by Brian Hennessy
Michael Riddle – The Gentlemanly, Grandfather Paedophile
The Comboni Missionary Order has no record, it seems, of the Fourth Man of Mirfield.
Whether that is the convenience of a failure of memory, or a contrivance, or simply because they have decided at some point in time to destroy his records, I cannot even guess.
One thing is certain and that is the Fourth Man of Mirfield did exist.
He was none other than Mr Michael Riddle – a secretive and discreet, gentlmanly paedophile with a penchant for small boys on the brink of their pubescence.
Boys whom, perhaps, he suspected of having a gay orientation, of which the boys themselves were quite unaware at the time – due to the innocence of their own immaturity.
Some say that Mr Riddle was Irish. We understand that he was married and he had a daughter and the family lived in York.
He also had influential friends in the Catholic Hierarchy and it appears that that may have assisted him in obtaining notable appointments in his career as a teacher of English Literature.
The general concensus is that he arrived at Mirfield from Ampleforth. It has even been stated that a one time Comboni Missionary Priest, Father Francis McCullough, was sent to collect him at Ampleforth and that he drove him back down to the Seminary.
The Ampleforth connection is certainly one of the stories that Mr Riddle told of himself. It cannot remain ummentioned, of course, that his transfer to Mirfield was at a period in Ampleforth’s history that was tainted with the widely broadcast facts of sexual abuse of its students by both Priests and Housemasters of that Benedictine establishment.
All attempts to discover if he was truly at Ampleforth have failed, it is true to say.
They are silent about the matter. Perhaps, conveniently, they have no record of him either! Grandfather Riddle told other stories too – that at some time he had been working in East Africa in colonial appointments.
He even had a photograph of his house boy it is said – and he told tales of how he used to beat the boy because the boy preferred girls to old Grandfather Riddle. Who knows where he truly came from?
Perhaps it is all true. Perhaps none of it is true.”
Father Robert Hicks
Quite what credentials and letters of introduction Mr Riddle produced to Father Robert Hicks, the Rector of Mirfield, at the time of his arrival, we do not know.
Had there been any such references at all?
We do not know that also – as there are no extant records of his existence.
Perhaps it was all agreed on the Catholic Hierarchy’s “old boys net” – and a hand shake and a “nod” had secured his new position.
We do not know either whether any thought or care had been given to the personal credentials of the new arrival.
Child safeguarding did not exist at the time.
Clerics appear not to have been that much bothered about their pupils being sexually abused.
Certainly, the whole extended hierarchy of the Comboni Missionary Order – who had drafted Fathers Pinkman, Valmaggia and Nardo off to other climes where they would have had the opportunity to continue to abuse children for decades at will and unnoticed, did not much care.
They had ignored reports of abuse for a decade and more by the time the Fourth Man arrived at Mirfield – and so what the Fourth Man might do to their pupils was clearly of no concern at all.
Bronte Sister Former School
So Mr Riddle was accepted into the community with open arms and was allocated a room during term times in the old house of the famed Bronte sisters’ former school.
He would have enjoyed the thought of treading the same floor boards that those gifted Victorian novelists and poets had walked upon before him – as he was very fond of books as well as of small boys.
His room was situated between those of Father Cerea and Father Wade on the dark corridor at the furthest point in the old house from the boys’ dormitories.
The corridor leading to it would have been on the left as you came through the door from the new section of the building on the upper floor, adjacent to the Infirmary which was said to have been the Bronte sisters’ room.
The Ghosts of Mirfield
Proceeding onwards from that point, small boys bound for Riddle’s room would proceed through a dimly lit corner on the first floor with only one pendant light.
The dinginess had a distinctly Dickensian feel about it.
One of the Bronte Sisters wrote of the ghost of a servant woman who haunted those corridors – when the building was called “Miss Wooler’s School for the Daughters of Anglican Clergy”.
That was more than a century before, but a sensitive boy on the way to Mr Riddle’s room might have hesitated momentarily as the wooden floor boards creaked when you walked over them. In the day time, a little natural light crept into the corridor from the internal quad that it overlooked.
Mr Riddle’s room was also dimly lit despite it having two windows.
The curtains were drawn when the boys were the guests in that room.
The furnishings were minimal: a sink in the corner of the room, a table next to the bed and a radiator under a window.
Shadows of Mirfield
Mr Riddle’s nature has been described as charming.
However, he was a man in the shadows at Mirfield. He was not a member of the Order. He kept to himself.
He was well read and caring, but slightly effeminate and was known by those whom he abused to have had a liking for silk underware.
Yet, his outer clothing was more traditional – cream trousers and blue checked shirts were his standard attire.
He was not a dashing figure, however, being relatively small in stature, with slightly bucked teeth and a distended stomach on a generally wiry frame.
The boys thought he was a little “creepy” as his eyes darted about behind the lenses of his round spectacles as he habitually and closely studied them at a distance during morning exercises.
Nevertheless, he was “grandfatherly” enough to allay their fears and because of that age difference, the boys accepted his physical closeness without much apprehension.
So when the boys were invited to his room for an exercise in reading literature they were not on their guard.
The extra tuition took place in the late evening after the boys had already changed into their pyjamas and donned their dressing gowns and slippers – and then made their way through the dingy corridoors of the old house to Riddle’s room.
