Monday, 30 November 2020

The ban at Ampleforth

Ampleforth College, St. Benedict's sister school in Yorkshire, has been served with an Enforcement Notice by the Department for Education, banning it from accepting any new pupils. The decision clearly has been made in person by the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson MP.

According to the letter published on the website there was an Ofsted inspection on 24-25 September and as a result:

the Secretary of State for Education (“the SoS”) is satisfied that one or more of the independent school standards (“the ISS”) are not being met in relation to the School.

This isn't just one bad report. This has being going on for nearly five years. The letter goes on to say:

In taking this decision, the SoS has principally had regard to Ofsted and ISI inspection reports from January 2016 to the present day, and the School’s response to regulatory action.

And he makes it clear that the school has been warned.

Further, following an inspection carried out by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (“the ISI”) on 7-8 March 2018, which also found that the ISS were not being met, a statutory notice was issued to the School pursuant to section 114 of the Act, requiring an action plan. An action plan was submitted in response to that notice on 11 June 2018 but was deemed to be unacceptable and was rejected by the SoS on 10 July 2018. The School was advised of this decision by a letter dated 10 July 2018.

Williamson acknowledges that the school has complained, and it cuts no ice with him.

It is acknowledged that the School has filed a complaint against Ofsted’s recent findings, and the SoS has carefully considered that complaint, as well as correspondence which sets out the School’s views on the contents of the report. However, having taken this into account, the SoS is satisfied that the standards are not being met.

He describes the specific clauses of the Independent School Standards that are not being met. There are a number of clauses, but the school's failure to meet the first is the most important.

7. The standard in this paragraph is met if the proprietor ensures that—

(a) arrangements are made to safeguard and promote the welfare of pupils at the school; and

(b) such arrangements have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State.

There's a similar clause specific to boarding provision and also a clause about leadership which are also listed as having been failed. But basically this is about inadequate safeguarding.

It's not just ISI and Ofsted inspection reports that have been critical of safeguarding at the school. Ampleforth (along with Downside School) was the subject of an excoriating report by IICSA (the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse).

The ban on new pupils comes into effect in 28 days unless the school decides to appeal the notice, and it has announced it will do so. This was included in an article in The Guardian about the notice.

A spokesperson for the college said it had noted the department’s intent to serve notice of an enforcement action.

“We will be appealing this on the basis that we believe, and have been advised, that it is unjustified and based on incorrect information,” the spokesperson said.

Governments (especially Conservative ones) don't like to close private schools - it means that they would have to educate the pupils at public expense instead. For the just under 500 pupils at Ampleforth, that means an extra £3m or so per year on the education budget. So Gavin Williamson will have needed some persuading that he had to act.

Enforcement Notices like this are pretty rare - there have only been eight in the last three years, mostly against small newly-established little local religious schools, usually with only 50 pupils or so. For an old public school like Ampleforth to get an enforcement notice is completely unprecedented.

A few people on Twitter have suggested that this is all an anti-Catholic or at least anti-religious move. This is a classic example.

But this accusation is ridiculous with respect to this government. First the cabinet is stuffed to the roof with privately educated ministers, including several Old Etonians. William Rees-Mogg (Leader of the House of Commons) was married by the Abbot of Downside, and the public inquiry heard evidence to the effect that Michael Gove intervened when Secretary of State for Education in a local safeguarding investigation into Downside School. This government cannot remotely be described as "woke" and is clearly not disposed against private education and specifically not against Catholic private education.

So we have to conclude that the Ofsted evidence is compelling enough to persuade a Conservative Secretary of State for Education, well-disposed towards private education and with prominent Catholics among his cabinet colleagues, to act against Ampleforth.

But we haven't seen the Ofsted report, so we can't tell. The school has seen it and has said it is complaining, and has objected to publication. This isn't the first time in my experience that a school has complained against an adverse inspection report. In 2011 St. Augustine's Priory School in Ealing in west London complained about an adverse inspection report from the Independent Schools Inspectorate, and even sought Judicial Review of the report.

The history of this is interesting. The JR was put on hold while the school went through the Stage 1 complaints process with ISI. This did the school no good at all, the final report was even more damning than the original, because its conclusions were more clearly stated and more carefully evidenced. The report was published and the JR case abandoned. The head teacher resigned (actually being escorted off the premises) and several of the governors were replaced.

As it happens, irrespective of the Stage 1 complaint, the JR would have stood almost no chance of success. To overturn a government administrative decision (which is what an inspection report is in effect) you need to demonstrate not only that a different decision could reasonably have been reached but also that nobody with two brain cells to rub together would ever have honestly come to the original decision. (Lawyers would put it differently, but that's the essence of it.) Very few cases reach that extremely high bar.

This is highly relevant to Ampleforth. They are in a much more precarious position than St. Augustine's Priory School were. They have already received an enforcement notice banning them from taking more pupils. As independent schools aren't financially viable unless they are full, this will lead to the closure of the school sooner rather than later.

