Survivors accuse Catholic church and police of 'covering up' decades of child sexual abuse

Harrowing details of violent and sexual abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic priests in the Midlands have been revealed today.

An inquiry panel has heard how for years, claims by victims and survivors were ignored, minimised and brushed under the carpet by senior figures in the Archdiocese of Birmingham - with suggestions the police may have been aware of what was going on.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is spending this week looking into the way the Archdiocese - the biggest such province in England and Wales - handled reports of abuse.

On the second day of hearings, the panel heard from a survivor known as A31, who was targeted by former priest James Robinson; as well as a man who says he was abused by Father John Tolkien, the son of Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien.

Evidence was also read from ex-pupils of St Joseph’s RC School at Croome Court in Worcestershire, detailing brutal beatings by nuns, and sexual abuse by a priest.

READ MORE: The Independent Inquiry turns its attention to Birmingham and the timetable for the hearing.

Former priest James Robinson was jailed in 2010. Credit: ITV Central

James Robinson

A31 - who, like all victims of sexual abuse, are legally entitled to remain anonymous - described being groomed, as Robinson took a 'special interest' in him; An interest which sparked no suspicion from his family, devout Catholics with utmost deference for the clergy.

It began when he was just 10 years old, during the early 70s.

On one occasion, he said, Robinson kidnapped him for six hours; while on other occasions sexual abuse took place in Robinson's car and mother's home, at A31's home, at the church and at his school.

He recalled one car journey when he says Robinson pulled into a layby and called it "lover's lane".

He had no contact with the priest between 1976 and 1985, when he said he felt moved by a need to protect other children.

He contacted Robinson to arrange a meeting, and - armed with a Sony Walkman voice recorder - tried to gather evidence of what had happened between them.

Transcripts from their conversation include the following extracts:

Extract 1

  • A31: Tell me from the bottom of your heart that you are not involved with any other children.
  • R: No, no.
  • A31: If it happened with me, you can see why I have got to ask you.
  • R: You know that with you and me it was a mistake that just happened and it was completely buried ages ago.

Extract 2

  • A31: I'm not saying that you're perverted but what I am saying is that no other child could cope with that.
  • R: You could cope with it because you were more mature for your years than anyone else.

Extract 3

  • A31: You must admit it was a pretty strange start in life. Unusual for a child to get involved in a gay affair...and carry it on for six years.
  • R: It wasn't a gay affair though, was it?
  • A31: How do you mean? You don't regard yourself as gay? ... I don't mind if I'm gay.

It appears police did not act on the tape, and A31’s bid to get officers to investigate Robinson a decade down the line, in 1995, was rejected as the tape was not considered high enough quality to be “safe”, and there was “no evidence to corroborate” what he had said.

The inquiry panel, sitting in London. Credit: IICSA

By 2002, as A31 was pursuing the case again, the original records of his 1985 report had been destroyed.

In fact, a letter from the police reveals the only copy existed in the records of the Archdiocese itself.

It appears that DI Higgins [who dealt with the 1985 report] passed your statement to the church for their information and usage in expelling Robinson from the church.

– Letter to A31 from West Midlands Police

In an emotional conclusion, A31 said the abuse had “destroyed my life, not once, not twice but repeatedly and it's ongoing.”

“I’ve been fighting for my sanity. I clearly documented extremely dubious behaviour by the Archdiocese of Birmingham and the West Midlands Police and I went I want to say is this can't go on,” he said.

"If you want to know the emotional impact for me that's... little children know... people who they think are angels turn out to be demons. As they're being assaulted in their heart is why? Why are you doing this to me?"

In 2010, Robinson was found guilty of 21 charges relating to child sexual abuse following a trial - convictions which A31's taped evidence helped to secure.

He was sentenced to 21 years in prison, where he remains today.

Father John Tolkien

A witness referred to as A343 also took the stand, detailing what he said had been ongoing abuse as a child at the hands of Father John Tolkien.

