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Executive fights to halt £8.5m claim from abused former pupils

By Michael Howie, the Scotsman, 21/01/2006

SCOTTISH ministers are battling to have a potential £8.5 million compensation claim from scores of abused former school pupils thrown out, despite a public apology for their suffering from the First Minister, Jack McConnell.

The Executive is appealing against a judge's ruling that appeared to pave the way for legal actions from 170 ex-pupils of three residential schools run by monks from the Catholic order De La Salle.

The Executive's attempt to wash its hands of the negligence claim appears to fly in the face of an apology to the abused former pupils made by Mr McConnell two years ago. At the time he said: "Those children, adults today, deserve full recognition by us of what happened to them. They were badly wronged.

"Now that we know what has happened, it falls to us as representatives of the Scottish people to acknowledge it."

Last year the judge, Lady Paton - ruling on a £50,000 test claim by 52-year-old Arthur McEwan, of Clackmannanshire, who says he was abused at St Ninian's school in Gartmore, Stirlingshire - concluded there was sufficient evidence to show the government failed to protect victims of the De La Salle schools who were abused in the 1960s and 1970s.

The case was expected to proceed to a full hearing, with the claims of 170 other ex-pupils of St Ninian's, as well as St Joseph's in Tranent and St Mary's in Bishopbriggs, waiting in the wings.

Each claim is worth about £50,000, meaning the Executive and the De La Salle order - who are both accused of negligence in allowing the abuse to happen - face a potential payout of £8.5 million.

Both parties have lodged appeals over Lady Paton's ruling. The Executive has yet to outline the grounds for the appeal, but it is thought it will argue that it delegated responsibility for the welfare of the children to the schools, while De La Salle is claiming managers not connected with the order were in charge. The Executive is also fighting to have the case thrown out on a time-bar technicality.

The attempt to throw out the case has angered former pupils. Their lawyer, Cameron Fyfe, said: "My clients feel that the decision of the Executive to argue the question of the time-bar and Lady Paton's ruling contradicts the spirit of what was said by Jack McConnell in parliament."

Among those seeking damages is Emile Szula, 53, a former St Ninian's pupil, who said: "This is what compensation is for, people like us who have been abused. I feel people think we are wrong for trying to get money, but the fact is no amount of money can really compensate us for the awful things that happened."

Three years ago, three former St Ninian's staff were convicted of committing a string of sickening offences against children.

Michael Murphy, 71, a monk known as Brother Benedict, was found guilty of ten charges of torture, assault, forcing children to eat their own vomit, breaking a boy's arm and a list of sadistic assaults on vulnerable children.

Jimmy McKinstrey, 71, a night watchman of Port of Menteith, Stirlingshire, was convicted of four sexual abuse charges, while Charles McKenna, 84, a teacher from Stirling, was found guilty of three offences. All three were sentenced to two years in jail.

An Executive spokeswoman confirmed that an appeal had been lodged, but refused to comment further.

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