Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The Abbot's Latest Statement

In an article in the Ealing Gazette, we have Abbot Shipperlee providing yet another slightly different version of events.

In a statement, Abbot Martin Shipperlee blamed Pearce for the failure of the child protection measures.

"We accept the report in full," he said. "The trustees considered that adequate measures were put in place. However, David Pearce circumvented these measures and it's a matter of sincere regret. The trustees are determined to ensure that nothing like this can happen again. The Charity Commission report confirms we have in place the appropriate safeguarding policies and procedures."

If that is really the case, I have a few questions for the Abbot.

  1. When are you going to make some public announcement about this "independent review" you keep claiming to be conducting but about which nobody seems to know anything?

  2. When are you going to respond to the Open Letter citing a large number of shortcomings in St. Benedict's School's child protection policies.
The thing is, you can't simply say "The trustees are determined to ensure that nothing like this can happen again" and expect everyone simply to take you at your word. Not after you made precisely the same undertaking to the Charity Commission in response to their first Statutory Inquiry, were believed, and found to have failed to do so even before they managed to publish their report. Everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, but in this cases there really isn't any doubt that you have failed to fulfil the undertakings you made.

And it isn't sufficient to say that Father David hoodwinked you. You're the Abbot and the chairman of the trust, and if you can be hoodwinked by one paedophile, then you can be hoodwinked by another. So your word isn't good enough any more on this subject. We need to see the procedures being changed and we need to see this independent review actually happening.

Tom Perry of www.questions4schools.org.uk has pointed me to the guidance issued by the Department of Education for Northern Ireland (DENI) Pastoral care in schools - Child protection
Sections 36-58 have a very comprehensive set of procedures for what a school must do in the event of a complaint against a member of staff. It covers cases ranging from where the complaint is without foundation to where a criminal conviction is ultimately obtained, and the school's role in each of these cases. Critically, it describes what should happen in the event that a case warranting a criminal investigation does not result in a conviction, but where the evidence is sufficiently strong to justify a genuine concern for the safety of pupils. The St. Benedict's procedures are entirely silent on this issue.

Of course, not all aspects of the DENI guidance are applicable to a single school. But Tom Perry has told me (and I have confirmed for myself by reading the document) that these guidelines are exceptionally thorough, and can be used as a model on which to base child protection procedures for any school in the UK. Anybody interested in the Child Protection procedures at St. Benedict's should read the DENI guidelines and compare them with what the school has as its present policy.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010


When I read the Charity Commission Report into St Benedict's, one thing which puzzled me was the sending of a Serious Incident Report to the Charity Commission when Fr Pearce was arrested. If a Serious Incident Report was sent then, why not a similar report when Fr Stanislaus Hobbs was arrested? Why not a report when the complaint was originally made by 'C' to the Abbot? Why not a report when the civil case was brought, and why not a report when the civil case was lost? It seems that no such report had been sent by the Trust to the Charity Commission, otherwise their first statutory investigation would not have been prompted by an anonymous complaint, of matters which the Commission had clearly been unaware of up that point.

So I took a look at the Charity Commission website to see what their rules were. And I came across the page Reporting Serious Incidents - guidance for trustees. And sure enough, the page states:
As a matter of best practice, any serious incident that has resulted or could result in a significant loss of funds or a significant risk to a charity’s property, work, beneficiaries or reputation should be reported to us immediately, not just on completion of the Annual Return. This will enable us to offer you guidance as soon as possible and protect the charity and its beneficiaries.
Included in the list of circumstances which should be treated as "serious or significant" are "abuse of vulnerable beneficiaries".

But here is the curious thing. As far as I can tell from my reading of the Charity Commission guidance, there is no legal obligation to report cases or allegations of abuse of vulnerable beneficiaries of the charity. All the guidance for "best practice" is voluntary, and expressed in terms of "should" rather than "shall" or "must". So, the abuse that Fr Pearce committed could have been known about by the trustees for years - decades even - and there would have been no legal requirement for the trustees to make any report to the Charity Commission. So the Abbot can perfectly truthfully claim to have met all his legal obligations regarding Fr Pearce, and yet have known all about it for years. And this is what appears to have happened. Evidence given in the civil case by the Abbot suggested that he had known about problems with Fr Pearce dating back at least to 1993 when he was moved from the post of Junior School headteacher.

