'I feared abuse by school monks was imaginary' - Judge Dredd author on experience at Ipswich school
- Credit: ARCHANT/LISA MILLS
Growing up “a poor kid on an Ipswich council estate”, the astronomical career of Pat Mills, creator of iconic comic universes, seems a million miles from his modest upbringing by an Irish Catholic widow.
Yet for Mills, the man behind Judge Dredd, there was just one time in his life when he felt like a true fantasist – when, in his mid-40s, harrowing memories of alleged abuse by monks at his former school resurfaced.
For decades, the now 71-year-old says he blocked the worst of it out - concerned he may have been writing fantasy comics for too long, that his recollection was merely a figment of his extraordinary imagination.
Eight years ago, he set up a blog as an outlet - wanting to cross-reference his experiences - and was stunned to hear similar recollections from fellow pupils at the independent St Joseph’s College.
Mills claims his fees for the private school were waived, because his mother was poor.
“I had a vague idea that things were not all right where my childhood was concerned,” the author, who now lives in Spain, explained.
“When it first (resurfaced) I was absolutely astonished, and I thought ‘my goodness, is this really possible’, particularly as I write fantasy comics for a living.
“What was remarkable about my blog was that more and more old boys came forward and appeared to confirm with their experiences that my own was not some strange imaginary incident or a one-off."
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Senior monk suspended
Around 20 ‘old boys’ have since written in to allege physical and sexual abuse by teachers at the school between the 1960s and 1980s. Now, Suffolk police is investigating some of those claims.
The force said it is “aware of non-recent sexual abuse allegations” following a third-party referral, with a 90-year-old man arrested in June.
Officers say that due to insufficient evidence, and the suspect’s failing health, the investigation is “unlikely to proceed any further”.
A second suspect, related to similar historical offences, is now dead.
Catholic organisation the Safeguarding Commission for Orders in Education is also carrying out an independent investigation.
It has seen ex-St Joseph’s teacher Brother Laurence Hughes, current head of the De La Salle order in Great Britain and Ireland, suspended from all appointments and responsibilities. He has also been removed as a trustee of the order’s charity arm.
Independent chair Rev Dcn Des Bill said in a statement: “This allegation has been reported to the police and is being dealt with in accordance with the safeguarding procedures of the Catholic Church.”
St Joseph’s was established by the De La Salle Brothers, a Roman Catholic religious teaching congregation founded in France, in 1937.
In 1996, it merged with a girls’ school, becoming operationally independent of the order.
Yet until 2014, the brothers retained the freehold of the site at Birkfield, Belstead Road - and charged rent to the school.
The modern-day establishment is a co-educational independent for day and boarding pupils aged 3-18 - with the freehold purchased from the order for £3.25million in 2014 by current owners St Joseph’s College Limited.
Comedian Richard Ayoade, musician Brian Eno and former Labour Chancellor John McDonnell are among the school’s notable alumni.
According to charity accounts filed by the De La Salle Brothers, in July 2018 the order spent £7.7million settling a case involving alleged sexual and physical abuse of pupils at the St William’s Institute in Middlesbrough between 1958 and 1992.
Five childhood abuse cases in Scotland have set the order back £762,000, with more than 60 claims faced by the order as of December 2020 after time limits were abolished by Scottish Parliament three years earlier.
It made my toes curl
Mills says an old boy’s account of alleged sexual abuse by the late Brother James Ryan, received through his blog, inspired him to write about his own.
“Thinking about it now makes my toes curl, but at the time I needed to get it off my chest.
“On the blog, I wrote an account of how he (Brother James) trapped me in the tuck shop cupboard during the school holidays and it was quite awful,” he said.
He recounts on his blog: “James burst in, and there was no way out.”
Mills, who was just 12 at the time in the early 1960s, added: “The compensation came someday, out of nowhere - bearing in mind I’m this poor kid living on a council estate - somehow, I’ve got a brand-new bike.”
Mills features further alleged incidents involving Brother James, including one where a fellow pupil was beaten with a slipper, in his 2017 autobiography.
Describing the monk, now “long dead” as being “driven by religious zeal, with a fanatical love of the Lord”, he says he inspired Dredd’s love of the Law.
“James seethed with anger and sucked air through his clenched Clint Eastwood teeth as he sent another boy to fetch a size ten plimsoll from the cloak room,” Mills wrote.
“He raised the slipper high above his head and took a spin-bowler's long run-up towards his bent-over victim…”
Other allegations of abuse reported to Mills via his blog have included incidents both physical and sexual in nature.
Old boys ‘united’ in call for inquiry
While the blog began as a personal therapy tool, Mills and fellow survivors are now uniting in calling for an inquiry into historical abuse at the school. More than anything, he said, they just want recognition of the past.
Current school bosses say they “acknowledge the gravity of the questions being raised” adding that at the college, they are “absolutely committed to the safeguarding and wellbeing of every student in our care”.
“As a community, we have the greatest sympathy for anyone who has been a victim of abuse, wherever and whenever it has occurred,” a spokeswoman said.
College chiefs said that due to a change of ownership in 1996, and with active police investigations ongoing into the historical claims, they are unable to comment further.
They said the allegations relate to a period of time “prior to the current college structure”.
While Mills is pleased appeals to Catholic safeguarding bodies and police have so far been successful, his main goal in securing such inquiries is to let fellow old boys know their concerns are being taken seriously.
“I sincerely hope it encourages more people to come forward,” he added.
“People make mistakes but to acknowledge the past is probably, for most old boys, more than sufficient.”
If the link above does not work, the correct email address is desbill.SCOE@gmail.com.
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