So the school has a choice to make. Do they fight or do they co-operate? If they genuinely believe the Ofsted report is a load of hogwash and think they can prove it, then they may well decide to fight, and the initial indication is that they will do so. They told the papers they would appeal and have asked parents and alumni to help with lots of supportive public testimonials on social media.

But very interestingly the statement on the school's own website is subtly different from what they said to the papers when the story first broke.

Ampleforth College notes the Department for Education’s publication on Friday 26 November of the intent to serve notice of an Enforcement Action.

We strongly believe, and have been advised, that this is completely unjustified and based on incorrect information. We will be pursuing a number of different options to resolve the situation before the restriction is enforced, including an appeal, and we are very confident this can be achieved.
Note the difference. Here they say that they are "pursuing a number of different options ...  including an appeal". That is wording that signals that they might not fight, that an appeal may well not happen.

They have a huge problem with an appeal if (privately) they conclude that the Ofsted report is sufficiently solid that they are not going to overturn it. To get into a legal fight you need a good case. St. Augustine's is a cautionary tale of how you can (metaphorically speaking) get your head handed back to you on a plate if you try to fight a legal battle without evidence. You can assert things without evidence in social media but you can't get your lawyers to do that in court. As President Trump has discovered, if you ask them to, they drop you as a client. So all the social media in the world won't help them if they have no evidence.

So if the Ofsted report is solid, and given the school's long history of failure to meet standards for child protection that almost every school in the country manages routinely to achieve, it is going to be extremely hard to persuade the Tribunal to which they have to appeal that the Secretary of State's decision is so precipitate and disproportionate that it should be overturned. Either that or they prove that DfE lacks the legal power to issue the notice. Basically, their chances are miniscule. It's just not going to happen. Gavin Williamson will have been advised by the government legal service (full of very good lawyers) before he made his decision.

If the school and its lawyers reach that conclusion, then an appeal is ruled out - it would fail and that failure would only serve to further antagonize the DfE, whose mercy they will have to beg for. So at the end of this month the ban on new pupils would come into effect.

The school will then have to try and persuade Gavin Williamson at some point in the future that it really has changed and that it is safe for him to lift the ban. That means they will have to work extremely fast. A new action plan (better than past ones) will have to be drawn up. It will have to be far more robust than previous rejected plans. The school will need to demonstrate in this plan that sticking to it will effectively make a relapse into old habits impossible. That might require a more thorough separation, both physically and organisationally from the habits occupying the adjacent monastery. That is what St. Benedict's School did with respect to Ealing Abbey following Lord Carlile's report.

They can then submit their plan to DfE, get on with implementing it and invite DfE to commission Ofsted to inspect again before the end of the academic year. A good report can lead to a request to DfE to lift the ban on new pupils in time for September. If an appeal is ruled out, this is the only way I can see for the school to survive.

But this would involve a public admission that their safeguarding really hasn't been up to scratch all these years, even though they have been loudly telling parents otherwise. This risks a calamitous loss of confidence by parents in the school. Parents will find it very hard to understand if the school chooses not to appeal the notice given the extent to which they have been whipped up to participate in a PR campaign in the school's defense. Nobody likes to be taken for a sucker.

Not all parents will withdraw their children, but some will. More parents may hesitate to take up a place at the school. It's one thing to discount the risk of your child being sexually abused when the school gives you a strong assurance that the mistakes of the past are over and the risk is now minimal. It's quite another to discount that risk when the school admits to lying over its earlier assurances. In fact, the more solid the case against the school, the greater the risk of admitting it and trying to placate the DfE. The school may find itself financially unviable because not enough parents are prepared to send their children there. They may need to re-hire their old PR consultants Chelgate run by former pupil Terence Fane-Saunders to try and head off this eventuality.

I don't know what the school will do. They can fight the DfE or they can appease it. I don't see how they can do both at the same time, as any failed attempt at fighting will make appeasement much less likely to succeed. I also don't know what's in the Ofsted report that has caused DfE to take this action and how solid it is.

If the school is genuinely prepared to do a good job of protecting its pupils and be seen to do so to the satisfaction of a skeptical DfE, then fine. I have no wish to see a good safe school close. But if they haven't and either can't or won't put in that effort, then the school must and will close. Time will tell.

Sunday, 30 August 2020

Departure from Downside

The monks of Downside have announced their intention to leave Downside Abbey and find a new home. In some ways it is not a great surprise. There are only 12 monks left, the governance of Downside School was made independent last year and they are presumably rattling around in premises designed for several times as many people.

But we need also to consider the backdrop of the abuses so thoroughly documented by IICSA. The inquiry found that over decades there had been a refusal to cooperate with the statutory authorities over child sex abuse perpetrated by monks. Given that old attitudes die hard, removing the monks from the vicinity of the school is probably best all round, both for the safety of the pupils and to move the monks out of the reach of temptation.

There has been a little comment on Twitter expressing regret at the monks’ departure. Few of these have faced squarely the background of abuse. Where it has been referred to it has been described as a “period of evil” which has brought down the Abbey. I’m profoundly sceptical about that interpretation. Admittedly we only know about abuse victims from the last few decades. Any older victims are now dead and unable to tell their story. But there’s no reason to think the abuse only happened within living memory.

Some conservative Catholics put the blame on Vatican II and the changes that followed. But I know of Benedictine abuse which preceded Vatican II.

One of the great characteristics of the Catholic Church and Catholic faith is its attachment to continuity and stability. It deals in what it regards as unchanging eternal truths. So why would we not believe that the church’s attitude (and that of the Downside monks) towards covering up abuse has been similarly stable over a long period? Without access to historical records that I’m pretty sure have long since been destroyed there is no means of ever of proving it. 

But if it is true that abuse and cover up has been going on since the abbey and school were established in Somerset in 1814, then the monks’ departure from next door to the school is a matter for celebration, not sorrow.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

IICSA report - The Abbey statement

Oh dear. The new Abbot Dominic Taylor has made a statement on the Abbey website, and unfortunately it is clear that they are back to their old minimising tricks.

It doesn't start well.

The Abbot of Ealing on behalf of the Monastic Community of Ealing apologies [sic] profusely for the events that have given rise to very serious criticisms outlined in the Inquiry of wrongs by past members of the Community.
Past members of the community? Some of the Inquiry's most trenchant criticism was directed towards Abbot Martin Shipperlee, who to the best of my knowledge (as demonstrated by a page on the Ealing Abbey website devoted to him) is still a member of the Community. I think I would have heard if he had been expelled or laicised. Not that it is likely to happen, at least not because of any of his failings as Abbot.
Any abuse of children is wicked and deeply sinful. We accept the Inquiry's findings that actions were not taken that could have reduced serious risk and harm to the children in our care.
Fine so far as it goes, which is no distance at all.
The children affected are in our daily prayers and we recognise the shame brought upon us. We also accept this.
Prayers are all very well, but has it really not occurred to the Community that some rather more active response could conceivably have been considered?
Since 2012 whilst continuing to support the Benedictine ethos, St Benedict's School is now an entirely separate institution and the Monastic Community exercises no control in either the governance or management of the school.
It is hard to work out precisely what to make of this. First of all, it isn't true. Yes, the Abbey and School are now two separate charitable trusts, each of whom has its own governance structure and provides its own accounts to the Charity Commission. But page 27 of the school's most recent (August 2018) accounts lodged with the Charity Commission lists the governors of the school, among whom are Dom Ambrose McCambridge, Abbot Martin Shipperlee and Dom Dominic Taylor. I presume Abbot Martin Shipperlee has since resigned and been replaced by another monk. Admittedly the monks do not form a majority on the board of governors, but this is still hardly a situation where the Abbot can justifiably claim that the Monastic Community "exercises no control" over the governance of the school.

So this looks like another effort at minimisation - trying to distance the Monastic Community from the disgraceful events at the School. I can see why it is being done, but perhaps more effort might instead have been made to reform the Community do that such distancing isn't actually necessary?
Terrible lessons have been learned about the causes and recognition of abuse and the actions that should have followed whenever any suspicions arose.

We recognise that these events have had appalling consequences on the victims and we have used our very best endeavours to ensure that this can never be repeated.
I really wish I could be confident that this was true. Unfortanately I cannot. The reason is that the safeguarding page of the parish website says "Ealing Abbey follows the NATIONAL SAFEGUARDING POLICIES AND PROCEDURES OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH OF ENGLAND & WALES".

Unfortunately the capitalisation of the title (which is copied directly from the Parish website) does not improve the content. I have reviewed the content. The church's national procedures contain shortcomings I complained about 10 years ago in respect of the school's safeguarding policies. If the Monastic Community were serious about employing its "very best endeavours" to improve safeguarding, they would have noticed this and tried to do something a bit better. I don't know whether they haven;t noticed, or whether they noticed and didn't bother. Neither reflects terribly well on them.

But what strikes me most about this statement is how entirely free of content it is beyond general expressions of regret. There is no action underway or even proposed that would give substance to their "very best endeavours". In that respect it is massively tone-deaf, and quite frankly an insult to generations of pupils who suffered from the attentions of abusers (including monks) at the school.

Monday, 28 October 2019

IICSA Report - Outside agencies

Those running Ealing Abbey and St. Benedict's School, and those committing abuses there (sometimes but not always the same people) were able to get away with the abuse and the cover up for so long because of mistakes, systemic problems and plain incompetence on the part of outside agencies.

First I'll raise a point not made in the report perhaps because the report is not making recommendations at this stage. The non-abusers in senior positions in the Roman Catholic Church are highly-educated, law-abiding people. Both hyphenated adjectives are important. They are law-abiding because they don't want to get into trouble with the law. After all, they see themselves as the good guys. They are highly-educated and therefore are able to judge with great precision how close to the edge of the law they dare encroach.

They did not promptly report suspicions of abuse because legally they didn't have to. (During the Downside & Ampleforth hearing, Abbot Richard Yeo clearly stated that unreported incidents would have been reported had there been a law requiring it, and that he would have obeyed such a law.) But we have no "mandatory reporting" in the UK, and as a result clerical loyalty and maintaining the reputation of the church took priority over the welfare of the children in the church's care.

Had a mandatory reporting law existed (as exists in about 80% of countries worldwide) requiring those with reasonable suspicions to report them, it would have been utterly impossible for Soper, Pearce and Maestri to have abused unhindered for so long. To give one characteristic example from the report:
Dr Dachs was the lay headmaster of St Benedict’s senior school between 1986 and 2002. During this time Pearce was head of the separate junior school. As such, Pearce was not under Dr Dachs authority, however like Abbot Rossiter and Soper, Dr Dachs was aware of the complaints about Pearce. For example, on 19 October 1998, the parents of RC-A631 complained by letter to him. Dr Dachs did not raise those concerns with any external authority.

Harsha Mortemore, senior accounts assistant at St Benedict’s, stated that when she raised her concerns with Dr Dachs he warned her “If you know what’s good for you, keep your head down and do your job.” Dr Dachs has denied this.
Had there been a mandatory reporting law in place at the time these events occurred, it is most unlikely that Dr. Dachs would have dared to say what the inquiry clearly believes he did say to Ms. Mortemore. With a mandatory reporting law in place, and if he were foolish enough still to say it, it is quite possible that Ms. Mortemore, knowing she had the law on her side, would have been emboldened to call Ealing Children's Services directly. In doing so she would have had two things to report: her original concerns about Pearce and what would have been Dr. Dachs' potentially criminal action in telling her to keep quiet.

This is how a mandatory reporting law would utterly change the landscape. It would empower those who wish to report but (like Ms. Mortemore) justifiably fear the consequences for themselves if they do. It would make suppressing reports a criminal act and therefore very dangerous.

But we don't, and as a result those fragmentary reports that did reach external authorities were often missed, though inadequate correlation, or plain incompetence. As a result the inquiry has harshly criticised the Metropolitan Police, The Crown Prosecution Service, the Charity Commission, the Independent Schools Inspectorate, the Department for Education and Ealing Council Children's Services. If criticism of these bodies is less than that of the church, it is because their failure was down to incompetence rather than malice. They were not actively engaged in a cover-up of abuse that they knew had happened.

Metropolitan Police Service
In 2001, the police did not adequately investigate complaints from four separate boys. Commander Jerome giving evidence said that this was unreasonable as there was evidence of sexual assault. There was a similar failure in 1992.
There is no evidence that the 1992 case file relating to RC-A595 was properly considered. There is nothing in the police records to indicate that the allegation of RC-A418 was referred to social services. This was particularly striking as Pearce was still working and living at the Abbey, adjacent to the school. Given the concerted effort of a teacher, Katherine Ravenscroft, and a monk, Father Alban Nunn, to bring concerns about Pearce to the Metropolitan Police’s attention, it is regrettable that this investigation into RC-A418’s complaint should then have been handled and dismissed in such a manner.
The report details several other failures to investigate Pearce appropriately, some of these dated back to the early 1990s. Pearce was eventually convicted in 2009.

Then there was Soper. He absconded in 2011 when supposedly on his way from Rome to the UK to attend a police bail appointment. It took five years to track him down.
After Soper absconded in March 2011, the Metropolitan Police waited over four years before passing the task of reaching him to a specialist team with dedicated resources. Two officers who were then involved, DS Chris Sloan and DS Shaun Richardson, told us that:

“In hindsight the ‘manhunt’ for SOPER should not have been left with the original investigating Child Abuse Investigating Team (CAIT) overseen by a single investigating Officer. This task should have been passed to those with specialisms in this area of work, who have a wide range of resources at their disposal. Once this was done, in and around December 2015 and primacy was passed to an MPS Major Investigation Team (MIT), SOPER was detained in Kosovo within six months (May 2016).”
Crown Prosecution Service
A case concerning Pearce was passed to the CPS in 1992. Although arguably even by today's standards "this would still be a challenging case to prosecute" there were in the CPS advice not to prosecute, as the report notes:
Mr McCabe’s reasoning as set out in his written advice raises other questions:

• He concluded that there was no corroborative evidence, whereas Gregor McGill, Director of Legal Services at the Crown Prosecution Service, agreed that there was some evidence that corroborated RC-A595’s account.
• Mr McCabe noted that there was no medical evidence of a physical injury from the alleged indecent assault. However, it is unlikely that any injury would have resulted from an assault of the nature alleged. As Mr McGill told us:

“A prosecutor today would not expect there to be medical evidence arising from an indecent assault of the nature alleged by the complainant and would be aware that the absence of such evidence is not evidence of no assault having occurred.”
• Mr McCabe stressed that there had been a delay in RC-A595 telling his sister, and some inconsistencies between the accounts he gave to his sister and mother. As Commander Jerome noted, neither delay nor inconsistency is unexpected in the context of a young boy having gone through a traumatic incident.

Of themselves none of these considerations should have been seen as a bar to prosecution.
Again, there were errors handling Soper's case.
Soper was not convicted until 2017, although in 2004 the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute him in respect of the allegations made by RC-A622 of abuse and multiple rapes.

Although these were grave allegations, Claudette Phillips, the Crown Prosecution Service reviewing lawyer, having advised orally, in writing justified her decision not to charge only very briefly, expressing the view that the allegation “is essentially the victim’s version of events against the suspects [sic]”. She also failed to consider whether other supporting evidence might be available or could be sought, and did not advise the Metropolitan Police on these points. The decision not to charge and the advice given were inadequate. Mr McGill accepts this, although he told us that “we approach these cases in a completely different way in 2019 than we did in 2004”.
The Charity Commission
The Charity Commission carried out two statutory inquiries into Ealing Abbey/St. Benedict's. The report states:
The first inquiry (from 2006 to 2009) was opened following concerns of child sexual abuse being brought to its attention anonymously in June 2006 in respect of Pearce and RC‑F41. Its purpose was to establish whether the trustees had taken appropriate action and what further steps were required, if any.
The inquiry was not impressed with the approach taken.
The Charity Commission’s conclusion that appropriate steps were being taken was based on little more than assurances given by Ealing Abbey that there were restrictions on Pearce, precluding access to children. The Commission did not seek to identify in any detail what those restrictions were, nor did it consider how they were being implemented or how compliance was being monitored. Michelle Russell, Head of Compliance at the Charity Commission between 2007 and 2011, told us that this reliance on the assurances of charity trustees “was the approach that was taken by the Commission generally as a regulator at that time”. The Charity Commission also found that the school’s child protection policies and procedures were adequate. This again appears to be in part based on the Trust’s assertion in correspondence that they were. Relying on assurances given by a body under investigation can never be a sufficient substitute for independent scrutiny.
One would have thought that last sentence was a classic statement of the bleeding obvious, but it didn't occur to the Charity Commission at the time.

On learning that Pearce had abused another child despite the assurances given, the Charity Commission opened another investigation which resulted in a critical report. The strength of the criticism was, according to Ms. Russell when giving evidence “quite unusual language for us to say publicly”. Despite this criticism, no further regulatory action was taken.

We then move to perhaps the most shocking aspect of the Charity Commission's actions at this time. The report states:
A further point is that, during this second inquiry, Charity Commission correspondence risked suggesting that protecting the charity’s name required contesting allegations of abuse as a matter of course. For example, a senior compliance and support manager stated in a letter of May 2008:

“A charity’s reputation is one of its biggest assets. As such, we would expect the trustees to take measures to protect the reputation of the Charity in the future. As a minimum, we would expect the trustees to monitor carefully the outcome of any criminal investigation or prosecution or civil claim into Father Pearce or any other person involved with the Charity in a similar capacity and to take appropriate steps to protect the Charity’s name and reputation as necessary. We would also expect the Charity to take reasonable steps to defend its name and reputation if any charges or proceedings were initiated against the Charity. If such a situation were to arise, I would suggest that you contact the Commission for advice.”

This letter, and the penultimate sentence in particular, could give the impression that defending reputation was more important than protecting children from abuse. While she said this was not the Commission’s intention, Ms Russell agreed that there was a risk that it might be read that way, and that it was something for the Commission to reflect on.
Given that Ealing Abbey was already inclined to cover up even well-founded allegations of abuse, this advice in my view could only have been taken by those in charge as an open invitation to redouble their efforts.

The Charity Commission appears not to have even considered taking regulatory action when it was clear that the efforts of Ealing Abbey were inadaquate:
Beyond providing “regulatory advice and guidance”, the Charity Commission relied in its report upon the fact that Ealing Abbey was undertaking “an independent review”. It requested a copy of this review, and said it would “actively monitor the Charity to ensure that this happens”.

The independent review referred to was that undertaken by Philip Wright and John Nixson in 2009. As discussed in Part D, that review was wholly inadequate. Its deficiencies were pointed out to the Charity Commission in 2010 by Mr Jonathan West, to whom the Commission responded in December 2010:

“The independent review that the trustees confirmed would be carried out is a matter for the Charity. The Commission cannot intervene in the administration of a charity.”
However no reference was made in this letter to the possibility, in certain circumstances, of the Commission appointing an interim manager.
Independent Schools Inspectorate
The Inquiry concluded that the ISI made a right pig's ear of its 2009 inspection.
The 2009 inspections were flawed in a number of ways.

The inspectors did not obtain a full picture of child protection concerns in respect of St Benedict’s, including the extent of the offences for which Pearce was convicted and the fact of the Charity Commission inquiry. Whilst the deficiencies in the level of disclosure given by the school and Abbot Shipperlee as chair of governors was a contributory factor, this does not provide a sufficient excuse. The ISI itself should have undertaken further steps to obtain and check relevant information both prior to and during their inspection, especially when the inspectors discovered that David Pearce had recently been convicted of sexually abusing a pupil. As explained by Kate Richards, Chief Inspector since 2017, the ISI now makes specific inquiries of both the local authority and the school itself about allegations and safeguarding incidents, as well as searching for relevant information in the public domain.

The ISI found, wrongly, that the school’s child protection policy was compliant, despite obvious defects, in particular with regard to external reporting. These were picked up in the 2010 inspection but should have been identified earlier. The failure is the more striking given the fact that the reporting inspector noted in his pre-inspection commentary:

“We shall need to be particularly alert and meticulous in checking all policies and procedures concerned with child protection.”

The 2009 ISI reports confused the independent review into Pearce’s offending (which was undertaken by Mr Nixson and Mr Wright) and what the inspector was told about advice provided by the Diocesan child protection officer and another safeguarding professional in respect of RC-F41’s restrictions. The senior school report stated:

“A serious incident involving a member of the monastic community caused the trustees to request an independent review of the measures taken to minimise risk.”

This plainly related to the review into Pearce’s re-offending, but it went on to state that the advice of that independent review had been implemented, which was an error. The advice of Mr Wright and Mr Nixson arising out of their review had not even been given at the time of the ISI inspection, still less implemented.
It took members of the public to inform them of the magnitude of their failure.
On 11 February 2010, shortly after the publication of its reports, Mr Jonathan West contacted the ISI expressing concerns. He did not think that the independent review had yet happened, as the Charity Commission had reported that it had been promised but not received in December 2009. The next day another member of the public, Michael Grant, contacted the ISI because he was “appalled by the report with regards to the issue of child protection”. He referred to the fact that David Pearce was the former head of the junior school and had lost a civil action as well as being “jailed for eight years after thirty-five years of systematic abuse”.
The ISI, on the DfE's instructions, kept a much closer and more critical eye on St. Benedict's thereafter. The inquiry clearly thinks that these interventions made all the difference. They clearly think that the shortcomings of the 2009 inspection were probably not an anomaly but on the contrary were characteristic of the organisation.
However, had it not been for the intervention of members of the public, the ISI might not have re-appraised the safeguarding arrangements at St Benedict’s in 2010 and thereafter. Its approach to the inspection of St Benedict’s in 2009 fell far short of what should be expected of an independent inspectorate.
Department for Education
The DfE doesn't fare well either. As the report says:
The DfE’s involvement with Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s was limited until significant problems were identified.

In 2007, the DfE agreed to commission an ISI inspection of St Benedict’s in 2009. There is no evidence that the DfE relayed to the ISI before its 2009 inspections the fact that the Charity Commission had contacted the DfE in 2007 regarding allegations made against Pearce and RC-F41.

In 2009, the ISI asked the DfE whether it should do anything in addition to that scheduled inspection, following an email from Ealing Children’s Services. That email arose from an anonymous letter which made reference to “things being hushed up”. The DfE contacted the local authority designated officer (LADO) at Ealing, and was told by the LADO that the Ealing Child Protection Strategy Group wanted to flag with the DfE the comments in the letter “that indicated the school ethos was to cover up any problems”, although no other information or explanation was given in the letter. The LADO said that the headmaster, Christopher Cleugh, had appeared to cooperate fully. The LADO did not relate the history of Pearce’s offending with RC-A621, nor the fact of his arrest and pending prosecution, or that RC-F41 had also been the subject of historic allegations. Ealing Council (through its LADO) should have been in a position to inform the DfE of such facts.

It appears that it was only after concerns were raised with the ISI by Jonathan West and Michael Grant that the independent education and school governance division of the DfE became aware of the Charity Commission report of December 2009, and the scale of the problem at Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s. This was despite exchanges in 2006/7 with the Charity Commission, the exchange in 2009 with the LADO and the DfE having a press cuttings service to alert it to safeguarding issues in independent schools.
Ealing Council Children's Services
We have another catalogue of error and incompetence here.
Despite the long-standing importance of its role, Ealing Council’s case records prior to 2009 were stored on one officer’s drive and were deleted when he left. As a result, it was unable to find any record in respect of the complaints of RC-A418 in 2001, RC-A6 and RC‑A419 in 2004, the imposition of restrictions upon David Pearce in 2005 or the civil judgment against him in 2006. Carolyn Fair, the Director of Children’s Services at Ealing Council, has explained that the council’s response to allegations “became systematic” in 2009. Records of referrals are now processed and stored on a computerised social care database.

The inadequacy of historic record-keeping at Ealing Council is reflected in the insufficiency of the information provided by the LADO to the DfE in June 2009. The DfE contacted the LADO at Ealing, and was told by the LADO that the Ealing Child Protection Strategy Group wanted to alert the DfE to a concern “that indicated the school ethos was to cover up any problems”, although no other information or explanation was given. Most notably, there was no information given about the allegations against Pearce or his impending trial, nor was anything said about RC-F41 despite the Council having been informed in 2006 of historical allegations made against him. The DfE was entitled to expect more detail from the local authority, as in effect Ms Fair admitted. She stated that it was only around 2009 that the LADO role was created and a more consistent approach to record-keeping adopted at Ealing Council Children’s Services:

“If this LADO role and experience had been established in May 2009 I would expect the LADO to inform the then DCSF, now DfE, due to the number of specific allegations within one establishment.”
This however is extremely odd. The LADO role was defined in legislation long before 2009. What on earth was Ealing doing without one until then?

A journalist spoke to me the other day. One of her questions was about why I had put in all the effort I did over the years. This report gives one good reason why. It had to be done and hardly anyone else was doing very much.

IICSA - Analysis of CSAS and NCSC Safeguarding policies

This is the text of the covering note of an analysis of CSAS and NCSC Safeguarding policies which I have submitted to the Inquiry.

1.       I have carried out an analysis of the NCSC/CSAS Safeguarding policy, similar in nature to the Mandate Now analysis of the Anglican church safeguarding policy submitted to the Inquiry, to which I contributed.
2.       The version I have analysed was provided by CSAS to Mr Tom Perry of Mandate Now. The correspondence between Mr Perry and CSAS is separately submitted. There was a significant delay in doing so, and when it arrived it was split into 130 separate PDF files.
3.       Given the many past safeguarding failures within the Roman Catholic Church and most specifically failures to report known or suspected abuse to the statutory authorities, and given the absence of a statutory duty to report (a “mandatory reporting” law) I have considered what would persuade me that the Roman Catholic Church is truly intent on improving its safeguarding and avoid slipping back into past habits of concealment.
4.       The test I have applied is a simple one: in the absence of a statutory duty, I have considered whether it is plain that a failure to report known abuse or reasonable suspicions thereof would unequivocally breach the church’s own policies.
5.       For a failure to report suspicions of abuse to be a clear and unambiguous breach of the policy, the policy would need to meet the following more detailed criteria:
5.1.        The reporting arrangements are clearly stated, and use wording that does not allow for discretion as to whether a report is made
5.2.        The policy does not allow varying interpretations of its meaning and intent.
5.3.        The policy is clear, accessible, and easy to read and understand.
5.4.        It is clear who within the church is given various responsibilities to act.
6.              In my analysis I have concentrated on the files in “Chapter 2 - Responding to allegations and concerns” and “Chapter 3 - Information Sharing and Data Protection” on the basis that these areas are key to ensuring that abuse is properly reported and information about it is shared with the statutory authorities.
7.              Within Chapter 2, the key document is “Children management of allegations and concerns”. By the criteria defined above, this is a dreadfully poor document. Specifically:
7.1.        Procedures are frequently defined using the word “should” which offers a degree of discretion about how or even whether a procedure is followed (as opposed to “must” which removes that discretion). Even though the policy does not have the backing of a mandatory reporting law, it would be perfectly proper to use “must” in procedures, to make it clear that failure to act as indicated is a breach of Church policies.
7.2.        There is frequent use of passive voice, so it is not clear who has responsibility to carry out an action. Without the responsibility being assigned to some specific person or role, there is no accountability and no means of taking disciplinary action against anybody for failing to act.
7.3.        The same procedure is defined a number of times in different places within the document, each with a slightly different form of words and with no statement as to which is the authoritative version of the procedure.
7.4.        Where immediate danger to a child is identified, the procedures tend to use “should”, whereas where there is judged to be no immediate danger, “must” is used, but solely in the context of internal communication within the church, not to informing external authorities.
7.5.        Paragraph 2.2 incorrectly makes reference to “a legal responsibility to pass on” information. This is legally incorrect, there is (unfortunately) no such legal obligation, and this gives rise to concern for the knowledge and competence of the document’s authors.
7.6.        In the same paragraph 2.2 the strongest wording yet used in the document: “it is vital” refers to the need for confidentiality because “allegations can affect livelihoods and reputations”. This seems to indicate that the true priority of the church remains the protection of its own reputation.
7.7.        Section 3 of the document indicates that parental consent will normally be sought to make a referral to LA Children’s Services. This is exceedingly unsound safeguarding practice and is one of the concerns I expressed 10 years ago about the version of the safeguarding policy of St Benedict’s School at the time. There are two reasons why this is unsound. First, it is all too easy to manipulate parents into withholding consent. The authority of the church can be used to persuade parents that it is not in their child’s best interest to have strangers from children’s services asking questions, or someone might even falsely suggest that suspicion is likely to fall upon the parents. Second, other children may be at risk now or in the future from the same offender, and it is important that the matter is put in the hands of those with the training and authority to investigate effectively.
7.8.        Section 4.1 defines circumstances in which the LADO “must” be contacted, but uses passive voice so leaved it unstated as to who must act.
7.9.        Section 4.2 covers much the same ground but uses the word “should” instead of “must”. It is not clear which paragraph takes precedence,
7.10.    Section 9 of the document, describing “Temporary removal from Ministry, Ecclesiastical Office or other Post” talks of the need to “prevent scandal”, and this is placed on equal footing with other reasons for temporary removal. I find it troubling that the church even now considers its reputation, and the prevention of scandal, to be a valid consideration when defining its policies for the safeguarding of the children in its care.
8.              The items above are by no means an exhaustive list of the shortcomings of this document, but provide a reasonable summary of the key issues.
9.              In Chapter 3, the key document is “26.11.18 National Safeguarding Information Sharing Protocol”. It manages to get through several pages of introductory text before coming to any specific procedures. The following are some specific matters of concern:
9.1.        Within Section 2, there is a paragraph titled Is there a clear and legitimate purpose for sharing the information?” No specific criteria are given for when a lawful purpose might be applicable. A list of lawful bases is included in a Schedule to an appendix in the document, this schedule is nowhere referred to within the main body of the document and so could easily be missed.
9.2.        A little later there is a section “Is the information subject to a duty of confidence?” This is far more specific. The contrast between the wording which encourages sharing and wording which discourages is quite notable. The contrast is repeated further into the document.
9.3.        Towards the end of the document is a series of Case Examples. The first paragraph of the first case example is worth quoting in full.

“Where you have reasonable cause to believe that a child or young person has suffered, or is likely to suffer significant harm, you must always consider referring your concerns to Children's Services or Police in line with national policy and your Local Safeguarding Children's Board procedures.” (my emphasis)

The emphasised wording is far short of an unequivocal direction to refer concerns, it is merely an instruction to consider referring, and after consideration the person is free to decide not to refer.
9.4.        The case examples are full of discretionary wording – the word “should” is used all over the place. It is unclear how the case examples link to the body of the text. The examples don’t for instance say something to the effect “section x of this document is applicable and therefore the person with this information must do y”.
9.5.        The case examples are preceded by this introductory paragraph.

“The examples set out below indicate the likely application of relevant rules and good practice etc but should not be taken as definitive guidance and you should take independent legal advice in relation to your specific situation as required.”

So these case studies are not “definitive guidance” and are merely “likely application of relevant rules”, which bring into question whether the “relevant rules” are even contained within this document.
10.          I attach detailed analyses of several documents within the CSAS-NCSC set. Lack of time has not permitted all the documents to be looked at in the same level of detail. Those that I have analysed are all in the same form, placed into landscape page layout with the original text on the left and my detailed comments on the right.
11.          As should by now be plain, if anybody within the Roman Catholic Church wished to conceal suspected abuse from the statutory authorities, they would find ample wriggle room within these documents permitting them to do so while still plausibly being able to claim that they conform to the NCSC/CSAS policies. As a result, I do not consider that the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has yet come to terms with the need for rigour in its safeguarding policies, and that continued poor safeguarding practice and even downright concealment of abuse is by no means ruled out by the existence and even enforcement of these policies.
12.          It took me four years of campaigning from 2009 to 2013 to have such wriggle room removed from the safeguarding policy of St. Benedict’s School. Analysing these documents has been a profoundly dispiriting experience, to discover that all the weaknesses that I worked so hard to remove in the St. Benedict’s safeguarding policy remain in the church’s national policies. I had hoped that I would have found something better, but on examining these documents it appears to me that the Roman Catholic Church nationally has learned absolutely nothing from the scandals of Ealing and elsewhere.
13.          If the Inquiry reaches the similar conclusions based on the evidence before it, then it is inevitable that questions must arise as to the willingness and ability of the Church voluntarily to reform its procedures. The Church has had 25 years since publication of Bishop Budd’s report, and if this policy is the pinnacle of the progress that has been achieved so far, then on present rates of improvement I doubt that properly robust policies will be written and implemented before the end of this century.
14.          Since it is clear that the Church is either unwilling or unable (it doesn’t really matter which) voluntarily to ensure that child protection concerns are reliably reported to the statutory authorities, consideration needs to be given as to methods of compulsion that might be applied.
15.          The most obvious remedy is a “mandatory reporting law” along the lines proposed by Mandate Now in its various submissions to the Inquiry. It is my belief that individuals in the church will be far more willing to report concerns if they risk prosecution for a deliberate failure to do so.
16.          A second remedy, dependent on the existence of a mandatory reporting law, would be an inspection body independent of the church which could review policies and even case notes, and bring anything to the attention of the authorities that should have been disclosed. Given the past culture and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, the deterrent effect of a mandatory reporting law can only be assumed to operate fully where those subject to it are given reason to believe that there is a high risk of wrongdoing being detected and punished. Hence the need for regular outside scrutiny of its safeguarding practices.