I guess what has happened is this. The Abbot knew that the Trust was already under investigation by the Charity Commission. He knew that he had made assurances to them that Fr Pearce would be kept away from children, and he knew that those assurances had failed to be kept. I guess that in the course of the discussions with the Charity Commission's investigators during the first inquiry, the investigators had impressed on the Abbot and other trustees the need to be scrupulous in following the "best practice" guidelines in future, and not merely the legal obligations. If this is so, then the Abbot would have had to send in a Serious Incident Report, or risk being required to resign as a trustee. It is one thing to have abjectly failed to fulfill undertakings to the Commission, quite another to attempt to cover up that failure by not reporting the arrest.

Once Fr Pearce was arrested, the Charity Commission reported:
There was no immediate risk to the Charity’s beneficiaries as Individual A left the Charity at the request of the trustees following his arrest in January 2008.
But in the Guardian report, the Abbot justified the decision not to remove Fr Pearce immediately after the civil case by saying "Where else is he going to go? If I sent him anywhere else I would have had no idea of what he was up to."

In fact, the Abbot, in placing Fr Pearce under a restricted ministry, wrote a letter to staff stating that these measures were "to protect Fr David from unfounded allegations". This almost certainly had the effect of making everyone aware of the letter inclined to believe that some injustice had been done in the adverse outcome of the civil case, and that the restrictions on Fr Pearce were really there in name only and not to be taken seriously. In other words, the way that the restrictions were implemented meant that the Abbot ended up having no idea what Fr Pearce was up to even when on the Abbey premises!

I've been contacted by Tom Perry, of www.questions4schools.org.uk. He and two other pupils of Caldicot school have made a BAFTA award-winning documentary Chosen about the sexual abuse they suffered at the hand of teachers there. It is available online at the link above.

If you watch this film, you will understand what has been going on at St Benedict's School. You will understand how paedophiles cut out and isolate children for grooming, how they escalate their attentions very slowly, how the child is made to believe he is being offered special attention, how he believes he has been specially chosen. You will learn how paedophiles are careful to maintain a close social relationship with the victim's parents so as to make a complaint unthinkable for the child, and how the complaint is often not believed by the parents in the relatively rare cases where the child does complain.

And if you think that it is unlikely that a paedophile could successfully be so controlling, be aware that at least one victim of Fr Pearce was disowned by his mother when he reported the abuse - she found it utterly impossible to believe that Fr Pearce could have done such a thing.

I have viewed the whole film. I have also viewed the transcript of the judgement in the case of 'C' against St Benedict's school and Fr Pearce, and in the hearing at which Fr Pearce was sentenced I have heard what his tactics were. The details of the precise abuse are a bit different, but the tactics used to suppress the will of the victim are exactly the same. Look at the video, and you will hear how it is done, and what effect it has on the victims. Their childhood is poisoned, part of it is taken away from them and those years can never be returned. The effects are felt far into adulthood.

If you are a parent of a past or present pupil at the school, you cannot assume that your child will tell you about any abuse they suffer. The child is so drawn into the secret world of the paedophile that even when asked a direct question about whether he or she has been abused, the child is likely to deny it. The child has been made to feel complicit in the abuse - to speak up would be to cause untold damage to their abuser, and the child believes this damage would be all the child's fault, a responsibility he would have to carry for the rest of his life.

The three victims who speak in the film have all reached middle age. Telling their parents was unthinkable for 20 years or more following the events. Some victims never manage to speak of it until after their parents are dead - they cannot bear to cause their parents the pain involved in realising that in their choice of school they gave their child into the hands of a paedophile abuser.

Unless other measures are in place to prevent abuse, or rapidly detect it and put a stop to it, an abuser can operate in a school for decades, and the children will in many cases never summon the will to speak out about it. It is beyond credulity that the 5 boys about whom Fr Pearce pleaded guilty are his only victims. There must be many more - probably dozens, perhaps even a hundred. We will probably never know how many. Pearce is not going to say, and many of the victims will never throw off their shame to the point of being able to speak up.

So, you cannot rely on your child to tell you about problems of this kind. So what can you rely on? Surely you can rely on the legal obligations of a school to report complaints of abuse against a member of staff?

In fact, you cannot, because incredible as it may seem, there is no such legal obligation. Not to report to the Charity Commission, not to report to OFTSED, not to report to the DCSF, nor to the police or Social Services. Tom Perry wrote an article for The Times in connection with Chosen. Why a child today is no safer from sexual abuse than I was (Please read the whole article, it will make your hair stand on end.) Here is what he has to say on the subject of the legal framework.
You may encounter something that looks and smells like a statute but it does not bark like a statute. It is related to Section 175 of the Education Act 2002 for maintained schools, and Section 157 of the same Act for independent schools. These statutory duties are supported by “guidance” contained within Working Together to Safeguard Children, issued by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) in April 2006, and Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education, which was also issued by the DfES in November 2006 and took effect in January 2007.

