Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Imagine yourself in the Abbot's shoes

Let’s just put ourselves in Abbot Martin Shipperlee’s shoes for a minute, and ask what could be done about all the bad publicity there has been about child protection at St. Benedict’s School.

Let’s hypothesise that things have come to sufficient of a pass that there is a need to restore parents’ confidence, and possibly also the confidence of the civil authorities such as the ISI and the Department for Education, and perhaps even the parishioners, the Archbishop and the public in general. Also, given that the Pope is coming in a few weeks, there is a need to spike any stories the mainstream press might run in the meantime about child sex abuse at Ealing Abbey. I don't doubt that Archbishop Vincent Nichols would be livid if a big Ealing Abbey abuse story were to hit the papers on the eve of the Pope's visit.

So what is needed is some significant gesture.

The obvious thing is to announce an Inquiry, so that he can say “we are looking carefully into all these issues and aim to learn from past problems and prevent them from recurring”. Then the papers are stymied and can’t say that the Abbey is doing nothing. The ISI and the DfE can hardly complain about an inquiry either. Everything gets kicked onto the long grass.

But what sort of an inquiry should it be?

That depends on what he would be trying to achieve by it. If the main aim is to hold off the papers until after the Pope has been and gone, and then hope that the story dies of old age thereafter, then what is needed is for the inquiry to be led by a friendly Catholic who has little or no experience of child protection issues but is a well-known politician or other high-profile name. Except for the fact that he is rather busy organising the Pope’s visit, Lord Patten of Barnes would be absolutely perfect for the job, or failing him, perhaps one of the candidates for the job of Ambassador to the Holy See.

If a whitewash is wanted, then he would absolutely have to ensure that the leader of the inquiry is part of the establishment and so knows what sorts of things aren’t supposed to be inquired about too closely. He would also want a big name that impresses the yokels so it doesn't occur to them to look much at the details of what is (and more importantly what isn't) in the final report. A Lord of some sort would be ideal. Such people are expensive, as you're buying their name and reputation, but with £10m/year of school fee income that needs to be defended, it would be a price worth paying. Think of it as the personal appearance fee for a celebrity in a marketing event.

The report would certainly not be published until safely after the Pope has departed these shores, and until the new intake of children are safely settled in to the school for the Autumn term (and their fees safely paid into the school's bank account). It would be a nice fifty pages or so of legal waffle with lots of long words designed to impress parents who have no knowledge and experience of such things. A nice colour printed copy could be posted to each parent to show how exceedingly diligent the school is now being about all of this.

The key to making it look impressive and complete while ensuring that difficult questions never need to be answered (or even asked) is in the careful selection of the Terms of Reference. The previous “independent review” was a little too blatant about narrowing the scope of its Terms of Reference, in that it excluded the school altogether, excluded almost the whole of Father David’s paedophile career at the Abbey, and did not address any complaints made against any other priest or teacher, even those who had been convicted of crimes carried out against pupils at the school in the course of their duties.

Should there be new inquiry, it would have to be a bit more subtle than that, but it could easily be limited, for instance only to Father David and John Maestri, on the basis that since nobody else has been convicted, everybody else should automatically be considered innocent, and there is therefore nothing to be concerned about. It could also be limited to finding out a what those two individuals had done, and carefully avoid looking into what others had done that enabled the abuse to go on for so long without becoming public.

It would be possible to write the Executive Summary of such an inquiry already, even before anybody had been appointed to conduct it. It would go something like this.
  • It is possible that Father David and John Maestri abused a few more people than they have actually been convicted of, but there isn’t enough evidence to say how extensive the problem was. It’s all in the past now anyhow, since neither has any current connection with the school and so there is no remaining danger to children.

  • It would have been preferable to have detected their activities sooner, but what happened in the past was consistent with child protection practice at the time, and so no blame can be assigned to anybody.

  • We found no evidence of any cover-up. Oh my dear God no! Certainly not! Who could possibly be so beastly as to imagine such a thing?

  • There are a few minor changes that need to be made to the school’s current child protection procedures to clarify responsibilities and ensure that any future incidents are handled according to the letter of the law. We must look forward not back.
But it would of course still be a whitewash.

If the Abbot wanted actually to have an inquiry that was serious about finding out what has gone wrong, and wanted to change both the procedures of the school and the overall culture of the Abbey to ensure that any abuse discovered in future isn't allowed to continue, then the inquiry would need to be run on rather different lines.

It wouldn't have a big name fronting it. The mere presence of a big establishment figure would be an almost certain indicator that a whitewash is being conducted and paid for, because the real experts in this area charge more modest fees. What is needed is independent expertise of a very specific kind. The experts involved need to have a detailed knowledge of child protection law and practice, and need to have experience of dealing with safeguarding issues specifically in the context of independent schools. Such experts can be found, but not usually from amongst establishment figures.

This specific expertise is needed because independent schools form a very particular and unique environment, where there is inherently a conflict of interest between protecting the children from a predator who may have obtained a position on the staff, and protecting the reputation of the school.

The first duty requires that cases are properly reported and even publicised, the second absolutely requires that everything is covered up. And many people rationalise their prioritising of the school’s reputation as being for the “greater good” of all the other pupils whose education might be disrupted if the school were to have to close or if their parents decided they needed to change their children’s school. A messy paedophile case unsettles everyone and is terribly bad for business!

The second requirement would be for the inquiry not only to be independent but to be seen to be independent. Given that the Catholic Church has had something of a worldwide problem with child abuse, and given that Ealing Abbey has already had one abortive so-called “independent review”, for any new inquiry to be seen to be independent, the experts appointed would need to have no prior connection either with the school or with the Catholic Church. Child protection is a non-denominational matter and expertise from outside the Catholic Church should be welcomed.

The third requirement would be that the experts must be given free access to all the Abbey’s records, all the school’s records, and be free to interview whoever they wish. That includes present and past monks and teachers, present and former pupils (including victims), parents and any other interested parties. The names, CVs and contact details of the experts conducting the inquiry would need to be published so that anybody who has relevant information can get in touch.

The fourth requirement would be that the Terms of Reference are crystal clear. They must be extensive, enabling the inquiry to go back decades. They must require the inquiry to address the past history of the school and abbey as well as its present procedures. They must require the inquiry to look into the handling of all complaints or allegations of abuse by clergy and lay teachers, including allegations made against people who have not been convicted of any crimes. They must expect the inquiry to address issues of cover-up, where allegations were not forwarded to the civil authorities or where the victims were persuaded by one means or another to remain silent about the abuse. In other words, the terms of reference should enable the inquiry to be as thorough as the Ryan Report was in its investigation into the Archdiocese of Dublin. Any St. Benedict's inquiry would be on a smaller scale, so there is no possible excuse for making it less thorough. Any inquiry would have to be free to make recommendations about teachers and/or monks who are still at St Benedict’s, if the experts think that they pose any kind of threat to the safety of children.

The fifth requirement would be that the report would be published in full. It should protect the identities of victims, whether or not their cases have resulted in criminal prosecutions, but this is the only detail that should be omitted. Any Executive Summary separately published must have been prepared by the experts and not edited in any way by any other person.

In the unlikely event of such an inquiry being set up, I would want to see the following questions asked and answered. If a significant proportion of them weren’t, then I would very much suspect a cover-up, whether or not there was an establishment figure involved.
  1. Has the school or the Abbey made any agreement to pay a sum of money in exchange for not proceeding with a civil action in any case involving sexual or other abuse alleged to have been committed by Father David, Father Stanislaus, John Maestri or any other monk or teacher? If so, when, and how many times, and was a clause included in the agreement(s) requiring the victim(s) to keep the matter confidential?

  2. Was any action taken to restrict the alleged abuser’s access to children at the time of any of these agreements?

  3. Were the allegations made by the victim reported by the Abbey or school to any civil authorities? If not, why not?

  4. When Father David was arrested in January 2008, the Trust sent a Serious Incident Report to the Charity Commission. Did they make any other notifications at that time? (For instance to the Independent Safeguarding Authority?) If not, why not?

  5. Has Father David been arrested on any previous occasion(s)? If so, were any notifications passed to civil authorities (e.g. the ISA, the DCSF Teacher Misconduct Section which preceded the ISA, the LADO, or the Charity Commission) at the time?

  6. What was the reason that Father David was moved from the post of Junior School headmaster? If this was related to concerns about his suitability to be working with children, was a Notification sent to the DCSF Teacher Misconduct Section at that time?

  7. What other complaints have been made regarding inappropriate sexual behaviour by Father David? What was the school’s response on each occasion?

  8. When was it decided that Father David should be placed on a restricted ministry?

  9. What was the reason for making that decision?

  10. What restrictions on Father David were decided on?

  11. What arrangements were made to supervise and enforce the restrictions?

  12. Who was advised that Father David had been placed on restricted ministry?

  13. What reason was given to them for Father David having been placed on restricted ministry?

  14. Were any of those advised of the restricted ministry asked to supervise or enforce the restrictions in any way? If so, what were they asked to do?

  15. Were the civil authorities notified of the decision to put Father David on a restricted ministry?

  16. Paragraph 4.4 of the report of the ISI Inspection carried out on 9-12 November 2009 states “The trustees and advisors are aware of and are 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 minimise risk. The advice received from the independent experts has been fully implemented.” What review was this? Who carried it out? What recommendations were made by the independent experts, and what changes were made in response to the recommendations?

  17. In the Abbot's letter to parents of 2nd October 2009, he stated “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.” What did he mean by “this matter” and “this situation”?

