The Abuse Trial, review: Heartening tale of a man who refused to suffer in silence

Journalist David Nolan recalled his abuse at the hands of chemistry teacher Alan Morris - and the slow road to prosecution - in terrible, wounded detail

Fiona Sturges
Thursday 14 January 2016 00:16
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"It began by him simply summoning me to his prep room," said David Prior. "He would hold me around the waist from behind [and] would sort of grapple with me... He would hold me upside down by my legs. He would bend me over a stool and pretend to cane me... It was quite clear that it was a means of him gaining pleasure."

Prior was recalling his time as a pupil at the independent Catholic boys' school, St Ambrose College, and his abuse at the hands of a chemistry teacher, Alan Morris. Prior wasn't Morris's only victim. About 30 men contacted police four years ago to report the abuse they had suffered decades previously, including one who lived in isolation in the Outer Hebrides. Another was the journalist David Nolan, who has started at St Ambrose at the age of seven, and who decided to make a programme about it.

The result is The Abuse Trial, in which he recalled his own treatment by Morris and the slow road to prosecution in terrible, wounded detail. Nolan had initially gone to the police to tell his story but ended up withdrawing his complaint so that he could follow the case's progress and report on the investigative process around historical sex abuse.

Nolan painted a picture of a school run by fear, violence and secrecy, and seemingly insulated by its status as a smart, high-ranking establishment, and of ex-pupils traumatised into years of silence. Perhaps most illuminating was his relationship with two detectives, Jed and Nicola, who allowed him to follow the investigation. Compassion and laughter was at the heart of their exchanges here and in the two police officers' reflections on a case that, in Manchester at least, was unprecedented in terms of the weight of evidence. "Caring cops. Who'd have thought?" quipped Nolan.

A few minutes later, as Jed reflected on how Morris preyed on the most vulnerable children – in most cases, poorer ones who got into the school through bursaries – Nolan was reduced to muffled sobs.

By turns chilling and heartening, this was an important programme, and not just because it showed that justice, and a catharsis of sorts, can be achieved even 30 years later. It showed exactly what awaits victims when they decide to make a complaint, and how a positive outcome (Morris was jailed for nine years) can allow them to leave the past behind and face life with fresh optimism.

"We're feeling it just like you are," said Shaun Keaveny on 6 Music, as he talked of the thousands of messages flooding in about the death of David Bowie.

Monday was a dark day for music lovers but BBC6 Music nonetheless made the sun poke through the clouds by abandoning its planned playlist and devoted the whole day to Bowie and his music. From dawn until dusk came incredible song after incredible song after incredible song. If there was much sweating behind the scenes, the love and solidarity amongst those toiling on our behalf was clear, as was the connection to listeners. As the early-morning presenter, Keaveny had the toughest job and was audibly poleaxed by the news, though this made his tributes and those of his audience all the more powerful.

It was the strangest of days, one in which 6 Music provided the perfect blend of authority, reflection and, once the initial shock had subsided, celebration. Bravo.

Twitter: @FionaSturges

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