Monday, 27 August 2018

IICSA and Ealing Abbey - Statements wanted

The IICSA is scheduled to hold hearings about Ealing Abbey in February 2019, and documentation and statements are being gathered now. It is important that the inquiry gets the clearest possible understanding of what went on there.

If you have experiences relating to abuse, either suffered by yourself or of others which you witnessed, or any knowledge of how the staff and monks covered up the abuse, then I urge you to make a statement.

I have drafted my statement, it is with my solicitor now. As a core participant in the Roman Catholic strand of the inquiry I have the right to legal representation. So if you want to make a statement, I can very easily get it to him and via him to the inquiry.

The inquiry will be interested not just in any accounts of abuse, but also in anything concerning how the school dealt with complaints about abuse. Whether and how abuse was covered up, both at the time and later if you're aware of complaints having been brought at a later date.

The inquiry will have within its scope all abuse perpetrated by staff at the school and by monks of the abbey, whether in the school/abbey grounds or elsewhere. I'm aware for instance that monks were governors of other schools in the vicinity and chaplains at other nearby institutions. Soper for instance was a visiting chaplain as Feltham Young Offenders' Institution and another monk was chaplain at St. Augustine's Priory School. So anything happening or covered up in any of these places is also relevant.

If you are an abuse survivor, then your identity will be protected - you have a lifelong legal right to anonymity. Your name will be replaced by an anonymous cipher and all other personal details in your statement that might identify you will be redacted.

Some people have commented here saying words to the effect of "I don't think my abuse was all that bad compared to what some others suffered." If that's what you think, then you can be a witness not only to what happened to you but also to what happened to them. We won't get a better chance this generation to find out what happened and to put a stop to it.

If you are interested in making a statement, email me at If you don't want me to see the details of your statement, I can put you in touch with my solicitor and you can send it direct to him.

Monday, 1 January 2018

A survivor of Soper's abuse speaks out

"Peter" (not his real name) is one of the complainants in the trial of Fr Laurence Soper. He has spoken out about Soper and St Benedict's in an interview published on the the Guardian website today: London Catholic school abuse survivor speaks of 'constant violence'

You can of course read the full article if you follow the link above, but it's worth quoting a few of Peter's words here.
  • "There wouldn’t be a day when there wasn’t a queue of boys outside [Soper’s] study to be caned"
  • "[The abuse] was accepted, it was the norm, it was routine. Everybody had been into Father Laurence’s study. I realised it had happened to lots of boys before me and would happen to lots of boys after me.”
  • “Mine was the last generation where [abuse of children] was acceptable. Because of the culture at the time, it was excused. Now the whole system is changing. There’ll always be those who slip through the net, but it needs to be a bloody good net.”
Some comments to previous articles here have suggested that this sort of violence was common to most private schools in those days. Peter started at St Benedict's age 11 in 1979. He is therefore a few years younger than me, I took my A levels in 1979.

I didn't attend St Benedict's, I was educated elsewhere. But I can say that at the two private secondary schools I attended, there was not the culture of violence that Peter and others have described. Yes, the cane was used (very) occasionally, and yes there was something of a bullying problem, but I do not remember anything like the culture of violence that has been recounted at St Benedict's. St Benedict's might not have been unique (the IICSA heard similar accounts about Ampleforth and Downside during its recent hearings), but that level of violence certainly wasn't typical.

The violence and the fear it kindled among the pupils facilitated the abuse, as pupils were too terrified to complain.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

IICSA Benedictine hearings day 3 part 3

In between the testimony given by the various abuse survivors at Ampleforth, excerpts were read from the witness statement of retired Detective Sergeant Nicholas Mark Hartnett of North Yorkshire Police. They concerned his investigation into an offence committed by Fr Bernard Green in 1995. Here he describes his first contact with Fr Leo Chamberlain, headmaster of Ampleforth at the time.
My first contact with the headmaster, Father Chamberlain, will have been on Tuesday, 28 November 1995.  It was during a joint visit to Ampleforth School with Social Services, following a strategy meeting.  As soon as I walked into Ampleforth for the first time in my life, I felt that I was within a powerful institution.