All you will find at the cornerstone of child protection in English classrooms is that schools should report alleged abuse to the LADO. If a school fails to follow this “guideline” there is no sanction for “failing to report”. In theory the School Inspectors should put any such school on an undertaking to the DCSF to report alleged abuse appropriately: but this rarely happens (and is a frequent example of failure in the inspection process).

Presenting this “guidance” as quasi-statutory misleads most in the world of education, including, to my knowledge, a senior officer in the DCSF involved with Safeguarding. It is a triumph of presentation over reality. But the losers are the child victims of abuse, and it is this that the DCSF fails to understand. From many years of communication with the DCSF it has become clear that “Safeguarding” is not a subject of which there is much practical understanding.
So, to summarise, there is no legal obligation. And there is no effective inspection regime to ensure that schools - state or independent - obey the guidance.

So you are on your own. You have to rely on the school having robust procedures in place, that it actually implements them, and that allegations of abuse will be reported and acted on.

But particularly for an independent school, news of a case of abuse is very bad for business. It is very common (and not merely in Catholic schools) when a case comes to light, to quietly move the teacher on, and if the parents become aware of anything, to persuade them that it is not in the child's interest to put them through the additional trauma of a police investigation and a possible court case. And so the parents are persuaded to collude in the cover-up.

If a cover-up can be achieved, and there is no legal obligation to report abuse, and no practical sanction for failing to report, why should a school make it more likely that its reputation (and intake) will be damaged by reporting a case? Does the school really exist for the education and welfare of the children, or do the children exist for the glory and reputation of the school? I've known other independent schools where the atmosphere of the school very much suggested the latter.

You'll have to check the arrangements for yourself if you are concerned for the safety of your children. You will have to ask the headteacher what the safeguarding arrangements are, and you will have to decide for yourself whether you think they are adequate. There is no statutory or voluntary body which will do this work for you and will ensure that adequate procedures are in place. And if you get it wrong, you run the risk of wrecking your son or daughter's childhood. Believe me, no matter how fine the education might be in other terms, no matter how prestigious a university your child obtains entry to, your child's life will be stunted if he or she becomes a victim of abuse.

And do you think that nothing like this could ever happen again at the school? If so, why do you think that? What evidence do you have to support that conclusion? It was unthinkable that Fr Pearce could have operated for so long - him a monk and priest as well as a teacher and a pillar of the community. The clever career paedophiles look just like ordinary people - except that they look even more distinguished, an impression they are careful to cultivate.

Now, go back and take a look at my Open Letter to the Abbot, and see whether you think that the school has really taken adequate measures to ensure that there can be no repetition of the abuse, that no other abuser could still be at the school and remain undetected, and that no new member of staff or volunteer could start to operate. Remember that CRB checks will only protect against somebody who has already been caught once. To catch somebody for the first time requires other measures.

The Abbot refuses to speak to me. He apologised to those who have been "troubled" by Fr Pearce and put the whole blame onto Fr Pearce in saying "The crimes perpetrated by David Pearce were a betrayal of the trust placed in him as a teacher and priest". He spoke more truly than perhaps he realised when he said of Pearce "His exploitation of the most vulnerable was brought to an end by the courage of those of his victims who came forward and revealed what had been happening." Very true. Especially as the Abbot himself made no contribution to that process.

And we still know nothing of this independent review that is supposed to be happening. Confident, are we?

Sunday, 3 January 2010


Over on the Comment is Free, the commenter with the name solocontrotutti responded to some questions from me. Unfortunately the thread closed before I could respond to him. Here is my response to solocontrotutti. My original questions to him are in italics in the blockquote. His answers are regular text in the blockquote.
1. What do you mean by "non empirical constructs"?

There are possibly two kinds that you could describe related to a God construct. The mind is one and perhaps just for the sake of argument space aliens.

Firstly I doubt whether there are scientists who believe that life doesn't exist in the Universe. It's a construct that has validity because it seems likely but there is no empirical evidence (as yet).

Secondly the mind exists distinct from biological process. I accept that it can be related to the brain but it has a construct that exists external to observable physical process. As do many if not most other human constructs love, emotional pain, etc etc.
We don't know whether extraterrestrial life exists, but the search for it is being conducted along purely scientific lines. It is incorrect to say that there is no evidence for extra-terrestrial life. There is evidence - it is called terrestrial life. If (as seems to be the case) terrestrial life has come about through purely natural processes, then if we can find another location which replicates earthly conditions to a sufficient degree, then there is a good chance that we will find life there. At the moment, we don't yet know how close to early conditions you have to be in order to get life. But the answer to the question can be pursued scientifically as well. There doesn't seem to be anything about this non-empirical construct that requires anything other than a straightforward scientific investigation in order to determine the truth of the matter.

