The Order of Malta failed to take action against a volunteer accused of sexually assaulting two young men before the man began molesting the two teenagers, according to two separate investigations into the case.

The first aid organization is grappling with the controversy that has continued to unfold in recent months surrounding former volunteer Scott Brown, who was convicted of abusing two 15-year-old boys.

The revelations by the organization, which had been aware of two previous alleged sexual assaults by an ambulance corps volunteer, caused growing concern within its ranks.

In May 2015, an 18-year-old volunteer said Brown was sexually assaulted while on an overseas trip with the organization to Lourdes. Then, in late 2017, the organization received a second complaint alleging that Brown used first-aid medication to drug and then sexually assault an unconscious 18-year-old volunteer.

Brown (32), from Co Kildare, later sexually assaulted two 15-year-old boys in separate incidents in May 2018. In both cases, the boys were abused after being knocked unconscious by powerful painkillers that Brown had stolen from the Order of Malta.

Brown was jailed for nine-and-a-half years in 2020 for abusing underage boys, while another volunteer from Kildare, Jordan Murphy (22), was jailed for five-and-a-half years in May this year for aiding and abetting.

Brown’s involvement with the Order of Malta could not be reported in the media when he pleaded guilty and was jailed as Murphy was due to stand trial. When Murphy changed his plea to guilty earlier this year, those restrictions were lifted.

The board of the Irish branch of the Order of Malta, known as the council, has been preparing for a public hearing on the case for more than a year.

Two separate reports produced last year and seen by The Irish Times criticized some of the shortcomings in how the organization responded to previous complaints about Brown.

An independent report by safeguarding consultant Patrick Brosnan found a “significant flaw” in the way the ambulance service responded to the first allegation made against Brown in 2015. The report said that while the alleged sexual abuse was being investigated by regional officers, senior officials and statutory bodies. authorities were not informed, which was described as a “serious omission”.

It found there was a year-and-a-half delay in authorities becoming aware of the allegations against Brown, which he said “undoubtedly” had ramifications for other victims. Despite ​​a previous complaint against Brown in 2015, the report notes that he was removed as a volunteer only after the Guard opened an investigation into the abuse of two juvenile boys in 2018.

Mr Brosnan, a retired senior public health official, criticized the fact that the local volunteer ambulance unit was not informed of the allegations. “The failure to do so was a safeguarding lapse which undoubtedly could have prevented other young people, both within and outside the Order of Malta, from being put in potential danger,” he said in his commissioned report. organization at the foot of a preliminary internal investigation.

It is quite clear that reporting was not considered important and, regardless, preventive and remedial action seems to be completely lacking

Internal report

Two senior members of the order, Patrick Klein, a former judge and board vice president, and John Igoe, chairman of the audit committee, were initially tasked with looking into the dispute, which has not yet been made public.

An internal report by the pair found the order “needs a long and hard look” at what it said were “very serious flaws” in the case. It said the failure to notify the council at the time the allegations were brought to the department’s attention by an ambulance officer led to a “withholding of information” which “deprived” it of an earlier opportunity to deal with the controversy.

“What is abundantly clear is that reporting was not considered important and, regardless, preventive and remedial action appears to be completely lacking,” they wrote.

Their report noted that the current deputy director of the ambulance service, David Birchall, was involved in an investigation into alleged sexual abuse in 2015 as a regional director. Although it appeared that the matter was discussed at a meeting of regional officials, “there is no record of the discussions or outcome of that meeting,” the report said.

Brown was questioned but denied allegations of sexual assault. Mr Birchall said as a result of the review, “the investigation was unable to substantiate the complaint” and therefore said “no action that I am aware of has been taken”.

When asked whether he had reported the alleged assault to a higher-ranking officer at the time, he said he did not “remember the lines of reporting” but added that “the result of not being able to continue would have been communicated, perhaps verbally,” it said in the report. . It notes that “there were no recorded reports on this matter at that time.”

When a second alleged sexual assault of an 18-year-old was reported to the Order of Malta in late 2017, the report said it should have raised “serious alarms”.

In that case, Brown allegedly used first-aid medication to drug himself and then sexually assaulted the young man while he was unconscious. The report said it was “inexplicable” that the allegations were not brought to the council immediately.

Internal emails show John Wright, the current national director of the ambulance service, was aware of the complaints against Brown made in late 2017.

The organization reported the second alleged attack to Tusla, the children and families agency, which responded with a number of “serious recommendations”, the report said. The two senior figures said they had found “no evidence” to show those recommendations had been followed.

The report was critical that, despite two previous reports about Brown, “nothing more was done as a preventative measure” until gardaí began investigating the abuse of two 15-year-old boys in May 2018. When the Order of Malta became aware of the Garda investigation, it decided to suspend him, after which he voluntarily resigned.

What would have happened if the parents of the two 15-year-olds who were abused by Brown in 2018 learned the details of the previous allegations made against the organization back in 2015?

Desmond Carroll, then chancellor of the council

The report concluded that the organization should examine what it could have done to “possibly prevent the very serious crime that occurred later” where Brown molested two underage boys. He questioned whether the ambulance corps was fulfilling “its duty of care to the volunteers”, many of whom were minors.

The findings of the two reports have caused serious concern in the order’s senior ranks, deepening existing tensions between the ambulance corps and senior figures in the council.

In a memo dated August 30, 2021, Desmond Carroll, then chancellor of the council, issued a “stark warning” to other members.

Mr Carroll asked what would happen if the parents of two 15-year-olds who were abused by Brown in 2018 “discover details” of previous allegations made to the organization back in 2015. The order could be open to legal action “for failing to exercise due diligence in preventing such criminal attacks on their children after three years,” he wrote.

Further internal correspondence shows that the abuse dispute was on the radar of the religious order’s headquarters in Rome.

In a letter dated December 20, 2021, the order’s then-grand chancellor, Albrecht von Boeselager, told the Irish organization that an independent third party “needs to be involved” in order to fully investigate the sexual assault case. In response, the Irish organization said it would not be able to carry out a full investigation while the criminal trial was ongoing.

However, when the court cases concluded in May this year, the council decided to appoint an internal team to carry out a full investigation, which is ongoing. The team consists of the organisation’s current chief executive John Byrne, his predecessor Peadar Ward and one external figure, retired Assistant Garda Commissioner Fintan Fanning.

A spokeswoman for the Order of Malta said the organization could not comment while this work was ongoing. “We are nearing the end of this review period and are keen to use it as an opportunity to continue to develop the procedures and practices of the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps,” she said.

Mr Birchall, deputy director of the ambulance service, said he had not seen either of the two previous reports so could not comment on their findings. “As you know, the cases you have highlighted are currently part of an ongoing internal review, the results of which will help further improve our processes and procedures,” he said.

Mr Wright, director of the ambulance service, said he was also unable to comment while the review was ongoing.