Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Abbot's letter to parents

Abbot Martin Shipperlee has written a new letter to all parents about Father David Pearce and the recent press comment.
Dear Parents,

As I am sure you are aware, there has been considerable comment in the press about Fr David Pearce, a member of the monastic community who last October pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of children.

It will come as no surprise to you that a number of statements in the newspaper articles were incorrect;
I notice that the Abbot has been carefully unspecific about precisely which statements were incorrect. I would welcome enlightenment on what he thinks are the inaccurate bits. I suspect I might have to wait quite a while.
however, I would like to focus on one thing that was said. The question was asked, ‘Did they do enough?’ and the answer to that is clear. No, with the benefit of hindsight in respect of the Monastery we clearly didn’t do enough; and consequently Fr David was able to commit a further offence. All this is a matter of huge regret and shame and I constantly reiterate my apologies to all those hurt by this.
This is of a piece with all the rest of the Abbot's statements. He is relentlessly concentrating on Pearce's last victim, in the hope that we will not ask any questions about the time before Pearce was placed on restricted ministry.
No doubt you will be aware of the recent inspection report on St Benedict’s which judged Child Protection to be good and overall pastoral care to be outstanding.
I have indeed seen that report. It wasn't merely glowing, it was positively incandescent. It was so good that it could have been written by the school itself as advertising material. No wonder links to the two reports (for the junior and senior schools) are prominently displayed on the home page of the school website.

Given what has happened at the school in recent years, it was far too good as to be remotely believable. So I made some enquiries with the Independent Schools Inspectorate. The ISI has been investigating, and as a result of their investigations, the November 2009 report has been withdrawn from the ISI website. The only report remaining there is the report from the previous inspection in January 2004. The ISI investigations are ongoing. I expect that we will hear more from them in due course.
However as a result of issues relating to Fr David we have reviewed all our procedures and policies for Safeguarding of the Vulnerable, as has been noted by the Charity Commission.
This is not quite accurate. The Charity Commission conducted two Statutory Enquiries, which were combined into a single report published after Pearce was sentenced. In the section of the report describing the first enquiry, the Charity Commission stated:

17. The Commission obtained copies of the Charity’s child protection policies and procedures. The Charity was able to demonstrate that these policies had been reviewed by the appropriate authorities and that these were adequate.

So, this isn't a review carried out by the school, the Charity Commission is instead noting that the school's existing policies had been reviewed by "the appropriate authorities". Not quite the same thing. And clearly they weren't in fact adequate, because Pearce was continuing to abuse. The second Statutory Enquiry was started as a result of the Abbey making a Serious Incident Report on Pearce's arrest. In the part of the report concerned with the second enquiry, the Commission stated:

54. Following the arrest in January 2008 the trustees took positive steps to protect the reputation of the Charity and continue to do so – the trustees have confirmed publicly that an independent review will be carried out to ensure that this situation can not reoccur.

So, the Charity Commission has noted that a review has been promised, but not actually conducted. Now, the Commission published their report on 15 December 2009, and the Abbot publicly promised this review in a letter to parents on October 2nd, the day Pearce was sentenced.

The latest version of the School's Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy is dated 1st September 2009. So it cannot have been modified as a result of the review promised by the Abbot.

But look at the following paragraph from the report of the ISI's inspection carried out on 9-12 November 2009.

"4.4 The trustees and advisers are fully aware of, and diligent in discharging, their responsibilities for the welfare, health and safety of pupils, including taking proper steps to review and evaluate the effectiveness of their child protection policies and procedures. A serious recent incident involving a member of the monastic community caused the trustees to request an independent review of the measures taken to minimize risk. The advice received from the independent experts has been fully implemented." (my emphasis)

There are a number of problems with this statement. First of course is that Pearce's 36-year paedophile career has been compressed into "a serious recent incident", and that Maestri's convictions haven't been mentioned at all.

The school has a statutory obligation to Notify such incidents to the DCSF (Department for Children Schools and Families) when they come to light, irrespective of how long ago the event occurred. The following events all come within the category of Notifiable incidents.
  1. The trial and conviction in 2005 of John Maestri.
  2. The civil case brought by a "C" in 2006 against Pearce and the school.
  3. The trial in 2007 of Father Stanislaus Hobbs.
  4. During the trial of Fr Hobbs, evidence was given of a separate sexual assault on the same boy by Fr Hobbs during a school trip to Italy. Because the event occurred outside the UK, it cannot be prosecuted here, but during police questioning, a record of which was given in evidence at the trial, Fr Hobbs accepted that the incident had occurred as described.
  5. Another trial and conviction of John Maestri in 2008/9.
  6. The trial and conviction of Father David Pearce in 2009.
In addition, Maestri's first 2003 conviction should have been mentioned in the ISI's January 2004 report of St Benedict's School. I have been enquiring of the ISI and the DCSF as to whether these Notifications were in fact made by the school, and whether they were passed by DCSF to ISI.

