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Tuesday 13 November 2018

Sex abuse school faces avalanche of lawsuits

Shane Phelan and  Anita Guidera

THE primary school at the centre of a shocking litany of abuse involving up to 50 former students over three decades is facing a raft of compensation cases from victims.

Paul Gordon, the chief whistleblower who exposed the abuse at St John's School in Sligo, last night confirmed he is seeking damages from the Marist Brothers religious order for the years of horrific abuse he suffered since the age of seven.

The Irish Independent has also learned a number of other surviving victims are also planning to take similar actions for distress suffered at the hands of teachers at the school between the 1960s and 1980s.

Gardai estimate that up to 50 boys aged between seven and 12 were abused by four teachers at St John's National School on Temple Street in Sligo during this period.

Four former teachers, including two former Marist brothers, have been convicted of indecent assault on children at the school.

Quashed

A third former Marist brother was also jailed after being convicted of sexual abuse at the school. But the conviction was quashed and he faces a retrial later this year.

The latest to be jailed, Martin Meaney (65), abused Mr Gordon when he was just seven years old. He was jailed earlier this week for two years after pleading guilty to five sample counts of indecent assault.

Meaney claimed in interviews with gardai that he was not acting as part of a paedophile ring.

However, Mr Gordon (44) claims that one was in operation as he was abused by three different teachers.

"I don't buy that it wasn't a ring. It had to be. There are four of them convicted. That is no coincidence," he told the Irish Independent.

"Someone has to be held accountable for what happened to us. I can't believe that the order didn't know what was happening when it was running the school.

"The money isn't important to me. But I want to make them pay for what they did."

The Marist Brothers left Sligo in 2001, citing falling vocations, and are no longer involved in running St John's.

A spokesman for the order last night apologised for the hurt suffered by those abused at the school.

"As a congregation we wish to express our deep pain and sadness at the hurt and distress that has been caused," he said.

The spokesman confirmed that the order was aware that civil actions were being taken by former pupils.

He said the actions were being taken against the order, the board of management of the school, the Department of Education and individual abusers.

The spokesman added that with more cases pending, it would be inappropriate to make any further comment.

Mr Gordon, a painter and decorator, is the only victim of abuse at the school to have publicly spoken out.

He claims to have been abused by three Marist brothers at the school and that his father, Edward, was paid cash by one of those to facilitate the abuse.

Killed

Mr Gordon killed his father in a row in 1983 and was later sentenced to eight years for manslaughter.

He says he has since been forgiven for the killing by his mother Kathleen and the rest of his family after the full circumstances of his childhood abuse became clear.

Other victims of abuse at the school, who spoke to the Irish Independent yesterday on condition of anonymity, also said they were preparing lawsuits against the order.

St John's has many high-flying former students, including Westlife singers Shane Filan and Kian Egan as well as Aer Lingus chief executive Dermot Mannion.

The Westlife duo have said they were unaware of any abuse while they were at the school.

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