Although Father Chamberlain appeared to be cooperating and assisting the investigation, in my personal view, I felt he wanted the investigation dealt with swiftly and on his terms.  Once I explained what the investigation would entail, I felt Father Chamberlain changed and he was trying to exert his authority over me, for example, he mentioned that he was on good terms with the then Chief Constable.

As part of the investigation, I wished to speak to all the pupils in the dormitory under the control of Green to establish if there were other witnesses or victims perhaps.  There had been an anonymous call into  the Schools Inspectorate, 1 pm on 28 November, stating that others had been involved with Green and wanted it stopped.  My recollection is that when I notified the headmaster of my intention, he was adamant that a member of staff from Ampleforth needed to be present when the pupils were spoken to.  Again, I felt he was trying to exert control over my investigation.
He went on to describe other difficulties in the investigation, which arose as he was about to interview Green.
I arranged to interview Green on Wednesday, 29 November 2005. The victim had left Ampleforth and gone to stay with family in London for a few days, consequently arrangements were made for him to be interviewed upon his return on Thursday, 30 November.  As a result, I was unusually interviewing the suspect ahead of interviewing the victim.  I was utilising the notes made by the victim and his school friend (a witness) the following morning at the school.

Prior to the suspect arriving at Malton Police Station, I recall Superintendent Bowskill informing me of a phone call he had had from Father Leo Chamberlain.  Father Chamberlain informed Mr Bowskill that the victim in my investigation no longer wished to be interviewed by the police and that because of this  Father Chamberlain had took it upon himself to contact the witness's father, who was also now saying that his son did not want to be spoken to by the police.

Mr Bowskill suggested to me that I could no longer interview Green and the investigation was over, to which I promptly replied that I would be continuing the investigation to its conclusion.

Father Green was interviewed under caution later that day and admitted the assault.

I visited Ampleforth School the following day and informed Father Chamberlain that I wished to speak to the victim's father.  I wanted to understand why there had been a change of mind and reassure the victim's father that the investigation was continuing.

I recall Father Chamberlain said that he would contact the victim's father who was working abroad and he telephoned him from his office.  Initially, I was asked to step outside and then invited back into the headmaster's office where I spoke to the victim's father, who reiterated his decision.
The net result was described by DS Hartnett.
At no time did I ever get the opportunity to speak to the victim or the witness in the dormitory.  My conversations were with the victim's father over the phone and likewise by telephone with the other boy's father.

This was probably the first case I had ever submitted to the CPS for a charging decision where I did not have a complainant's statement.  It was so rare.

The CPS authorised the charging of Green and he subsequently pleaded guilty to indecent assault in May 1996.  He was sentenced to two years' probation and 50 hours' community service.
DS Hartnett's tenacity should be commended.

This trick of getting parents to refuse to co-operate with the police & social services is a very old one I've seen before. It's also very easy to do. A headmaster is usually older than the victim's parents, he is by definition in a position of authority and practiced in expressing that authority. He can use that authority (in this case bolstered by the fact that he is a priest and the victim and his parents are presumably Catholics) to suggest that the last thing the victim needs is to have lots of strangers asking him difficult questions about the incident and possibly asking him whether he himself did anything wrong. The whole business will take months to resolve and may interfere with the boy's education. Once the police are involved the matter can hardly be kept secret and so the boy may be subject to bullying from his peers. The boy would be much better off if the matter were quietly dropped, and the school will make sure that no repetition of the incident occurs.

By this means, the victim and his family are detached from the support of those most qualified to help, and left in the hands of the institution which allowed the abuse occur in the first place.

No witness statement from the victim's father was read, so we have no means of knowing whether this actually happened in this case. But it would be entirely consistent with the rest of Fr Leo Chamberlain's behaviour as described by DS Hartnett.

This statement also sheds a light on Leo Chamberlain's comments to RC-A30. Had Chamberlain's concern only been that it's impossible to stop all abuse, then he would hardly have acted in a way as to discourage the the authorities from investigating of abuse that was already known to him.

IICSA Benedictine hearings day 3 part 2

RC-A30 went on to describe her opinion and experience of Ampleforth's approach to safeguarding.
Q.  What are your views now about the child protection that was exercised during your time at Ampleforth?
A.  I think that it was very poor.  The focus seemed to be almost entirely on box ticking, filling out forms, getting the paperwork done, the bureaucracy.  Therefore, everything on the surface looked fine if everything was written down and properly presented.  But it meant that nobody ever looked beneath the surface, nobody saw properly what was going on, and it also meant that people could ignore much more easily any inkling that they had that something suspicious might be happening because if they had the form, then, "No, we have the form, it's all fine". 

It was very much -- it was very paperwork based, but nothing underneath, and Dara used that very much to his advantage.  He could recite the child protection policy verbatim, and he knew what to write down, when to write it, who to send it to, and he would talk about this quite openly.  With me, he was quite boastful, and even other members of staff commented on the excessive amount of paperwork that was required for not just child protection, but anything to do with health and safety or safeguarding.  And the general consensus amongst other members of staff was that senior management who were in charge of this would issue these rules, but they didn't really know what the running of the school was really like, what was really going on.

I think it's very sad that something like this could have happened, because there was so much focus on bureaucracy the real issues were really missed and they shouldn't have been missed so easily.  You can have a cunning perpetrator, but you should -- and places do have policies in place to stop this from happening.  But because people knew where we were approximately, they knew we were in the building late at night together. Well, they knew where we were, he's filled out a risk assessment, it should all be good, but nobody checked.

About the email thread, he listed these five steps that he'd taken if I said an allegation that wasn't true, but nobody had actually raised it with me when I was 13.  It may have led to an awkward conversation at the time, but if somebody had said something, then it's perfectly possible that it would have prevented the serious abuse that happened following it.  It was, as long as everything was in order and as long as everything looked like it should, then things weren't questioned, things weren't followed through as they should have been followed through.
Q.  One of the things you say in your statement --  I'm looking at paragraph 3 at the top of page 2 -- is that because of the history of recent scandal at Ampleforth and in the wider Catholic Church, the college wanted the outside world to believe it had a strong culture of child protection?
A.  Yes, I think that was correct.  I think there was very much a sense of, because of the past failings, they wanted to be seen that they were doing what they could to correct this.  In their mind, that seemed to be having everything written down.  There was an obsessive emphasis on the completion of safeguarding paperwork, but commonsense and actually looking at what was in front of their faces, that sort of went by the wayside.
The overwhelming impression I get from this testimony is that following the earlier Ampleforth scandals, the aim of the safeguarding arrangements was not to protect children, but rather to protect Ampleforth in the event of a future problem, to protect staff against "unfounded allegations" or if the allegations turned out (as they often do) to be all too well-founded, to be able to say "look, we tried, it's not our fault". The aim was to prevent scandal rather than to prevent abuse. The church's reputation was still uppermost, and it engendered an understandable degree of cynicism amongst staff.

RC-A30 also took aim at the effectiveness of school inspections carried out by the Independent Schools Inspectorate.
Q.  Were there ever any independent schools inspections?
A.  Yes, frequently.
Q.  Would the ISI give warning of instructions coming?
A.  They would, yes.
Q.  Is there an issue that you would like to highlight around that?
A.  I think the way in which the ISI -- how they were run in general at Ampleforth is indicative of the wider problem of, again, making sure that everything looks fine and everybody -- you know, of course, when there are independent inspections everybody wants to look good, everything wants to look okay, but, again, it was all about what was on the surface, what could people see. So, for instance, the school inspections, I remember one occasion, I think it was my GCSE year, the inspectors were meant to be talking to students that the teachers had chosen at random, for instance, just about the subjects and, you know, the way in which things were done at school.  I was chosen along with another boy in my class, and they told us that, "Obviously, you weren't chosen at random.  You were both chosen because you were the best at the subject" -- this happened to be English.

They didn't tell us what to say, nobody fed us words, but I think the point was, they didn't need to, we enjoyed the subject and they knew we would speak highly of it and articulately and, chances are, would not talk about any particular flaws. I think, just in -- if that were the only problem, if everything else was -- if there wasn't the issues with safeguarding and child protection, as I have voiced, you might say that's -- you know, everybody tries to put their best foot forward on inspections, but I think, as I said, it is indicative of the wider problem, which is that, as long as everything looked good, everything has an outstanding rating -- I mean,  they got an outstanding rating from the ISI when I was being abused at Ampleforth. It shows it wasn't very difficult to coordinate those events to make sure that everything looks fine and ignore what was happening in the next building, you know.
This is consistent with my own knowledge of the quality of safeguarding aspects of inspections by both ISI and Ofsted. They only find a problem if they have already been told there is a problem they should find.

RC-A30 described a conversation she had with Fr Leo Chamberlain (Ampleforth's former headmaster and at one time RC-A30's parish priest).
Q.  Did he speak to you about the problems in the school?
A.  He did.  He was clearly -- he was genuinely concerned and very sorry, but he did make a rather revealing comment, which was that the problem is that a school can take measures on child protection but if you have a cunning perpetrator, they will always find a way, and I think that's -- again, that's indicative of the wider attitude to child protection in general at Ampleforth.

I think Father Leo -- it is clear that he's caring  and genuine and very sorry about what's happened, but it's the idea that, well, if Dara wanted to do it, he would do it anyway; if you have a cunning perpetrator, it will happen anyway.  But that is not the case.  There are so many big institutions that work and operate without child sexual abuse going on.  I think this idea that, "There is only so much we can do" or, there is only -- I don't buy that.  I'm sorry, there were things that were missed when I was there.  Just, you know, things like the email thread but then letting us be alone in the building at night and not questioning any of that, that really shouldn't have been missed. I think the idea that if you always have a cunning perpetrator -- I don't believe that: I think, in my experience, perpetrators work out of -- Dara certainly made a lot of effort to cover his own back and they like having power and being able to show that power.

I think if Ampleforth took its policies -- like, worked on them on a deep level, rather than what was at  the surface, I don't think that there's any reason to say that a cunning perpetrator will always find a way. That's almost admitting defeat or admitting -- like saying failure is inevitable.
This is a perfect example of the Nirvana fallacy and its flaw. Leo Chamberlain was essentially saying that since child abuse can't be stamped out altogether, it's nobody's fault when it happens and it's not worth bothering trying to make improvements. But the flaw, correctly described by RC-A30, is that while child abuse can't be stamped out altogether, measures can be taken to deter and reduce abuse, that those measures could and should have worked in her instance, and much avoidable harm resulted from a failure to act effectively.

Dara De Cogan was quite brazen. He acted towards RC-A30 in front of staff and other students in ways that absolutely should have given rise to suspicions. As a teacher, you do not ping a pupil's bra strap in front of other staff. He did so knowing that Ampleforth's safeguarding procedures and culture were wholly inadequate. Acting this way in front of staff was an exercise in power, to convince RC-A30 that she was not able to complain because nobody would take any notice, nobody throught anything wrong was going on.

There was ample evidence available to staff at the time that there was a safeguarding issue here, that there was something that needed to be investigated, even though without an investigation the extent of the abuse was not then known. But there was easily enough to trigger a concern sufficient to ask RC-A30 what was going on and if she was all right, and to trigger a reference to children's services so that RC-A30 could be interviewed, reassured and supported by people trained to do precisely that.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

IICSA Benedictine hearings day 3

Day 3 started to get down to something a bit more substantial. Proceedings started with evidence from a former pupil of Ampleforth and Gilling Castle (Ampleforth's primary school), starting at the senior school in 1978. The witness, who is legally entitled to anonymity, was referred to as RC-A2.

RC-A2 described a culture of fear and violence, and a culture where both in the junior and senior schools some monks and teachers would swim naked with pupils shower with pupils and touch pupils inappropriately. He also described how the sixth-form boys would regard the first-formers as "pretty boys".
Well, you could get a young lad -- he might be walking up to dinner and someone might slap him on the bum or put their arm around him and say, "You're a pretty boy, aren't you?", you know.  I never encountered anything -- serious sexual abuse or anything, but there was this feeling that there was -- sort of pertaining to "Tom Brown's Schooldays", sort of thing, the upper sixth were in charge.
RC-A2 said he didn't suffer as much as others because he was big and played rugby a lot. At the end of his evidence, RC-A2 was invited to say why he had come forward to the inquiry.
Well, I feel that those at the school that were seriously sexually abused, or whatever comes up from the hearing, will, rightly so, have compensation, apologies or whatever, whatever happens to them, but the thing that I feel is that, in that era, there was a lot of allowed sexism on telly, all over the place in the '70s and '80s, and I think a lot of allowed -- sexism and abuse at that school that was allowed, ie, people swimming with you naked is wrong.  I think that the people -- a lot of people probably haven't come to terms with that. 

For me, my biggest problem has been having a shutdown of emotions for most of my life and that was caused because I had to at school, otherwise I wouldn't have got on and been able to deal with the school, and I believe that that deserves an apology to other people that weren't seriously abused, because I think in a way we were all abused to an extent.  I think that the atmosphere we were brought up in -- I realise our parents put us down for it.  I realise it was the choice of our families.  I also realise my father thought he was doing the best he could for me.  It wasn't his fault.  But in that school, I was 6 or 7 years old, and it was bloody terrifying some of the time, and I think that that needn't have been like that.

I think if you run an institution like that, your very best person possible should be looking after the smallest children, the very best, the cream of the crop.
The next witness was RC-A61. He started as a pupil at Gilling Castle in 1965 aged 7 and went on to Ampleforth 4 years later. RC-A61 also described physical violence, regular beatings, including beatings by Fr Piers Grant-Ferris in the confessional and in bathrooms where RC-A61 was required to be naked. RC-A61 was asked when he first spoke to other monks about Fr Piers Grant-Ferris
Q.  Did you ever speak to any of the monks about Father Piers Grant Ferris?
A.  On having almost finished school -- I believe I'm able to mention the name of Father Justin Price?
Q.  Yes.
A.  We annually did something called a retreat, which was usually in the summer term, where boys would be divided in groups and discuss theological or religious issues, and during one of -- at the end of one of those sessions with Father Justin Price, there was a small group of us left behind and, emboldened by age, the conversation turned to Father Piers and his beatings, at which point Father Justin Price told us that when Father Piers was sent to Gilling Castle, it was known that he had a problem with boys' bottoms, or words to that effect, which came as a stunning shock to me. It is the same Justin Price that years later denied that any abuse had ever taken -- he became abbot some years -- not abbot, I do beg your pardon, he became Prior of Ampleforth some years later, but by that stage he denied and told me himself that I was the first person who had ever suggested wrongdoing by Piers Grant Ferris.
Q.  Just taking that in stages, it came as a shock to you?
A.  Yes.
Q.  What was particularly shocking to you when you were on that retreat with Father Justin?
A.  Yes.
Q.  What was particularly shocking?
A.  Because he'd told me that it was known, and there were other priests who I am not going to name, who -- by that stage, I was nearly 18, and spoke to about abuses that had taken place, and it seemed generally understood that that's what happened.
Q.  In your statement, you say that it was unbelievable to you, having heard that, that he had been sent to become a year head at a boys' school when there was prior knowledge?
A.  Just absolutely staggering how, you know -- you know, even in the days when, you know, these things weren't considered so seriously, just the idea that you could send somebody with a known -- it just blows me away, sorry.  It is absolutely extraordinary.  I wouldn't know where to start.  I mean, you know, child protection on its most basic level, you wouldn't let anybody near other children, particularly as head of year.  That means guardian.  That means -- you know, that means you're standing in for this child's parents.
Later  RC-A61 made it clear he believed Abbot (later Cardinal) Basil Hume knew all about it.
Q.  Why have you got no doubt that he knew?
A.  My father told me that he knew.  My father was also of  the belief that the reputation of the Catholic Church was of utmost importance.
Q.  More important than what happened to you?
A.  Indeed.  He was a -- he went to church every day.
So, we have a situation where the authority of the church was such that parents believed the protection of its reputation came even before the safety of their own children. Incredible.

