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Senedd to decide on Caldey Island sex inquiry as petition reaches 5000 signatures

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A PETITION signed by over 5,000 people calling for a probe into child abuse allegations on a Pembrokeshire island, has led to a debate in the Senedd tomorrow (Monday, Nov 1)

The petition has been submitted by Kevin O’Connell, who says he is the victim of child abuse by priests and monks.

He says that he wants to persuade the Welsh Government to told an inquiry into the historic child abuse on Caldey Island.

He said: “Victims need the truth and answers as to why an ongoing investigation for 29 years has failed the victims. The inquiry will help to safeguard children in the future.”

In 2017 it came to light that the island has a long history of child sexual abuse after six women received compensation from the island’s abbey after being abused by Kotik. There are 21 victims who have now come forward and reported similar offences to Dyfed Powys Police with cases going back to the 1960s.

On a family holiday to the island when he was six years old, Kevin O’Connell said that he met the monk, Kotik. He said that they became friends and he began spending time alone with him.

“Caldey Island was a paradise. It was beautiful. I played with other children, the beach, volleyball and football, it was special. Father Thaddeus became very special to me, and he gave me the love I didn’t get at home from my Dad.”

Kotik, a former soldier who fought for the Free Polish army during the Second World War, moved to the island in 1947 and joined the strict Cistercian Order.

The monk was ordained a priest in 1956 and lived on the island until his death in 1992. It appears he was never questioned by police, who were not informed of allegations against him until 2014.

After the holiday Kevin says that Kotik kept in touch with him and sent him photos of Caldey Island in the post.

After becoming an altar boy he went on several more holidays to Caldey Island, arranged and funded by his local Catholic Church.

He never told his parents what Kotik did to him.

In 2019 Brother Daniel van Santvoort was asked for his response to the latest evidence that Kevin O’Connell was also abused on the island. Despite contacting the Brother several times, he never responded.  

Caldey Abbey, Caldey Island (Stock image)


SENEDD TO DECIDE ON INQUIRY

The petition coordinator says that there is a lack of accountability of the Cistercian Order of Caldey Abbey, and that victims have lost faith in the police investigation, that the local police have a conflict of interest and that the police have failed to conduct a full investigation.

A report submitted to the Welsh Government by Dinah Mulholland, Coordinator, Caldey Island Survivors Campaign makes shocking reading. He says: “Solicitors Michael Imperato and David Greenwood, acting on behalf of Caldey Island victims, both consider that from the scale of abuse reported by victims that it was perpetrated on an industrial scale, and that it is likely that Caldey was a hub for paedophiles.

“It is our opinion that it is likely that Caldey Island is known within paedophile networks as a safe place to be shielded, with the opportunity to perpetrate active or online abuse whilst on the island.
The abuse on Caldey could potentially be on a very significant scale. Over the decades there have been:

  • children who came on holiday with their families; referrals from RC churches in Wales and across the UK who came without their parents;
  • a primary school on the island and a reform school on the island.

Supporting documents show that the key messages from the campaign to the Petitions Committee are:
“That we are currently occupied with attempting to discover, on a voluntary and part-time basis, the scale of abuse by known and by other potential perpetrators. This is a huge job, it exceeds our capacity, and properly falls within the remit of the police or a public inquiry.

“We would urge the Senedd to hold a public inquiry into the abuse, and institutional facilitation/cover up of abuse by the Abbey, on Caldey Island. This inquiry, in our opinion, would need to consider any failings by statutory authorities to protect children who stayed on or visited the island, and any failings in investigations into the abuse. It would also need to consider the structural issues of the autonomy and lack of accountability of the Cistercian Order as it operates within Wales.

“If a public inquiry is unlikely to fall within Senedd powers or remit, or the Senedd considers that there is not enough evidence for a public inquiry to be warranted, then we would like to request that Welsh Government recommend a full and thorough investigation, by an external police force with expertise in large scale historic child sexual abuse, takes place.

“That may reveal the new information that would be required for a public inquiry.”

LAW SPECIALIST

Michael Imperato, Director & Head of Public & Administrative law at prominent Cardiff law firm Watkins & Gunn has advised that there are a number of reasons why a Public Inquiry is the only proper process that should be followed:
The advice is as follows:

“The Deputy Minster refers on a number of occasions to police investigations. The police are one of the bodies who would be significantly scrutinised by any such inquiry. There are various allegations by victims, which may or may not be unfounded, as to police complicity in “turning a blind eye” or subsequent “cover ups”. Numerous inquiries take place where there have been previous police investigations (Saville, Orgreave, IICSA, Infected Blood, Shipman) – often the investigation undertaken by the police is proved to be wholly inadequate. This is not a reason against a public inquiry.