The second point is the matter of the independent review. The school's Child Protection policy is dated 1st September 2009. When I had a meeting with the Abbot on 11th September, I suggested that an independent review should be carried out. From his response, it was perfectly clear that no such review had yet been conducted, and he was not prepared to make an immediate promise that he would hold one.

A review was promised in the Abbot's letter to parents of 2nd October, the day Father David Pearce was sentenced.

The Charity Commission Report published on 15th December 2009 notes that "the trustees have confirmed publicly that an independent review will be carried out" and that "The Commission has requested a copy of the independent review". So clearly, it wasn't available by then.

I have had an exchange of emails on this subject with Peter Turner, the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor, and on 15th February 2010 he wrote to me saying "A Review was commissioned by Abbot Martin, but this is still to report back with the findings. It is intended that within the bounds of confidentiality the report will be published."

A Summary Note of the Independent Review finally appeared on the Abbey website (with links from both the school and Abbey sites) on or around 18th March. It did not address the school's procedures at all, only those of the Abbey and Parish. It did not address Father David Pearce's activities in the school, merely in the monastery. It did not address the great majority of the time he was abusing children, but concentrated solely on the failure to properly supervise him once he had been placed on a restricted ministry.

The school's child protection policy is dated 1st September 2009, before the review was even promised, and yet the ISI's 9-12 November 2009 inspection report states that the review has been carried out and its recommendations have been acted on! The dates just don't fit.

I sent emails to both the Abbot and the Headmaster asking them to describe the evidence provided to the ISI on which this statement in the report was based. Neither has replied to me on this point. The ISI is investigating.
Will all this be good enough? Only if it is accompanied by honesty about the past and a rigorous questioning of the application of our policies and procedures in the present. We remain committed to offering to all our pupils a happy, purposeful and safe environment in which to learn. We will be constantly reviewing our safeguarding procedures to ensure that this is the case.
I have taken a detailed look at the the school's child protection policy, and I'm not impressed by it. I have brought this to the Abbot's attention, and he has not replied to me. I have brought it to the headmaster's attention and he has replied only that the policies will be reviewed again later in the academic year. They don't seem to be all that welcoming of the questions that I have raised.
I also need your support to help keep St Benedict’s a safe place for children. If you have any concerns about the safety of children, please inform the Dedicated Teacher for Child Protection. There are contact details for this teacher and relevant agencies within the Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy which can be found on the school website. No concern should go unreported.
As I said, I have reported my concerns. The Abbot doesn't seem to be in much of a hurry to do anything about them. This does not sound to me much like the "honesty about the past and a rigorous questioning of the application of our policies and procedures in the present" which the Abbot promised in his letter.

Pearce was convicted of a number of sexual and indecent assaults over a 36-year period, starting in 1972. There have been quite a few additional accounts of abuse by Pearce in comments here on this blog. It is likely that only a small proportion of the victims have come across this blog, and probably only a relatively small proportion of them will have felt able to post an account here. There are undoubtedly many more victims than we know of.

Pearce has to be described as an habitual paedophile abuser. I would be surprised if it turned out that he has abused fewer than three boys a year on average during his time at the Abbey. He first arrived at the Abbey as a Novice in 1969, and left on his arrest in January 2008 that means that a conservative estimate of the number of his victims is over a hundred.

In my meeting with the Abbot, I requested that he set up an independent review that went back 40 years and tried to uncover the full extent of the problem, so that comfort could be provided to as many victims as possible. Instead, he commissioned a review whose scope was restricted solely to the handling of the last 18 months or so of Pearce's residence in the Abbey, the management of his restricted ministry, and Pearce's abuse of just one victim.

And of course, Pearce was not the only abuser in the school. John Maestri was at the school for something like 12 years. Put him down for 3 a year as well. Allegations have been made against others as well.

We have a situation where two now-convicted paedophiles were able to operate over decades before being caught. Maestri went on to teach elsewhere, and Pearce was long retired from teaching duties before his abuses first came to light as a result of C's civil suit. So the school's policies failed entirely to put a stop to abuse by these two.

