Sunday, 28 March 2010

The "Independent Review" at Ealing Abbey

Well, we now have something published.

Links to it have been put in various places on both the School and Abbey website. It is a PDF file. The file name is "Ealing Abbey - Independent Review Feb 2010 Summary Final.pdf".

The title of the document is as follows.

So this is not the report of the Independent Review. This is a summary prepared by somebody. The datestamp on the PDF file itself indicates it was created on 18th March, and produced by "Peter B" who I presume is Father Peter Burns, the Parish Priest. The summary appears to have been prepared in the hope that the ignorant masses would mistake it for the actual report. But anybody with the slightest knowledge either of child protection matters or the nature of reports by independent consultants (on any subject) can instantly tell that this is not the real report.

Allow me to walk you through it.

The first section is titled Background, and contains the following text.
The review into safeguarding arrangements at Ealing Abbey was commissioned by Abbot Martin via the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service. This followed the prosecution of Fr DP for offences committed whilst a member of the Abbey community.

The review was carried out by a recently retired Detective Sergeant with extensive experience of child protection investigations and serious case reviews, and an Independent Social Work Consultant with experience of these types of review within the Anglican Church.
Examine the clues, Watson:
  1. It is not the habit of people who write such reports to abbreviate them unnecessarily. Therefore the real report would not have said "Fr DP", it would have used his full name, "Father David Pearce". This is the work of somebody (perhaps whose typing isn't all that great) doing a hasty summary of another's work.

  2. No consultant conducting an independent review on any subject at all would remain anonymous in this way. All consultants believe that they do good work, and that they should be proud to put their names to it. Putting your name to a piece of work is advertising.
The information available (or more precisely, the lack thereof) means that we have to question the independence of the review, and for that matter the credentials of those conducting it. The fact that the commissioning was via the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service calls the independence into question right from the start.

The Catholic Church worldwide has at the moment what might in an understated sort of way be described as a serious image problem concerning sexual abuse. That image problem extends not merely to the number of people within its ranks who have been found to have committed abuses, but also to the institutional response of senior people within the church who became aware of these abuses.

As a result, it is quite reasonable to have severe doubts about whether an organisation set up by the church is capable of reforming the church to the necessary degree. The Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service was set up within the church for that purpose. Therefore, while it is independent of the Abbey, it is not independent of the church. Now, it is entirely possible that I am doing CSAS a bit of a disservice here - it may be that it is doing outstandingly sterling and effective work in cleaning up the Catholic Church's safeguarding and child protection procedures. I've been concentrating my researches specifically on Ealing Abbey and St. Benedict's School, and so haven't yet had an opportunity to look in any detail into what CSAS has been doing and its effect on the Catholic Church in general.

My point though is that in a case such as this where there has been such a catastrophic failure to protect children in the Abbey's care, I would expect an "Independent Review" to be as independent as it could possibly be. That would mean being commissioned via a secular child protection organisation, not a Catholic one.

On the basis of the limited information available, I also have to question the relevance of the expertise of the people concerned. A detective sergeant is not necessarily the best person to undertake a review of procedures. The skills involved in tracking down criminals - even sex abusers - are different from those involved in defining and implementing procedures to prevent abuse from happening in the first place. A detective sergeant is also not necessarily going to be conversant with the legal and regulatory framework that applies to institutions such as schools.

The same applies to the Independent Social Work Consultant - we do not know whether he has experience of the legal framework and obligations with respect to safeguarding in schools.

Again, I may be doing both of these people a disservice. But the problem is that without knowing their names and seeing their CVs, I have no way of knowing whether they really do have the necessary qualifications, knowledge and expertise. Without knowing who has been doing the work, we have no way of assessing the review's thoroughness and independence.

If you are one of the consultants who conducted the review and are reading these words, I would be very happy for you to email me at and set my mind at rest. I would readily publish an update based on any information about yourself or the review which you are able to provide.

(As an aside, I do wonder what the copyright status is of the original report, and whether the original authors appreciate having their work bowdlerised in this way.)