He said he had been invited to Tolkien’s home for special reading lessons, as he was dyslexic - though at the time, it was undiagnosed and he was simply considered to be “below standard reading age”.

No reading ever took place, he said.

“He said I’d been chosen - it was between me, him and Jesus,” he said.

“Then he said I needed to take my trousers down and kneel in the prayer position, and keep my eyes closed, and my hands together.

“Then he took my underwear down.”

He said he had been too frightened to do anything other than what he was told, due to the power the priest was seen to hold.

A343 did not tell anyone what had happened until he saw a psychiatrist as a teenager - and even then, he said, he was unaware that it had been recorded in his medical notes until years later, when his solicitors obtained a copy of his records.

John Tolkien used to lead mass at this church in Stoke-on-Trent Credit: ITV Central News

Years later, he saw an appeal from West Midlands Police asking for anyone with information about potential abuse by Tolkien to come forward - but the case was eventually dropped, deemed "not in the public interest" due to Tolkien's poor health, and was dropped.

He said he had tried to speak to members of the Archdiocese about what had happened, including to another priest who had worked with Tolkien.

“He knew what was going on, but he couldn’t do anything about it because the power Tolkien had - financially, and with the Bishop - was too much and he would have been thrown out,” he said.

It has since been reported that a complaint had been made against Tolkien in 1968, when he told Boy Scouts to strip naked.

The church sent him for “treatment” - but no formal action was taken and he continued working.

The hearing heard yesterday that when a number of Tolkien’s alleged victims came forward in the early 2000s, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, former Archbishop of Birmingham and now of Westminster, told a lawyer acting for the church that he would “prefer not to disclose” the 1968 complaint.

Knowing that two years later he abused me in the same church, in the same school, and then they had the nerve to deny the claim that he did anything wrong when they must have known about it for years.

And Vincent Nichols, the so-called Cardinal of England and Wales, has the nerve to start talking to the solicitors on how to cover it up. That's not Christian. Unbelievable.

– A343, abuse survivor

In a letter read by the Archdiocese’s lawyer yesterday, Cardinal Nichols apologised.

Tolkien denied the allegations, and was never charged nor convicted of any offence.

Croome Court and Besford Court

A number of statements were read from former pupils of St Joseph’s RC School at Croome Court in Worcester.

One survivor, referred to as A491, described the nuns who ran the school as being "cruel", regularly shutting him in a room for weeks at a time and carrying out beatings.

On one occasion, he said, he was hit so hard with a strap that he soiled himself - at which point, he said, the nuns put him in a cold bath to wash off the faeces and blood.

He said he was also sexually abused by a priest at the school, referred to only as F213.

"I felt I couldn't tell anyone, because who would believe a priest could do such an evil thing?" he said.

Another former student described being raped by a PE teacher, and being beaten regularly after reporting the attack to the nuns, who accused him of lying.

Croome Court pictures in Worcestershire from 1993 Credit: ITV Central News

A third detailed abuse at the hands of a number of members of staff, including teachers and a caretaker.

“I daren’t speak to a nun as they would just whack you,” he said.

“All the teachers hit the boys regularly.

“I was so fearful of the nuns and teachers. We boys were so afraid that when we saw the nuns we would hide till they went past. Just being seen could lead to a whack.”

He also gave evidence of abuse by other pupils.

In 2005, he contacted the Archdiocese to request his school records, and was told they had been burned - though police told him the documents did, in fact, exist.

He outlined meetings and a phone call with Jane Jones - the safeguarding coordinator for the Archdiocese - who he described as dismissive, and accused him of “upsetting” a priest by crying during a visit to Birmingham Cathedral to see those records.

I am angry with the church for what happened to me. They dismissed me and everything that went off at Croome Court and Besford Court.

I have never been treated with kindness or sensitivity by them. I don’t believe that they are open and honest about what happened.

I am angry and upset by how I have been treated way the church when I’ve tried to get answers and an apology. They have devastated my life.

– A1, abuse survivor

Croome Court has long since closed as a school, while F213 and the nuns who ran the school have died.

It is now a National Trust property.

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