first noticed marks and took Gerard to hospital. Patsy, his mother, was told Gerry would have to go to Dr Moran once a week for counselling.
Gerard told the High Court Dr Moran had threatened to send him to Loughan House for electric shock treatment.
Within minutes of yesterday's settlement, Dr Moran stressed he had never referred or threatened to refer anybody for electro-convulsive shock treatment.
But later at a family press conference, Gerard stood by his sworn evidence in the High Court.
When Sophia was about seven and Gerry nine, Joe McColgan took his son and daughter to the attic, showed them pornographic pictures and tried unsuccessfully to force them to have sex.
In 1981, Gerard's father broke his arm with a blow from a shovel. He warned his son to tell the hospital he fell. But some time later, Gerard ran to a grand-aunt's house in nearby Collooney and told her what happened. She brought him to local Sergeant Tom O'Brien.
On August 24, Sgt O'Brien phoned NWHB social worker Edna Keon. In 1979, he had described Joe McColgan as ``a dangerous character'' to the health board.
A prosecution was taken against Joe McColgan around that time, but Gerard was only able to tell the court that it did not appear to be successful. He did not know at the time what had happened.
When she was 12, Sophia was sent to the Ursuline College 10 miles away in Sligo town, where Joe McColgan's parents still lived. Every single evening for her first three years in school, he would pick her up and take her to the remote farmhouse beyond Lough Gill and sexually abuse her.
After being taken into care at Geevagh House in Co Sligo in 1983, Gerard eventually found the courage to confide in senior social worker Val O'Kelly about the sexual abuse at the hands of his father.
In a 1984 report, she wrote: ``It is my opinion I am dealing with a very pathological family.''
Yet Sophia, Michelle and Keith were left in the family home to continue under Joe McColgan's reign of terror.
Gerry's principal, Sr Colette Kilcoyne of Coláiste Mhuire, led a delegation from the school to a health board case conference in June 1983. She firmly believed Gerry was being abused by his father, but found the emphasis at the case conference to be on disciplining Gerard.
At the end of the conference, Dr Moran took all responsibility for the case and the school was no longer invited to become involved. She got the impression that Dr Moran believed Gerard was manipulative. She felt a deep unease then that lasted with her to today.
According to his defence counsel, Dr Moran ``counselled'' Mr McColgan 38 times in 1983/84, but the horrific catalogue of abuse continued in Gerry's absence.
Sophia told the Irish Independent in 1995: ``In 1983, I watched Gerard go to educated people who are supposed to deal with people like our family. I watched them come to the house to take him into care.
``He was my only support, there's a year's gap between us. He would stick up for me. I got an awful lot of abuse when he left the house. My response then was to jump into my education. I decided there and then at that particular time at the age of 12 to study and get a degree.
``I thought that I would have to be an educated and professional person to get these people to believe me.''