Abuse at the Abbey: How paedophile monks were finally exposed

Mark Daly reveals how he uncovered years of sexual abuse at one of the most prestigious Catholic schools in Scotland

For a century, children were sent to the exclusive Fort Augustus Abbey and its prep school for what their parents hoped would be a first-class Catholic education. Run by the devout monks of the Benedictine order, this fee-paying school was the jewel in the crown of Catholic education in Scotland.

Yet a six-month investigation into the Abbey and its monks has uncovered five decades of systematic physical and sexual abuse reportedly carried out by a series of sadistic and predatory paedophile monks. Men of God, supposedly.

When BBC journalists started investigating this story, Fort Augustus Abbey, in the Highlands, had been closed for 20 years; its prep school, Carlekemp, in East Lothian, for longer.

But there were whispers about the brutal practices carried out by some of the monks who had lived in the Abbey and taught in the school.

Given that nearly every Benedictine school in England had been involved in a child sex abuse scandal, one had to ask if the boys of Fort Augustus had just had a lucky escape, or if this foreboding old Abbey had closed with its dark secrets intact. The latter would soon emerge to be true.

Courageous men like David and Christopher Walls, brothers who lived through experiences that most readers might have believed were the stuff of nightmares, said that the Old Boys network of the school, who trumpeted the place as a wonderful, character-building boot camp, were in denial, and that the investigation should dig deeper. The omertà, or silence, often associated with abuse claims within the Catholic Church had to be broken, they said.

One by one, men opened up about the horrors of Fort Augustus, and it soon became clear that what was being uncovered was a suspected paedophile ring of monks who were patient, systematic and callous.

For some of these boys, life was torture: daily beatings; blood regularly drawn from the ferocity of birch on bare backside; children as young as seven pulled from their beds in the dead of night of night to be lined up and flogged.

Often, they never knew why. It would be years until they twigged.

“We were being groomed,” said David Walls, who attended Carlekemp in the late 1950s. His brother Christopher, a year younger,  was savagely beaten most days for around three years by Father Aidan Duggan, one of the Abbey’s Australian monks, who have all now been exposed as paedophiles.

Suddenly, the beatings stopped.

“The relief was palpable,” said David. “You were just grateful. And that’s when the kissing and cuddling started. It wasn’t until later that it fell into place,” said Christopher. “That was what it was all about, all the beatings.”

Both boys were repeatedly molested by Duggan, who was one of the most prolific of the offenders we learnt about.

Donald MacLeod was raped by Duggan in 1962, when he was 14.

“I always sort of felt it was somehow my fault,” said Donald, who had been sent to the school from Australia.

He, like many of the abused boys tried to raise the alarm, but was told by the headmaster at the time to “stop telling lies” or he would go to hell.

The BBC investigation revealed allegations that headmasters at the school, all monks, had failed to alert police to serious child sex abuse allegations, claiming that they chose either to ignore them, or simply move the offender on.

The last surviving of those headmasters, Father Francis Davidson, stepped down last week from a prestigious role as religious superior of a Benedictine college within Oxford University, St Benet’s Hall, after a series of BBC allegations that he covered up child abuse. Last week, Fr Davidson said that he did “not recall them being reported to me during my time as headmaster of Fort Augustus Abbey School” and that he had “always co-operated fully with the police in their investigations and will continue to do so as they progress and further information is gathered”.

One of the monks, Father Chrysostom Alexander, is the only one accused of sex abuse who remains alive. He was tracked down to Sydney, where he had been working as a priest.

Aged 77, he might he might have taken opportunity to respond to the allegations. Instead, he threatened to call the police, drove his car into mine in a bid to escape questions and was anything but contrite.

He may not have answered any questions, but a dark past that he had been avoiding for 30 years had finally caught up with him.

He is now at the centre of police investigations in both Scotland and Australia.

I salute the men who came forward for our investigation and who were brave enough to speak about the so-called Men of God who have haunted their dreams. There are 10 monks accused of the abuse. Around 50 former pupils who were abused, half of those sexually, have now spoken out.

The victims of the abusive monks of Fort Augustus have decided they will no longer obey the omertà, and will not go quietly.

‘Sins of Our Fathers’ will be shown on BBC2 tomorrow night at 11.20pm

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
News
An Apple iPhone 6 stands on display at the Apple Store
businessRegulators give iPhone 6 and 6 Plus the green light
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Britain's internet habits have been revealed in a new survey
tech
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
film
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
music
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
News
i100
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Arts and Entertainment
film
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style