As for the mind, you state as if it were a self-evident fact that "the mind exists distinct from biological process". Well, I don't think that we can make that claim based on evidence, since I don't think that we have any direct evidence of any minds that exist than are not associated with brains governed by biological processes. Nor do we have any evidence that there are any mental events that do not have some correlation with electrical or chemical activity within the brain. I would be the first to admit that our knowledge of the brain is still pitifully primitive at this time. But that doesn't justify throwing round evidence-free concepts such as mind-body dualism.

In the meantime, investigating the mind (and its relationship to the brain) is again a straightforwardly scientific line of enquiry.
2. What "different scientific approach" is required to learn about them? For what reason is this difference required and on what basis do you describe this as a different scientific approach as opposed to a merely unscientific approach?

The Science used to validate space aliens would be based on possibility. A God construct per se could be approached in this way albeit that in the absence of any data it probably would render it meaningless but no one could exclude the possibility. (Obviously I preclude a literal biblical account of God merely to avoid biblical arguments about interpretation).

Secondly you could legitimately approach the mind as a psychologist observing behaviours and personal experience. The difference between neuroscience and psychology (or sociology) is that the psychologist analyses behaviour whereas the neuroscientist constructs physical process to map behaviour. Psychology exists because neuroscientists can't fully map physical process to behaviour.

So the scientific approach to God would be to analyse impacts and personal experience and would not necessarily need a physical process (at the inception of psychology - neuroscience barely existed).
We can say right now that space aliens are a possibility, based on our present knowledge of the universe. Whether they exist or not is at present unknown. Scientific enquiry is the means by which we will find out. Already we have made the first initial scratches on the surface of the moon and Mars, but haven't yet found anything conclusive.

As for the mind, observing behaviours is something we have been doing a long time. Neuroscience is still in its infancy. The fact that we cannot map every behaviour on to a physical process does not mean that there is no physical process. It means that in our ignorance, we don't yet know what it is. If and when neuroscience progresses to the point where we can reliably map behaviour to physical processes, and we find a behaviour that lacks a matching physical process, then we would have evidence of mind-body duality. Not until then. Until that time, we are engaged on a perfectly ordinary scientific investigation.

Now, you have compared the mind to God. I know the reason you are keen on mind-body duality. If human minds can exist independently of bodies, then you can argue that a Godly mind can exist independently of a body. But we have no evidence of the former, so no evidence that the latter is possible. It is perfectly possible to analyse personal experiences, and this is done all the time, but there is no reason at all to think that this analysis will lead to God. Even if it did, this would be a scientific analysis, of just the kind you have said is inappropriate when considering God. In the post where I asked these questions, I was responding to you where you claimed that my arguments "always try to attribute a phycisists empirical reality to non empirical constructs such a God love or enjoyment unfortunately non empirical constructs require a different scientific approach". I've yet to see any description of the difference in approach you are looking for.

"The answer to whether God has an empirical reality is No... etc"

Let me see if I can unpack this. God has no empirical reality in that there is no evidence of such. But the fact that God has no empirical reality doesn't mean that God really has no empirical reality. Because there is no evidence of what God is like, we can make up whatever characteristics for him we think are appropriate (like love or good), because those ideas (with the label "God" attached) then exist in our minds. So, there is no God, but we can bring him into existence by believing in him. Do I have that about right?

No it means that scientifically we cannot say whether God exists or otherwise there isn't enough data for an empirical model. However a scientist could say that God exists as a non empirical reality and because so many people experience him that does have empirical reality. Therefore we can give him attributes on that basis from a scientific perspective.

For example Aspergers syndrome (in many people's view) has no empirical reality. It exists external to a physical process - it's attributes are purely observed (and in many ways are very very loosely observed )- yet it is a scientific construct. Using the kind of scientific arguments Aspergers would be ridiculed.
Do you mean "cannot" as in "cannot at present" or as in "cannot ever"? If you mean "cannot at present", then I am still confused as to why ordinary scientific enquiry is not an appropriate way to proceed. if you mean "cannot ever", then you eed to justify that claim by more than mere assertion.

As for the claim that "God exists as a non empirical reality and because so many people experience him that does have empirical reality", we have now travelled in a full circle, because you haven't given me any other examples of a non empirical reality that enable me to understand what you mean.

