Will priest ever return to face Scottish sex abuse trial? #FortAugustus

21 December 2017

Fears are growing that an Australian former monk accused of sexually abusing children at a Catholic boarding school in Scotland may never face trial.

Father Denis “Chrysostom” Alexander is in custody in Sydney and is contesting moves to extradite him back to Scotland, on the grounds of ill health.

The 81-year-old was among several monks accused in a BBC Scotland documentary in 2013 of sexual and physical abuse at the Fort Augustus Abbey school.

Fr Alexander denies the allegations.

Strong criticism

Meanwhile, the Crown Office, Scotland’s criminal prosecution service, confirmed it was dropping five further Fort Augustus abuse cases which had lain “under consideration” for two and a half years.

It said the “passage of time presented particular challenges” in the investigations, especially around important witnesses who were either dead or not able to take part.

It said extradition proceedings with Australian authorities were under way in the case of Fr Alexander.

The decision on whether to extradite him lies in Australia but there is strong criticism over apparent Crown Office delays in prosecuting the case.

Dr Andrew McLellan

Former moderator of the Church of Scotland, Dr Andrew McLellan, led a review into abuse

Andrew McLellan, who led an inquiry into abuse in the Scottish Catholic Church in 2014, said he was concerned about the impact delays could have on those who suffered.

He said: “The message to those who have been hurt seems to be ‘for most people the damage which we have suffered does not seem to matter’.

Dr McLellan said: “How long must victims and survivors wait for some action to be taken in the courts in response to the terrible criminal acts which have taken place?

“How sad it is that there is no public outcry about the long delays in bringing these offences and offenders to court.”

Hugh Kennedy, a former pupil of Fort Augustus and one of Fr Alexander’s principal accusers, told the BBC that more than four years after first reporting the abuse the delays had left him feeling “powerless” and doubtful the case would ever come to court.

Hugh Kennedy
Hugh Kennedy told the BBC he felt powerless

In 2013, the BBC documentary – Sins of Our Fathers – revealed decades of claims of physical and sexual abuse at the exclusive Highland boarding school, including by an alleged paedophile ring of Australian monks involving Fr Alexander.

Within weeks of the documentary, Police Scotland had dozens reports of abuse from former pupils of the school.

Father Benedict Seed
Father Benedict Seed is the only Fort Augustus monk to stand trial

Yet, four and a half years later, only one former monk, Benedict Seed, has seen the inside of a courtroom.

He was found guilty of one charge of assault earlier this year, and acquitted of various other charges.

Fr. MacKenzie
The Crown Office is seeking the extradition of Fr Robert MacKenzie from Canada

The Crown is seeking the extradition of another monk Father Robert McKenzie, from Canada.

One other case remains “under consideration”.

Five more cases, which were being considered since at least mid 2015, have now been dropped.

Fr Alexander was returned to Australia by the Catholic Church in 1979, after allegations of abuse were made by another Fort Augustus Abbey pupil, to whom the BBC has also spoken.

The Church made no report to the police and no warnings were provided about his alleged offending behaviour to the Catholic Church in Australia where Fr Alexander continued his work as a priest for a further 20 years or more.

Prison hospital

The BBC Scotland programme contained allegations that senior staff at the Fort Augustus school had effectively covered up the claims.

Five months after the BBC programme, Police Scotland submitted a report to the Crown Office about Fr Alexander but more than two years would elapse before the Crown contacted the Australian authorities, and it was another year still before he was arrested.

It is almost a year since Father Alexander was arrested and he has been held in custody ever since
It is almost a year since Father Alexander was arrested and he has been held in custody ever since

Yet another year has passed, and Fr Alexander remains in custody in a prison hospital in Sydney, from where it is understood he is too ill to travel to Scotland to face trial.

That decision now rests with the Australian attorney general.

A Royal Commission found that tens of thousands of children were abused in Australian institutions in past decades
A Royal Commission found that tens of thousands of children were abused in Australian institutions in past decades

Perhaps as a result of Australia’s historic Royal Commission into child sex abuse, which unflinchingly concluded last week the Catholic Church had failed thousands of children and called for an end to priest celibacy, the Fort Augustus case has attracted local political attention.

Stephen Jones MP, who played a key role in the commission, told the BBC: “This has been going on far too long.

Australian MP Stephen Jones said the extradition process was moving far too slowly
Australian MP Stephen Jones said the extradition process was moving far too slowly

“There are victims who want to have their matters heard in court and, it’s time that Mr Alexander and those who are supporting him, and those who are protecting him, do everything in their power to put him on a plane and ensure that he faces justice back in Scotland.”

John Ellis, a prominent Australian lawyer, himself a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of another Australian Fort Augustus monk, said the Scottish Crown Office must keep up the pressure.

John Ellis was abused by another Australian monk implicated in a paedophile ring in the Highlands in the 1970s
John Ellis was abused by another Australian monk implicated in a paedophile ring in the Highlands in the 1970s

He said: “I would hope that the authorities [in Scotland] continue with every effort to work through the labyrinth of the respective legal systems and have him finally brought to justice.

“We’ve had a number of cases where there’s attempts to extradite people and it is not uncommon for that to go on for four or five years before they are finally brought to justice.”

But one of Fr Alexander’s principal accuser, Mr Kennedy, fears time is not on his side.

Fort Augustus School
The allegations relate to the former Fort Augustus Abbey Roman Catholic boarding school

He said: “The ‘long game’ is the strategic direction the church likes to take with these cases. They have many years of experience of wearing down victims by isolation and non-communication.

“In Denis Alexander’s case, a man of modest means suddenly at the 11th hour seems to be able to afford the services of some of Australia’s top legal minds in making his case to the attorney general, that he is too infirm to travel to Scotland.

“I find that trying to get on with my life in the interim is the only way to deal with this ever increasing doubt Denis Alexander will ever come and face me in a courtroom for how he has ruined my life, punctuated it with horrors undoubtedly attributed to those nights in the monastery at Fort Augustus.”

Past pupils at the school
Past pupils at the Fort Augustus school

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Sydney has previously told the BBC it was not paying for Fr Alexander’s legal bills.

A spokesman for the Crown Office told the BBC: “Expert prosecutors in the Procurator Fiscal offices together with Crown Counsel in the National Sexual Crimes Unit at Crown Office carefully examined the allegations against a total of nine men in this difficult case.

“One man stood trial at Inverness in May 2017, a second man is currently the subject of ongoing extradition proceedings with Australian authorities and a third man is the subject of a live petition warrant.”

He added: “Crown Counsel instructed that there should be no prosecutions in relation to five other men and the case against one other remains under consideration. “The passage of time presented particular challenges in this investigation, especially around important witnesses who were either no longer alive or were now unable to participate in the investigation.”

“Those who came forward to report historical sexual abuse are to be commended for their courage and we would encourage anyone who has been a victim of such an offence to report it to the police so that it can be fully investigated.”

Evidence of abuse

Fort Augustus Abbey, which was run by the Catholic order, the English Benedictine Congregation, closed its doors to pupils in 1993, and was closed down completely in 1998.

Its former Abbot President Dom Richard Yeo, faced questions at the Scottish child abuse inquiry earlier this year, which is ongoing, and said “since the monastery has been closed I don’t see how anybody can be [held accountable].”

Just last week, another Benedictine monk, a former headmaster at the Downside Abbey school, admitted to the English child abuse inquiry he’d burnt several wheelbarrow-loads of files which could have contained evidence of abuse.

A spokesman for the Benedictines said they could not comment whilst the inquiries were ongoing.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-42428701   http://archive.is/iedji

 

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