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Chapter 14 — St. Joseph’s Kilkenny

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Allegations of sexual abuse in the 1970s


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.


Thomas Pleece left St Joseph’s within a day or two of Sr Astrid speaking with him: But I know that she was calling a halt, anyway, to me working with the boys. I would have put the lads to bed that night and I would have said that I was leaving. I think that there was only two weeks or something to the summer holidays or something like that.


He was paid up to the summer and was given to understand by Sr Astrid that he would get a reference. Although he left believing he had been accused of sexually abusing boys, he stated that he left on good terms. He came back to reunions at Christmas and the like for years afterwards, and the invitations for this were extended by the Convent. He said: ‘I know I left under a cloud in Kilkenny. But I left, as I thought, on good terms’.


Thomas Pleece continued in jobs that brought him into close contact with vulnerable young people and children.


In September 1977, Thomas Pleece got a job in a probation hostel in Cork which accommodated boys in their late teens. He assumed they would have sought a reference from St Joseph’s for him there, although he did not see one.


He and his wife applied to foster two young boys in 1978. They were vetted before being accepted. He said that it never crossed his mind that the fact that he had been asked to leave for sexual abuse in Kilkenny was a disadvantage to his application for foster children: We had a number of interviews with the social worker, I don’t know how many there was now, but there was quite a few, and we were in the office another day and there was maybe three people there, and we had interviews with the head social worker, and the social worker that had been interviewing us. That was about it. They passed us to foster.

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