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Chapter 14 — St. Joseph’s Kilkenny

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Allegations of sexual abuse in the 1970s


Richard Evans did part-time work at St Joseph’s five nights per week. He helped the children with sport and homework, and did leisure supervision. He recalled the boys coming to him with allegations that they were being interfered with by Thomas Pleece: It was in the spring of ‘74 ... After a lot of conversation with the boys, a lot of cajoling, they came to me and they were saying that Mr Pleece was abusing them. The way they put it was he was interfering with them when they were in bed at night ... Joe,23 Simon24 and Justin,25 and there was a few more of them. They didn’t want to go to tell anybody because they knew they were going to be punished if they did. They were going to suffer repercussions. Because there was an awful lot of abuse going on that I knew nothing about, physical and sexual, and I knew nothing about it. I wouldn’t have known anything about it at the time.


The boys complained again: After about two, three weeks they came back to me again and they were afraid to go at the start and said they wouldn’t go to report it to anybody, there was no one going to listen to them. I said, ’What’s the harm in going over and telling the Reverend Mother anyway? ... They were complaining about Thomas Pleece interfering with them in bed, their private parts, interfering with them, taking them out of bed and bringing them to his room and that sort of stuff ... I listened to what they were saying and I said, “We’ll have to do something about it. We need to tell somebody this is going on, that it needs to stop”. Even at that stage they still weren’t prepared to, you know, to make it public that they were going to go to somebody in authority ... I think a lot of it was the fact that if Thomas Pleece found out about it they would get more abuse, they would get physical abuse.


Mr Evans was aware that someone in authority needed to be told what was going on: I asked them would they jointly come over to see the Reverend Mother and I would make an appointment for them to meet her. I don’t know what night of the week or anything. Joe was the only one who decided he would come with me. We rang the doorbell over in the main building and I looked for the Reverend Mother and we went into the parlour, Joe, myself and the Reverend Mother. I can remember it so clearly. I sat on the left-hand side, Joe sat in front of me and the Reverend Mother was on my right. I would say for half an hour, three quarters of an hour we talked about the general interference and Joe, as a young lad of that age, was not prepared to turn around and say he’s touching me or feeling my private parts or naming the parts or what he was doing but he was interfering is the way he put it. It was vague enough and probably gives as much as I would give at that stage either.


He said that Sr Astrid listened, but asked no questions about what was being communicated to her: She listened, didn’t say an awful lot. I vaguely recollect that she said, “Well, I’ll look into it”. There was something of that – something close to that ... I think the words she used were that “I will do something about it” or – I don’t know what way it was put but we left saying there was something going to happen. That was my impression leaving.


Mr Evans recalled saying something to Thomas Pleece after he had spoken with Sr Astrid: ... But after the occasion of going seeing the Reverend Mother with Joe I remember saying something – Now, I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I think I said it to Thomas Pleece that if you are interfering with them boys, “You shouldn’t be interfering with them boys”, or “You should leave them alone” or “What the hell is going on” or something of that nature I said to him. His reaction was “What business is it of yours?” or “You are only such and such, what the hell are you going to do about it?” or something like that.


Whatever was said, Thomas Pleece resented Richard Evans after that: Now, Thomas Pleece always had an Alsatian and that was his main threat with everybody, the Alsatian would be put on you or set on you if you opened your mouth or stepped in the wrong place. He did resent me after that. It was quite obvious that he must have known or found out we had gone to the Reverend Mother and he wasn’t happy about it. I don’t think after that occasion that I ever spoke to him after that.


Mr Evans described Sr Astrid as being ‘ferociously calm about the whole thing’. She did not say much or express horror at what she was being told. He was, however, quite sure that something would be done about it. He said: ‘I think I spoke to [another nun] at one stage about it’.


Sr Astrid had maintained that she had no recollection of anyone speaking to her about sexual abuse by Thomas Pleece, consequently Richard Evans was asked to spell out how explicit he had been with her: Well, I originally stated to the Reverend Mother that Thomas Pleece was putting his hands in under the bedclothes in interfering with the boys’ private parts and that Joe was there to make a complaint. He didn’t particularly say that Pleece was catching them, feeling their penises or anything but he was interfering with them under the clothes, their private parts I think is the way he put it. But there was no mention of other than that. From what has transpired since that, there was an awful lot worse than that going on. But that didn’t come out with Sr Astrid that night.


Though the boys had not been explicit even with Richard Evans, he had no doubt that what was happening was wrong and had to be stopped: I knew it was wrong, what was going on. What they had said to me was wrong, it shouldn’t have been going on there.


He went on to say: I didn’t even understand up to the time we had gone to the Reverend Mother the full extent of what they were saying to me. I only knew that interfering with boys in bed was wrong and an older man interfering with boys was wrong. But the full extent of it I definitely would say I didn’t understand.


He was asked whether he had considered going to the Gardaí, and he replied: No, not at that time. Ever since that, ever since I have heard that there was nothing ever happened about it, and the extremes of it and the extent of it, I live with the fact that I made major mistakes myself as an individual of 20, 22 years of age, I should have went, instead of going to the Reverend Mother, I should have went to the Garda, I should have went to the Health Board, I should have went a whole lot of places, but I didn’t.


The evidence of the witness was that the fact that the boys were being sexually interfered with was undoubtedly stated to Sr Astrid and that she would have understood that there was more going on than was being described to her.


That meeting between Joe, Richard Evans and Sr Astrid took place at the beginning of the spring of 1974, some months after Thomas Pleece had been brought back to Kilkenny from his eight-month period of employment in Drogheda.


Richard Evans did not work in Kilkenny during that summer of 1974, and when he returned he was not assigned to Summerhill, the house run by Mr Pleece. Instead, he worked in the main house with younger boys. He said that he did not enquire whether things had been resolved but, some time later, he met one of the boys in town on Saturday. He asked him ‘has anything happened up there since?’, and the boy responded, ’Not a thing, it got worse’.


Mr Pleece continued to work as a care worker in Summerhill until 1976.

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