National Trust accused of hiding abuse history of one of its stately

Pupils and nuns on the steps of Croome Court in the 1950s  It is promoted by the National Trust as one of its great houses, a triumph of restoration and the former home of aristocrats. But now lawyers acting for victims of child sexual abuse are asking the Trust to come clean about the dark history of Croome Court from when it was run as a boarding school by the Catholic Church.Visitors to the stately home in Worcestershire are told that the house, once lived in by the Earl of Coventry, has a varied history including the grounds being designed by Capability Brown. Although the Trust’s website says Croome Court was once used as a school, the descriptions are light-hearted, including that: “When the nuns weren’t looking, some of the boys used the dumb waiter as a lift to the ground floor with contraband biscuits.”It also goes on to recall that: “In 1962, during the school’s tenure, a section of the M5 motorway was constructed, slicing through the Croome estate. Four of the boys tried to escape from Croome on bicycles on the M5 and were brought back by the police.”However, according to lawyers at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, the truth of this incident is deeply disturbing. The boys were trying to escape the beatings they endured from the nuns and the sexual assaults they received from teachers and priests at the school for boys with special needs, which was run by the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Birmingham for 30 years. Now the lawyers are calling on the Trust to inform visitors of this dark period in Croome Court’s history.  Pupils and nuns on the steps of Croome Court in the 1950s  Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings. On Thursday, during the final day of evidence into the Birmingham archdiocese, QC Caoilfhionn Gallagher spoke of Croome Court’s “ugly history” and criticised the Trust’s depiction of “a very glowing background”. Ms Gallagher then asked that the inquiry, headed by Professor Alexis Jay, recommends that the National Trust together with the Archdiocese of Birmingham should work with survivors to acknowledge what happened at Croome Court.Among those whose story of abuse at Croome Court was told to the inquiry was victim D2 who was regularly beaten, including by one religious sister known as “the karate nun” because of the way she would kick children in the dining room. D2’s solicitor, John Wakefield, said: “The description of Croome Court’s schooldays on the Trust’s website really grates with my client. Its history is undoubtedly known to the National Trust, as what was endured by those pupils is now a matter of public record. They are ignoring it.”“While the National Trust is not responsible for the abuse, this gives the impression they are complicit with the archdiocese in covering it up because they think it will cause reputational damage. Protecting reputations has been a common theme at the inquiry.”After centuries of aristrocratic owners, Croome Court, then vacant, was sold in 1948 by the Croome Estate Trustees to the Archdiocese of Birmingham. It became a boarding school for 140 boys aged 7-11, eventually closing in 1979.Some of the survivors of the Croome Court abuse took decades to speak out about what they experiences and one attempted suicide, the inquiry heard. According to John Wakefield, D2 wrote to the then Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols – now the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster who gave evidence to the inquiry on Thursday – in 2005 asking for an apology but received no reply. His psychologist wrote to the Archdiocese of Birmingham in 2015, again asking for an apology but also received no reply.Last night the National Trust which has received Heritage Lottery Fund grants to create an oral history of Croome Court said: “We already (and have for many years) worked with ex-pupils at Croome and will continue to do so in the future.  We are unaware of any recommendation.”The National Trust has not played any part in this hearing as it deals with matters prior to our involvement with Croome”.When asked if it would change the material about the school on its website, the Trust’s spokeswoman said she did not know.

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