By the way, if you think Aspergers syndrome is non-scientific, then you are wrong. We still have a great deal to learn about Aspergers, but the scientific method is what will get us there. It is a name we have given to a group of behavioural characteristics, but what matters is not the name, but what we can learn about the characteristics, their causes, and what can be done to modify them. All purely scientific work.

It seems that you have a some misunderstanding about what science consists of.

Latest news on Ealing Abbey

The Abbey has been in the news again. I've been a bit busy with other things, so haven't had the chance to comment until now.

On 15 December, the Charity Commission published the delayed report of two statutory enquiries into the activities of The Trust of St Benedict's Abbey Ealing. You can see the full report here.

Go there and read the report. It really does make damning reading.

The first statutory enquiry was opened as a result of a complaint made to the Charity Commissioners following the 2006 civil case. They don't say who the complaint was from, (all they say is that the complaint was anonymous) but I guess the complaint was in the form of a letter from 'C's solicitor. ('C' was the name given to the complainant for the purpose of that case.)

The Charity Commissioners don't have a role in investigating abuse of a charity's beneficiaries, so the investigation concerned itself with whether charitable funds have been misused in defending the case and making the payout, and with whether the charity's trustees are acting appropriately in the light of the allegations and taking appropriate steps to protect the Charity’s beneficiaries in the future.

The first enquiry had concluded its investigation and was in the process of writing up its report when Fr Pearce was arrested. This time, the Abbey sent in a Serious Incident Report to the Commission. It is not clear to me why the trustees did not send in a Serious Incident Report following either the civil case or the arrest of Fr Stanislaus Hobbs (called "Individual B" in the report). No mention of any other Serious Incident Reports is made in the Commission report, so I assume that no others were made by the trustees.

The Commission decided to hold back the report, start a second Statutory Enquiry and combine the two reports.

The conclusions of the second enquiry are damning. The commissioners use fairly dry language, but even so, you can tell that they treated this matter very seriously.
Despite assurances from the trustees, they failed to implement the restrictions placed on Individual A whilst on Charity premises and the Commission is extremely critical of the trustees in this regard. One of the terms of Individual A’s continued role in the Charity was that he was to have no access to children and young people on the Charity’s premises – the trustees failed to ensure this was the case.
I've compared the language used with other recent statutory reports into individual charities by the Charity Commission. Even in cases where a charity has been closed as a result of the investigation, there is no other recent report I have been able to find where the Commission says it is "extremely critical of the trustees".

Also, it is clear that the Commission was dubious about the propriety of using the Charity's funds to defend the civil case.
The Commission considered that it was arguable that the decision taken by the trustees to use charitable funds to meet the legal costs of Individual A fell within a reasonable range of decisions open to them. The Commission determined that this decision was open to challenge and that the trustees could have approached the Commission for advice on this issue.
"Individual A" is identified elsewhere in the report as Fr Pearce. According to the report, the legal costs and the award of damages in the civil claim were both covered by an insurance policy held by the abbey, so no funds were directly at risk - except presumably that the premiums may be higher in future as a result of the claim. I get the impression that had the policy not been in place and charitable funds used directly for the defence and payout, the commission would have been somewhat less forgiving.

The Guardian has published a brief article about the Charity Commission report. The Guardian journalist contacted me for a comment.

The Daily Mail copied the Guardian report - including the quotation from me (mis-spelling my name, but I'll forgive them for that), merely changing a few words around.

Andy Slaughter MP has written in the Ealing Gazette.

One thing that strikes me about these various reports is that what the Abbot says seems to change a bit depending on who he is talking to. In the letter from the Abbot read out in court at Fr Pearce's sentencing hearing, it was stated that the restrictions were being placed on Fr Pearce "to protect Father David from unfounded allegations", but no suggestion that the Abbot thought the allegations were unfounded appears to have been made to the Charity Commission, in the assurances by the trustees that Fr Pearce would have no contact with children.

In the newspaper reports, the Abbot replied to questions as to why Fr Pearce had been allowed to remain at the Abbey by saying "Where else is he going to go? If I sent him anywhere else I would have had no idea of what he was up to." This rather suggests that he realised perfectly well the truth of the allegations, but was saying different things to different people in order to tell them what he thought they wanted to hear. I'll leave it to you to decide what to make of that.

Following his Ealing Gazette column I've sent an email to Andy Slaughter asking him if he will ask the Abbot to provide details of the independent review. I've had no reply yet, but I wouldn't expect one over the holiday season.