Man to receive six-figure sum and apology over abuse by paedophile priest

Tony Gribben pictured leaving Belfast High Court where he successfully sued the Diocese of Dromore and St Colman's College, Newry, in relation to abuse by 
paedophile priest Malachy Finnegan.
Tony Gribben pictured leaving Belfast High Court where he successfully sued the Diocese of Dromore and St Colman's College, Newry, in relation to abuse by paedophile priest Malachy Finnegan. Credit: Presseye

A man abused for years by a paedophile priest at a Co Down school is to receive a "six-figure sum" in damages, the High Court has heard.

The pay-out to Tony Gribben forms part of a settlement reached in his lawsuit over the historic sexual and physical assaults he suffered at the hands of the late Fr Malachy Finnegan.

A personal apology will also be issued on behalf of the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland under the terms of agreement.

Mr Gribben, 61, sued the Trustees and Board of Governors at St Colman's College in Newry and the Diocese of Dromore.


Outside court he said: "The Diocese needs to be completely transparent in cooperating with a long overdue investigation on its failings."

Mr Gribben claimed for negligence and failures to protect him from Finnegan's alleged "industrial-scale abuse" while he was a pupil at the school from 1970 to 1977.

In court on Monday his barrister announced that a resolution has been reached in the action.

Monye Anyadike-Danes QC confirmed: "The defendants (will) pay the plaintiff's solicitors a six-figure sum within a defined period."

She also disclosed that the Diocese is to provide her client with a personal, written apology from Archbishop Eamon Martin within three weeks.

The letter will "recognise the pain, suffering, hurt and distress" Mr Gribben experienced during his time at St Colman's, as well as the subsequent impact on him.

He is then to meet with the Archbishop and the safeguarding director for the Diocese to discuss his experiences.

Liam McCollum QC, for the defendants, told the court his clients had gone beyond their legal obligations.

"They want me to express their apologies to the plaintiff for the terrible things that happened to him," he said.

Approving the terms reached, Mr Justice McAlinden stressed that the circumstances of the action should not be forgotten.

The plaintiff was, it would appear, abused by a member of the clergy during his time at school," he pointed out.

"Nothing said or done in dealing with the legal complexities of such issues takes away from the stress that individual has suffered."

Finnegan taught and worked at St Colman's College from 1967 to 1987, spending the last decade as the school's president.

He went on to serve as a parish priest in Clonduff, Co Down.

The priest, who died on 2002, was accused of a long campaign of child sexual abuse, but never prosecuted or questioned by police about claims made against him.

In 2018 it emerged that the Diocese of Dromore had settled a claim made by one of his alleged victims.

At that stage the Board of Governors at St Colman's condemned the physical, sexual and emotional abuse inflicted by Finnegan while working there.

The priest's image was also removed from the school's photographs.

At the time the PSNI set up a team of detectives to investigate Finnegan's activities.

Nine people were said to have been interviewed under caution, but no direction was made to prosecute anyone.

With a Police Ombudsman inquiry into earlier alleged RUC failings also closed, no findings have been made of any institutional connivance within the Church.

Mr Gribben claimed he was beaten and abused on dates between 1970 and 1977.

According to his case, distressing flashbacks and nightmares about what Finnegan subjected him to resulted in a post-traumatic stress disorder.

He also suffered from suicidal thoughts and at one point deliberately took an overdose of medication.

Now living in Turin, northern Italy, Mr Gribben was accompanied at court on Monday by Co Down man Sean Faloon, another of those preyed on by Finnegan.

"This may be administratively closed, but any survivor of child sexual abuse will carry the thorns in their side for the rest of their life," he said.

"Sean empowered me to come forward and tell my story.

"Hopefully by our example others will feel able to likewise. We really want to determine the full scale of abuse.

“We still need to shine light into very dark corners of the church, and that process begins today.

“The church now has the opportunity to come forward to work with all of us and to work with the criminal justice system to determine who did what and when, and major decisions will be taken.”

His solicitor, Kevin Winters, said: "We commend Tony for his tenacity in pursuing this case after all this time.

"His brave decision to drop his anonymity should help to expose Finnegan's industrial-scale abuse of schoolboys.

"He now wants his case to shine a spotlight on the failure of the Church and the school to uncover this appalling criminality."

In a statement the Diocese of Dromore says it apologises once more "unreservedly" for the hurt and damage caused to the victims of Father Finnegan.

It described such behaviour as abhorrent, inexcusable and indefensible, and added that they are fully committed to achieving and maintaining best practice in the area of safeguarding.