09 September 2021, The Tablet

Breaking out of the silence: the judge's daughter abused by her father

Child abuse

Breaking out of the silence: the judge's daughter abused by her father

Clare Devlin as a child, above; her father, Patrick Devlin, in 1960, inset
inset photo: alamy


When a teenage girl told a priest friend of the family that she was being sexually abused by her father, a distinguished judge, his horrifying response was that the matter should be dealt with privately. More than 60 years later, she still feels betrayed

Who can a child trust? Her mother? Her father? A lawyer, perhaps? Someone she is told is one of the most respected judges in the land? Or maybe a priest, especially one who has risen to high rank? Clare Devlin discovered that none of these people could be completely trusted. Those who should most have had her welfare at heart, and those whom the grown-ups around her had taught her to believe were among the most highly respected in society, all let her down.
Now 81, Devlin is looking back on a life blighted by betrayal. She was sexually abused by her father and failed by her mother, who she believes at least suspected what her father was doing. Her father, Lord Devlin, was one of England’s most highly respected High Court judges, known as both an intellectual heavyweight and a successful campaigner against injustice, helping to secure the release of the Guildford Four. Yet despite his lofty public pronouncements about the law and about morality, at home he engaged in secretive criminal activity, abusing his daughter.

The roles of the priests Clare turned to – Cardinal John Heenan, who became an important figure in her life, and his successor as Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Basil Hume – are more complex, shading more into grey than the usual black and white of stories of abuse. That this awful tale is now emerging from the shadows is down to Clare’s remarkable courage in once more trusting people – this time journalists – to tell her story, and their readers. For if there is one thing that Devlin is convinced of as she looks back on what has blighted her life, it is this: silence is the worst thing.

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