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'I hate you' - Norwich victim of Catholic priest's 'vile abuse' confronts him in court

Francis McDermott has been jailed for nine years and 11 months after being found guilty of sexual abuse of six children. Picture: Thames Valley Police

Francis McDermott has been jailed for nine years and 11 months after being found guilty of sexual abuse of six children. Picture: Thames Valley Police

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A brave Norwich woman stood in court to confront a Catholic priest and tell him 'I hate you' as he was jailed for 'vile abuse' of children in the 1970s.

Francis McDermott abused six victims, some as young as 10, in London, Norwich, and High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, between 1971 and 1978, Aylesbury Crown Court heard.

Two of his victims read statements during Thursday’s sentencing hearing which recounted the “devastating impact” he had on their lives.

Addressing her abuser, a woman from Norwich said: “My first experience should not have been with a Roman Catholic priest 17 years older than me.”

She told the court how she had to stop intimacy with partners because when she closed her eyes, all she could see was his face.

She accused McDermott of using her mother’s Catholic faith to get close to her, and described the difficulty of picking out Mother’s Day cards, telling the court: “I tried to understand why my mother had let me down.”

“Even though people knew, they still had him in their house,” she said.

“I hate you. There is no one to blame but you.”

The victim added she could no longer look at her reflection in mirrors and took medication for the depression which the abuse caused.

A second victim said she did not tell anyone what happened for years because: “I felt important to him.”

She said she had come to realise it was an “abusive manipulative relationship” and that he had “used my parents’ trust and religious indoctrination” to abuse her.

Years later, after telling her family, she recalled how they realised that they had “all been married and baptised by a disgusting monster”.

As a result, she told the court that her brother and his wife had cut out McDermott’s face from all of their wedding photos and had decided to renew their wedding vows.

She told the court she no longer has a relationship with the Catholic Church, saying: “I have lost all faith. I have no religion.”

Eleanor was reeling from a family tragedy when McDermott came into her life and began abusing her over an 18-month period in Norwich.

She was sexually abused aged 12 by the Catholic priest but thought she was in love and never suspected his actions were wrong.

The first time he kissed her he was lying on a sofa in her family home and asked her for a cuddle, Eleanor recalled, but he soon progressed to touching her intimately under her clothes.

Eleanor, whose name has been changed for legal reasons, said: “I fell in love with him and I thought that he loved me... I would feel a bit upset if he ignored me around other people, because I thought that I was special, that I was with him, he was mine I suppose.”

One of six victims, Eleanor “never dreamed” he was doing anything to other children.

She only realised what had happened to her was wrong when, five years later, her then-partner reacted with shock when she told him who she had shared her first kiss with.

She said: “He didn’t know what to do with that information. He was angry, he was confused. It was horrendous.

“And I just stood there and I can remember even now just standing there being totally bewildered because as far as I knew it wasn’t wrong. I didn’t ever suspect that anything that went on between me and Frank was wrong.

“I just didn’t know what to do with that person’s reaction, I didn’t know why it was wrong, I didn’t know whether to feel bad about it, it was just like a massive explosion in my head.”

Eleanor, who went on to marry her partner, said a “black shadow” had always loomed over their relationship because of the previous abuse.

She said: “You shut your eyes and it was like Frank was there, not my husband, it was just horrible.”

Eleanor said she reported the abuse first to her church, and then to police five years later in 2002.

Initially she did not want to take the matter further, but when Thames Valley Police got in touch in 2017 saying they were investigating McDermott she was determined to work with them.

She believes she was the only one of McDermott’s victims to testify against her abuser in court without a screen.

Describing her experience, she said: “I decided not to have the screen, it wasn’t because that enabled me to look at Frank, but I just wanted to be empowered with that, I wanted to let him know that he didn’t have that hold over me, and that I had done nothing wrong.

“I did think about having a screen but for me I wanted to then return to the court...I wanted to be in the area where he was having to deal with the past and what evilness he had done. And I just wanted to be in the place where that was happening.”

She added: “At times I felt sick to my stomach because it brought back things about my childhood and that part of me that I’ll never have back, I’ll never know what might have been for me, if this had not have happened.”

Eleanor said McDermott’s denial and lack of remorse was upsetting, and hopes he will spend the rest of his life in jail.

She feels that his jail sentence will prompt her to seek further counselling as she believes it will cause feelings of anger to surface.

She said: “At the moment I can’t forgive him for what he did to me and the others. It’s horrendous the impact that something like this has, not only on yourself but the people around you, your family, your friends.”

But, she added: “I won’t let him ruin my life, it hasn’t ruined my life, it’s made me very, very sad and I think I’ve missed out on things, but I’m not going to let him hold me down.”

74-year-old McDermott, from Bideford, Devon, was convicted of 18 sexual offences against children in the 1970s after a trial at Aylesbury Crown Court.

Judge Catherine Tulk told him he had “turned down so many opportunities to admit your wrongdoing”.

She noted the irony that one of the central tenets of the Catholic Church was confession.

The offences were reported to the church on two separate occasions but were not passed on to police after McDermott denied the allegations, the court heard.

McDermott was found guilty of 18 counts of historic child sex offences following a trial.

Trevor Burke QC, defending McDermott, said the defendant had been a Catholic priest “all his adult life” but said “for a period of seven years where he had completely lost his way”.

Investigating officer Detective Constable Catriona Cameron, of the Child Abuse Investigation Department in Aylesbury police station, said after the sentencing McDermott was “held in high regard as a trusted member of the community”.

“However, he used his position to befriend children, gain their trust and groom them,” she said. “He then abused them for his own sexual gratification, with no regards for the impact this would have on them.

“These crimes have had a lifelong effect on his six victims. They bravely came forward to report the abuse they suffered more than 40 years ago. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their courage and support of this investigation.

“It is thanks to their bravery, and the work of investigating officers, that justice has now been done.

“McDermott did not admit his crimes and they have been put through the trauma of a trial adding extra distress to them. He has shown no remorse.

“McDermott’s crimes had life-changing consequences for his victims, who have had to live with the memory of his abuse for the majority of their lives. I hope this is the start of a healing process for them and their families.”

Both Buckinghamshire and Norfolk were part of the Diocese of Northampton during the time of the attacks.

After the sentencing the Bishop of Northampton Peter Doyle said: “My heart goes out to all those affected by these terrible crimes. How courageous the women and men have been after having carried the wounds of abuse for more than forty years.

“My hope is that the sentence today will aid in the long journey of healing for the victims and survivors of this abuse.

“I wish to reassure you all that abuse of any kind is not tolerated in the Church and that we will together, lay people and clergy, continue the building of safe environments for all.”

An NSPCC spokesperson said: “McDermott used his trusted position as a priest to not only groom children but also their families in order to commit sickening abuse.

“He probably thought he had long got away with his vile crimes but the young people he manipulated and abused all those years ago have today helped put him behind bars.

“Their courage shows that it is never too late to report abuse and for victims who may have suffered for years in silence to come forward and get support.”

Adult victims of non-recent abuse can call the NSPCC Helpline for advice and support on 0808 800 5000.

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