Br Telfour served in Letterfrack in the mid to late 1960s. He was a teacher and was Disciplinarian for a year. He told the Committee that Letterfrack was a regulated place and that he had no difficulty managing the boys. A Visitation Report stated: The disciplinarian ... understands his charges very well and realises that harsh methods do not produce lasting results. He is most patient and has good control.
Notwithstanding the disapproving attitude of the Superior, there were other public beatings. One witness said: There was different Brothers that used to do it. It was a sort of – it wasn’t always on the stage it could be just up in a corner and made to, everybody silent while somebody was getting punished and you would be just staring ... We used to have a little TV up the front and there was a stage, you know, there was chairs where we would just sit around. If it was raining you would hang about here or if it was cold. This is where things used to happen ... Sometimes they would have a list of people who had done things and the punishment time was in the evening. Or, like, in the dormitory they’d have names, you would be called out, so and so, come up here. At the end of the dormitory where a room was they would carry out punishments there. It could be in the yard, there was a big yard with four walls, you know. You were lined up like soldiers and your name was called out ... There was other Brothers who done a lot of punishments too, but this is a guy I have in my mind who I seen doing things and has done things to me. There was another guy Telfour, I seen him using the special branches or sticks that bend.
Br Telfour was asked whether there was anything from his recollection of Br Dax’s behaviour at the time that ‘clicked’ when he heard Br Dax had been imprisoned. He replied that there was not.
In 1960s, a member of the lay staff, Mr Albaric, was removed from the School for sexually abusing children. A number of boys complained to Br Telfour: ‘Mr Albaric puts his thing against us when we are going to the toilet’. The Brother told the boys to report the matter to the Resident Manager. The Resident Manager subsequently confirmed that the boys had complained and gave Br Telfour a letter to give to Mr Albaric informing him of his dismissal.
It is significant that Br Telfour did not go to the Resident Manager with this complaint himself but left it for the boys to do so. If the boys had not acted, it is possible that Mr Albaric could have continued his activities notwithstanding the complaint that had been made.
Br Telfour described another occasion when the same two boys as had reported Mr Albaric came to him and made what he called a very vague allegation against another Brother. The allegation, as recalled by the witness, was not that the Brother had engaged in any sexual misconduct with the two boys, but that other boys were saying that the Brother ‘did things’ to them. He said that he pursued the matter with the boys who were reporting to him and tried to get something definite by way of a name or an activity, but: I was just getting the same – the boys – just the boys – shrug of the shoulders, as if – I didn’t know how to take it. The boys say, that is all I was getting, ah just things, things. So I couldn’t pursue it any further.
Even though it was hearsay and vague, this complaint was obviously serious and should have been followed up, especially when it came from two boys who had previously reported a case of abuse that was subsequently confirmed. In this case, Br Telfour did nothing about a complaint of sexual abuse that he received. He did not even tell the boys to report it to the Superior. In the earlier case, which he had regarded as sufficiently grounded in fact, the Brother did not himself go to the Superior but sent the boys to make the report.
Br Telfour cited an incident he witnessed soon after his arrival in the school and which involved Br Algrenon, a member of staff during the mid-1960s. He wanted to speak to Br Algrenon so he went up to his [Br Algrenon’s] room. However, instead of finding Br Algrenon he found a boy washing his penis at Br Algrenon’s wash basin. Br Telfour did not ask the boy why he was doing it. He told the Committee: ‘I presumed he was injured and maybe too embarrassed to go into the nurse or whatever’. The boy told him he was washing it on Br Algrenon’s instruction. Br Telfour acted as if nothing strange had happened and did not enquire any further into the matter.
It is hard to understand how the sight that met Br Telfour when he opened the door of a fellow Brother’s private bedroom did not make him suspicious. It is, of course, possible that this incident may not be related to sexual activity between the Brother and the boy but it should have undoubtedly raised a concern. He testified to the Committee that he did not check with Br Algrenon, as it was his first year in the place and he did not know how to handle the situation: ‘No, I didn’t. I didn’t know how to handle this. It was my first year there. I wasn’t long into the place‘.
Br Telfour told the Committee that he should have brought the complaints he got from the two boys about Br Curtis, and the incident in Br Algrenon’s room, to the Superior’s attention. He said that at that time he knew nothing about such activity, although he did acknowledge that he had encountered an allegation of sexual abuse whilst he was a student in Marino.
Br Telfour’s explanation for his failure to act appropriately in any of the instances of sexual abuse reported to him was his inexperience and lack of knowledge in how to deal with such a situation. However, it points to a moral and ethical ambivalence about this issue. An adult encountering sexual abuse of a child, even in the 1960s, should have had no hesitation in acting to stop it. This Brother was wracked with indecision when a fellow Brother was involved although he did make some effort, albeit indirect, in the case of the lay worker. Responses to sexual abuse were influenced by loyalty to the Congregation and to the individual Brother rather than the need to protect children in care. The preceding four incidents all occurred during Br Dax’s time there, and indicate ignorance and incompetence in relation to this issue. These Brothers recalled complaints about sexual abuse that were not recorded anywhere in the documentation, which reveals the difficulty of measuring the full extent of sexual abuse in Letterfrack.
Br Telfour, who was there from the mid to late 1960s, also stressed the low educational standard of the boys upon entry into the school. He said that, over time, some of the boys would improve and progress through the classes, eventually ending up at secondary school in Clifden. Other boys might make little or no progress.
Br Telfour said its location was bleak and isolated, and he felt he was transferred there because he had missed some of his early morning calls in another school.
As already stated, a number of Brothers were unhappy and isolated in Letterfrack. The burden of work fell on the shoulders of a few, and this had its own implications for how they treated the children. Some former residents described how some members of staff were kind to them at times but the mood could change in an instant. One former resident described this as follows: When they took the humour, they would show you, what do you call it, an act of kindness and you got kind of swallowed by this in some ways and you thought – you could get the off day like Telfour or Curtis would show you some act of kindness and next of all they just turn. There was a lot of Jeckyl and Hyde with them.