Ex-pupils in legal bid 'after years of abuse'
A group of former Leicestershire school pupils who claim they were abused by Catholic priests are launching legal action for compensation.
The 11 men say they were physically, sexually and emotionally abused when they attended the independent Grace Dieu Manor prep school, near Thringstone, in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.
They are taking action along with 11 other men who say they were similarly abused when they attended St Michael's prep school in Soni, Tanzania, where many expatriates were educated.
The 22 men have started legal action against the Rosminian Order for the "sadistic and sustained abuse" they suffered during their time as boarding pupils, including regular beatings and sexual abuse.
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One priest, Father Kit Cunningham, who taught at St Michael's, has since died.
Exposed as a paedophile who abused numerous schoolboys in his care, he apologised and resigned his MBE in shame shortly before his death.
The men's claims span a period of 21 years, from 1952 to 1973.
Francis Lionnet, 63, attended Grace Dieu Manor from the age of eight and is among the claimants to have spearheaded legal action.
Speaking to the Mercury from Montreal, Canada, where he now lives, he said: "I was beaten regularly as part of a sadistic and sexually violent ritual.
"We were subjected to inspections of everything from your underpants to your comb and the beatings took place in front of other children.
"I remember one boy was shot with an air rifle. It was a living hell where some boys were made to pull down their trousers and were fondled as part of the abuse. I've spoken to fellow pupils about what they suffered and been brought to tears by what we had to endure.
"We didn't tell anyone at the time because we were put there by our parents and these people were supposed to be looking after us, but it's tainted our whole lives."
He is pursuing legal action after getting in touch with a fellow pupil via a social networking site.
The pair spoke about their time at Grace Dieu, and decided to seek justice.
They then contacted other pupils, and solicitors.
Mr Lionnet added that Grace Dieu Manor was now a "terrific place" and far removed from the horrors he endured.
Solicitor Billhar Uppal said in a statement: "The Rosminian Order is denying that the claimants are entitled to financial compensation and have communicated that they will strenuously defend the claims.
"The claims continue and will involve the issue of formal court proceedings over the coming weeks."
Grace Dieu Manor's principal, Charles Foulds, said: "We have to acknowledge that these events took place over 50 years ago, and have no relevance to the school of today.
"But everyone here is very distressed that any child suffered in this place over half a century ago. It is a source of the greatest sadness."
The case will be highlighted in a BBC1 programme, called Breaking the Silence, at 10.35pm tonight.
Father David Myers is in charge of the UK Province of Rosminians and was approached to be part of the programme, but refused.
Speaking to the Mercury he said he was aware of legal proceedings but was unable to comment until he had seen the programme.
On its website, Grace Dieu Manor says it is a Roman Catholic foundation within the Rosminian Order.