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Famous Wirral Church at centre of Child Abuse Claims

A famous Wirral church, St Mary’s Birkenhead, built in 1821 alongside the ruins of Birkenhead Priory, is at the centre of claims that children were being sexually abused at the church, in the 1960s.

Alan Wilson, who lived in squalor in a run down house in Abbey Street, Birkenhead, close to the church, when he was 7, claims in a new book, that he was raped and beaten in 1962, when he was 10, by two priests at the Church, and by a man who looked after the church gardens there.

Mr Wilson, now 59, says his first encounter with one of the priests was in 1961, at a bungalow in Willaston, where he was taken by his father, who had also been sexually abusing him from the age of seven. The priest and another man paid his father some money, then took Alan into a back room and sexually abused him in turn, before beating him, swearing him to silence and then letting him go.

A year later, Alan was caught scratching his initials on a wall in the grounds of St Mary’s, by the minister there, Fr Eric Owen, now deceased, who told him he would call the police unless Alan came inside the church and did some ‘penance’.

When Alan went into the church with Fr Owen, he was met by another priest, who he recognised as being one of the men who had abused him in the bungalow in Willaston. Both priests then took it in turn to rape Alan on a table, next to the altar.

Alan’s book, entitled ‘Dirty little bastard’ – the name his father called him repeatedly, while he was raping him, is a harrowing story of sexual abuse and brutality, that also paints a terrible picture of the harsh reality of life for children in parts of Birkenhead in the 1950s and 60s, who were powerless to protect themselves from predatory paedophiles, at a time when child abuse was virtually ignored as a problem in our society.

Alan said: “I decided to tell my story after seeing a counsellor at The Lantern Project, who told me that it would help me recover if I wrote down some of what had happened to me.  I had no idea at the time that once I had started to write the first few words, it would turn into a book! But it has, and I am now feeling much better, having finally got the nightmares I have lived with for all these years out of my head and into the open.

“I believe that I was not the only victim of these monsters, and it is my hope that by telling my story, some of these other victims will feel able to come forward and benefit from the type of specialist counseling and support, now available to them through organisations like the Lantern Project.

“I don’t think many people realise the awful consequences and long-lasting damage child abuse causes, not just to the victims at the time, but as they grow older and have to struggle, often alone, with the toxic impact of the trauma they suffered.”

Graham Wilmer, founder of The Lantern Project, and a survivor himself, said: “Alan’s courage in telling his story cannot be under-estimated. He has worked so hard, through very difficult circumstances, to reveal some of the most traumatic experiences that any child can undergo, and I am very proud of him for doing that. His hope that by writing this book, other victims will come forward and seek help, is a testimony to his bravery, and I am convinced many other children will benefit from his courage.”

The Bishop of Chester, the Right Reverend Dr Peter Robert Forster, declined to make any comment about Mr Wilson’s claims, when he was notified of them in June last year by The Lantern Project. However, the senior safeguarding officer for the Church of England Diocese of Chester, Sue Foster, told Graham Wilmer that Bishop Peter would be contacting Alan ‘personally’.

Mr Wilmer said: “We have waited and waited, but no one from the Bishop’s office has ever made contact with Alan since then, to offer him any support, or even to ask him to tell them in person what happened.

“This flies in the face of the Church of England’s safeguarding policies and procedures, but it is typical of the difficulties faced by victims of clergy abuse, both by Catholic and Church of England priests, when they seek help or disclose their experiences to church authorities.”

The Lantern Project is also part of The STOP CHURCH CHILD ABUSE campaign, an alliance of clergy sexual abuse survivors, charities that support survivors, specialist lawyers and interested individuals working in the field of child safeguarding, who have come together to investigate and highlight the serious safeguarding failures of church institutions, from 1954 to the present.


This was issued as a Press Release issued by the Lantern Project on 28th May 2012


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