'He took kids like a pied piper on a bus' - Documentary examines scouting abuses and cover-ups

'He took kids like a pied piper on a bus' - Documentary examines scouting abuses and cover-ups

A new documentary reveals major failures in Scouting Ireland's handling of suspected sexual predators.

Up to March this year, there were 401 sexual abuse complaints and 247 alleged abusers identified on file in Scouting Ireland. An RTÉ investigation which will air tonight sheds light on a number of issues, including how one alleged sexual predator who abused scouts for decades was only removed from the organisation last year and how sexual predators were free to move between various scout troops.

In recent times, Scouting Ireland’s image has been tarnished by child sex abuse allegations and a failure over many years to implement a robust child protection policy. It has a membership of around 50,000 people.

'Scouts Dishonour' looks at how Scouting Ireland’s predecessor organisations handled child sexual abuse allegations and how the organisation failed to alert the statutory authorities about suspected predators.

Last December, Scouting Ireland wrote to the Minister for Children Katherine Zappone stating that its ongoing review of historic complaints found evidence of “extensive prolonged and organised child sex abuse” and “abuse at all levels” in both scouting organisations.

RTÉ Investigates research found that in the 1970s and 1980s, former scout leader and sexual predator David O’Brien moved between the Scouting Association of Ireland and the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland. He was involved with at least five scout troops. By doing this, he managed to evade justice while continuing to have access to children for years.

Paul O’Toole from Artane in Dublin was one of many young scouts sexually assaulted by David O’Brien. He joined the scouts in the early 1970s and David O’Brien was his scout leader.

"The scouts was everything to me," he said. "It was my family outside family. They were your friends It was what everyone was doing... It was the only thing I was doing..the scouts... and I loved it.

"[O'Brien] was charming, was kinda quirky .. He took kids like a pied piper on a bus and everyone trusted him."

On a camping trip to Wicklow, O’Brien separated Mr O’Toole from the rest of the boys.

"I was taken away under the auspice of looking for another camp site… And in the middle of nowhere there was this hut.. And off he would go abusing... and you could scream all you want but there was a mile of pine trees in every direction.

One of the greatest burdens is that I didn’t get to open my mouth. ..40 years previous..You know instinctively paedophiles don’t take one victim and stop.

David O’Brien left that troop in the mid 1970s to set up a new troop in the same organisation. Dave Smyth was aged 10 when he joined the Scouts where O’Brien was a leader. He was a quiet, bookish child.

"It was one of the few opportunities we had to get out of our area in a group. I loved being out in the woods. That was paradise, so exciting," he said.

But on this first night away from home on camp, his joy and innocence came to an end, when he was sexually abused by O’Brien.

"I woke up feeling a huge weight on my chest and realised he was on top of me and he put his hand into my sleeping bag and zipped it down, pulled down my pants. I panicked then and froze and tried to move.. and he held me down with right hand over my mouth and digitally penetrated me…his dirty nicotined-stained fingers…I can still smell his hand on my mouth."

Mr Smyth was traumatised by the abuse and became suicidal.

"I started drinking alcohol when I was 11. I got a job straight out of school. I would drink all the money I had. I was miserable - suicidal and depressed all the time."

Victims Colm Bracken, Dave Smyth, Paul O'Toole
Victims Colm Bracken, Dave Smyth, Paul O'Toole

David O'Brien and another leader targeted a young Colm Bracken.

"I was 11 when I joined the Scouts.. O’Brien and he were my first sexual experiences," said Mr Bracken. "That’s crazy. They shattered my soul. They killed my soul"

A parent from one troop complained to the leadership of the Scouting Assoc of Ireland. David O’Brien was removed but was not reported to Gardaí. He was then able to join another Catholic Boy Scouts troop where he continued abusing boys.

In 1997, one of David O’Brien’s survivors formally reported him, but no prosecution followed. It was only 15 years later in 2012 that a wider Garda inquiry began after O'Brien admitted details of his abuse to a counsellor.

In 2015, David O'Brien was convicted of the indecent assault of Paul, Dave, Colm and three others, for which he received a four-and-a-half year prison sentence. Last month he was convicted of the sexual assault of a further four people and received a six-and-a-half year sentence. However, O’Brien admitted abusing many more.

"I found out later that there was about 60. That nearly killed me," said Mr O'Toole. "To think and even in court… looking down at Colm and Dave I even said to them if I had opened my mouth he might not have got to yous. That’s a burden you carry and I will carry it...It doesn’t go away, that one…"

In response to queries relating to the abuse by David O'Brien Scouting Ireland said it cannot comment on individual cases.

In a statement Scouting Ireland said: “since its inception in 2003, it has always reported all information on alleged sexual offences which has been brought to our safeguarding team’s attention to the appropriate authorities.”

The statement goes on to say that Scouting Ireland deeply regrets “the hurt caused to children through the unlawful and unacceptable actions of adults in these organisations”.

RTÉ Investigates - Scouts Dishonour airs tonight at 9.35pm on RTÉ One.

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