October 2016

Paedophile carer proven at Old Bailey to have sexually or physically abused 25 boys at Shefford boys’ home


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

James McCann, 80, from Swaffham, Norfolk, was deemed unfit to stand trial relating to abuse at St Francis Boys’ Home – however a trial of facts regarding 50 charges was heard in his absence. The jury found that 42 charges were proven today.

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 Old Bailey heard McCann had joined the 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.

MCann’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. 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 John Cahill from Bedford – jailed in April for indecently assaulting four boys at the home in the 1960s – who committed his offences while he was volunteering as a scout leader at the home between 1962 and 1970.


John Cahill (left) and John McCann

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.

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.

Beds 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.”

A total of 103 crime reports have now been finalised against deceased suspects, as part of the on-going investigation into St Francis Boys’ Home.

Senior investigating officer Mark Ross has concluded if the 13 suspects who have had allegations made against them were still alive they would have been interviewed and a file submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service for a charging decision in relation to the reports from 60 victims.

The suspects comprise seven men and six women who held varying roles in the home, both religious and also a teacher, choirmaster and handyman.