Sunday, 15 May 2016

Abbot Laurence Soper

The Metropolitan Police have their man. Laurence Soper was arrested last Wednesday in the town of Peja (or Peć in Serbian) in western Kosovo. I have little doubt that he will be extradited to Britain to stand trial on one or more charges of child abuse. While I was out last night my phone went crazy with all the people phoning me and texting me with the news.

It has made it as a news item in most of the media including the Daily Mail, the Guardian, the Daily Express, the Telegraph, Sky, the Sun, ITV, and the BBC.

Just about all the articles have some minor inaccuracies in them, so here are the background facts as far as I know them and as far as they can be stated in public without prejudicing any future trial.

Soper, now aged 72, was a pupil at St Benedict's School, run by the monks of Ealing Abbey. His original name is Andrew Charles Kingsdon Soper. Several former pupils who have since spoken to me remember him. After a short career in banking with Barclays he entered the monastery in 1964 and was ordained as a priest in 1970. He taught at St Benedict's School from 1973-84. When he retired from teaching he was Master of the Middle School (years 7-9). In 1984 he was appointed Prior and in 1991 was elected Abbot. He retired as Abbot in 2000 and immediately moved to the Benedictine headquarters at Collegio Sant'Anselmo in Rome where he became general treasurer of the International Benedictine Confederation in 2002 until his disappearance in 2011. His successor as Abbot of Ealing is the present Abbot, Martin Shipperlee.

In June 2010 a man, by now in his 40s, made a complaint to the police concerning alleged abuse by Soper during his time as a teacher, and in September Soper returned from Rome at the police's request to answer questions. He was arrested, released on police bail and allowed to return to Rome. He left Rome in March 2011 supposedly to attend a police bail appointment in London but instead disappeared. A European Arrest Warrant was issued for him in 2012.

In addition to his roles at Ealing Abbey and St Benedict's School, he was a visiting chaplain at Feltham Young Offenders Institution from 1988 to 2000 and was Roman Catholic chaplain at Harrow School from 1981 to 1991. There have been complaints about abuse of inmates at Feltham, and Ealing Abbey subsequently confirmed that the police interviewed Soper at the time in connection with those complaints.

There was a great deal of publicity following the conviction in 2009 of Father David Pearce (also a monk and priest at Ealing Abbey and the former head of the junior school at St Benedict's) for a series of sexual crimes against pupils spanning 36 years. As a result, Lord Carlile was commissioned by Ealing Abbey to write a report into abuse at the abbey and St. Benedict's School. Published in 2011, the Carlile report mentioned two complaints made against Soper, both dating from the 1970s. In his report Lord Carlile was seriously critical of the monastic community, describing "its lengthy and culpable failure to deal with what at times must have been evident behaviour placing children at risk; and what at all times was a failure to recognise the sinful temptations that might attract some with monastic vocations."

According to news reports Soper was living under his own name of Andrew Soper at the time of his arrest. Laurence is the monastic name he took when he became a monk.

In addition to Father David Pearce, two former teachers at St. Benedict's (John Maestri and Stephen Skelton) have been convicted of sexual abuse of pupils, and the school's deputy headmaster Peter Allott was arrested in late 2015. He subsequently pleaded guilty to possessing, making and distributing child abuse images and was sentenced to 33 months in jail.

If you were a victim of or witness to abuses by Soper at St. Benedict's or anywhere else, I urge you to contact the police and tell them everything you know. Similarly, if you were a victim of abuses by anybody else at St. Benedict's, please also tell the police.

I have spoken to a number of victims of abuse at St. Benedict's and elsewhere. From speaking to them and from other learning about the subject, I have come to understand the huge amount of courage it takes for somebody who was abused as a child to come forward, even decades later. But the great majority who have done so say that the load has been lifted somewhat as a result of sharing. If you have been thinking that you might finally feel able to tell somebody, now is a good time.

Note: Although comments are open on this article, I will not publish anything which describes or speculates about what crimes Soper may or may not have committed. Please remember that there is an ongoing police investigation and it is important not to prejudice any trial that may occur if and when Soper is extradited from Kosovo to face justice in Britain.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Allott's sentence

I've just learned that today at Blackfriars Crown Court Peter Allott was sentenced to 33 months imprisonment. Will follow up with more details when I have them.


The Evening Standard has an article on this, as does the Daily Telegraph.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Allott pleads guilty

The Daily Mail has reported yesterday's hearing at Blackfriars Crown Court. So has the Evening Standard and getwestlondon.  Key points are:
  • The police acted on intelligence that somebody had been using videoconference facilities to share child abuse images.
  • Allott pleaded guilty to three counts of making indecent images of children, one count of distributing indecent images of children, one count of pessessing extreme pornography, and one of possessing a controlled class A drug MDMA (Ecstacy).
  • Police have no evidence that he abused his position of trust at work.
  • He will be sentenced on May 5.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Allott and St. Benedict's

Let's just get a few things clear. I realise that the latest news about Peter Allott has shocked and upset a lot of people. I realise a lot of people are thinking that lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place.

