Northern Ireland

Man abused by paedophile priest Malachy Finegan to receive six-figure sum in damages

Father Malachy Finegan
Father Malachy Finegan

A MAN abused for years by a paedophile priest at a Co Down school is to receive a "six-figure sum" in damages, the High Court has heard.

The pay-out to Tony Gribben forms part of a settlement reached in his lawsuit over the historic sexual and physical assaults he suffered at the hands of the late Fr Malachy Finegan.

A personal apology will also be issued on behalf of the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Mr Gribben (61) sued the trustees and board of governors at St Colman's College in Newry and the Diocese of Dromore.

Outside court he said: "For the apology to be meaningful the church must acknowledge it was more concerned about protecting its reputation than safeguarding children from the actions of predatory paedophiles like Finegan.

"The diocese needs to be completely transparent in cooperating with a long overdue investigation on its failings."

Mr Gribben claimed for negligence and failures to protect him from Finegan's alleged "industrial-scale abuse" while he was a pupil at the school from 1970 to 1977.

In court today his barrister announced that a resolution has been reached in the action.

Monye Anyadike-Danes QC confirmed the diocese would provide her client with a personal, written apology from Archbishop Eamon Martin within three weeks.

The letter will "recognise the pain, suffering, hurt and distress" Mr Gribben experienced during his time at St Colman's, as well as the subsequent impact.

Liam McCollum QC, for the defendants, told the court his clients had gone beyond their legal obligations.

"They want me to express their apologies to the plaintiff for the terrible things that happened to him," he said.

Approving the terms reached, Mr Justice McAlinden stressed that the circumstances of the action should not be forgotten.

"Nothing said or done in dealing with the legal complexities of such issues takes away from the stress that individual has suffered," he said.

Finegan taught and worked at St Colman's College from 1967 to 1987, spending the last decade as the school's president.

He went on to serve as a parish priest in Clonduff, Co Down.

The priest, who died on 2002, was accused of a long campaign of child sexual abuse, but never prosecuted or questioned by police about claims made against him.

In 2018 it emerged that the Diocese of Dromore had settled a claim made by one of his alleged victims.

At that stage the board of governors at St Colman's condemned the physical, sexual and emotional abuse inflicted by Finegan while working there.

At the time the PSNI set up a team of detectives to investigate Finegan's activities.

Nine people were said to have been interviewed under caution, but no direction was made to prosecute anyone.

With a Police Ombudsman inquiry into earlier alleged RUC failings also closed, no findings have been made of any institutional connivance within the church.

Mr Gribben claimed he was beaten and abused on dates between 1970 and 1977.

Now living in Turin, northern Italy, Mr Gribben was accompanied at court by Co Down man Sean Faloon, another of those preyed on by Finegan.

"This may be administratively closed, but any survivor of child sexual abuse will carry the thorns in their side for the rest of their life," he said.

"Sean empowered me to come forward and tell my story.

"Hopefully by our example others will feel able to likewise. We really want to determine the full scale of abuse."

His solicitor, Kevin Winters, said: "We commend Tony for his tenacity in pursuing this case after all this time.

"His brave decision to drop his anonymity should help to expose Finegan's industrial-scale abuse of schoolboys.

"He now wants his case to shine a spotlight on the failure of the church and the school to uncover this appalling criminality."