Thursday, 14 December 2017

Laurence Soper sentencing

Laurence Soper will be sentenced at the old Bailey at 9:30am on Thursday 21st December. I intend to be there.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

"The monks stole my childhood"

Today's Sunday Times contains an extremely powerful article by the Sunday Times travel editor Steve Bleach, who happens also to have been a pupil of St Benedict's. He has written in reaction to the conviction of Laurence Soper.

The monks stole my childhood
Forty years ago, I was just one of the pupils beaten and molested by a teacher at a top Catholic school. Last week I saw him convicted of a litany of abuse — and I wept

Although the article is behind the Times' paywall, you can access it for free - you can see two articles a week for free if you register.

The article goes beyond Soper's abuses, it describes the terror of the regular beatings there, of the sexual assaults by other monks and teachers. He names a number of other abusive monks and he has accounts from a number of former pupils (none of them complainants at the Soper trial).

Here's an important point from the article
How did it happen? How did an institution nominally dedicated to Christian values end up as a haven for abusers?

On a practical level, that’s simple. The religious life had obvious attractions for men with paedophile leanings.

Many were struggling to control their sexuality and were sincere when taking their vow of chastity. Others, presumably knowingly, sought communities of like-minded men with — in religious schools — large numbers of defenceless children at their mercy.

Those in denial — and I think there were many at St Benedict’s — could get their thrills from beating children and still convince themselves they were doing the Lord’s work.

Take a wider view, though, and the answer is more disturbing. They did it because they were allowed to: by the school, by the church, by society at large.
Later he goes on to describe this in more depth.
I asked St Benedict’s to help me trace teachers from that time. The school declined. Eventually I tracked down a retired lay teacher whom I recall as a strict master but a decent man.

“I’m not going to criticise the school,” he wrote in response to my request for an interview. “The actions of a couple of monks have done enough to damage its reputation without anyone else contributing.”

Damage to the school’s reputation. No mention of damage to the children in his care. I have no reason to think this teacher, who has now asked not to be named, was aware of the abuse while it was going on. But he certainly knows of it now and still his priorities are clear.
For as long as the reputation of the school is given a higher priority than the welfare of the victims abused there, anger towards the abbey and school will persist and people will wonder whether the place has changed all that much.

The school of course now claims to be a different place. Bleach mentions the review conducted by Lord Carlile and then later points out:
And when the Soper verdict came in, that same Lord Carlile who had conducted that review popped up to issue a statement on the school’s behalf. “The tough lessons of the past have been learnt,” he said. Tough lessons: a turn of phrase worthy of the very teachers who so enjoyed caning me and my mates.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Laurence Soper found guilty of abuse

After two months of hearing evidence, the jury in the trial of Abbot Laurence Soper (real name Andrew Soper) returned its verdicts today.

Soper was convicted of two counts of buggery, two counts of indecency with a child and 15 counts of indecent assault. The charges of buggery were contrary to section 12(1) of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, since the offences took place when that act was in force. The name of the offence was changed from buggery to rape by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. So in modern terms, he's a rapist.

I shan't rehearse the details of his crimes, they have already been described by the Guardian, the BBC, the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail among others.

I want to express the greatest of respect and admiration to the ten complainants who had the courage to come forward and give evidence in the face of what I've heard was a fierce cross-examination by the defence barrister. I have no doubt that it was an extremely unpleasant and possibly traumatic experience. I hope that the verdict helps to give you some measure of peace. The conviction could not have been won without you. You should be proud of what you achieved today.

This now brings the total number of monks and teachers associated with Ealing Abbey and St Benedict's School convicted of crimes associated with child sex abuse to five - two monks and three lay teachers.

John Maestri (a former maths teacher) was convicted on 3 separate occasions in 2003, 2005 and 2008 of offences against pupils committed in the 1970s and 80s. He received a custodial sentence for the first of these.

Father David Pearce (real name Maurice Pearce) was convicted in 2009 of eleven charges of abuse involving five different boys, all pupils of the school. These abuses occurred over a 36 year period. He was sentenced to five years for his crimes.

Stephen Skelton was convicted in 2011 of two counts of child abuse, 10 years apart, one at St Benedict's in 1983 and one later in Hampshire. When the pupil's mother complained, Skelton (who had taught at the school for only a term or so) was given a good reference and quietly sent on his way. He went on to abuse elsewhere. He was sentenced to six months suspended for two years.

Peter Allott (at the time the Deputy Headmaster) was arrested in 2015 on suspicion of possessing child abuse images. He pleaded guilty in 2016 to number of charges of making and possessing child abuse images and was sentenced to 33 months.

And now Soper. He will be sentenced on 19th December. I am not going to speculate as to what his sentence might or should be, that is for the judge to decide. (Nor will I allow publication of comments which speculate about it, so please don't bother to make any comments on that topic.)

Five convicted child sex offenders at one school. That is too many for it to be a coincidence. In time, those in charge of the abbey and the school will have to account for their failure to protect the children in their care. They will have to do so in public under oath, questioned by lawyers at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA). They have been required to provide copies of all relevant documents to the public inquiry. It wouldn't surprise me if they have already started rehearsing their answers.

One thing that the monks of Ealing will have to explain is how they not only harboured several criminal paedophiles within their ranks, but actually managed to elect a prolific child abuser as their leader. Laurence Soper was of course Abbot of Ealing from 1991 to 2000.

Lord Carlile, representing the school, has issued an apology, claiming that the school is now an entirely different place. The school would have to say that. We shall see how true it is in due course.

Monday, 27 November 2017

IICSA Benedictine Hearings started today

One of the investigations being carried out by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) concerns abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.

And within the Roman Catholic investigation, one of the case studies concerns abuse within the monasteries and schools of the English Benedictine Congregation, including Ealing, Ampleforth, Downside and Worth.

The hearings into the EBC started today with opening submissions from interested parties. The current set of hearings is concentrating on Downside and Ampleforth. Ealing will be heard about at a later hearing.

You should read Richard Scorer's opening submission.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Soper trial started

According to getwestlondon, a jury was sworn on 3rd October, and the prosecution will open its case on 10th October.

(Please note, while the trial continues, I will offer no opinion on the subject, will publish no comments offering opinions, and will restrict myself to signposting reports that have appeared in the press.)

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Soper pleads not guilty

There's been a plea and case management hearing. Soper has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of sexual assault against boys aged under 16. His trial at the Old Bailey will start on October 2.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Ealing WILL be kept in the Inquiry

Following the hearing on 6th June, Alexis Jay, chair of the inquiry, has announced a decision as follows.
Having considered all of the submissions, my decision is that the EBC [English Benedictine Congregation] hearing should take place as planned in November and December 2017 and that evidence in relation to Ealing Abbey/St Benedict's will be heard but not before the relevant criminal proceedings have concluded. Reasons for this decision and my decisions in respect of any other matters will follow.
What this means is that the IICSA hearing in November/December will cover Ampleforth, Downside and Worth. But they have made a definite commitment to hold a further hearing on Ealing at a later date once the forthcoming criminal trial is over. This is different from the original proposal which was to wait until after the trial and them make a decision as to whether any hearings on Ealing were necessary at all.

This at least does provide some reassurance to the Ealing survivors that Ealing Abbey will be looked into, rather than them being left in a limbo for at least a year and a half since they were designated as core participants waiting to know whether they will have anything to participate in. We don't know when the Ealing hearings will take place - it depends on how long the criminal trial takes.

There's no news yet as to whether Fort Augustus will be kept in the inquiry. I wish I had something more positive to say other than that I think there is a strong case for keeping Fort Augustus in, and that must at one time have been accepted by the inquiry otherwise there could have been no justification for designating Fort Augustus survivors as core participants when this happened last year. I hope that reasoning is treated with due weight by the chair.