Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more


  • Comment
A 65-year-old man who claims abuse suffered at religious schools more than 50 years ago has blighted his adult life...
A 65-year-old man who claims abuse suffered at religious schools more than 50 years ago has blighted his adult life won the sympathy of top judges - but was told it was too late to sue.

Lord justice Ward, said of Peter McDonnell, of Hornsey, north London: 'The facts paint a sad picture of his life.

'The hidden horrors of sexual abuse are now beginning to emerge and, if he is a victim of those, he has my sympathy.'

But the judge said he was constrained by law to uphold an earlier high court ruling that Mr McDonnell's claim had to be 'struck out,' having been launched almost 40 years too late.

The court's decision may have serious implications for other child abuse victims, some of whom make no complaint until decades after the event.

Mr McDonnell says he was dealt a 'chronic psychiatric injury' by his experiences at St Vincent's School, Mill Hill, between 1941 and 1947, and at St Charles School, in Tottenham, between 1947 and 1951.

High court judge, Mr justice Mackay, struck out his claim in March after ruling that, in order for his claim to succeed, he would have had to issue a writ before January 1963. In fact that was not done until August last year.

Mr McDonnell's lawyers argued in the appeal court that a change in the law in 1963 could be applied retrospectively, allowing him to pursue his claim.

But Lord justice Ward said that interpretation of the law was 'linguistically impossible' and dismissed the appeal.

Mr McDonnell was taken into care by the then London County Council within weeks of his birth and placed first at St Vincent's School which, according to his claim, was then run by The Trustees for the Charity of the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent De Paul.

He was then moved until he was 15 to St Charles School, managed by The Congregation of Christian Brothers.

He wanted to sue both religious charities for substantial damages, claiming he suffered grave physical abuse at his first school and both physical and sexual abuse at the second.

His lawyers argued that the psychiatric damage did not manifest itself until many years later, hence the delay in coming to court.

Both charities deny the allegations and successfully argued that, under the law in force at the time, Mr McDonnell would have had to launch his claim within six years of his 21st birthday.

The appeal court ruled that later statutes, which gave the courts a discretion to extend the time limit in special cases, could not be applied retrospectively.

Lord justice Ward, sitting with Lord justice May and Lord justice Kay, said: 'Retrospectivity has to be clear and shouldn't be inferred ... unless the language is specific.'

He said he would have been 'happy' to allow Mr McDonnell's appeal, but concluded: 'Even giving the most liberal interpretation (of the law) I cannot go that far.'

Lord justice Kay agreed, but told the court the case had thrown up an 'anomaly' in the law. 'I can't say I find the result entirely satisfactory,' he added.

Mr McDonnell, who was not in court, was refused permission to take his case to the house of lords, but may still apply to the law lords directly for an appeal hearing.


  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.