Allott is charged with "making" and possessing child abuse images and possessing extreme porn. Within the meaning of the law "making" child abuse images includes downloading them from the internet. Where he allegedly got the images from is not known publicly at this time.

Allott will go through the court process. I'll report anything in the press that becomes available on what he has been charged with and when he will appear in court. While that process is ongoing, I will not speculate on what he may or may not have done, and I will not publish any comments that speculate.

There's no evidence I know of that St. Benedict's could or should have detected anything Allott has allegedly done. If evidence of wrongdoing or negligence by the school comes to light, then I will have no hesitation in saying so. But I'm not going to condemn the school in the absence of evidence. I have no doubt that all sorts of agencies are going to be investigating, and I intend letting them do their work.

It's inevitable that there's also going to be a certain amount of chatter on this topic on social media such as Twitter. I'm going to be just as careful on Twitter as I'm being here.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Peter Allott

According to the Evening Standard, Peter Allott has resigned his post as deputy headteacher at St. Benedict's School.

He appeared at Ealing Magistrates Court today and was remanded in custody until December 23rd.

Child Abuse Images

Peter Allott, Deputy Headmaster at St. Benedict's School, has been arrested and charged with possession of child abuse images. the story is in the Times (behind paywall) and in Ealing Today. He will appear before Ealing Magistrates sometime today (9 December).

The arrest was made by the National Crime Agency who apparently searched his computer. The specific charges are "offences of possessing, showing and making indecent images of children of category A and 2 offences of possession of extreme pornography".

I decided to look up what all this means.

The wording of the charge mentions "making" images. According to the CPS "The downloading and/or printing of indecent images of children from the internet, is capable of amounting to an offence of 'making' the image contrary to section 1 (1) (a) of the PCA 1978."

"Category A" indecent images of children are the most serious kind. According to CPS Legal Guidance, Category A covers "penetrative sexual activity and sexual activity with an animal or sadism".

"Extreme pornography" (again according to CPS Legal guidance) is images of:
a) An act which threatens a person's life; this is not defined in the Act and therefore should be given its ordinary dictionary meaning. The Ministry of Justice note of " Further information on the new offence of Possession of Extreme Pornographic Images" at paragraph 11 gives examples of life threatening acts.

b) An act which results in or is likely to result in serious injury to a person's anus, breast or genitals; this could include the insertion of sharp objects (although in some circumstances this can be done in a way that is not likely to result in serious injury) or the mutilation of breasts or genitals. It is likely to be difficult to prove that cases of 'fisting' involve images that show activity that is likely to result in serious injury so these cases need to be handled with particular care. Serious injury is not defined in the Act and should be given its ordinary dictionary meaning, being a question of fact for the District Judge or jury.

c) The Ministry of Justice note of " Further information on the new offence of Possession of Extreme Pornographic Images" specifically states that the reference to "serious injury" was not intended to expressly link into existing case law with regards to 'grievous bodily harm' contrary to sections 18 and 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (which has been interpreted as being capable of including psychiatric harm).
The NCA has stated that it is "working in partnership with local child protection agencies to ensure wider child safeguarding" and also "It is not believed at this stage that any of the charges involve any former or current pupil at the school". Since Mr. Allott is in a position of trust and authority within a school, there must now of course be an investigation to find out whether there has been any harm to children with whom he has had contact. That investigation will presumably involve multiple agencies, including the police, the local authority children's services and the Independent Schools' Inspectorate.

The school no doubt will have to be inspected again by the ISI. The sorts of questions they will need to be asking include.
  • Was any indication seen by other staff that Mr Allott had an unhealthy interest in children?
  • If so, how was the matter handled, and was a report made to the authorities in the way now prescribed by the school's safeguarding policy?
  • Does this incident reveal any weaknesses in the school's safeguarding arrangements which need to be corrected?
Peter Allott has been at the school for quite some time. He was Head of Theology, Head of Politics and Deputy Director of Sixth Form from 2004 to 2010, and then after time out as a research associate at the Von Hugel Institute, returned as Deputy Headmaster in September 2012.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Benedictine Schools in the first round of cases to be studied by the IICSA

Justice Lowell Goddard of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has announced that Benedictine schools will be included in the first round of institutions to be examined by the IICSA.

Here are the relevant tweets from @IICSA_media

If you have information that you think is relevant to the inquiry, please contact them without delay.

I'll be blogging more about this when I have more details.

UPDATE: The IISCA's full statement has now been published on its website here.