The civl case at the high court in Leeds opens on Monday. Photograph: Alamy
The Catholic church could face a compensation bill of millions of pounds following a test case on sexual abuse at a former children’s home which opens on Monday.
The civil case at the high court in Leeds follows the imprisonment this year of the home’s former principal and chaplain for sexual offences against 11 boys between 1970 and 1991.
Five survivors have brought a civil claim against the Catholic diocese of Middlesbrough and the De La Salle brotherhood, whose members ran St William’s Home in Market Weighton in east Yorkshire.
In total, 249 people have alleged that they were sexually and physically abused by staff at the home. If the civil case is successful, the Catholic church in the UK could face one of the biggest payouts in its history.
In January, James Carragher, the former principal, was jailed for 15 years for 21 indecent assaults and three serious sex offences, but was cleared of a further 30 charges. It was the third time he had been sent to prison for sexually abusing boys at the home.
Anthony MacCallen, the former chaplain, was convicted of 11 charges, including a serious sexual offence. He was acquitted of eight others.
In sentencing the men, Judge Geoffrey Marson QC said the survivors had suffered “severe long-term, continuing psychological harm as a result of what you did”.
The residential school, which was owned by the diocese of Middlesbrough and was run by members of the De La Salle brotherhood, took boys from troubled backgrounds referred by local authorities. It closed in 1992.
A civil action was launched in 2004, but was delayed by a dispute between the diocese and brotherhood over which was liable for an £8m compensation claim. In 2012, the supreme court ruled that both were liable.
One survivor, Nigel Feeley, told the BBC he had lived through a nightmare. “He had the power. You couldn’t get away from it. You had to live the nightmare… You couldn’t scream at him and say go away, get off me, because he had the power.”
David Greenwood of Switalskis solicitors who has represented survivors since 2003, said: “It is hoped that this trial will bring a positive conclusion to the cases for the many deserving victims of abuse at St William’s. There is no doubt that widespread sexual abuse of boys was taking place at St William’s. There have been many convictions, in 1993, 2004 and 2015. This case is a test for our civil justice system. I hope it will be able to provide real justice.”
Neither the diocese of Middlesbrough nor the De La Salle brotherhood could be reached for comment, but both have previously issued statements condemning abuse.
The case is expected to last three weeks.