After RC-A61 had given evidence, extracts were read from statements from two more survivors, both pupils in the 1950s & 70s. I shan't go into them in detail, they describe similar abuses by Fr Piers Grant-Ferris and others.

The next witness, RC-A30, was a female pupil at Ampleforth from 2005 to 2010 on a scholarship. An important aspect of her evidence is how recently she was abused. 2005 was after the Nolan Commission reported and 2010 was after the Cumberlege commission reported, in other words at a time when the Catholic Church was loudly proclaiming that it had got its act together. RC-A30 was abused by music teacher Dara De Cogan. Earlier this year De Cogan was jailed for 28 months after pleading guilty to 10 charges of abuse. I'm not going to describe the details of the abuse and the grooming process, there's no need and I don't want to compound RC-A30's distress if she happens to read this. So, I'm just going to concentrate on the aspects of when De Cogan's behaviour should have been triggering alarm bells in the school. Here's an excerpt from the testimony.
Q.  Would he say anything to you about how you looked?
A.  Yes.  He would comment frequently that I looked gorgeous or extremely beautiful.  He would refer to my breasts constantly.  He would say things like, "You've got great tits" or "You have fabulous knockers", and he would say those things in front of other students as well.
Q.  He would say that in front of other students?
A.  He would, yes.
Q.  What about other teachers?
A.  Other teachers, I remember kind of vividly he had started to ping back my -- snap back my bra strap under my top, which he did in front of other members of staff and students.  He seemed to like the idea, I think, that he could do it publicly and nobody was saying anything. People clearly noticed, because they might smile or, you know, give the odd look, but nobody actually said anything.  So that was something he did quite frequently in front of staff and he would compliment me on my looks in front of other staff as well.
Later she said this
Q.  Were other teachers or members of the school, the college, aware of the meetings that you were having at this point?
A.  Oh, yes.
Q.  And extra tutorials?
A.  Yes, people knew, for sure.  I mean, apart from anything else, we had -- every boarding student had a curfew that they were supposed to be in the boarding house by a certain time.  Typically, our meetings would take place quite late in the evenings so I missed curfew.  My housemistress had to know where I was so that nobody would go out looking.  I believe, also, because they were one-on-one meetings, risk assessments were meant to be filled out.  I'm sure that he did at least some of those risk assessments.
And later, after describing how the abuse had escalated.
Q.  Were the rules at that stage the same?  Was your housemistress --
A.  Of course, they were the same.  Everybody knew where I was.  We were in the music department by myself -- by ourselves.  I had actually been given a key to the music block.  It's a separate building.  And the head of music would see both of us off so we could -- we would come and go separately.  It was very easy to be in the locked building ourselves without anybody else there.
Q.  Were you aware of whether anyone had any thoughts about what was going on or not?
A.  Yes, lots of people did.
Q.  When you say "lots of people"?
A.  Students would talk about it frequently.  There were rumours flying around amongst students that things were going on between us.
Q.  What about the staff?
A.  Excuse me?
Q.  What about the staff?
A.  What about the staff?  There were certain members of staff as well, because Dara's behaviour, as I have mentioned, because it became -- he became more tactile publicly and things like snapping my bra strap in front of other members of staff, as no-one said anything, they clearly saw what was going on, it gave him more power. He obviously liked it and he grew in confidence in that area.  He could get away with a lot more in public because -- well, because he was getting away with more in public.  Nobody was doing anything.
RC-A30 described emails she had seen from De Cogan to other staff members.
Q.  Were the emails from Dara De Cogan to the head of music, Ian Little?
A.  Yes.
Q.  And also to Brenda Green, your housemistress?
A.  Yes.
Q.  Both of whom had known over the years that you had been spending a considerable amount of time with Dara De Cogan?
A.  Yes.
Q.  What was the content of the email?
A.  Dara voiced his concern that I had inappropriate feelings for him.  He said this was based on a caricature drawing of him I did.  It was just -- it was an innocent caricature, and I had -- I used to do them when I first arrived at Ampleforth because I found it hard to communicate with other children socially. Sometimes I would draw pictures, funny, exaggerated cartoons, and people would laugh. I did one of Dara once, and --
Q.  Was this just after you'd joined Ampleforth?
A.  This was just after I'd joined.  I'd been there for maybe two weeks at the time.  And Dara saw the one I did of him and, at the time, he had said to me that it was a very good drawing, he encouraged me to do more of them, and he took a snapshot of it with his phone and uploaded it to his computer because he said that he wanted to keep it there for posterity.  I had only drawn it on the whiteboard, so it was quite easy to rub it out. In the emails that he sent to Ian and Brenda, however, the -- he'd included the image of the cartoon, and he said that he was concerned that I had feelings for him based on this drawing.  He also said that he had told me to stop doing the drawings, but I continued anyway, which wasn't true, and then he continued to list five steps that he'd taken in case I made allegations of inappropriate behaviour against him, one of which was taking down the curtains in his classroom that we spoke about earlier on.