“Child safeguarding is a critical issue and is of course devolved. It was common during the time that the sexual abuse was being undertaken, for Catholic schools in Wales and in England to send children to the island and for the Local Authority to allow – even to actively promote – holidaying families (with of course young children) to visit the island. Many of those children will then have been victims of abuse. Therefore, issues arise as to what schools and Local Authorities actually knew as to what was happening on Caldey, what steps did they take – or more pertinently – not take? Lessons must be learnt to ensure children are properly protected today.

“The Catholic church is quite obviously culpable and has a case to answer. What did the church authorities in Wales know of the abuse that was taking place on Caldey Island? How did they interact with other authorities/public bodies in Wales?

“The fact that the Inquiry is touching on matters from some time ago, should not be a deterrent. I am currently acting for several hundred Welsh victims from the Infected Blood Scandal, which concerns a time period, primarily, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It could be argued that the fact that the matter concerns events some years ago, means that it is even more urgent that such events are scrutinized at this time. Indeed, one of the terms of reference of the Infected Blood Inquiry is why it has taken so long for there to be a thorough investigation, what happened and why? Just because there has been no investigation to date does not mean that it should not be investigated now.”

CAMPAIGNERS ARE SAYING:

1)Twenty six individuals have now come forward as victims of the paedophile monks. The police have failed to undertake an overarching investigation which is now standard practice following ‘Operation Yewtree’ .
2) An outside force needs to investigate the lack of police action as victims no longer trust that Dyfed Powys police will be willing to shine a spotlight on their friends at the Abbey. Why do I write ‘friends’? The lead chaplain of Dyfed Powys Police is the dean of Pembroke who has Caldey Island within his parish. The monastery appointed a safeguarding person but he is a former member of the south Wales police, turned monk and is a director of the estate of Caldey Island so it might be difficult to see him as independent.
3)Solicitors acting on behalf of the survivors believe Caldey was not just home to one paedophile monk but a hub for paedophile monks where they could come and go as they please and even hide away from police, which has been proven.
4) The police are failing in their duty of care not only towards past victims but also by not having any officers patrolling the island amongst the thousands of tourists visiting currently. The Cistercian order did not report past crimes against children to the police, yet are deemed adequate to safeguard children today by the police force failing to investigate properly.

(Cover photo: Father Thaddeus Kotik photographed with a child on Caldey Island, Wales, in the early 1980s.)

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Major changes to Highway Code come into force today

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FROM today (Jan 29), the biggest update to the Highway Code in four years takes place in an effort to improve the safety of the most vulnerable road users.

The changes will have implications for anyone that uses the roads – such as cyclists, motorists and pedestrians.

A hierarchy of road-users will be introduced, ensuring quicker or heavier modes of travel have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others on the road.

Cyclists will also receive fresh guidance to ride in the centre of a lane on quieter roads, in slower-moving traffic and at the approach to junctions in order to make themselves as clearly visible as possible.

They’ll also be reminded they can ride 2 abreast – as has always been the case and which can be safer in large groups or with children – but they must be aware of drivers behind them and allow them to overtake if it is safe to do so.

Meanwhile, motorists will be encouraged to adopt the so-called ‘Dutch Reach’ (as shown below), opening the door next to them with the opposite hand so they look over their shoulder, meaning they’re less likely to injure passing cyclists and pedestrians.

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes told The Herald: “These changes to the Highway Code are substantial, so it’s vitally important they are communicated clearly.”

“In theory, they should make our roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians, but unless everyone is aware of them, there’s a risk of angry clashes and, worse still, unnecessary collisions.”

“Nobody wants to be on the right side of the Highway Code changes but in the back of an ambulance because of confusion on the part of a driver or any other road user.”

What’s changed and why?

The revised Highway Code comes into effect from 29 January 2022, following calls to protect vulnerable road users. There are a significant number of changes but, from a driver’s perspective, some of the biggest are:

  1. creation of a new ‘hierarchy of road users’ that ensures those who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others
  2. clarify existing rules on pedestrian priority on pavements and when crossing the road
  3. provide guidance on safe passing distances and ensuring cyclists and horse riders have priority when travelling straight ahead at junctions

‘Hierarchy of road users’

new-highway-code-shared-path

The ‘hierarchy of road users’ is a concept that places road users most at risk in the event of a collision at the top of the hierarchy. The system is used to create a special set of rules numbered H1H2 and H3 but importantly doesn’t remove the need for everyone to behave responsibly.

