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

News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments