Monday, 12 July 2010

Fire and smoke

My article on Chris Patten seems to have touched a few raw nerves. Good.

Some have accused me of making smoke, or of shouting "Fire!"

I don't wish to push analogies too far, but I will point out that Abbot Martin Shipperlee has it entirely within his power to clear the air.

On the day that Father David Pearce was sentenced, the Abbot wrote to all parents. He started out by saying.
Fr David Pearce, who taught at St Benedict’s from 1976-1992, pleaded guilty on 10th August to serious criminal offences against children and has now been sentenced to 8 years imprisonment.
He want on later in the letter to say.
I would like to apologise in every way that I can to the victims and to everyone else who has been affected by this case. I will remember in my prayers all those whose lives have been troubled by Fr David’s actions.

I am instructing an independent review into this matter to examine what there is to be learned in order to ensure that there can never be a recurrence of this situation.
In the context of his first paragraph, any reasonable person would interpret "this case" to mean at the very least all the crimes which Father David was convicted of (on dates ranging from 1972 to 2007) and to look into those and other complaints against Father David.

Any reasonable person would interpret a promise of an "independent review into this matter" with the aim of ensuring that "there can never be a recurrence of this situation" as being a promise of a wide ranging enquiry into how it was that Father David was able to molest children unhindered for so long.

Any reasonable person would expect that the process of ensuring there could not be a recurrence of the situation would involve the independent review examining and making recommendations for the school's child protection and safeguarding policy.

But this is not what the Abbot provided. The Independent Review which was actually carried out was much narrower in scope. It concentrated relentlessly on Father David's last victim, who although he was a pupil at the school, was molested at a time when Father David held no role at the school.

The review concentrated also solely on the failures to supervise Father David once it had been recognised that he was a danger to children, and not the previous 35 years or so when he had actually been abusing children but the danger he posed had not been officially recognised.

The review looked at the procedures of the Abbey, but not of the school.

And the review was not independently published. A summary of it was prepared by "Peter B" (presumably Father Peter Burns) and it is this summary that was published. Because of this, we don't know who conducted the review, whether they were truly independent, what the terms of reference were, whether those conducting the review were made aware of the extent and timescale of Father David's crimes, and whether the summary of the conclusions and recommendations is actually a fair summary of what the report itself contained.

The Abbot could clear away all doubts by instituting a proper independent enquiry into these matters, to ascertain what lessons need to be learned, whether there are additional cases which should come to light, and what changes of policy and procedure are needed prevent a recurrence.

This independent enquiry would need to look back at least 40 years (since Father David joined the Abbey about 40 years ago). The names of those conducting it should be known and their independence established. The Abbey should be prepared to open all its correspondence and records to the independent reviewers. Subject to keeping the names of victims confidential,the report should be published in full, by those conducting the review itself.

It's not too late for the Abbot to decide to have another go at the review and do it right this time. It would clear the air.

So far, nothing has been looked into concerning how it was that Father David was able to operate for so long as a paedophile while remaining resident at the Abbey. So no lessons as to how to prevent that from happening again can possibly have been learned.

Surely, the Abbot, all the Trustees, and indeed every parent and parishioner would welcome such a review if they want to learn what can be done to prevent a recurrence. But instead of this enquiry to clear the air, a lot of smoke is being blown instead. One has to wonder why. Until the Abbot is prepared to speak publicly about this, all we can do is comment on all this smoke that is billowing around.


  1. Silence form the Abbey once more. Detail averse group it seems.

  2. Is the above posting in English?