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Caldey Island: 6-year-old who drowned in 1977 was victim of abuse, says sister

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EXCLUSIVE by Amanda Gearing

 

A WOMAN whose sister drowned off Caldey Island in 1977 as a 6-year-old child says they were both sexually abused by a monk there.

Father Thaddeus Kotik, who lived at Caldey Abbey for 45 years before his death in 1992, is accused of abusing several girls in the 1970s and 1980s.

Joanna Biggs, 48,  is the first of Kotik’s alleged victims to waive anonymity to speak out about her ordeal. She has revealed that is well as being victim to sexual abuse – her sister was blamed for her own death.

Reading the shocking revelations that a monk had abused several children on Caldey Island in the 1970s and 1980s broke open a kaleidoscope of traumatic memories for Joanna Biggs.

Memories of abuse by Father Thaddeus Kotik of herself and her younger sister, Theresa; memories of the last day she spent with Theresa playing on Sandtop Bay on Caldey Island; memories of a grey nun’s veil blowing in the wind and the panicked look on the nun’s face when Theresa was swept out to sea and drowned on 18 July 1977.

Joanna Biggs told her siblings about the abuse in recent years but she has now also told her grieving parents of her abuse by Fr Thaddeus and that their daughter who died was also a victim of abuse.

Joanna Biggs has been affected by the abuse herself – not being able to drink milk for decades because of the smell that reminds her of the dairy where the abuse happened.

But it is the drowning of her younger sibling Theresa that has compelled Joanna Biggs to research the facts surrounding her sister’s death and to publicly defend Theresa’s honour against what she believes to be false evidence given to the inquest.

A nun, Sister Sheila Singleton, who was caring for a group of children at the beach on Caldey Island, claimed in evidence that she had forbidden Theresa to swim and that Theresa had disobeyed her by going in the water.

“This is not true,” Joanna Biggs said. “The nun asked me to help her blow up Theresa’s armbands so I showed her how to do that.”

“[The nun] helped put Theresa’s armbands on. And then she said ‘off you go’.”

“My sister was not naughty. I was told she was found with one of her armbands on.”

Theresa’s father John Biggs strongly supports Joanna’s desire now to have the truth revealed in the hope of bringing a proper closure for the family over his daughter’s death.

John Biggs said he and his wife “never believed that Theresa wilfully disobeyed but were not there to prove it”.

Joanna Biggs said her parents had lived with the nun’s lie for more than 40 years. “It is time for my sister to be released from false blame,” she said.

“My sister was more adventurous and more assertive than me,” she said.

Even at six years old it was Theresa who made sure that they escaped further abuse by Fr Thaddeus, she said.

“My sister made a pact with me that we would never be alone with Fr Thaddeus even if he offered us sweets.”

After speaking with her elderly parents, Joanna Biggs searched the Pembrokeshire Archives to unearth the inquest file that her parents had always been too traumatised to read.

Theresa’s father attended the inquest but her mother, who had a very young baby at the time, was not able to attend.

The inquest documents show the drowning was investigated in one day and the inquest was held the following day, just two days after the drowning.

At last answers are being found. Joanna Biggs is now determined to correct the record so that her little sister can be remembered as the obedient child she was raised to be by her devout Catholic parents.

Sister Singleton did not give evidence in person but she made a statement to the court claiming that she “told Theresa she was not to go into the water as it was too cold” and that Theresa had disobeyed her direction and went swimming without permission.

Sister Singleton said she saw Theresa “going towards the water” and asked one of the boys to look after her.

“It seemed only minutes had passed when some of the boys shouted [to] me. I understood something had happened to Theresa,” Sister Singleton wrote.

But teenagers at the beach gave evidence that the nun had allowed a large group of children to swim in a force 5 to 6 gale at a beach with dangerous ocean currents, put floaties on Theresa, 6, led her to the water’s edge and asked a boy of 14 to look after her in the water.

A boy of 14, James Donnelly, gave evidence that Sister Singleton had made her way towards him with Theresa – who was wearing inflated armbands – and asked him to take the girl down to the water.

James Donnelly told the inquest that he went in the water with Theresa, leaving her playing in shallow water while he went out to deeper water.

James lost sight of Theresa, saw that she had been swept into deeper water and tried to reach her with help from another boy, John Lewis, 12, who had come to help.

John reached her and Theresa held onto him and told him “Don’t let go of me”, but he said she was pulling him under the surface and they were both swallowing water.

John said he pushed the girl’s arms away so he could get out of the water and get help.

Theresa was swept further out and was waving her arms and screaming. Another boy, Anthony Bonar, 15, swam towards her but could not reach her because the current was too strong.

By then Anthony said he could only see two orange armbands floating on the water and the girl’s arms waving in the air.

“Her head was under the water,” he said.

The coastguard was called and retrieved the girl’s body. A doctor who met the rescue boat at the slipway pronounced her dead.

The coroner accepted the nun’s evidence over that of the three boys.

Theresa’s family would like to see the inquest re-opened so that the evidence of the boys can now be accepted and so the brave efforts of the boys to save Theresa can be recognised.

Joanna Biggs has also confirmed that a group of monks was standing on the rocks praying.

“None of them gave evidence to the inquest,” she said.

