Jury told of sex abuse by priests, nuns and carers

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A former resident of a Catholic boys’ home told jurors of a catalogue of sadistic beatings and sex abuse at the hands of nuns, priests and carers.

The man, who cannot be identified, was giving evidence in a trial of facts for James McCann, 80, who is accused of 52 charges of physical and sex assaults on 26 boys in the 1960s and 70s.

The Old Bailey heard this week that the alleged offences took place at St Francis children’s home in Shefford, where abuse was already deeply entrenched in the culture.

The person in charge, Father John Ryan, was described by the witness as “the most evil man I have ever met in my life”.

The witness said the “well built and scary” priest had slapped and punched him on many occasions.

He particularly liked caning boys – ordering them to take down their trousers and pants so there was nothing “to cushion the blow”, he said.

“Sadistic” Sister Xavier was in charge of the kitchen and would force boys to put their hands in boiling water and rap them with a steel ruler if they dared take them out, he said.

The man went on to describe a series of incidents when he was bedridden in the boys’ dormitory with water on the knee. Another nun called Sister Realino helped him to the toilet and then held his private parts, saying “I know you like it”, even though he protested. On another occasion when he was in the bath, the same nun put his hand on her breast and touched his groin, leaving him “terrified”, he said.

Around the same time, the witness told of his first encounter with McCann as he lay in bed recovering.

He said: “Father Ryan, James McCann and another member of staff came into the room. James McCann had a saw in his hand. They said they were coming in to saw my leg off. I was petrified.

“When one of them pulled back the sheet, McCann took my trousers down and started to saw – he had turned the saw over to use the smooth edge. I nearly passed out and to this day I won’t have a saw in my house.”

The alleged victim told jurors that he thought they were serious because “they were not the sort of staff who would joke with you”.

McCann’s special form of punishment was known by children at the home as the Clappers, the court heard.

The witness said: “He would be standing behind you. You would be facing the wall. He would bring his two arms out apart and then he would bring them down on your ears so the ear drums would get the full force and the fingers would go across the cheeks.”

He told jurors the Clappers would cause blood to drip from his ears and nose and make him dizzy and “incoherent”.

McCann dished out regular punishments to his alleged victim for perceived wrongs, such as talking too loudly, being late for Mass or just “boys having fun”.

In a statement read to the court, an earlier resident described St Francis as a “cold hard prison”.

The former altar boy told how Father Ryan had exposed himself by lifting up his cassock and later forced him to engage in a sexual act to avoid a caning.

He said: “I remember clearly thinking this was not right but it was better than being caned.”

The court has heard that many of the priests and nuns involved in the alleged abuse have since died.

The jury has been told they must only decide on the facts of the case as McCann, of Swaffham, Norfolk, has Alzheimer’s disease and is unfit to stand trial.

The case continues.