Monk accused of abuse was paid off by school and given glowing reference
- Credit: Archant/ Submitted
A boarding school housemaster accused of indecently touching a child was paid off and given a “glowing reference”, new documents have revealed.
Several ex-pupils of St Joseph’s College in Ipswich have come forward to this newspaper to allege abuse at the school from the 1950s to the 1980s when it was run by the De La Salle order of monks. Since 1996, the school has been under different ownership.
Suffolk police are currently investigating the claims and another old boy approached detectives after our report last week.
But in a shocking fresh development, a letter from 1985 written by a teacher called Mike Mercardo — also known as Brother Solomon — reveals that he was paid off when an allegation was made against him.
Addressed to his former pupils in Goldrood House, its contents suggest the allegation — that Mr Mercardo had "touched a boy in an indecent manner on his bottom”, which he denied — was dealt with internally, rather than being referred to police.
The letter said the school governors decided to dismiss the accusation and instead removed Mr Mercardo for a separate offence: being drunk while looking after his boarders.
He goes onto explain in the letter that he informed the school he would be appealing to a tribunal for “unfair dismissal”.
He then claims he was approached by an arbitration service, on behalf of the school, asking if he would accept compensation rather than claiming reinstatement.
He adds that an “out of court settlement” was agreed, and that he received “a glowing reference from the headmaster to use in connection with any future job applications”.
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Victims expressed their horror at the fact Mr Mercardo was free to teach at other schools.
“The order always put their reputation above the welfare of children”, one ex-pupil said.
The religious order running St Joseph's in Ipswich has in recent years been rocked by dozens of accusations of historic sexual and physical abuse against young boys.
Suffolk detectives are currently investigating six of them, but were unable to confirm whether or not the matter discussed in Mr Mercardo’s letter was referred to them in 1985.
The current head of safeguarding at the De La Salle order, Barry Hudd, said they had totally cleaned up their act in recent decades, and represented a “completely different order” to the one abuse victims remember so vividly.
“We have had a very robust safeguarding process in the order for a long time now”, Mr Hudd said. “We are independently-audited and all allegations of abuse are automatically reported to the police.
“We are looking into the matter regarding [Mike Mercardo] and will answer as many questions as we can once we have the information.”
Mr Mercardo taught at St Joseph's for the first time in the late 50s and was known as Brother Solomon.
He later taught at a different St Joseph’s College in Crystal Palace, which was also formerly run by the De La Salles.
Brother Solomon was transferred to their school in 1961, and left in 1965.
He then left the order entirely in 1966. In the letter of 1985, he claims this was “of his own volition” so he could “pursue a career in music and showbusiness”.
Later in 1966, he released a honky-tonk piano number named “Brussel Sprouts”, using the stage name “The Swinging Monk”.
However, in 1982, nearly 20 years later, 'Brother Solomon' returned to St Joseph's in Ipswich as a lay housemaster under the name Mike Mercardo.
'The settlement vindicates me'
The letter, which multiple victims have shared with this newspaper, was written in effort to dispel rumours about why he suddenly left the Suffolk private school four years later in 1985.
It begins: "Dear Friends... it is not possible to explain in detail the events of the past six months.
"However, I do wish to give you some of the important facts in order that you may form your own opinion on the matter.
"My problems started with an allegation made against me by one of my boarders that I had touched him in an indecent matter on his bottom.
"I was very hurt and insulted when the headmaster indicated that he accepted the word of the pupil and did not give me the opportunity of giving my version of the matter... when one would have expected him to support rather than condemn.
He added: "I believe the settlement and reference vindicates me."
After his stint at St Joseph’s Ipswich came to an end, it is believed Mike Mercardo devoted himself to his music career and died in the late 1990s.
‘We knew something wasn’t right’
Although Mr Mercardo’s abuse allegation at St Joseph’s was “dismissed by governors” in 1985, there is a catalogue of victims claiming he was prolific in his torment of young boys.
One St Joseph's pupil who attended school in the 1980s said Brother Solomon had a "profound interest in young boys" — and that he would regularly get "blind drunk" while on duty.
Pupils who attended St Joseph’s in 1960 and 1961, meanwhile, remember Brother Solomon as a music teacher who conducted “music appreciation” classes.
During one of these classes, an ex-pupil claims Solomon suggested a sadistic experiment involving the caning of students to their song of choice.
He recalls: “Solomon said this would involve getting ‘six of the best’, and here he paused before adding with a dramatic flourish, ‘on the bare backside'.
“Once recipients assumed the position, the punishment would begin and the victim was to hum or whistle whatever music fitted his frame of mind as he waited for the first stroke of the cane.
“I was not distressed or hurt in anyway, but those of us who’d gone with [Solly] that morning never spoke about the incident between ourselves after.
“Though naïve, we knew something hadn’t been quite right.”
Pat Mills, an ex-pupil and the developer of comic character legend Judge Dredd, said: "It's clear there was something far more perfidious about his real intentions."
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