Man abused by paedophile priest at school to get ‘six-figure’ damages

A man abused for years by a paedophile priest at a Co Down school is to receive a “six-figure sum” in damages, the High Court heard on Monday.

Monday, 21st June 2021, 5:59 pm
Tony Gribben leaving Belfast High Court. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

The pay-out to Tony Gribben forms part of a settlement reached in his lawsuit over the historic sexual and physical assaults he suffered at the hands of the late Fr Malachy Finnegan.

A personal apology will also be issued on behalf of the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland under the terms of agreement.

Mr Gribben, 61, sued the trustees and board of governors at St Colman’s College in Newry and the Diocese of Dromore.

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Outside court he said: “For the apology to be meaningful the church must acknowledge it was more concerned about protecting its reputation than safeguarding children from the actions of predatory paedophiles like Finnegan.

“The diocese needs to be completely transparent in cooperating with a long overdue investigation on its failings.”

Mr Gribben claimed for negligence and failures to protect him from Finnegan’s alleged “industrial-scale abuse” while he was a pupil at the school from 1970 to 1977.

In court yesterday his barrister announced that a resolution has been reached in the action.

Monye Anyadike-Danes QC confirmed: “The defendants (will) pay the plaintiff’s solicitors a six-figure sum within a defined period.”

She also disclosed that the diocese is to provide her client with a personal, written apology from Archbishop Eamon Martin within three weeks.

The letter will “recognise the pain, suffering, hurt and distress” Mr Gribben experienced during his time at St Colman’s, as well as the subsequent impact on him.

He is then to meet with the archbishop and the safeguarding director for the diocese to discuss his experiences.

Liam McCollum QC, for the defendants, told the court his clients had gone beyond their legal obligations.

“They want me to express their apologies to the plaintiff for the terrible things that happened to him,” he said.

Approving the terms reached, Mr Justice McAlinden stressed that the circumstances of the action should not be forgotten.

The plaintiff was, it would appear, abused by a member of the clergy during his time at school,” he pointed out.

“Nothing said or done in dealing with the legal complexities of such issues takes away from the stress that individual has suffered.”

Finnegan taught and worked at St Colman’s College from 1967 to 1987, spending the last decade as the school’s president.

He went on to serve as a parish priest in Clonduff, Co Down.

The priest, who died on 2002, was accused of a long campaign of child sexual abuse, but never prosecuted or questioned by police about claims made against him.

Now living in Turin, northern Italy, Mr Gribben was accompanied at court yesterday by Co Down man Sean Faloon, another of those preyed on by Finnegan.

“This may be administratively closed, but any survivor of child sexual abuse will carry the thorns in their side for the rest of their life,” he said.

“Sean empowered me to come forward and tell my story,” he said.

“Hopefully by our example others will feel able to likewise. We really want to determine the full scale of abuse.”