Beds, Herts & Bucks

Shefford's St Francis orphanage 'abuse files destroyed'

Father John Ryan, photographed in the early 1960s on a trip to Lourdes with some of the residents of St Francis Boys Home
Image caption Father John Ryan was photographed in the early 1960s on a trip to Lourdes with some of the boys of St Francis Boys Home

Missing police files relating to investigations into child abuse claims at an orphanage in Bedfordshire are now thought to have been destroyed.

Ex-residents have alleged they were abused at St Francis Boys Home in Shefford, in the 1950s and 1960s.

An ex-resident complained to police about missing files relating to police inquiries in 1993 and 2002.

Bedfordshire Police said they believe the files were destroyed and has begun a new inquiry into abuse at the home.

The police investigations related to Father John Ryan, who ran the home in the 1960s on behalf of the Catholic Church, who was accused of physically and sexually abusing boys at the home.

'Destroyed confidentially'

He was arrested in 2003 but released without charge and died in 2008.

Police now investigating the home, which closed in 1974, said the force's safeguarding unit was keen to hear from anyone about any possible offences.

Image caption Damian Chittock, who says he was abused at the home, complained about the missing files

In July this year, former resident Damian Chittock, who says he was physically abused at the home, complained about the missing files.

At that time, a police spokeswoman told the BBC they were still trying to find the files, admitting "files have not been located... at this moment in time".

Now the police have revealed they "cannot be located and the assumption is that the paperwork has been destroyed securely and confidentially"

"At the time of the complaint being made, there was no requirement to keep paperwork indefinitely of this age where no further police action was required," the force said in a statement.

"However, there is no formal record of destruction, again in keeping with requirements at the time."

'Not competent'

Mr Chittock said he found it very difficult to believe that if the files were destroyed, no record was kept of their destruction.

"If there was no system of monitoring the destruction of files, they are admitting they were not competent," said Mr Chittock.

He said he would be making a complaint to the Home Office and possibly the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), although he would prefer an independent investigation with no police involvement.

"I feel we have all been let down by the police," he said.

Mr Chittock is just one of a number of former residents the BBC has spoken to, who said they were physically and sexually abused at the home during the 1950s and 1960s.

Along with the new police investigation, a group of former residents at the home has contacted lawyer Tracey Emmott, a specialist in cases of childhood sexual abuse, to bring an action against the Catholic Church.

A spokesman for the Northamptonshire Diocese of the Catholic Church, which ran the home, said it "deeply regrets" any hurt caused, but stressed the "claims are not proven".

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