Sexual abuse was rampant at a children’s home in the North run by a Catholic order of brothers, a former senior police officer has said.
Around a fifth of boys at Rubane House in Co Down were subjected to sexual or physical abuse, according to a public inquiry, equal to if not worse than that at another notorious home, Kincora in east Belfast.
Rubane was the subject of a police investigation in the 1990s, the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry was told. Three De La Salle order brothers were charged but none convicted after their trials did not go ahead due to legal issues.
Former Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) detective chief superintendent Eric Anderson wrote a note to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
It said: “Sexual abuse by a considerable number of the De La Salle brothers on the children and consequently between children is rampant.”
Most offenders were already dead or medically certified unfit for trial.
Mr Anderson added: “The full horror of the abuse in this establishment is reflected in 41 files already submitted through your office to the DPP.
“I consider the complaints made to show it to be on a par with, if not worse than, the abuse at the Kincora children’s home.”
Kincora was the subject of a high-profile child abuse scandal in the 1980s. Three senior care staff at Kincora were jailed in 1981 for abusing 11 boys in their care.
Between 1951 and 1985 around 1,000 children stayed at Rubane, near Kircubbin on the Ards Peninsula. Abuse of around a fifth of residents ranged from watching boys in the showers for sexual gratification to rape or physical attacks, lawyer for the inquiry Joseph Aiken said.
The probe was established by the North’s power-sharing administration at Stormont and is sitting in Banbridge in Co Down. It is chaired by former High Court judge Anthony Hart and investigating what took place at 13 residential children’s homes run by religious orders, voluntary organisations and the state in the 73-year period up to 1995.
Around 200 former residents made abuse allegations about Rubane, 55 have come forward to the inquiry and the majority are expected to give evidence. Lawyers are to examine 40,000 documents.
Alleged victims of paedophile priest Fr Brendan Smyth are among those expected to give evidence.
Mr Aiken said: “A police investigation into Smyth in the early 1990s revealed that he had also abused children in both Rubane and Nazareth Lodge (in Belfast) in the late 1970s.
“He, as we will see, admitted much of that abuse and was convicted for it.”
Alleged abuse at Rubane dated back to the 1950s and extended more widely than Fr Smyth.
In the 1950s a brother in overall charge, now dead, engaged in a 20-year litany of attacks, the barrister said.
The order now accepts that this overseer did sexually abuse children in his care before, during and after his time in Rubane, which spanned some nine years alone, the inquiry was told. The brother was never reported to police or interviewed.
In 1969 allegations were made against another brother who admitted his guilt and left the order.
Another member of the congregation was moved from the home in 1972 because of claims of sex abuse, Mr Aiken said.
A police investigation after boys complained to social workers in the late 1970s saw two individuals convicted.
In 2010 the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) began investigating abuse. Mr Aiken said: “Police are looking again at many allegations previously investigated but also at fresh allegations not made during those inquiries.”
The order has in recent years dealt with more than 50 civil claims brought by former residents; 22 have been resolved. The order has paid out almost £390,000 in compensation.
Mr Aiken said: “The oral evidence over the coming weeks will continue to be extremely harrowing and difficult to hear, however, individuals have come forward to the inquiry with the desire, however difficult it may be for them, and want the opportunity to publicly explain what happened to them when they were supposed to have been in the care of the (Catholic) Diocese of Down and Connor and the De La Salle order.”
Rubane was a voluntary children’s home for boys aged between 11 and 16 but increasingly from the 1970s it accepted children from the welfare authorities, predominantly from deprived parts of Belfast. Some of the boys were “educationally sub-normal”, according to official documents read out during the inquiry.
It had a very successful farm, generating income for the home, Mr Aiken said. Children had access to medical professionals and recreational facilities like a swimming pool.
Concerns were expressed by inspectors n the 1950s about overcrowding, inadequate staff numbers and the institutional and regimented approach to child care.
Mr Aiken said there were fundamental failures in the characteristics of some of the brothers recruited to work at the home which made them unsuitable to be around children.
He said there could be no justification for the sexual and physical abuse of boys or for failing to properly deal with it when it came to light or for covering it up.
Many boys also made allegations against civilian staff.
One complained about somebody who lived near the home who allegedly abused boys in the considerable wooded grounds.
The lawyer added some children were hospitalised for physical assaults causing injuries which could not have resulted from lawful corporal punishment.
The inquiry is expected to begin hearing evidence next month.