Court setback for catholic child welfare society

A Catholic child welfare society which may face a multi-million damages claim over abuse at a school failed today to offload some of the liability.

The Court of Appeal dismissed a challenge by the Catholic Child Welfare Society (CCWS) of Middlesbrough Diocese in a case where 150 former pupils are suing for sexual and physical abuse by teachers and other staff at St William's in Market Weighton, East Yorkshire, which closed in 1992.

Middlesbrough Diocese, which may face an £8 million compensation claim, said at a hearing in July that the De La Salle Brotherhood, a Catholic organisation which provided teachers for the school, should take some responsibility.

A judge had ruled last year that the brotherhood had no legal responsibility for the alleged abuse.

Lord Justice Pill, one of three appeal judges who heard the case, said in his ruling today: "Management of the school was expressly the responsibility of the management board and I see no basis, in the circumstances of this case, for the imposition on the institute of vicarious liability jointly with the board."

No trial has yet taken place to determine what if any abuse has taken place.

Jeremy Stuart-Smith QC, representing the diocese and its Catholic Child Welfare Society, had said at the hearing that many or most of the alleged acts of abuse were said to have been committed by members of the brotherhood working at the school.

The CCWS and its predecessor body, which ran the school, accepted in the Court of Appeal that it would be liable for such abuse as may be proved.

The question for the court was whether the Institute of Brothers of Christian Schools, also known as the De La Salle Institute, of which some but not all of the teachers (but none of the non-teaching staff) were members, would also be liable.

The case centres around the alleged systematic abuse of boys aged between ten and 16 from 1960 to 1992.

The school had taken in boys referred from local authorities, mainly from Yorkshire and north-east England.