The replies from the other members of staff were very much in agreement: "Yes, you have taken the right steps.  This is exactly the sort of thing that you should be doing", but nobody ever spoke to me about the emails.  Nobody actually asked me or questioned anything.  If they had, then I would have told them what had actually happened, because that wasn't true at all.
Now, all of this was happening after Ampleforth had been hauled over the coals because of previous abuses for which Fr Piers Grant-Farris had been convicted, so you might reasonably expect that the school would be hyper-alert to the issue.

I'll cover the last part of RC-A30's testimony in the next article, where she describes what she saw concerning the school's safeguarding arrangements.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

IICSA Benedictine hearings day 2

Unfortunately, Day 2 did not achieve very much in terms of questioning and holding people to account.

The day's proceedings started at 10:30 with the counsel to the inquiry reading excerpts from several statements, those of Fr Luke Beckett (Ampleforth's canon lawyer), Rev Christopher Thomas (secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales), Fr Paul Smyth (president of the Congegation of Religious), Mr Christopher Pearson (lay chair of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission), Ms. Colette Limbrick (director of the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service). This took until they broke for lunch at 1pm.

It was mostly pretty dry stuff, details of how the Catholic church is organised - details of canon law, the organisation of its safeguarding bodies and so on.

There was something gruesomely inefficient about the way the inquiry went about its business. The panel and about 30 lawyers (most paid for by IICSA) spent a morning listening to one lawyer read excerpts from written statements they had all read already. There must be (and in fact is) a cheaper and more efficient way of declaring these statements to be in the public domain and taken into account by the panel. This was wasted time that should be being devoted to questioning witnesses. The inquiry had only 3 weeks of hearings in this round. The trial of a single child abuse offender often takes longer than that, and the trial of Abbot Laurence Soper took 10 weeks. This would become critical later in the hearings.

The  most important part of the read statements was a part of Colette Limbrick's statement describing the role of CSAS.
The primary role of CSAS is one of coordination, advice and support to the Catholic Church in England and Wales in respect of safeguarding children, young people and adults at risk.  The role and tasks in CSAS include, but are not limited to:
  • providing advice to members of the church about safeguarding issues;
  • providing advice to lay people about safeguarding issues;
  • developing and supporting the delivery of safeguarding training within the church;
  • ensuring that the national safeguarding policies and procedures are contemporary, relevant, comply with best practice and are published for implementation across the church in England and Wales.
  • undertaking a role in quality assurance of safeguarding activity within dioceses and religious congregations;
  • identifying and disseminating good safeguarding practice within the church;
  • being the national safeguarding point of contact for national stakeholders, by example, other churches and secular organisations;
  • being the registered body for the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)
As one might surmise from its name, the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service in fact can only advise. As far as being able to "ensure" anything, all it can do is ensure that its own policies are "published for implementation", which is a telling form of words. As we later found in evidence, CSAS (and its predecessor COPCA) lacks any power to ensure that its policies are actually implemented.

