Former carer at a Bedfordshire boys’ home found guilty of physical and sexual abuse

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A former carer at a Shefford boys’ home physically or sexually abused 25 boys during the 1960s, a hearing has found

James McCann, 80, from Norfolk, was deemed unfit to stand trial relating to abuse at St Francis Children’s Home, however a trial of facts regarding 50 charges was heard at the Old Bailey in his absence.

The jury found that 42 charges were proven today (Monday, October 10).

They included a total of 30 charges of actual bodily harm and 12 counts of indecent assault.

He was cleared of a further eight charges - four indecent assaults and four physical assaults.

The case follows the conviction of former scout leader John Cahill, 73, of Chandos Court, Bedford, who was jailed in April for indecently assaulting four boys at the home in the 1960s.

Cahill, who admitted six counts of indecent assault against the boys who were aged between 10 and 16, was jailed for three-and-a-half years.

Details could not be released until the conclusion of McCann’s trial due to reporting restrictions.

The Old Bailey heard McCann had joined St Francis Children’s Home in 1965 when he was 29, and worked there until it closed in 1974.

The majority of the victims were aged between eight and 12 at the time of the abuse.

McCann’s physical abuse included ‘clapping’ the flat of his hands simultaneously over each of his victim’s ears.

Victims reported excruciating pain, nausea, dizziness, disorientation and loss of balance and some suffered long term damage to their hearing.

The court heard McCann also used weapons including a belt and sticks to beat the boys.

Nineteen of the victims accused him of assault, two alleged both physical and sexual abuse and four claimed to have suffered solely sexual abuse at his hands.

Three of McCann’s victims were also abused by Cahill, who committed his offences while he was volunteering as a scout leader at the home between 1962 and 1970.

He ran a weekly group at the home and began sexually assaulting some of the boys.

One of them reported the abuse to the head of the home and Cahill left shortly afterwards however, the allegations were not passed to police at the time.

Bedfordshire Police launched a major investigation into the men in 2013, after one of the victims came forward.

Senior investigating officer Mark Ross, said: “McCann and Cahill were incredibly cruel, abusing the very children they had a duty of care to protect and look after.

“This has been a lengthy investigation which was extremely complex given the time that had elapsed since the offending and the sheer number of victims affected.

“Those victims have shown tremendous bravery in coming forward and I am delighted they finally have justice.

“Every victim has had at least one proven outcome and for them to have been ‘believed’ will hopefully give them some closure.

“There can be no excuse for abuse, sexual and physical, and we will always thoroughly investigate every allegation passed to us. I hope this case will also give other survivors of historical abuse the strength to come forward.

“Both McCann and Cahill probably thought they had got away with their offending, but this should serve as a warning that anyone who commits abuse can expect a visit from the police.”

McCann was given an absolute discharge.