The hierarchy places road users in order from most to least at risk of being injured, like so:

  • Pedestrians – children, older adults and disabled people being more at risk
  • Cyclists, horse riders and drivers of horse-drawn vehicles
  • Drivers of large goods and passenger vehicles, vans/minibuses, cars/taxis, and motorcycles

Rule H1 applies to all road users and says that it’s important that everyone is aware of the Highway Code and their responsibility for the safety of others. The rule reminds us that it may not be obvious that other road users may have impaired sight, hearing or mobility.

Pedestrian priority

new-highway-code-zebra-crossing

Rule H2 applies to drivers, motorcyclists horse-drawn vehicles, horse riders and cyclists. It reads:

“At a junction you should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from which you are turning.”

From January 2022 a pedestrian waiting to cross should be given priority. Previously, drivers were told to give way to pedestrians if they ‘have started crossing and traffic wants to turn into the road’. The change also appears in the revised Rule 170.

Rule H2 also advises drivers on pedestrian priority at zebra crossings. Rule 195 goes into more detail and tells us that drivers:

  • MUST give way when a pedestrian has moved onto a crossing
  • SHOULD give way when a pedestrian is waiting to cross

Although drivers are asked to give way more often, pedestrians still have a responsibility to cross safely. A new addition to Rule 8 makes it clear that pedestrians should ‘cross at a place where drivers can see you.’

Safe passing distances

new-highway-code-pedestrian-in-road

Rule 163 previously said: “Overtake only when it is safe and legal to do so. You should not get too close to the vehicle you intend to overtake.” The revised rules go into more detail about what ‘too close’ means.

The following advice has been added:

  • When overtaking a cyclist: Drivers should leave 1.5 metres distance when overtaking at speeds of up to 30mph. Drivers should leave at least 2 metres’ of space at higher speeds.
  • When overtaking horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles: Reduce your speed under 10mph and allow 2 metres of space.
  • When overtaking a pedestrian walking in the road (where there is no pavement): Allow 2 metres of space.

The guide distances should be increased in bad weather and at night. If you’re unable to overtake motorcyclists or other road users using the distances mentioned above, you should wait behind them until it’s safe to do so.

Other rules

new-highway-code-cycle-lane

Many of the other significant changes relate to Rule H3, which applies to drivers and motorcyclists:

“You should not cut across cyclists, horse riders or horse-drawn vehicles going ahead when you are turning into or out of a junction or changing direction or lane, just as you would not turn across the path of another motor vehicle.”

The rule applies when a cyclist is using a cycle lane, a cycle track, or riding ahead on the road. And it can also be seen in the amended Rule 160.

Also, you shouldn’t turn at a junction if it would cause a cyclist or horse to stop or swerve out of danger’s way.

Rule 72 is new for 2022 and instructs cyclists about their position in the road. There are two basic positions which cyclists should adopt depending on driving conditions.

Cyclists should ride in the centre of their lane:

  • on quiet roads and streets
  • in slower-moving traffic
  • when approaching junctions or narrow roads

Cyclists should keep 0.5 metres away from other vehicles and allow them to overtake if:

  • vehicles are moving faster than the cyclist
  • traffic starts to flow more freely

Another change to the Highway Code influenced by ‘The hierarchy of road users’ is Rule 140, which now asks drivers:

  • to give way to any cyclists in a cycle lane, including when they are approaching from behind
  • do not cut across cyclists when you are turning or changing lane

The updated rule reminds road users that cycle tracks can be shared with pedestrians and that cyclists are not obliged to use them.

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Wales completes move to alert level 0

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THE MOVE completes the Welsh Government’s phased lifting of the alert level 2 protections, which were put in place on Boxing Day to keep Wales safe as the omicron wave swept across the country.

Some important protections will remain in place at alert level 0, including mandatory face coverings in most indoor public places, including on public transport.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said the relaxation of protections was possible thanks to the hard work of everyone in Wales and the success of the vaccination programme – more than 1.8 million booster doses have been given.

And, since the start of December, more than 36,000 people have come forward to have their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “We have passed the peak of this omicron wave and there are encouraging signs that cases of coronavirus may be starting to stabilise. But we all need to continue taking steps to stay safe – unfortunately the pandemic is not over yet.

“We are moving to alert level 0 and we will retain some important protections, such as face coverings in most indoor public places and risk assessments.

“We can do this thanks to the hard work and efforts of everyone in Wales and the remarkable success of our vaccine and booster programmes. Thank you all.”