Mr Riddle would usually be similarly clad – and often lying propped up in his bed, be-spectacled and reading. They would get a friendly greeting and climb on to the bed beside him.
The boys would read aloud – and he would be attentive – occasionally gently correcting their diction and phrasing.
In this process, however, it is alleged that Mr Riddle’s hand nearest to the boy became active and it would gently caress the puerile bodies of these innocents – whilst his fingers sought out the openings in the boy’s nether garments and eventually found ways to the physical features of the boy’s anatomy in which those fingers found such delight and gratification.
Threat of Exposure
The boys would be alarmed initially, but his tenderness towards them soothed them – and his gently delivered threats of exposure sealed their lips.
Technically, in legal terms, he raped them.
Some were induced over time to engage in more demonstrative sexual behavour, but Riddle was always attentive and affectionate and careful not to give offence.
So much so, that one recalls how Riddle would always brush his teeth before he inserted his tonge into the boy’s mouth. How thoughtful of him!
Michael Riddle’s Reputation
After the lapse of years, of course, Riddle’s reputation has changed – as the mature minds of his Victims think beyond the benign mask of the Fourth Man of Mirfield, Grandfather Riddle.
Now he is seen for what he truly was: calculating and predatory.
His grooming was outrageously obvious.
He would even ask parents if he could take his favoured boys on a driving holiday – for example to Ireland – and when that opportunity was denied he would write caring letters to them during the holidays when they were separated from each other.
Riddle’s Letters Still Exist
Many of those letters still exist.
Even at the time of the abuse, the eleven and twelve year old Victims began to sense that what he was doing to them was wrong because of his insistence that they would both get into trouble if “their secret” was ever disclosed.
Riddle was even more direct for he would warn his boys, until they were convinced, that if they squealed on him, he would be removed from the college himself, which he said, sorrowfully, that he would not be able to bear.
From that the boys naturally sensed, also, that in some way their own destiny would also depend on their total loyalty to the kindly old man – and so their silence became guaranteed.
The seductive threats of Mr Michael Riddle had been a distinctive sign of the control that paedophiles exert over their Victims.
The loyalty of the Victim is essential – and paedophiles work on that incessantly.
Thus, whilst the boys held the old man’s destiny in their hands – their solemnly enforced “secret” had become a sacred pact that was never to be devolved to another.
The cost of breaking the pact would have been the immediate and grave exposition of their secret – and the expulsion of both from the establishment. The abuse became a daily ritual, but the boys’ silence was assured – for they were trapped in the old man’s snare.
I have spoken to three Victims of Riddle’s abuse and seen the Witness Statement of the fourth. I have been told of other Victims also – and it has even been said by one Victim that he was present in Riddle’s room at the same time as a second Victim.
For most, the abuse was continual over extended periods of the time that the boys were present at Mirfield and almost daily during term time.
There came a point, however, that discovery or reports to the Superior of the Seminary by one of the Victims, was increasingly likely. He could not get away with his abuse forever.
He would have known that himself – and so his cautious threats to the young boys would have certainly been recounted regularly to avoid that prospect. Well, ultimately, that moment of discovery and separation, did come.
The Rector, Father Robert Hicks, whom we all know has an exceedingly bad memory and so he probably cannot recall it, called an assembly one day and he forbade all the boys to visit Mr Riddle in his room again.
The witness to that assembly is a priest today, but he was a boy then. He has stated in a witness account that he was also abused by Mr Riddle.
Michael Riddle Dismissed by Father Hicks
The result, ultimately, was that Father Robert Hicks dismissed the Fourth Man of Mirfield, Grandfather Riddle, from the seminary.
We know this for certain, too, because one of Mr Riddle’s favoured boys received a letter from Mr Riddle following his sudden disappearance from Mirfield – in which he stated this as a fact – and that letter still exists.
Father Martin Devenish
So that is just one more nail in the coffin of the statement to the UK press persistently made by Father Martin Devenish that there are priests alive today at Mirfield at the time of the abuse, but they have no knowledge of the abuse.
Is it not about time Father Devenish corrected that statement to the press?
As for Mr Michael Riddle, we know very little of Mr Riddle’s life after Mirfield – but we do know that paedophiles do not stop their activities against innocents.
Once a paedophile – always an active paedophile – unless subjected to constant treatment and monitoring.
The Fourth Man of Mirfield, I understand, died, a widower at the age of 93, at his birth-place in Ireland in 1999. I just hope that he made amends to his God, despite having made no amends to his Victims, before his death.
For other Victims of Mr Riddle that may read this story – and who thought, as so many Victims of abuse do, that they were the only child to have been abused by their Abuser, be assured that you were not.
Be also assured that there is no such thing as complicity of child Victims at the hands of a paedophile.
Child Victims suffer from unrelenting, emotional blackmail on top of the sexual abuse perpetrated upon them. Irrespective of what abuse young Victims came to habitually accept at the hands of a paedophile, they are never complicit.
No Judge will ever accept a challenge in a Paedophile’s defence that a child was complicit. In law, even as it stood in Mr Michael Riddle’s time, a child was not able to give legal consent to any form of sexual abuse if the child was under the age of sixteen years.