'Investigate us': Order of monks accused of Ipswich school abuse tell police

Judge Dredd developer Pat Mills has detailed his experiences at St Joseph's College in Ipswich

Judge Dredd developer Pat Mills is among many survivors who have been asking for an enquiry to be held into historic abuse at St Joseph's College, in Ipswich - Credit: ARCHANT/LISA MILLS

An order of Catholic monks accused of horrific physical and sexual abuse against young boys at an Ipswich boarding school have said to police: “we want you to investigate us.” 

Accounts of abuse by the De La Salle Brothers, who ran St Joseph’s College from the 1930s until 1996, have been mounting since renowned writer Pat Mills became the mouthpiece for fellow survivors. 

Mr Mills shared his story with this newspaper in September and since then many more alleged victims have come forward

In November the order wrote to Suffolk police asking for an investigation into the allegations in an effort to “get the whole thing cleared up”. 

Detectives confirmed they were currently investigating the testimonies of five ex-pupils and victims, although this number is expected to increase. 

Police have also been asked by the order to keep Operation Hydrant — a national police hub coordinating investigations of institutional child abuse — abreast of all developments. 

Mr Mills, 72, who grew up on the Chantry council estate and was responsible for developing comic legend Judge Dredd, began writing a blog eight years ago about the abuse he suffered in the 1960s at the Belstead Road school. 

He wanted to know whether his flashbacks were imaginary, or as he later came to fear, the problem was “endemic”. 

The now 71-year-old has been nicknamed the 'godfather of British comics'

Comic book legend Pat Mills has become the mouthpiece for survivors - Credit: JIRI ZIDEK

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Since then, around 30 former pupils have contacted him with their own stories of harrowing torment at the hands of the monks and their associates in the 60s and 80s. 

Some claimed they were repeatedly assaulted and that their parents were groomed in an effort to stop the victims speaking out.  

Others say they were trapped in cupboards and beaten.  

Mr Mills said: “Until now nobody has seemed to take much interest in finding out what happened at St Joseph's.  

“It’s extraordinary that the order is now, in a way, handing itself in.” 

‘The ball is in the police’s court’ 

Barry Hudd, head of safeguarding at the De La Salle Brothers, said the order wanted to “clear the whole thing up”. 

He added that while there have been more than 200 abuse claims made against the order from across the UK, until now only a handful have come from St Joseph’s. 

One of these, he said, was settled recently outside of court, but most of the accusations made on Mr Mills blog were “completely unheard of”, he said.

Nationally, the order has spent £7.7m settling abuse claims against the De La Salle-run St William’s Institute in Middlesbrough, and a further £762,000 on claims in Scotland. 

Suffolk police officer

Police are currently investigating the allegations of five separate victims, all survivors of historic abuse from St Joseph's when it was run by the De La Salles - Credit: Archant

One of the monks accused in Scotland, Michael Murphy, was jailed for seven years in 2016 for running a “regime of fear” against young boys. Known as Brother Benedict, he would electrocute them, urinate on them, lock them in cupboards and make them eat their own vomit. 

“With regards to St Joseph’s, we’ve put the ball in Suffolk Constabulary’s court”, Mr Hudd said. “It’s up to them to work out what happened and if the abuse truly was systemic. 

“We’ve also hired our own independent and experienced child abuse investigator to assist the police. 

“The order has very much cleaned up its act since the 1990s. It's a completely different order that you see today."

The problem, however, is that some of the abusers are dead, while others are seriously ill and infirm, and unable to stand trial. 

A 90-year-old man had been arrested by Suffolk Constabulary for non-recent sexual abuse allegations in June, but due to failing health and insufficient evidence, the force said the investigation was “unlikely to proceed any further”. A second suspect was also confirmed to be dead. 

Not about individuals 

But it’s not about bringing individual abusers to justice, said Mr Mills. 

He alleged his abuse came at the hands of two men in particular, both of whom are now dead: Father Bill Jolly and Brother James Ryan. The two men were also named by other ex-pupils.

Father Jolly, the school chaplain, was a “rich man”, he claimed, who would take children out on his yacht and later sexually abuse them, while also recording their confessions after asking them to reveal their “impure thoughts”.  

He also claimed Brother James once trapped him in a soft drinks’ cupboard before sexually assaulting him.  

“My abusers are long dead”, Mr Mills said. “And I know they won’t ever face punishment for what they did. 

“But like other survivors, what I care about is getting an acknowledgement from the order of today that these things happened, and that for whatever reason they were allowed to continue." 

An apology on the De La Salle Brothers’ website states the order offers an “unreserved apology” to any pupil who faced abuse from a brother or member of staff.” 

For Mr Mills and many other survivors, it’s not enough. 

“It's hardly a public apology. It’s completely without feeling, and misses the whole point”, he said. “There aren’t just a few bad apples here. The whole orchard was rotten.” 

Around 20 people came forward to report alleged historical abuse at St Joseph's College, Ipswich, between the 1960s and 1980s

Around 20 people came forward to report alleged historical abuse at St Joseph's College, Ipswich, between the 1960s and 1980s, after Mills created his blog - Credit: LISA MILLS

'They ruined my life’ 

For one abuse victim now in his 60s, an investigation will never give him closure. 

The man, who did not want to be named, said he had tried multiple times to get the monk who sexually abused him for two years in the late 1960s taken to court, but the Brother was “well represented” by lawyers and the Crown Prosecution Service did not have enough evidence to charge him. 

“I’ve spent thousands of pounds on psychological therapy over the years”, he said. 

“The Brother even groomed my dad. He sent him gifts and wrote him letters. It meant I couldn’t tell him what really happened until years later. 

“I was just nine when the abuse started. But he didn't only ruin my childhood. He ruined my whole life. 

“The shame and guilt I still feel about what happened is like a horrible festering sore that never goes away."

‘It was sadistic’ 

Another "St Joe's old boy", who is now 72, attended the school in the late 50s to mid-60s.  

Unlike other survivors, he has never told the police what happened because he said bringing it up turns him into a nervous wreck.  

He said he was left with trauma dyslexia as a result of the “sadistic beatings” and the “degrading” sexual abuse he faced from Brother James.  

“Some of the monks were sick and violent”, he said. 

“We’d be beaten by an 18-inch bamboo cane wrapped in medical strapping plaster, usually across the palm, knuckles and back of the legs. 

Despite paying a fortune for his schooling, the victim said he’d been left “without an education”. 

Birkfield House at St Joseph's College. The school was praised for the quality of students' personal

The school has been run independently of the De La Salles since 1996, but has a history ex-pupils say must be confronted - Credit: Archant

The college changed ownership in 1996 and the current leaders of the school said: "As a community we are absolutely committed to the safeguarding of every student in our care. We have the greatest sympathy for anyone who has been a victim of abuse wherever and whenever it has occurred.

"As these claims relate to a period of time prior to the current structure of the school, we are unable to make a comment on them."

-To report abuse linked with this case contact Suffolk Constabulary on 101.

-For support with any of the issues raised in this article, visit survivorsintransition.co.uk, which provides specialist services for adult survivors of childhood abuse and male victims of sexual abuse

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