DOZENS of men from the North-East are among more than 140 who have launched a multi-million pound sex abuse compensation claim against the Roman Catholic Church.

The action - one of the biggest of its kind ever lodged in the UK - centres on a church home owned by the Diocese of Middlesbrough.

St William's Community Home, in Market Weighton, near Hull, was closed in 1992 when the scale of the abuse became known, and the principal is serving a 14-year sentence for abusing boys in his care.

It is alleged that a brutal regime of sexual and physical abuse went unchecked for almost 30 years at the former approved school on Humberside.

The solicitor co-ordinating the action last night told The Northern Echo that many of the men who are claiming compensation were sent to the home as youngsters from Teesside, as well as Yorkshire.

David Greenwood, of Wakefield-based law firm Jordans, said: "The level of detail is such that, in my view, there are very few false claims."

Headteacher Brother James Carrager - described by one detective as "the most evil of men" - was jailed for seven years in 1993 for abusing nine boys at the home.

He served four years, but stood trial again in 2004 after more victims emerged and was locked up for 14 years for what a judge described as one of the worst cases of child abuse ever to come before a court.

Carragher, now 68, preyed on the vulnerable and lonely, gaining their trust as he groomed them for abuse, and regularly took boys for naked swims at the home's pool.

Mr Greenwood said the men - many of whom ended up in lives of crime and serving prison sentences themselves - are claiming compensation for abuse and psychological harm.

"There are a large number of men whose lives have been blighted," he added. "Money won't change that, but will provide recognition of what they had to go through.

"It was rare for a boy to go through the St William's system without being subject to cruel punishment.

"A large proportion of the men we have spoken to were raped, while others were physically beaten. It is possible there are other victims who have not yet spoken up."

A spokesman for the Diocese of Middlesbrough said: "Those activities alleged to have taken place are to be regretted very much and there is an awareness that the young men involved have been significantly affected.

"We believe that, given the number and complexity of the allegations, the only appropriate way to respond is through the courts."

A lay Catholic organisation, the De La Salle Order, based in Oxford, ran the home, but declined to comment last night on the advice of its lawyers.