The school's child protection policy is a sorry mess, and in my view quite unfit for purpose. The Abbot and headmaster have ignored my concerns, the recent "independent review" did not address the school at all, and the Abbot is being at best somewhat misleading on the subject. Additional abuse could be going on at the school today, and the procedures cannot be relied on to detect this and put an end to it.

Allegations have been made against monks still resident at the Abbey, and Abbot Martin has shown that he is unable effectively to supervise monks who are a danger to children.

In the circumstances, I have severe concerns about the safety of children at the school.


  1. I attended the school in the early 80's. What about other monks who disappeared? I just wonder whether any monk that left may have been aware of what was really going on and left in disgust? I can't see how lay staff and other monks could have been unaware of what Pearce was doing or at least have been suspicious of him. The whole school was mismanaged during my time there..........ineptitude was rife they seemed to be living off a reputation long lost. There was a lot of snobbish stuff - big fish in a small pond etc. Academic results were very poor. I just think the whole place was poor and am not wholly surprised to see that the abuse cases were so badly handled.

  2. I for one have followed your Blogs for several months, and in the whole can understand what I think you intended to do, but the readers’ comments are now dropping and I think this is because you’re blatant attack on this establishment, in fact it looks personal, which is not helpful for any potential victims or readers, you are tarnishing what seems to be a very good school with history of the past, and just look around Mr West it is not just the Church schools who have had this problem and I see no reference to other establishments on your blog highlighting any abuse, or asking people to comment on them, the past is the past so yes it is a personal attack by you.

    Do you really think people would send their children to this school if anything that we have read concern us? the staff and the Heads are really caring and good Christian people and we have no doubt whatsoever that if anything was reported it would not be covered up, or swept under the table, but passed on to the local authority. I think the recent case and your apology confirmed this, but no, you very quickly posted a new article like this one to attempt to slur the school.

    I am sorry you time as a parent at this School was an unhappy one but for us, it’s fantastic and we will look back with very warm heartfelt thanks.

  3. Hello Father Stan - how are you?

  4. Mr. West don't be defected 30 years of abuse was covered up. It seems the Abbott is happy to take a hit for the failure in 2006 but draws the line on exposing what occurred in the 1975-2006 period. He appears to be concerned for previous Abbots reputations rather than doing the right thing. As for the previous contributor yes we all know abuse has occurred in other institutions and churches. The difference is

  5. 23.25 01May is an interesting post with which some parents will be in agreement. My reply is made from significant experience of abuse in schools, and I am not associated in any way with St Benedict’s.

    The poster’s comments suggest that s/he is a former or current parent and someone who has in the past made a decision to send their chid/ren to St Benedict’s. A number of default dynamics tend to occur among the various ‘stakeholders’ when abuse bob’s to the surface having been trapped like a Mine out of sight for many years. 23.25’s post is an example, and the author uses a number of arguments which are deployed by parents at similar settings because they seem logical, considered and worthy. When analysed with an understanding of institutional abuse they take on another hue.

    To dismiss concern about an institution as a “personal attack”(sic) is common. It is designed to silence Mr West because 23.25 does not like what s/he is hearing. Why so? Well let’s not forget that Mr West is effectively criticising an institution which was chosen by 23.25 to educate his/her son. It is common for some parents to illogically man the ramparts in defence of an institution when their silence would be far better. Parental defence is unwise for a number of reasons too many and complex to detail here. It is a subject that requires dialogue which includes the effects of institutional abuse on students. Sadly when the subject of abuse arises adult logic needs to be switched off. 23.25’s ‘logic’ is noticeably ‘on.’

    The question asked at the start of the author’s second paragraph causes one to double take, but only for a femtosecond. “Do you really think people would send their children to this school if anything that we have read concern us?” It is a question asked at the wrong time and in the wrong tense and it is foolish for reasons which will not escape the attention of most readers. Also 23.25 does not seem to understand the un-wisdom of the question s/he intended to ask. The NSPCC might assist with an explanation but perhaps if you decide to read The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Reports in Ireland you might eventually understand. The reading is extensive.

    The author’s comments worsen hereafter and it suggests we have someone in deep denial who is prepared to accept uncomplainingly the words of the administration of a setting which is firstly a business which happens to be in education, and which is also a charity for tax reasons. I can’t think of a single business in the last twenty years which has volunteered the worst of all news to the authorities, its client base or shareholders on a voluntary basis – can you?