The afternoon was spent taking evidence from Abbot Richard Yeo, specifically in the organisation of the English Benedictine Congregation and his role until recently as Abbot President thereof. (He gave evidence again later in the hearings on his role and actions as Abbot of Downside).

Yeo described how each monastery or convent (there are 10 in England an Wales) is largely autonomous under its own Abbot. Formal and permanent transfers of monks between monasteries are rare, through for one monk to visit another monastery for a period is not that rare. The Abbot President has more or less no powers to direct an abbot to do something, he can only advise. The Abbot President's primary role is to carry out a Visitation of each house every four years to ensure that the monastery is still following the Rule of St Benedict as interpreted in modern times in each monastery's "customary" or constution. There are no central safeguarding records and the role of the Abbot President in safeguarding matters is very limited.

They spent the afternoon meandering round the Rule of St Benedict and the rules of the EBC without anything of any great note being uncovered.

And that was the end of Day 2. I was beginning to wonder whether the hearings would ever get down to anything important.

IICSA - next round of Benedictine hearings

The purpose of the IICSA is not at all the same as the purpose of a criminal trial, of Soper, Pearce or anyone else. The idea behind the IICSA is to find out in what way institutions failed to protect children, and to make recommendations as to what can be done to prevent such failures in future.

To fail adequately to protect children isn't necessarily to break the law. There's no legal obligation to report any suspicions you might have that a child is being abused. One of the things the IICSA will have to consider is whether that should change, and if so, who should be covered by a legal obligation to report suspicions

In due course, the IICSA will get round to holding hearings about Ealing Abbey in much the same fashion as they have recently done with respect to Downside and Ampleforth.

There will probably be a lot of documents to read through so that we can ensure that the right questions are asked. There have been over 62,000 pages of documents associated with the Downside and Ampleforth hearings, much of it provided very late.

Ealing is provisionally scheduled for February 2019. That's some considerable time away. In some ways that is bad, it would be better to hold hearings soon before we know of any other criminal trials that might get in the way. On the other hand, a long delay will give us more time to go through all the documents in detail to make sure Ealing Abbey is properly held to account.

And it is with that in mind that I would like to put out a call to the complainants in the Soper trial. If you haven't already, please consider getting involved in the IICSA and applying for "core participant" status. This will give you the right to have legal representation at the inquiry, to make written statements and submissions, and possibly to give evidence in person. Giving evidence to the public inquiry will not be nearly as tough as giving evidence in the trial, there is no hostile cross-examination.

By the way, legal representation is most unlikely to cost you anything. Unless you have substantial private resources, legal representation for core participants is paid for by the inquiry itself.

But the main thing is that you will have the right to see the documents IICSA has extracted from Ealing Abbey and St Benedict's School when IICSA gets round to disclosing them to core participants. I'll look at as many documents as I can, and so will the lawyers representing me and various  survivors. But we could do with additional pairs of eyes, particularly from people who have knowledge of the school and who may as a result be able to notice the significance of items which might otherwise be missed.

I know some of the complainants in the Soper trial want to try and put the whole matter behind them and try and get on with their lives. If you feel that way and don't want to get into the inquiry, I totally understand and respect that point of view. If you do nothing else, by complaining and testifying at trial you have done your fair share for child protection.

But if after catching your breath, you feel ready to do more and want to help address how Ealing Abbey enabled abuse to flourish, then please get in touch with me by email. There's a link to my email address on the panel on the right-hand side of this page.

Your anonymity will continue to be protected. All the complainants in the Ampleforth and Downside hearings have been given ciphers, and all mentions of names of complainants in the documents and in the hearings themselves have been replaced with the ciphers.

It is for the chair of the inquiry to decide who is given core participant status. If you are interested, I can help put you in touch with lawyers who will help draft your application.