£635,000 compensation to priest's sex abuse victim

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The compensation order – thought to be the biggest of its kind – was the latest to be made in the case of Fr Christopher Clonan, who abused boys in Coventry.

The law firm representing a victim who suffered psychological damage from 11 years of abuse said it knew eight other people who suffered at the priest's hands.

Lawyers allegethat the church failed to take any action against Fr Clonan for years after the abuse allegations were first raised.

The case at court yesterday involved a 35-year-old man who suffers from schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder after being abused from the age of seven to 18 by Fr Clonan, his priest at Christ the King Church in Coventry. The claimant, known as A, was awarded £635,684 by the High Court in Manchester after bringing a case against the Archbishop of Birmingham and the trustees of the Birmingham Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church. Legal costs of more than £400,000 will take the total bill to more than £1m. It is the first abuse case against the Catholic Church to reach a British court: previous complaints have been settled at an earlier stage.

The award means that Fr Clonan, who fled to Australia where he died in 1998, has cost the Catholic Church almost £1.5m in compensation. He adopted a false identity in Australia in 1992 after the police began to investigate him.

Another victim, Simon Grey, a former altar boy, was awarded £330,000 in January last year.

Yesterday, the High Court said that Fr Clonan abused "Mr A" between one and three times a week. The judge, Mr Justice Clarke, said: "The abuse went undetected for so long because, initially, 'A' did not comprehend what was going on, and latterly he was too afraid to speak, thinking that he would not be believed, as Fr Clonan told him would be the case.

"[Fr Clonan] came from a wealthy background, had property in Ireland, and appeared to be a breath of fresh air. He was trusted and admired. The abuse was the grossest breach of the trust that 'A' and his family placed in him."

Mr Justice Clarke continued: "'A' told no one of the abuse until 1992. Thereafter his life fell apart. He became seriously ill in mind and has since then been receiving treatment for his mental illness. The revelation of the abuse had severe consequences for his family."

After revealing the abuse, "A" turned to cannabis and alcohol, and in January 1993 took a drug overdose. He was sectioned under the Mental Health Act after becoming violent and abusive towards people, including his own parents. Since 2000, "A" has lived in a mental health home.

After the hearing, Clifton Ingram, the firm of solicitors representing "A", said: "We very much hope that the church will now offer realistic compensation to all those who have been sexually abused by priests, so that victims and their families can be spared the trauma of giving evidence and communities can put such episodes behind them."

The firm said it was representing eight other alleged victims of Fr Clonan. It added that there were "probably many more". A spokeswoman said: "This could quite feasibly cost the church millions and millions of pounds."

Peter Jennings, of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, said the church hoped the settlement would bring an end to the "distress and anguish" the victim has suffered. "The Archdiocese deeply regrets that a priest should have totally misused his position of trust in such a way and apologises again to those who have been abused and offended."