  6. To the poster at 1 May 2010 23:25 - you make a false dichotomy.
    "the staff and the Heads are really caring and good Christian people"
    This may well be true, but that doesn't mean they are right, or that they are properly informed about child abuse, or that they have effective policies to deal with it. It's perfectly possible to be well meaning but wrong.
    I haven't read any accusation that the staff and heads at the school don't care, but there is plenty or evidence that their systems were not good enough (Pearce's long career as an abuser is a case in point) and the evidence that they have now addressed the issue properly is somewhat lacking too. Under the circumstances the onus is surely on the school to show that it has taken critism on board and that it has in place effective policies now. It's nothing to do with whether they are nice people or not.
    "and we have no doubt whatsoever that if anything was reported it would not be covered up, or swept under the table, but passed on to the local authority" - If you really "have no doubt" I wonder whether you have really followed the case in detail. Pearce was already on resticted ministry (finally!) when he found it possible to abuse again. What makes you think the system has improved? All the evidence (as in the Abbey's own stated policy documents) suggest the system for dealing with accusations of abuse is still not adequate and does not match the standards expected by child protection experts.
    What's more, the Abbey still seems reluctant to deal with the historic abuse and the outstanding allegations against monks and staff. The past is indeed the past, but as you should know if you read the evidence in any abuse case, the effects persist long into the victims' lives, and as long as people are still able to abuse, historic abuse is relevant.
    I can understand that you may still be unwilling to believe allegations against people you like, trust and respect. Both Maestri and Pearce were well-known to my family and Maestri was often a guest of my parents'. Finding out about them has been a horrible shock. Of course, this trust has made it harder for their victims to be believed, and seems to have encouraged Pearce at least to believe he could get away with it.
    The point is that *he was right* - he DID get away with it, for years!

  7. The monastic community at ealing abbey appears to be in denial about its past and this is not confined to the scandal around FrDavid Pearce but over a much longer period of time . None of us outside of that community will ever know if its members agonisely kept suspicions to themselves but unable to act because of loyalty and the reputation of the comunity being at stake . Many will undoubtedly take those issues to the grave but those that remain even those untainted by history or ignorance of events (and there will be some !) there remains a major issue of the community's credibility at stake . this community desperately needs help to come terms with its past and the resignation of the current ABbot may be a step forward to acknowledge this cleansing process that needs to begin !I write as someone with a professional background in child protection .

  8. Until the Board of Governors (BoG's), called school advisors at St B's it seems, realise that St Benedict's has a serious safeguarding issue, then little is going to change. It is they who are ultimately responsible for embedding effective safeguarding into the school with one Governor having to be named at the 'Designated Governor' responsible for safeguarding. Looking at the BoG’s page on the school website the designated governor is unidentified. This runs contra to DCSF guidance. Why did the Independent School Inspectorate (ISI) pick this up in their most recent inspection of the school?

    St Benedict's board like most in similar settings will remain inert convincing eachother that "this all happened a long-time ago and it’s not like this anymore." Such thinking is convenient, mistaken and common of BoG's, and of course it 'thankfully' means they do not have to do anything.

    What is needed at St B's? A complete open review of safeguarding and its failures back to the 60's. The review needs to be commissioned with an independent and credible body - I can suggest one that we can all have confidence in. The range of issues that need to be reviewed in this setting are significant and include the issuing by the school of Notifications under the Educations Acts and the inspection of these by the questionably competent ISI - the dubiously named peer review body. Events at St Benedict's are as bad if not worse than the abuse at Ampleforth in which an individual completely independent of the school forced the Abbot to call in the police. Unfortunately Ampleforth chose not to have a complete and open review of safeguarding despite the numerous convictions.

    Sacrificial resignations are pointless especially when those people have important information to contribute to an inquiry – let’s have an inquiry and following the publication of their findings they should set out their recommendations which will provide us with confidence for the future.

  9. I went to this school during the late 80's and early 90's, all the boys in my year knew about Father David....

  10. Prosper Keating29 May 2010 at 12:15

    So one of more of the elderly denizens of Charlbury Grove seem to know how to use computers, judging by some of the trolling in the comment sections of JW's blogs.

    It will be interesting to see what the Church does when it finally decides to try to suppress its critics in relation to the decades of sexual abuse of boys at our old school and the related cover-ups. There again, as Archbishop Nichols appears to have suggested that he has no authority or jurisdiction over Ealing Abbey, perhaps we are dealing with a new breakaway Benedictine order that is not part of the Church of Rome.

    I have known a number of ex-Ampleforth boys and would say that their accounts mirror those of former Benny Boys who suffered or witnessed the depredations of the likes of Pearce, Soper and others.