Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 14 — St. Joseph’s Kilkenny

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Allegations of sexual abuse in the 1970s


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.


Mr Pleece gave his own account of the circumstances of his leaving in 1976 to the Investigation Committee: Well, I was just reading Sr Astrid’s account of what happened, but her recollection is a little wrong in some respects. First of all, a problem had arisen in St Joseph’s that I didn’t know about. There had been a complaint made against me. I didn’t know this, but one morning I got a message from Sr Astrid that I wasn’t to send the children to school, that I was to the bring them over to the convent, to the parlour. There was two big rooms in the convent. Which I did, and other members of staff were there as well. There were two other members of staff. So they were all there. All the boys were all put into the one room. I wasn’t told anything of what was happening. The boys were being brought into another room one by one. I was later to learn that – because I was the last person to go in and it was Dr Black 26 that was interviewing each boy and every member of staff.


Thomas Pleece said that Dr Black asked him how he was getting on, and whether he had any problems in the School. He then told Mr Pleece that there had been a complaint against him: He told me that there was a complaint. He didn’t say what the complaint was, he just said there was a complaint and that they were looking into it. He found that he didn’t find any credence in what the lads had said, and everything was fine, you know.


Mr Pleece went back to his unit after this interview with the doctor and resumed his duties. He added: It was about a week later or maybe two weeks later, I am not 100% sure, that I met Sr Astrid in the yard. She told me that – what she said was the boys were saying things about me and that she wasn’t very happy and that she had – actually she had said – after the interview with Dr Black, that next morning, she did mention about that there was a complaint made but that she thought everything was going to be okay now because Dr Black had vindicated any allegation that was made.


Mr Pleece stated to the Committee that he presumed that the complaint made and referred to by Dr Black and Sr Astrid was one of sexual abuse: You know, this is where the misconception was. I thought she was talking about the sexual abuse. I never dreamed that she was talking about physical abuse. She was under the impression, obviously, that it was physical abuse, you know ... I just took it for granted that one of the lads had said that I had abused them. Especially if it was Joe.


Mr Pleece asked Sr Astrid whether he was being sacked: I asked her did she want me to leave and she said, well, it might be better for everybody concerned if I was to leave. I did say to her, “Are you sacking me, am I getting the sack?” Because I wouldn’t have been too happy about that. She said, “Well, no, if you are resigning, that’s fine, there’s no problem”.


At all times, Thomas Pleece presumed that Sr Astrid had received a complaint about sexual abuse. He had been sexually abusing the boys and, in particular, had abused Joe, who he knew had made the complaint. It was only when he heard Sr Astrid’s statement to the Commission, that she had had no complaints of sexual abuse, that he questioned this assumption. At no time was the subject matter of the complaint raised with him. All he was ever told, by both Sr Astrid and Dr Black, was that a complaint had been made. No details of the complaint were ever spelt out to him.


He described his interview with Dr Black: He was asking general questions about the discipline in the unit and how I disciplined the boys, and what kind of problems were arising out of that. I was talking to him for about half an hour, you know.


Thomas Pleece agreed that the whole investigation conducted by Dr Black was a momentous occasion and he was worried. He had refused the older boys permission to smoke and that had caused problems but, because the complaint against him had come from Joe, a boy he had actually abused, he presumed the issue was sexual abuse: Well I had understood that that’s what he said to Sr Astrid because I was just putting two and two together when she said to me there was a complaint. There couldn’t be anything else because there was no physical abuse.


Although Thomas Pleece disputed the extent of the abuse he perpetrated on Joe, he acknowledged that abuse had occurred: You see because I went into Joe’s room and I fondled him, and I committed abuse on him, when I was confronted by Sr Astrid by a complaint I immediately thought that’s what it was, that Joe had said to her that I had gone into his room. So he was right, like, that part of it was right.


It was Thomas Pleece’s understanding that Dr Black had been asked by Sr Astrid to investigate allegations of sexual abuse, and had found no evidence against him. Dr Black did not spell out the complaint against him, and Thomas Pleece was afraid to ask.


Thomas Pleece denied absolutely that he ever physically abused boys: Well, in regard to physical abuse – I mean, I don’t mind the boys claiming that I abused them sexually, you know, the three lads that I involved myself with. But for any boy to say that I physically abused them, I deny that completely.


He said he only ever laid a hand on boys for three reasons: one, if he was in danger from another boy; two, if a boy was about to self-harm, he would restrain him; and three, in self-defence, which he said never arose. Therefore, when Sr Astrid tackled him, the thought of physical abuse did not enter his head because he had not done it. The only thing she could have been talking about was sexual abuse, which he had done.

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