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Ex-City lawyer wins right to sue for £5m over Catholic school abuse

Ruth Gledhill
Posted: May 5, 2009.

Print: Times Online

The British Catholic church could face a slew of US-style compensation claims over child abuse after a former City lawyer today won the right to claim £5 million damages

Patrick Raggett, 50, claims he ruined his life because of years of “insidious” abuse by Father Michael Spencer, a teacher at the Jesuit-run Preston Catholic College in Lancashire.

Child abuse has cost the Roman Catholic Church in the US over $2.6 billion (£1.7 billion), with $436 million paid out last year alone.

Until now the Church and religious orders in the UK have escaped that level of claims with cases usually settled out of court for a few thousand pounds.

Mr Raggett told London’s High Court that, while he was naked, the priest measured him “to chart his growth”, filmed him performing exercises, photographed him and touched him inappropriately.

He says that it was many years before he connected his experiences at school with years of under-achievement at work, a failed marriage and binge-drinking.

But a breakdown in April 2005 propelled him into therapy, where he began to make the connection between his childhood and his problems as an adult.

The college closed in 1978 and the governors deny liability, arguing that even if there was abuse the case should not proceed because it was outside the legal time limit. Father Spencer died nine years ago, aged 76.

But Mrs Justice Swift ruled that the case could go ahead to a full trial.

She said she accepted Mr Raggett’s evidence that Father Spencer had on many occasions subjected him to episodes of sexual assault and other forms of abuse and that he was sometimes abused several times a week over a period of about four years until he was in his fifth year at the college.

After the hearing Mr Raggett said: “I am very pleased at the outcome of the trial and would like to thank my family, my legal team and everyone else who supported me throughout, especially my courageous fellow witnesses.

“I am also indebted to the other men who came forward with statements about their own ordeals when they read about the case.”

Mr Raggett, who now runs his own business consultancy in Fulham, west London, added: “The most important aspect of this trial is that the people who allowed this to happen — and who were quite happy to see it swept under the carpet — have been held responsible at last.

“For all the warm words from the Jesuit Order about co-operating in this case, the reality is they fought it tooth and nail without regard for my feelings.

“There is a large gap between what they preach and the way they give no quarter, even when, as here, both experts agreed sexual abuse had occurred.

“This is not a case where I have simply sought revenge after a long time. Full awareness of the damaging effects of the sustained sexual abuse only surfaced in April 2005.

“I want to urge others who are being or who were similarly mistreated to come forward. The Jesuit Order, the Catholic Church generally, is still not accepting legal and moral responsibility for the dark virus of abuse in the way it should.”

During the hearing the judge ordered the respondent to pay £200,000 on account of the claimant’s costs, which are estimated to be around £470,000.

Mr Raggett’s counsel, Robert Seabrook QC, said that Father Spencer, who taught French and coached football until the school’s closure, used his obsession with sport and photography to augment his deviant tendencies.

Mr Raggett’s schoolfriends were well aware of Father Spencer’s propensities, as he would insist on the football team not wearing underwear and would join them in the showers, occasionally washing them.

Mr Seabrook said psychiatrists considered that Mr Raggett, who attended the school between 1969 and 1976, exhibited many symptoms typically seen in survivors of child abuse — the effects of which, although profound, were not at first obvious.

In his final year at school Mr Raggett began to gamble, getting into debt, and went on to under-perform at university.

He had difficulty in forming intimate relationships, drank excessively and took drugs socially.

He qualified as a solicitor, but jobs with a number of well known City firms, including one as a salaried partner in Birmingham and another in Hong Kong, always ended with dismissal or rejection for rash or unreliable conduct.

His breakdown occurred after he got into a theological discussion with a priest and the “dam burst” as he suddenly could not stop sobbing.

Mr Seabrook said: “At no time before that date did he attribute his disabilities to Father Michael Spencer’s really outrageous and disreputable behaviour and there is no reason why he should — this was not a violent or painful rape or assault; there was no overt aggressiveness on the part of the priest.”

Margaret Kennedy, of Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, said: “America has a much bigger compensation culture than we do and the seriousness of child sex abuse has just not been recognised here before.

“If people really understood the long-term effects, it would be recognised. The Church will fight it all the way but it is quite right that claims should start to recognise the seriousness of damage done.”

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