'They shattered my soul. They killed my soul': Three victims recall abuse by Scout leaders

'They shattered my soul. They killed my soul': Three victims recall abuse by Scout leaders

The horror of being sexually abused as a child by a notorious scout leader has been revealed by three of his victims, who were so traumatised that they struggled with suicidal thoughts and substance abuse into their adult lives.

Their abuser, former scout leader David O’Brien, evaded justice while continuing to have access to children for decades by moving between the Scouting Association of Ireland and the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s.

Despite complaints about him in the 1980s, he was only removed from the organisation last year.

“You could scream all you want but there was a mile of pine trees in every direction," said survivor Paul O’Toole from Artane, Dublin, who was first abused by O'Brien on a camping trip to Wicklow.

He explained how the paedophile, who "everyone trusted", would take children off “like the Pied Piper” to camping trips in the forest. But it was on these camping trips that O’Brien sexually abused children.

“In the middle of nowhere there was this hut. And off he would go abusing," Mr O'Toole said.

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

O'Brien did not stop. He left that troop a short time later to set up a new troop in the same organisation in the mid-1970s.

Dave Smyth was 10 when he joined. He was a quiet, bookish child who "loved being out in the woods. That was paradise, so exciting."

But on this first night on camp, his happiness and innocence were crushed when he was sexually abused by O’Brien. He said: "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 and was playing with my genitals."

The abuse traumatised Mr Smyth. He said: "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."

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

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

“One day I turned around and I packed a bag, put a rope in it, Stanley blades, and I said: ‘That’s it, no more, I can’t do it anymore'... And ironically my phone rang, and it was my 10-year-old son. And he saved my life," Mr Bracken said, his voice breaking as he held back tears.

The revelations were made on RTÉ Investigates - Scouts Dishonour, broadcast on RTÉ One last night.

The Taoiseach is now to consider setting up an independent statutory inquiry into abuse in scouting organisations.

Up to March this year, there were 401 sexual abuse complaints and 247 alleged abusers identified on file in Scouting Ireland

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” in both Scouting organisations.

In 1997, one of O’Brien’s survivors formally reported him, but no prosecution followed. But in 2012, a wider Garda inquiry began after O'Brien admitted details of his abuse to a counsellor.

In 2015, O'Brien was convicted of the indecent assault of Mr O'Toole, Mr Smyth, Mr Bracken and three others, and he was jailed for four-and-a-half years. 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.

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