The Terms of Reference are fascinating. They are:
  • Examine what steps were taken to manage the risk identified in this case.
  • Evaluate to see whether procedurally compliant.
  • Identify what went wrong.
  • Make proposals as to how to better manage such situations in future.
  • Audit current safeguarding arrangements within the Abbey.
  • Check for procedural compliance including any recommendations of the Cumberlege Report not currently reflected in procedures.
  • Make proposals as to any identified improvements.
This isn't even grammatical. There's no way any consultant would accept Terms of Reference so unclear. The first stage would be to define and agree properly clear Terms of Reference. These would have been written down, probably in the form of a letter from the Abbot to the consultants. The Terms of Reference should have been listed in the report, and a copy of the Abbot's actual letter should be reproduced as an appendix to the report. This probably has been done, though since we don't have the report, we can't tell.

Terms of Reference are usually fairly brief. There's no good reason for the full and original wording of them not to have been published. The consultants almost certainly provided an electronic copy of the report in the form of a PDF file. Moreover, the commissioning letter from the Abbot containing the original Terms of Reference is almost certainly still held on his secretary's computer. It would have been a quite straightforward matter for Father Peter to obtain a copy.

So one has to wonder why the original Terms of Reference haven't been published. There are two reasons that spring to mind.

One is simple incompetence. Father Peter only had a paper copy of the report and it didn't occur to him to ask the Abbot's secretary for an electronic copy of the Abbot's original letter, and so not being the fastest of typists, he just dashed off an abbreviated version instead.

The other possibility is that the Terms of Reference were abbreviated deliberately, in order to justify the exclusion of certain Conclusions and Recommendations the Abbot wished not to have published.

Robert J. Hanlon once said "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." Certainly, incompetence is a perfectly plausible explanation in this case. But we won't know unless and until the Abbot publishes his original commissioning letter to the consultants containing the agreed Terms of Reference.

But the content of the Terms of Reference as provided is most interesting and not a little worrying.

First, there's the matter of what is meant by "this case". From the context of the conclusions and recommendations, it appears that "this case" means the handling of Father David Pearce's restricted covenant, i.e. the period roughly from the summer of 2006 to the time of Pearce's arrest in January 2008. The Charity Commission opened its first Statutory Inquiry on 28 July 2006, and it was a result of this Inquiry that the restricted covenant was put in place. So, at most, the review appears to have looked at the period of 18 months or so of Pearce's residence under restrictions, during which he abused his last victim. The third conclusion mentions Pearce's "victim" in the singular.

So, the previous 35 years in which Pearce was able to abuse his victims unrestricted is not included within the scope of the Review. No wonder the Abbot never replied to my questions regarding the review's scope!

The second point is that the review appears to be restricted to the abbey and to exclude the school. This is suggested by the fact that the word "school" is nowhere mentioned within the Terms of Reference and only once within the summary itself. Moreover the ToR specifically includes an item to "Audit current safeguarding arrangements within the Abbey" (my emphasis).

Every single victim of the crimes for which Pearce was convicted was a pupil at St. Benedict's School. His official duties took him into the school on a daily basis for decades. It was in his capacity as a teacher at the school that he was able to make contact with and groom his victims. I've already expressed concerns about the child protection procedures of the school.

Are we really supposed to accept this as a fulfillment of the Abbot's public promise to have an independent review "to examine what there is to be learned to ensure that there can never be a recurrence of this situation"? Is "this situation" really supposed to mean the last 18 months of his paedophile career and not the previous 35 years? Is "this situation" supposed to mean only Pearce's activities with Abbey precincts and not within the school or elsewhere?

No reasonable person can be expected to believe that a review with such a narrow scope is intended to do anything other than fulfill that promise in the most meaningless and limited possible way. No reasonable person can treat a review with such a deliberately narrow scope as being an effort in good faith to understand what went wrong with the child protection procedures at the school and the abbey such that Pearce was able abuse children unhindered for such a long period.

The Cumberledge Report referred to in the Terms of Reference includes in its Foreword the following extract from a speech given by Pope Benedict XVI to the Bishops of Ireland in Rome in October 2006.
In the exercise of your pastoral ministry, you have had to respond in recent years to many heart-rending cases of sexual abuse of minors. These are all the more tragic when the abuser is a cleric. The wounds caused by such acts run deep, and it is an urgent task to rebuild confidence and trust where these have been damaged. In your continuing efforts to deal effectively with this problem, it is important to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected and, above all to bring healing to the victims and all those affected by these egregious crimes.
It seems to me that a review with such a deliberately narrow scope is trying desperately to avoid "establishing the truth of what happened in the past", or at least the truth of as much of the past as can be safely hidden away.

