Page last updated at 15:02 GMT, Tuesday, 5 May 2009 16:02 UK

College abuse claim to be heard

Patrick Raggett
Patrick Raggett said the alleged abuse destroyed his career

A former City lawyer has won the right to bring a £5m damages action against a Jesuit-run school over alleged sexual abuse as a child.

Patrick Raggett, 50, was allegedly abused at Preston Catholic College in the 1970s, the High Court heard.

He said this led him to suffer a breakdown, a failed marriage and problems with binge drinking.

Mrs Justice Swift said she had no doubt Mr Raggett suffered "sustained" sexual abuse and assaults from the age of 11.

The college governors have said that even if abuse occurred, the case was brought outside the legal time limit.

But the judge ruled in Mr Raggett's favour, stating his claim could proceed.

This is thought to be the first case of its kind against the Jesuit order in the UK.

'Insidious abuse'

Mr Raggett was subjected to years of "insidious" abuse at the college by the late Father Michael Spencer, his counsel Robert Seabrook QC told the court.

The priest allegedly measured the schoolboy "to chart his growth" while he was naked at the school, which closed in 1978.

He also filmed the schoolboy performing exercises, photographed him and touched him inappropriately, the court heard.

The people who allowed this to happen - and who were quite happy to see it swept under the carpet - have been held responsible at last
Patrick Raggett

Mr Raggett alleged he was sometimes abused several times a week over a period of about four years at the school, which he attended from 1969 to 1976.

He said he knew he was making a mess of his life but did not connect his experiences at school with years of under-achievement at work, failed marriage and binge drinking, until he had a breakdown in April 2005.

"My employment record is so far away from what it should have been - that causes me a huge amount of anguish," he told the court.

Father Spencer became a friend of Mr Raggett's family after he left the school in 1976, sending Mr Raggett birthday cards and regularly writing to his mother.

Mr Raggett said he subsequently asked Father Spencer to officiate at his wedding because he was the priest he knew best and was a "hugely entertaining guy".

'Wholly untenable'

The college's counsel, Kate Thirlwall QC, said that if Mr Raggett had been abused, he would have known it was "significant" by the time he was 18.

"We say it is wholly untenable for the claimant to say that he did not consider he had been sexually abused," she said.

However the judge said she found Mr Raggett's evidence about the abuse "entirely compelling" and she was satisfied that a fair trial would be possible.

Mrs Justice Swift said that as Mr Raggett had previously been a solicitor with a "somewhat combative" personality, he would have been in "the best possible position" to have taken legal action against the college if he felt it necessary.

He did not do so "because he had not yet recognised and confronted the fact of the sexual abuse which he had undergone", she said.

Outside court, Mr Raggett said: "The most important aspect of this trial is that the people who allowed this to happen - and who were quite happy to see it swept under the carpet - have been held responsible at last.

"For all the warm words from the Jesuit Order about co-operating in this case, the reality is they fought it tooth and nail without regard for my feelings."

The judge ordered the defendant to pay £200,000 on account of Mr Raggett's costs, estimated to be around £470,000.

A spokesman for the British Jesuits said: "The Society of Jesus accepts with deep sorrow the judgment given.

"At this stage, the Society fully reserves its position in relation to any potential appeal against the judgment."



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SEE ALSO
No ruling in college abuse claim
26 Mar 09 |  London
College sued over sex abuse claim
23 Mar 09 |  London

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