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Bessbrook Scout Hall: Abuse victim calls for its demolition

A Bessbrook man has publicly revealed details of his long-running campaign with his local parish to have a disused building, within which he was sexually abused as a child, to be demolished.

Richard O’Shea was one of five young boys who were subjected to a catalogue of sexual abuse during the 1980s, some of which took place in the now disused Bessbrook Scout Hall.

The perpetrator, former scout leader Colin Finnegan, was convicted in October 2013 of 59 sex offences against the five boys, the first of which dated back to 1982 when Finnegan himself was just 12 years old, and continued into his mid-twenties.

He is currently serving a 14 year jail term for offences including buggery, indecent assault and gross indecency.

Immediately after his abuser was sentenced, Mr O’Shea sought the demolition of the disused scout hall which he said “represents a horrendous reminder of the past” for Finnegan’s victims and prevents them from “moving forward”.

According to Mr O’Shea, in correspondence to Parish Priest Fr. Sean Larkin, he offered to fund the demolition himself but, despite persistent efforts on his part over the last eighteen months to obtain permission from Fr. Larkin and the Parish Finance Committee to carry out the demolition, the matter was beset by lengthy delays in receiving replies to his queries, and remained unresolved.

The situation came to a head just last week when Mr O’Shea revealed via social media that the Parish had finally agreed to allow the demolition of the hall but had attached a number of stipulations including that “there be no media presence or statements made to the media or any public forum” regarding the demolition so as to “protect the ordinary people of Bessbrook”.

Other restrictions were also imposed regarding the contract with the proposed builder and the Parish requests that Mr O’Shea landscape and reinstate the land on which the property is built and erect a new public toilet to replace the current one attached to the scout hall which is currently under lock and key.

Shocked and angry at what he viewed as an attempt to “silence” him about the demolition, and frustrated by the lack of progress on the matter, Mr O’Shea withdrew his offer to fund the project.  He subsequently made the decision to identify himself as one of Finnegan’s victims in order to reveal the details of the prolonged battle with the Parish and garner public support for the removal of the scout hall.

Speaking to The Examiner about his decision to go public, Mr O’Shea said the presence of the disused building “which serves no purpose whatsoever to the community” and which he passes almost daily, was “a constant reminder of what we went through at the hands of Colin Finnegan”.

“In bringing this man to justice, three of us endured three trials in Newry which were aborted for legal reasons and then the four of us went through the final trial in 2013 which was horrific in itself,” he explained.

“I was in the witness box for fifteen days solid, being questioned and cross-examined and bombarded with accusations that I was a liar. It was horrific.  I wanted closure after he was jailed and I thought the Parish would have been more supportive and only too glad to get rid of this building, a constant reminder of a horrendous episode in the scouts, which have always been closely affiliated with the Church.”

Revealing details of his communication with the parish on the issue, he continued: “Their demands of me in this drawn-out process were ridiculous and impossible.  I could not obtain a contract with a builder as they requested because I did not own the property.  I have never been told who is on the Parish Finance Committee making these decisions about something so personal to myself and the victims, and to be told that I should refrain from contacting the media ‘to protect the ordinary people of Bessbrook’ was insulting to say the least.  Am I not one of those ordinary people who needs protected?” he asked.

“I thought long and hard before taking the step to expose all this and publicly come forward as one of Finnegan’s victims but I decided I had been silenced for a long, long time.  I hid my story for over twenty years and I had to live with that but I felt enough was enough.

“The Parish has silenced people in the past for too long so I refuse to be silenced any longer and want people to know what has gone on. We have to live with the trauma of what Finnegan did for the rest of our lives and I thought the Parish would have been more remorseful about the abuse that took place and support our need to get rid of this physical representation of our ordeal.”

The Examiner contacted Fr. Larkin for a response to Mr O’Shea’s claims and after initially refusing to be drawn into what he described as “public controversy”, the cleric later advised that “it is the intention of the Parish to demolish the former scout hall” and that Mr O’Shea is set to receive a letter indicating this.

Fr. Larkin said the letter would verify that the Parish will undertake the work which will be carried out “in due course”.

“As you will appreciate, it involves getting a contractor, which takes time, but in principle the Parish is going to demolish the scout hall,” he confirmed.

Although revealing that he had yet to receive the aforementioned letter, Mr O’Shea welcomed the priest’s announcement and said he looked forward to the day when the building will be razed, expressing hope that this would happen soon.