Former Christian Brother found guilty of sex abuse at Letterfrack
Sentencing later for Robert Doherty (72), who denied charges
The former Christian Brothers industrial school at Letterfrack. Galway Circuit Criminal Court was told that former Christian Brother Robert Doherty nicknamed his victim “Tuppence” after telling him he was not worth tuppence. Photograph: Joe O'Shaughnessy
A former Christian Brother was found guilty yesterday of the sexual abuse of a boy in Letterfrack Industrial School in Connemara during the 1960s.
Robert Doherty (72), a native of the Falls Road in Belfast, with an address at Glenwood Estate, Dundalk, Co Louth, had denied six charges of indecently assaulting the boy on various dates between August 1965 and April 1967, in a bedroom beside the boys’ dormitory in the institution. Evidence had been heard during the three-day trial at Galway Circuit Criminal Court that Doherty nicknamed his victim “Tuppence” after telling him he was not worth tuppence.
The victim, now 59, told the jury he had been sentenced to four years’ detention in Letterfrack when he was 9½, for stealing a bicycle from outside a church during morning Mass which he returned later that day to his local Garda station.
After the court case yesterday , the victim shook hands on the steps of the courthouse with retired detective Jack Cosgrove, and thanked him and all of the gardaí from Clifden and Letterfrack who helped bring Doherty to justice. “I’m proud of all the gardaí who encouraged me to go on. I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart for supporting me.
Day in court
“They promised me in 1999 that they would back me and I would not be here today without their help. I wanted to face my abuser and have my day in court. I dreaded the judicial process on many occasions but the gardaí kept telling me to go on and keep fighting. They kept in touch with me. I never gave in and I never gave up thanks to them,” the man said, with tears in his eyes.
He had told the court that when he was sent to Letterfrack he was brought on the train by gardaí with another small boy as far as Galway and a Christian Brother brought them the rest of the way to the isolated Connemara institution on December 23rd, 1963.
He said he had been very small for his age and encountered only one Christian Brother during his four years there who was kind to him and who never touched him. That Brother, he said, had been in charge of the small boys’ dormitory and the abuse only began when Doherty was put in charge of both the big and small boys’ dormitories in 1965.
For the next two years, he said, from the age of 12 until he was released in April 1967, he was systematically abused two to three times a week.
He said Doherty would call him to his bedroom, make him lie on the bed and abuse him for up to 20 minutes. He would then open the door and tell him to get out, threatening him that if he said anything he would get him. He told the boy he was going to call him “Tuppence” because he was small and wasn’t worth tuppence.
The man said Letterfrack was a harsh place which was ruled by fear. If a boy was caught talking in the dorms or wet his bed, he would be stripped naked, made lie across the bed and beaten with leather straps.
The man said he told his mother on his release from Letterfrack about the sexual abuse. She didn’t understand and beat him severely, telling him she was going to beat the devil out of him. He said he began drinking and later fled to England where he lived on the streets and served time for petty crime.
In stark contrast, Doherty told the jury he had had a very happy childhood and loved the Christian Brothers so much he decided to join them aged 15. He said he received an excellent education and arrived at Letterfrack, aged 24, as a primary school teacher.
He denied ever laying a finger on the victim and said no boy had ever stood in his bedroom in Letterfrack. Judge Rory McCabe remanded Doherty on continuing bail to await sentence on May 15th next and directed the preparation of a victim impact statement.