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To hell and back for abuse victim

PUBLISHED: 12:41 11 February 2009 | UPDATED: 12:11 15 March 2010

Horrifically abused from the age of 12 for three years by a trainee priest, Noel Pattern's life spiralled into the most appalling despair.

Colin Adwent

Horrifically abused from the age of 12 for three years by a trainee priest, Noel Pattern's life spiralled into the most appalling despair. However, when he believed all hope was gone he found salvation in the love of a woman and rediscovered the faith he thought had been lost forever. COLIN ADWENT reports.

SCARS OF YOUTH

NOEL Pattern's extraordinary story is one of child sex abuse, armed robbery, terrorist gun-running, attempted suicide and ultimately redemption

The father-of-two, who lives in Hadleigh, has turned his life around after enduring years of attacks by a trainee priest, before turning to crime.

Somehow he has found the courage to speak about the harrowing pain that coloured his world from such an early age, in an effort to help others who have suffered the horror of abuse.

Waiving his right to anonymity, Mr Pattern tells of his experiences in the book Forgiving Ferns. He also gives talks on the shattering abuse he suffered and the legacy which overshadowed his life.

Grim, but nevertheless uplifting, his story ends optimistically with Mr Pattern marrying his salvation, Claire, and regaining his faith. The couple now live happily with their two daughters aged eight and ten.

Mr Pattern grew up in County Wexford in the Republic of Ireland.

Situated in the diocese of Ferns, a strong catholic ethos ran through the region's schools and 42 churches.

Raised with two brothers in an area where unemployment was rife, Mr Pattern said the Catholic Church was the focal point of the community, with its football clubs, youth clubs and dance clubs.

His family's heritage was steeped in military pipe and drum players and with a mother who was a top Irish dancer, he naturally gravitated towards music rather than sport.

When he was ten years old, he was encouraged to get involved with the Church by his parents and became an altar boy.

Mr Pattern, 36, said: "There were 20 other altar boys and six services on a Sunday morning in that area. I thought of the priesthood for the future and was encouraged to do so by my parents.”

However, at the age of 12, the wicked actions which were to mar and shape his life began.

"There was a student seminarian at St Peter's College who would come back to his home for the weekends as he was in the final two or three years of studying for the priesthood. He was involved in the church and it was from there he started to groom me."

Mr Pattern said the trainee priest continually told him they were in a sexual relationship.

"He assured me what was happening to me was normal and acceptable and it had to remain secret. In Ireland it was classed as rape.

"At the start of the abuse it was in my mind that it was uncomfortable and I knew that something was wrong."

Mr Pattern said over a period of three years he came to the conclusion that the abuse was acceptable. It only ended when his 28-year-old abuser left the area, leaving him bereft and confused.

"He was ordained in August 1987 and served in the church for a few weeks before being shipped off to the Diocese of Shrewsbury.

"I felt abandoned by him and confused about my sexuality. At 14 to 15 years of age and going through adolescence I had taken on the lessons he had told me, as victims do. Victims buy into the lies of the abuser.

"One day my elder brother emigrated to the UK. My dad was quite concerned about my brother going to live in the UK in the 1980s. My dad had grown up and worked in Cricklewood where 'no Irish need apply' appeared on some of the doors and flats. He knew London was a lonely place for a young Irish boy."

At the same time Mr Pattern could no longer keep the sex attacks a secret and went to see his father one night.

“All of a sudden I blurted out everything about me and the priest. My dad was calm and collected and said 'we are going to have to deal with that tomorrow'.

“I was working part-time in a mushroom farm at 6am the following morning. About 7.30am, my family came to the farm and told me dad had died. He had suffered a massive heart attack.

"My abuser had told me on many, many occasions that if I broke the confidences between him and me there would be severe consequences and I thought 'what have I done?' I had told my dad about the abuse and I was told not to by the abuser, and he died as a result of that. In my mind I was trying to reconcile that."

Even worse was to come for the vulnerable teenager, when his mother had a stroke.

"Seven days after my dad died, my mum went into a coma and was dead 13 days after my dad died. It was then that all my dreams, hopes and ambitions were shattered."

A LIFE OF CRIME

EVEN when the teenage Mr Pattern thought he had found some solace, it turned out to be a false dawn.

Mr Pattern said: "My brothers found comfort in motorbikes and hanging out with clubs, and they formed a bike club.

"Most of the bikers were ordinary, decent people with jobs and clubbed together for charitable causes. But within that there was a criminal element.

"I was approached and asked to help out delivering some boxes here and there in the Republic of Ireland.

"I was getting well paid for it. Sometimes I would ask what was in the boxes and they wouldn't tell me. I was really naive at that young age and was taken advantage of by other people."

Soon the young man was to discover he was running guns for Catholic terrorists.

"I learned I was transporting firearms for the criminal fraternity in Northern Ireland, some of which had a political motivation."

All the time the shadow of being sexually abused lurked in the background.

Mr Pattern was in a gay relationship and decided to move to Birmingham with his partner to settle down. He and his brothers sold the family home.

However, Mr Pattern, who was aged 18 at the time, said he was ripped off by his partner when they came back to England. The man stole 10,000 Irish punts from Mr Pattern's share of the house.

Mr Pattern said: “I didn't have a bank account so I took my share of the cash back to the house in Birmingham. After that my partner said he was going out to get some kebabs and I went to sleep. I woke up in the morning and he was gone with the bags. That was what I was going to build my life on. I was left penniless.

