Beds, Herts & Bucks

Shefford's St Francis orphanage inquiry call over 'destroyed abuse files'

St Francis Boys Homes - closed in the mid 1970s and converted into flats
Image caption St Francis Boys Homes closed in the mid 1970s and later was converted into flats

Former residents of a Catholic orphanage in Bedfordshire are calling for an inquiry into the disappearance of police files relating to child abuse claims at the home.

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

Last week police said files on investigations in 1993 and 2002 into abuse appear to have been destroyed.

Gordon McIntosh, a spokesman for ex-residents, said an inquiry was needed.

In July, Bedfordshire Police revealed they were trying to locate files on investigations into priest Father John Ryan, who ran the home in the 1960s on behalf of the Catholic Church, and who was accused of physically and sexually abusing boys at the home.

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

'Inactive files'

Last week the police said 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."

Mr McIntosh told the BBC: "How can anyone destroy files of that nature when historically there had been complaints of abuse dating back to the 50s and the home didn't shut down until 1974 and there could be a possibility there would be more ex residents coming forward.

"How can you destroy these important documents, which included 40 statements from witnesses, arrest documentation and not keep a copy of a signed order ordering their destruction? It is beyond belief.

"How can the police be 100% sure these documents were destroyed if they 'don't know' what happened to them."

Bedfordshire Police said: "All forces used to destroy inactive files according to their own policies/judgement.

"It is just not possible to keep everything. We file 40,000 crime reports per year, so inactive files (i.e. solved or not requiring further police action) were disposed of as and when necessary.

"There would be no reason to list what had been destroyed."

Police said new guidelines mean files are now "held for a minimum clear period of six years from the date of creation".

Police have started a new investigation into claims of physical and sexual abuse at the home.

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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