On Friday 28 January, Wales will complete the move to alert level 0. This means:

  • Nightclubs can re-open.
  • The general requirement of 2m social distancing in all premises open to the public and workplaces will be removed.
  • The rule of six will no longer apply to gatherings in regulated premises, such as hospitality, cinemas and theatres.
  • Licensed premises will no longer need to only provide table service and collect contact details. The Covid Pass will continue to be required to enter larger indoor events, nightclubs, cinemas, theatres and concert halls.
  • Working from home will remain important but it will no longer be a legal requirement.
  • Businesses, employers and other organisations must continue to undertake a specific coronavirus risk assessment and take reasonable measures to minimise the spread of coronavirus, which may include 2m social distancing or controlled entry.

Face-covering rules, which apply on public transport and in most public indoor places will remain in force after 28 January, with the exception of hospitality settings such as restaurants, pubs, cafes and nightclubs.

Everyone must also continue to self-isolate if they test positive for coronavirus but the Welsh Government has reduced the self-isolation period from seven to 5 full days.

People are advised to take 2 negative lateral flow tests 24 hours apart on days 5 and 6. The self-isolation support scheme payment will return to the original rate of £500 for all those who are eligible.

The next 3-weekly review of the coronavirus regulations will be carried out by 10 February, when all the measures at alert level 0 will be reviewed.

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‘Handyman’ took money from elderly victims but failed to do any work

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A ‘HANDYMAN’ who took money from two elderly couples but never turned up to do any work has admitted a series of unfair trading charges.

Denzil Michael Thomas – also known as Mick Thomas – took deposits for the work before firing off a host of excuses and ignoring calls and questions from the victims.

Thomas appeared before magistrates in Haverfordwest on January 13 and pleaded guilty to five offences under the Consumer Protection Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 following an investigation by Pembrokeshire County Council’s Trading Standards team.

Magistrates heard that this was Thomas’ fourth appearance in court for breaching consumer protection law.

The first couple contacted Thomas after seeing an advert for ‘Branching Out Garden Services’ in a local shop.

Thomas, of St Mark’s Close, Merlins Bridge, visited and agreed to carry out work totalling £460.

The victims asked for a copy of the contract but it never materialised.

Thomas asked for half of the money up front to purchase materials but had to settle for £70 which was all the couple had.

Thomas then failed to return to complete the work – giving the victims a series of excuses claiming he was waiting for materials, his van had broken down and that a workmate could not accompany him ‘due to social distancing’.

The couple then contacted Thomas to cancel and asked for the £70 to be refunded.

Despite numerous phone calls and promises, the money was never refunded. The victims even offered to drive to his home to collect the money.

At various times Thomas told them he lived at Eglwyswrw and then at Llangoedmor.

The second complainants contacted Thomas about replacing a short length of wooden fence using wire and metal posts that had already been purchased.

Thomas gave a verbal estimate of £900 and said he would need a payment of £280 to start work the following week.

A cheque was written and cashed but no paperwork was handed over.

Thomas did not return and stated the work would begin the following week.

A ‘self-isolation period due to Covid’ followed and when the complainant opted for a refund Thomas claimed a family member would draw the money out and arrange to meet the couple to hand it over.

Thomas said he wanted to do it that way rather than posting the cash as he wanted a receipt.

Thomas phoned the complainant to say his son would phone him to drop off the money shortly but nothing further was heard from him

Thomas admitted:

  • two offences of contravening the requirements of professional diligence (one for each couple),
  • two offences of making a misleading omission of failing to provide a contract with material information that he has a duty to provide, including details of the contract, the address and contact details of the business and the consumer right to a 14 day cooling off period (one for each couple)
  • one offence of making a  misleading claim as to the geographical or commercial origin of the business.

Magistrates sentenced Thomas to 36 months conditional discharge and ordered him to pay compensation of £70 to the first complainants and £280 to the second complainants.

Thomas must also pay £750 towards the Council’s costs and a victim surcharge of £22.

Sandra McSparron, Pembrokeshire County Council Lead Trading Standards Officer, said: “It is disappointing that despite being previously advised of the legal requirements for doorstep agreements, Mr Thomas knowingly failed to provide consumers with the required paperwork.

“He was quick to call out and take deposits yet giving a refund proved much more difficult.

“He misled these consumers as to the whereabouts of his business to evade any chance of redress and gave them false hope that he would initially refund their money using a smokescreen of excuses.

“I am always grateful to consumers who report instances of doorstep crime.”

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