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'I asked the Priest who Abused me to Officiate When I Got Married'

London Evening Standard, 6 May 2009 by Jonathan Prynn

Patrick Raggett recalls with perfect clarity the moment he knew for certain he had been the victim of sexual abuse more than three decades before.

It came during an otherwise unremarkable Sunday lunch party with family and friends on 15 April, 2005.

Raggett was engaged in an intense theological debate with a Catholic priest who was a guest at the lunch when, with no warning, his psychological world collapsed.

The former high-flying solicitor, who yesterday won a landmark case at the High Court, said: "I was suddenly in floods of tears, I was saying: 'Nobody helped me.' It was like a psychic Tsunami, I was sobbing and sobbing and I couldn't stop. I was suicidal for about six months after that, I would be cycling to work with my eyes shut not caring if I got hit by a car or not."

The incident brought bubbling to his consciousness suppressed memories of appalling abuse at the hands of a Jesuit priest at Preston Catholic College, which he attended from 1969 to 1976.

The denial had been so complete that Raggett had even sought out Father Michael Spencer, the priest who abused him, to officiate at his wedding in 1991, going to the lengths of tracking him down in his retirement home in Orkney.

"I invited him to my wedding, yes, that's what I now know as the Stockholm syndrome, where to try to regain a bit of power hostages will side with the hostage takers.

"In a way that shows that I was not conscious of the abuse. I was asked by my own QC: 'Would you ever contemplate now asking Father Michael Spencer to officiate at your wedding?' The answer would be emphatically 'no'."

The moment of self realisation in 2005 also began to explain why a legal career that had started so promisingly veered into spectacular self-destruct mode.

Raggett had worked for six major law firms, peaking with a litigation partnership at City solicitors Pinsent Mason while only in his late thirties.

But each spell ended in professional self-immolation as he gained a reputation for heavy drinking, confrontation with authority and increasingly bizarre behaviour.

In one incident at an in-house party at top City firm Norton Rose he ended up drunk and naked, singing his own version of Princes's Purple Rain.

"That was effectively the end of my career," admits Raggett. "I was sacked or told to go from six law firms, every one I've ever worked at."

That was 12 years ago, when Raggett's dreams of a big City legal career earning hundreds of thousands of pounds a year crumbled.

Since then he has made a respectable living as a legal consultant but earns only a fraction of what he could have hoped for at the top.

He now lives with his partner in Hammersmith and is applying to do a part-time MSc in psychodynamics at Birbeck College. He hopes one day to forge a career as a psychotherapist.

The therapy that followed his 2005 breakdown helped Raggett understand his chaotic career path. "I suddenly had this enormously deep and vivid sense of the reason why life had been a bit chaotic. If someone had said to me beforehand I had been sexually abused, I would have reacted with scorn. But that reaction is well known as part of the pathology."

During a decade of therapy Raggett's anger over what happened to him at school and its destructive impact on the rest of his life - his marriage quickly broke down - hardened into an implacable desire to see justice.

During the preliminary High Court hearing, Raggett, a highly articulate and persuasive 50-year-old, spent six hours under gruelling cross-examination over two days.

The court heard in harrowing detail how he was "groomed" by Father Spencer, who died in 2001 aged 76, at the school where TV football pundit Mark Lawrenson was a contemporary.

In the witness box Raggett broke down in tears as he recalled how Father Spencer, who coached the school's football team, would film him naked in the showers, as the judge put it "presumably for his later private enjoyment".

He also told how football obsessive Spencer would take him to see Manchester United at Old Trafford, squeezing his thigh every time the home team scored.

The court heard how the priest made Raggett strip naked and bend over his desk as he rubbed cream into his groin and "playfully" touched him.

When a fellow priest walked in on one of the abuse sessions Father Spencer claimed he was checking to see if Raggett's "back bits are properly connected to his front bits".

He remains bitter about how the Jesuit order attempted to "grind me down" by forcing him to go through the long drawn-out process of litigation but hopes others who are being or were similarly mistreated will come forward.

"The Jesuit Order and the Catholic Church generally is still not accepting legal and moral responsibility for the dark virus of abuse.

"I am more convinced than ever that I should be exposing the gulf between what the Church espouses and its lack of moral and legal responsibility."

When he initially approached the religious order he was advised to contact the Jesuits' Child Protection Officer, Father Michael Smith, who briefly appeared in the witness box during the trial under his new title of "Safeguarding Coordinator".

But Raggett decided to take the harder road of legal redress and yesterday cleared the first crucial hurdle in a claim that he hopes could open the flood-gates to hundreds of similar cases.

Mrs Justice Smith rejected the argument by the Jesuits' and the school governors' legal team that the claim was time-barred because it came more than three years after the abuse took place.

She said she was convinced by Raggett's "state of denial" and said "there is no doubt in my mind that if, at any time over the previous three decades the claimant had been consciously aware of the extent of the effects ... of the abuse, he would have considered taking legal action".

The decision clears the way for a full hearing at which Raggett's record claim for up to £5 million of lost earnings will be considered.

"I was determined to go to court if they did not settle, so that the stigma is removed from victims. One of the terrible paradoxes when full awareness of the real damage from sustained sexual abuse comes is that you feel a great sense of shame and humiliation.

"To a very large degree the people who defend these charges know the victim is traumatised and is going to find it very difficult emotionally. As a lawyer I was in a good position because I knew what I was in for."

Even so, Raggett, who waived his right to anonymity, said his time in the witness stand had been a distressing marathon: "In urging people who have been similarly mistreated to come forward I certainly don't urge them to do that lightly but they need to be reassured that there are people like me who are happy to help.

"Their cross-examination of me was much tougher than I anticipated, the way they came at me on credibility, the quality of my memory. I was pleased when my legal team said afterwards that I'd been very impressive because for me emotionally it was very distressing. I slept for about three days after the trial."

He was helped by six school contemporaries who agreed to act as witnesses. Two of them had come forward only on the eve of the trial after reading about it in newspaper reports.

One flew from Pretoria in South Africa simply to appear in court. "It was a really joyful moment for both of us, we hadn't chatted since we were 13. The paradox is that it was a total mess of a school but a lot of extremely impressive people came out of it."

Only one witness was put forward by the school, a former English teacher, Father Arthur Malone. "It was nice to see him, actually. He said he always thought Father Spencer was odd because he was obsessed about football. And that the football priests were a bit cliquey. Football was the thing at our school, the priests were obsessed about it, about winning cups."

Raggett went on to write of his bizarre boyhood relationship with football and his teachers (although with no reference to the abuse) in a well reviewed contribution to a football writing anthology called "Bells, Smells and Georgie Best".

He now recalls: "Somebody said it was a happy school but at least two to three boys a week were being beaten, so it couldn't have been that happy. That's why bodies like Ofsted are useful because that school would be closed down now.

"Times have moved on, parents are more vigilant now and they need to be.

"They need to ask questions of headmasters, not just be shown the facilities, ask whether there have been any instances (of abuse), and what happened and did you involve the police. They would do that if they were buying a house."