“I went home to talk to one of my brothers but I hadn't the courage to tell him I was in a gay relationship and had got ripped off.

“I fell apart emotionally. I tried to commit suicide three times.

“I went in despair to the Catholic Church to tell them what happened to me and brought a witness with me. The priest I reported the abuse to asked 'were you gay before the abuse happened?' The priest did not report the abuse to police as a crime.

“I was unhappy that they were leaving a dangerous paedophile in charge of children in a different diocese in the UK. It demeaned what had happened.”

Mr Pattern said he became known by the Garda (Irish police) and mixing in the circles he did meant he was brought in for questioning a few times. Some members of the motorcycle club came under scrutiny after a man was murdered, although it was nothing to do with Mr Pattern.

While being questioned Mr Pattern developed a rapport with a police officer. He told the officer about being abused by the trainee priest and made a statement, although it was decided his complaint could not be pursued.

It was 1992 and in despair Mr Pattern turned to crime again as a way out.

“I decided to get some money together, get out of that place and never come back, so I robbed a post office. Some hours later I was apprehended and taken to Mountjoy prison in Dublin on remand for three months. I was let out on bail for a couple of months.

“They were asking me about all the other robberies in town at petrol stations, and firearms' offences. I decided I didn't particularly want to go to jail.

“I would always have a concealed firearm, but sometimes I would rob petrol stations of £300-£400 in cash with a knife or baton. I would only produce a firearm if things got out of hand.”

Mr Pattern was connected to 19 crimes from video store robberies to firearms charges, although he denies some of the ones he was being questioned about.

“I take responsibility for what I did, but it was the fall-out of being ignored and abused. What I did, I did out of desperation.

“I wasn't going to go to jail for something I didn't do, but was prepared to for what I did do.

“I fled to the UK to stay with an uncle and changed my name (to Noel Pattern) by deed poll. I tried to start all over again, forget my past and go straight.”

REDEMPTION

WHILE living in Edgware, north London, as a fugitive, Mr Pattern met Claire, the woman who was to change his life.

They went to a party where Claire introduced Mr Pattern to friends who were involved in the church.

He went to a service and stayed afterwards to talk and drink coffee, although he still didn't trust people and was evasive about his past.

Mr Pattern was offered a job working with the mentally disabled and enjoyed the work. His relationship with Claire was also getting more serious.

“We married in November 1996. I had absolutely no intention of telling her about the past. I would lie about it if she ever asked. I really felt I didn't want to hurt her.”

Mr Pattern lived with his secret until shortly after becoming a victim of an attempted knife robbery himself. The incident led to his real identity being unmasked.

“One day I was in Edgware and had bought a new car. I was parked outside a friend's house and this guy approached me and said 'give me the keys of the car', so I did. He tried to physically move me and I thought he was lunging at me so I got his wrist and arm and broke them. He tried to run away and witnesses called the police.

“The knife was on the ground. Police took it away and attempted to find this chap. They did tests on the knife and my prints were on it. Police found out my real name and the warrants that were issued.”

By 1998 Mr Pattern was working at a care home in Hendon. An alarmed Claire rang him to tell him, what turned out to be the intelligence services and police had arrived at their home with guns and dogs. He went home immediately to hand himself in.

“I decided I was not running any more. I felt relieved. I went to court and spent five days on remand in Wormwood Scrubs awaiting extradition.”

Mr Pattern said he did not challenge extradition on one charge of a post office robbery and was flown back to Dublin. For legal reasons he could only be accused of the one armed robbery. Mr Pattern said the judge at his hearing decided he had turned his life around and gave him a sentence totalling 14 years suspended for three years backdated to the time of the crimes.

Returning to England he was offered his old job back at the care home. By 2002 the Patterns had moved to Suffolk for work reasons.

Mr Pattern said: “One day the phone rang and I was told about the state inquiry in the Republic of Ireland into the sex abuse scandal. My statement to the police had been recovered. I was asked if I could go and assist with the inquiry.”

The investigation covered not only the abuse accusations, but also what was done to cover them up.

During the Ferns Inquiry more than 100 allegations of child sex abuse over a 40-year period were investigated against 21 priests who had operated in the diocese

Now Mr Pattern hopes to provide inspiration for others by telling his story publicly. He has also given consent to a book about his experiences called Forgiving Ferns.

He said: “All I ever wanted in life was acknowledgement from the powers-that-be that it (the abuse) was not my fault, that I was a child.

“What I really want now is for my story to mean something for people. There are so many abuse victims. I have learned through friends and through faith that you can live with the damage as a result of that hurt and pain. I have written the book to encourage people not to be afraid of their past, but to use the past to help others.

“My outlook on life is the here and now. There are times I have ups and downs like everybody else, but I feel released from the past, from the shame, guilt, hatred and anger.”

IN 2005 the inquiry concluded 21 priests had abused more than 100 children over a 40-year period in County Wexford

Although financial settlements were offered on condition of silence, Mr Pattern and other victims pursued private litigation against the Catholic Church. Mr Pattern's abuser died in 1996 on the Wirral in a HIV care centre. He never stood trial.

Noel C Pattern's compelling book the Forgiving Ferns will raise money for three charities, Inspire Counselling & Training: www.inspirecounselling.org.uk, Agape Alive India: www.agapealiveinindia.org.uk and The Living Room: www.thelivingroom.me.uk

"This is a wonderful story of redemption. It speaks of God restoring someone broken and abused by organised religion; and show the healing power of true friendship." - Noel Richards www.worshipjournal.com

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