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 Why not a report when the complaint was originally made by 'C' to the Abbot?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?


  1. I have watched "Chosen". I think that it explains clearly the insidious nature of child abuse, as well as its long term effects.

    Fr/ Mr Pearce's abuses were not systematic...i.e repeated rape.... or were they? The range and scope of his offences is unclear.

    I am not negating the traumatic long term effects caused by invasive inappropriate touching but do not think that a direct parallel can be drawn with Caldicott.

  2. I think it is clear from many comments on other articles on this blog about Pearce that the 5 victims mentioned in court are not the only ones. It is impossible to say at this time whether the crimes he pleaded guilty to are the most serious ones he actually committed. It may quite possibly be that he didn't commit any penetrative acts.

    But that doesn't really matter. The key parallels with Caldicot that I wanted to bring to light are the techniques for grooming victims, and the isolation and abuse of trust of the victims. The effects on the victims are primarily in emotional and psychological terms, and the seriousness of the physical assault doesn't necessarily correlate very well with that.

    The Caldicot experience as far as I can tell has an almost exact parallel in the way Pearce picked out, groomed and isolated his victims.

  3. O.k-point taken-I had not picked up any long term aspect and had thought the assaults were opportunist.