And the conclusions included in the review, even one with such a limited scope, are deeply damaging. Let's take them one at a time.
1. There was no formal review arrangement in place to consider Fr DP’s restrictive
covenant. This has subsequently been addressed.
Just consider that for a moment. Even after the Abbey had lost a civil case concerning sexual abuse by Pearce against "C", to whom over £40,000 had been awarded, and after the Charity Commission had conducted a Statutory Inquiry during the course of which the Abbot promised that Pearce would have no further contact with children, there were no formal measures in place to "consider Fr DP’s restrictive covenant". So, we had a known paedophile living in the Abbey, adjacent to the school the Abbey is responsible for running, and there are "no formal review arrangements". Staggering. Just staggering.
2. There was no active work with Fr DP to address and confront the areas of concern about his behaviour, with a reliance placed on established pastoral and discipline arrangements within the community. In the context of sexual abuse concerns it would be sensible to explore opportunities for independent, specialist advice and consultation to support the internal governance processes.
It gets worse! Not only were there no formal review arrangements, but it seems that nothing was being done at all to address his behaviour.
3. Fr DP was able to establish and maintain his relationship with his victim whilst living within the community. It is unclear the extent of knowledge within the community about the details of the restrictions placed on Fr DP. Whilst it is important to treat information about individuals with care and confidentiality members of the community need to have sufficient information to enable them to exercise appropriate monitoring and reporting of concerns.
So, he was supposedly living under restrictions but it is unclear who knew anything about those restrictions. This is only less shocking for the fact that we have known this since the day Pearce was sentenced. At the hearing, the prosecuting barrister read out the Abbot's letter announcing the restricted covenant, which stated that it was "to protect Father David from unfounded allegations".

According to the speech by the prosecuting barrister, Pearce's last victim was aware that he was under some sort of restriction, but that he did not know why. He had a perfectly justifiable need to know. But nobody told him.

It is a statement of the bleeding obvious to say that if nobody is allowed to know that a person is under restriction and why, then nobody is in a position to report to the authorities if the restrictions are being broken. In effect, the restrictions were not enforced.
4. When there is a member of the community subject to restrictive contracts it is unwise to allow employment of young people under the age of 18 within the Abbey precincts.
Well I never. Who would ever have thunk it!
5. The Abbey Child Protection Policy is undated, does not identify a review date and is a statement of intent rather than a clear guidance document to identify and support safe practice. The absence of provenance details and review arrangements can allow such documents to be treated in a rather mechanistic manner rather than viewing them as a contribution to active, positive safeguarding behaviour.
This is 2 years after Pearce was arrested, and 6 months after he was convicted of multiple sexual and indecent assaults over a period of 36 years. And the Abbey still has no procedures! This is nothing short of an absolute disgrace. Quite frankly this is an even bigger scandal than the abuse committed by Pearce. Paedophiles will be paedophiles. It is the job of organisations responsible for the care of children to detect and stop any abuse they cause. Not only has the Abbey and the school entirely failed to detect Pearce's abuses, but even after they came to light, they still have taken none of the steps recommended by CSAS and others to prevent further abuse from happening.
6. The Parish Child Protection Statement is again undated and the review arrangements are not specified.
More of the same. I can't say anything specific, I'm too flabbergasted.

Goodness only knows what the review would have found had it looked further back in time or addressed the School as well as the Abbey. I think it is a matter of urgency that such a review be commissioned.

There are various conclusions that can be drawn from this.
  • I think there is good reason to doubt the competence (or at the very least the effectiveness) of the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service. When I met the Abbot last September, he told me that they been crawling all over the place. It seems that they didn't achieve anything of note.

  • Those who believe that the Abbey surely must have improved its procedures as a result of the Pearce case are going to feel betrayed all over again. Gobsmackingly unbelievable as it may be, even months after the case, the procedures are so nonexistent that there could be another paedophile still living in the Abbey or teaching at the school, and the procedures to detect and prevent this remain nonexistent for all practical purposes.

