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Priest behind Ash Wednesday service that burned 73 pupils revealed

Revealed: Catholic priest who led Ash Wednesday service that left 73 pupils with chemical burns on their forehead – as police say they won’t investigate despite pupils facing permanent scars

  • Father Tony Rohan led the ceremony which left 89 people’s foreheads affected   
  • A 13-year-old boy said he told teachers he did not want the ash, but was made to 
  • Chairo Rowe, 14, was also taken to hospital and has been off school for two days
  • But West Mercia police say there was ‘no criminality’ in the service 

Father Tony Rohan, who is listed as the priest at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, led the service last Wednesday according to two pupils

The Catholic priest who led an Ash Wednesday service that left 73 pupils with chemical burns has been revealed – as police say they won’t investigate even though it could lead to permanent scarring. 

Parents were outraged after pupils at St Augustine’s High School in Redditch, Worcestershire, were smeared with scolding ash this week. 

But despite at least two children ending up in hospital, the police have said there was no ‘criminality’ involved in Father Tony Rohan’s ceremony, MailOnline has learned. 

Medics told one parent their child could have a permanent scar as a result. 

A total of 89 people, including 16 teachers and one school governor, were burned in the religious ceremony which was stopped when pupils complained of ‘tingling’, prompting parents to consider taking legal action. 

And one 13-year-old boy was taken to hospital after his sensitive skin blistered when the ash was smudged across his forehead. 

His guardian, who did not want to me named, told MailOnline: ‘He was born with really delicate skin, we even have to be careful with what shampoo he uses. 

‘He said he didn’t want to go to school tomorrow (Wednesday) because he was told he had to have the ashes put on.

Chairo Rowe, 14, and his mother Cassena Brown, 39, who was ‘furious’ when she saw the chemical burn left by the ash which had been smeared across her son’s forehead

Chairo was taken to hospital and it is likely that the schoolboy will be scarred from the wound. Some 72 other pupils at St Augustine’s Catholic High School were also burned by the ash

‘Because he’s not Catholic he just had a line of ash but it still burned and I had to take him to the doctor the next day who gave him some steroid cream.’  

Yet a sergeant at West Mercia Police said it was just a religious event ‘gone wrong’ and dismissed any notion of crime.

The sergeant said: ‘This is a matter for the school and education authority to address as there does not appear to be any criminality.

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‘It would appear on the face of it to be a religious ceremony which the children were partaking in which would appear to have gone wrong. 

‘The school are clearly aware given the phone calls and texts sent out. 

‘This is not a police matter at this time, if any criminality is established then this can be reviewed.’  

Two students have confirmed that Father Tony Rohan, who is listed as the priest of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, led the service with the help of some older pupils. 

And a spokesperson of the church refused to either confirm or deny the identity of the priest.  

Cassena Brown, 39, said her son Chairo Rowe, 14, was so badly burned in the ceremony he had to be taken to hospital and has been off school for two days.

Cassena Brown, mother of Chairo (left before wound and right after ceremony) said she was furious when she learned that students had the ash smeared on their heads by fellow pupils

She said: ‘I am absolutely furious. They started with the year nine and it was the priest and two sixth form children – a boy and a girl.

‘That’s the first thing that confused me when I heard about it. Why are children doing it to other children?

‘After a while some of the children said that it had started to burn. Some of the teachers said it did as well. Some of them rubbed it off straight away, but some left it on.’

Mrs Brown said when children complained of burning after leaving the ash on some were given wet wipes.

‘But when some of the kids wiped it off, it ripped the skin off as well,’ she said.

‘It was red raw. They should have been sent to a medical professional, not given a perfumed wet wipe.

‘I saw other children walking out with their parents, with red marks – like a heat rash almost – on their foreheads,’ she said.

At least two children from St Augustine’s Catholic High School in Redditch, Worcestershire, (seen in an undated file photo) were taken to hospital following the religious event

‘But when I saw my son I was gobsmacked.

‘My son was the worst of everyone. Because he is of Afro-Caribbean heritage you can see the burn very clearly, as the skin is burned and it’s white underneath.’

One sixth form pupil told MailOnline it was a ‘terrible situation’ but hit out at ‘ridiculous’ parents who were blaming her fellow pupils. 

She also defended Father Tony who she called a ‘lovely man’ who has led the school’s service for many years. 

A school spokesman said: ‘During the Ash Wednesday service for Year 9 and Year 11 students, it came to our attention that discomfort was experienced by some students that had received the ashes on the forehead.

The school sent a message to the students’ parents explaining the injuries sustained during their Ash Wednesday service

‘As a result, all students were requested to wash the ashes off immediately to ensure no further discomfort was felt.

‘Any further distribution of ashes immediately ceased. The school is dismayed by this event.

‘In total, 73 students, 16 staff and the Chair of the Governors have been affected to date.

‘Those impacted were administered on site by trained First Aiders and then advised to seek further medical attention.

‘An investigation has started and the ashes are being analysed by external experts.

‘A subsequent report will be made available to all stakeholders and any recommendations will be actioned accordingly.

‘Saint Augustine’s Catholic High School treats students’ health and safety as paramount.’ 

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