In addition, the abbot of Caldey Abbey and a parish priest Father David Bottrill were on the island at the time.

“I know that the abbot rang our home and told my father that Theresa was dead,” Ms Biggs said. “My family has only just become aware that there were monks present on the beach.”

What still weighs on Joanna Biggs’ mind after 40 years is that three boys battled dangerous swell and undercurrents to try to rescue a child while adults on the beach and on the rocks did not give practical help.

“This was a heavy enough burden for these children to carry for the rest of their lives. But on top of this, there was no mention in the inquest about the actions of the adults who were present that day –  except for the false statement of Sister Sheila,” she said.

“Questions need to be asked – Why were any children at all allowed to swim on such a dangerous beach that day? Why did no adult enter the water to try to assist the boys?” she said.

Joanna Biggs also questions why no adequate warning signs about dangerous tides were erected before or after her sister drowned.

“Whenever my family visits my sister’s grave on Caldey Island it distresses us to see there are still no adequate warning signs of the dangerous underwater currents at Sandtop Bay,” she said.

The Herald sought comment from Sister Singleton but the Irish religious order to which she belonged, the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Sisters of the Assumption, has confirmed that Sister Singleton died in 2004.

  • Do you have any further information? Please email the journalist: Amanda Gearing.

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Former Cardigan Castle director sentencing delayed

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THE SENTENCING of a former director of Cardigan Castle who has pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and theft totalling over £40,000 has been delayed.

Former director, Jac Davies, pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and theft was due to be sentenced on Wednesday (May 4) at Swansea Crown Court – but has now been delayed.

Davies who held the £40,000 a year post fraudulently obtained £33,098.75 and stole a further £7,932.97 from the award winning restoration project..

Davies held his position at Cardigan Castle from September 2017 to November 2019.

The defendant has pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining £4,143.20 from the castle on December 21, 2017.

Again Davies admitted to fraudulently obtaining £28,955.55 between February 4, 2019 and November 3, 2019.

Two further charges of theft were also admitted – one charge of  theft from the castle of £1,908.18 between May 2, 2018 and May 24, 2019 and a further charge of theft from Cardigan Castle Enterprises to the sum of £6,024.79.

Dyfed-Powys Police conducted a year long investigation after being contacted by the castle board of directors.

Financial discrepancies were identified during financial monitoring.

An internal investigation was launched and Davies left his position within the castle in October 2019 following a disciplinary process.

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Dyfed-Powys Police criticised for failing to record thousands of crimes

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A SHOCKING new report says that Dyfed-Powys Police failed to record thousands of crimes, despite being told to improve two-and-a-half years ago.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found the force had documented just 87.6% of reported crime – meaning upto 4,400 crimes are not recorded each year.

The report highlighted that of violent crimes, 85.4% were registered, which means about 2,400 went unrecorded, some involving domestic abuse or the vulnerable.

The force said it had “plans in place to improve its crime recording.”

HMIC reached their conclusion by comparing the number of reports to the police with recorded numbers. About 35,900 were reported.

In 2018, HMIC found that our local force was too often not recording crimes. And in 2014 it was reported the force was one of the worst in the UK at recording crimes. 

Dyfed-Powys Police T/Chief Constable, Claire Parmenter was quick to respond to the shocking finding. In a statement emailed to The Herald she said: “We accept the concerns and recommendations published by HMICFRS in respect of crime data integrity. As an organisation, we are firmly committed to supporting victims and putting them at the heart of everything we do. The force has plans in place to improve its crime recording and I am determined we will get this right.

“Since the previous HMICFRS inspection in 2018 we have made significant improvements in our response to Domestic Abuse victims, creating the vulnerability desk which provides real time intelligence to officers attending incidents of Domestic Abuse and ensuring that safeguarding arrangements are in place through a new partnership hub. Recent audits in April evidenced we were achieving a 98% compliance for the completion of risk assessments. This ensures that every Domestic Abuse victim is looked after and kept safe.

“We have a programme of change already in place which will deliver significant process and cultural change. The elements of this programme will improve the forces’ ability to manage demand, support victims, improve the timeliness and quality of investigations and supervision of crime. HMICFRS were unable to take this project into account as part of this inspection. Delivery plans commence next month (June 2021).

“Since the date of this inspection, we are already seeing improvements as a result of the swift additional action we have taken, achieving 100% crime recording compliance in respect of anti-social behaviour for February and March 2021 which is positive.”

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Firefighters extinguish blaze at St Catherine’s Fort, Tenby

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A CONTROLLED wood fire earlier in the day caused a fire to break out on Tenby’s St Catherine’s Island on Thursday (May 6).

Heat that was caused by a wood fire earlier in the day caused a ignition on the unburned wood nearby that was needed to be extinguished by Tenby fire crew.

Taking to their Facebook page, St Catherine’s island thanked Tenby Fire Brigade for their assistance.

No serious damage was caused by the incident.

The spokesperson said: “A massive shout out to Tenby Fire Brigade last night who were called to the Island last night after we left following a long day working on the Fort and burning off all the old flooring, having now replaced it all. 

“We had spent at least half an hour making sure that our controlled barrel fire was out. Unfortunately the ground was so hot it transferred to the rest of the unburned wood. 

“Thanks to our amazing local Fire Service, they were on hand to help us out and no damage occurred.”

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