  • The situation can no longer be put down to good-intentioned incompetence on the part of the Abbot. This is now a matter of deliberate obstructionism, both in terms of uncovering the past and in terms of instituting procedures to protect children in the future.

  • If Ealing Abbey is in any way characteristic of the way the Catholic Church in the country as a whole conducts its business in terms of child protection, then those who fondly believe that the Catholic Church in England and Wales is in good shape and has as one commenter has recently suggested "the toughest child protection guidelines in the world" will be severely disappointed. There's not the slightest point in CSAS officials dashing all over the place if nobody takes any notice of them. There's not the slightest point in CSAS having the best procedures in the world if nobody follows them.

  • If Ealing Abbey isn't characteristic of the church as a whole, then there is no excuse for the highest church officials not to come down on the Abbot like a ton of bricks. I acknowledge that this might not be as simple as one might think. Ealing Abbey is not under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Westminster, but is instead a part of the English Benedictine Congregation. Therefore the only person superior to Abbot Martin Shipperlee is the EBC's Abbot President Dom Richard Yeo, and above him is Rome. (As it happens, Richard Yeo was one of the authors of the Cumberledge Report. I wonder what he thinks of the obstructionism of one of his own abbots!)

  • Children at St. Benedict's School are clearly no safer than they were before Father David was arrested. The school's procedures have not been updated since his sentencing, and in my view they are grossly inadequate, and no effort has been made to further update them. If your child is at the school, then you have every right to ask the Abbot and the headmaster what is being done about this. If you are not satisfied by their answers, then for the sake of your children's safety, you should consider withdrawing them from the school. If I had had a child there when the news first hit, he would have been out of there immediately.
I really wanted to be able to report that the Independent Review had shown that the Abbot had learned lessons and that procedures were in place to prevent any recurrence. It wouldn't have surprised me if the Review had uncovered other historical cases. Provided that there was no present danger to children and provided that suitable measures were being been put in place to provide support to past victims, then I would have been prepared to say that no matter how bad the past had been, at least the Abbot was trying to make sure the future will be better. And if that had happened, I would have been generous in giving him credit for it.

But this is a travesty. This is even worse than the worst I had imagined as regards the present state of the Abbey. The past is being hidden away, and the measures to protect the future are nonexistent. What on earth is the Abbot thinking he can achieve by this?

1 comment:

  1. well jonathan, since I'm the commentator you refer to in this article, I think I should respond.

    You say "There's not the slightest point in CSAS officials dashing all over the place if nobody takes any notice of them. There's not the slightest point in CSAS having the best procedures in the world if nobody follows them."

    This is indeed the case. And actually the review summary, short as it is, makes many of the same points that you do.

    If you have concerns about the reports terms of reference, its contents, the independence of those who carried it out, or the obviously necessary ongoing monitoring of procedure compliance, then it seems to me you have two seperate routes to contact.

    1. Regarding the Parish of Ealing, Diocese of Westminster.

    Ring the CSAS (contact numbers are at ), state that you have concerns about the implementation of CSAS guidelines there, and ask for the name and contact details of either the Safeguarding Coordinator, or Safeguarding Officer, with responsibility for that parish. Alternatively, you can ring the Ealing Parish office and ask for the name of the Safeguarding Representative of the Parish, and get the name that way.

    I certainly do agree that the Abbey doesn't appear to have followed the guidelines in every respect regarding Father David Pearce, and you do a public service by pointing this fact out.

    And I don't think you need to be too worried by the fact that Ealing Abbey is under the authority of the the Benedictine Congregation rather than the Archbishop of Westminster. They run a parish within the diocese. In terms of how they run it, they most certainly are responsible to the Archbishop and subject to CSAS guidelines.

    2. Regarding St. Benedict's School.
    I doubt the CSAS has authority over the school. It's a school, not a parish. Hence no mention of the school in the CSAS report.

    And though the marketing material on the school talks much about the benedictine ethos in the school, as far as I know there are now no monks teaching there. The institutional link is via the Abbot as head of the Board of Governors.

    The immediate authority their lies with the Board of Governors (which includes the Abbot) and the Head Teacher. But they naturally have to comply with legislation, and the existing document does specifically mention their requirement to comply with procedures outlined by the Ealing Safeguarding Children Board.

    Again, I would say the same procedure there.