  18. Earlier in the letter he stated “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.” In that context, what did he expect that a reasonable reader would believe was meant by “this matter”?

  19. When did the Abbot decide to commission the independent review referred to in the letter?

  20. Who carried out the review?

  21. Why have their names not been published?

  22. What were the terms of reference given them?

  23. What line of reasoning was followed in deciding on these terms of reference?

  24. When was the report received, and why was it not published?

  25. Who prepared the summary now posted on the Abbey website?

  26. What are the differences between the summary and the original report? Why are they there?

  27. In his letter to parents of 22nd April the Abbot stated that “a number of statements in the newspaper articles were incorrect”. Which statements were these, and why was no effort made in the letter to advise the true situation as he saw it?

  28. In his letter of 22nd April, the Abbot stated “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 the case. The Charity Commission in Para 17 of its report noted that the existing policies “had been reviewed by the appropriate authorities”, and in para 54 noted that “the trustees have confirmed publicly that an independent review will be carried out to ensure that this situation can not reoccur”, but they did not state conform that any review had been carried out. So why did he make that untrue statement?

  29. In his letter of 22nd April, the Abbot stated “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.” Was he aware of the fact that the Independent Schools Inspectorate had by then withdrawn its November 2009 inspection reports from its website? If so, why did he continue to rely on that report?

  30. When Father Stanislaus Hobbs was arrested, were any other civil authorities notified by the school or the Abbey?

  31. Has Father Stanislaus been arrested on any previous occasion?

  32. Has the school or the abbey received any complaints of sexual abuse or similar inappropriate behaviour by Father Stanislaus? What action was taken in response?

  33. What action has been taken as a result of the “Italian incident” described in court during his trial? For instance, was a Notification returned to the DCSF following Father Stanislaus’s admission of abuse?

  34. Has Father Stanislaus been placed under a restricted ministry? If so, is it still in force, what are (or were) the restrictions and how are (were) they enforced?

  35. When was John Maestri first appointed as a teacher at the school?

  36. When were complaints first made concerning sexual abuse or other inappropriate behaviour by John Maestri? What action was taken as a result?

  37. When was it decided that John Maestri should be appointed Middle School Headmaster?

  38. At the time of the decision, what complaints had been made against him regarding sexual abuse or inappropriate behaviour, and how had they been dealt with?

  39. Why did John Maestri not take up his post as Middle School Headmaster?

  40. When did John Maestri leave the school? What prompted his departure?

  41. When John Maestri left, did he take up another teaching position subsequently?

  42. Did the school provide a reference for John Maestri for that or any subsequent teaching position?

  43. Did the reference include any mention of complaints about inappropriate sexual behaviour, or about the reasons for his departure from the school? If not, why not?

  44. Did the school send a Notification to the Teacher Misconduct Section of the Department of Education about the circumstances of his departure (as required by law)?

  45. When did Father Gregory Chillman resign as a Trustee of the trust of St Benedict’s?

  46. For what reason did he resign?

  47. On what date was he arrested?

  48. Was a Notification made to the ISA?

  49. Was a Serious Incident Report sent to the Charity Commission?

  50. Has there been any allegation or complaint made concerning sexual abuse by Father Gregory in his role as priest, teacher and/or Trustee at St Benedict’s? If so, what was done in response?

  51. Has there been any allegation or complaint made concerning sexual abuse in his role of Chaplain and/or Chairman of Governors of St. Augustine’s Priory School? If so, what was done in response?

  52. When did Father Gregory resign as Chaplain of St. Augustine’s Priory School? Why did he resign?

  53. When did Father Gregory resign as Chairman of Governors of St. Augustine’s Priory School? Why did he resign?

  54. Was any Notification passed to the ISA or any other civil authority?

  55. Has Father Gregory been placed under a restricted ministry? If so, who was informed, is it still in force, what are (or were) the restrictions and how are (were) they enforced?

  56. Have any complaints of sexual abuse been made against any other present or former monk or teacher at St. Benedict’s? If so, what was done in response in each case?

  57. Has any other present or former monk or teacher been arrested or otherwise questioned by police in connection with any allegation of sexual abuse? If so, what was done in response by the Abbey and/or school in each case?

  58. Has any present or former monk or teacher been dismissed from a post at the Abbey or school, or resigned rather than risk dismissal, or been redeployed to a different post, as a result of concerns about his/her suitability to be working with children? If so, was a Notification made to the civil authorities in each case?
But I'm sure the Abbey's supporters will say that of course there's no need for any kind of inquiry at all. The Abbot is doing a splendid job! It's sheer impertinence to suggest that any inquiry could possibly be thought to be necessary. If you feel that way, feel free to say so. You will be most welcome.


  1. So many questions of just one school.

    The St Benedicts Way.

  2. St Benedict’s is a school which clearly needs constant safeguarding monitoring which of course cannot happen. The administration of the setting cannot be trusted to undertake the limited statutory roles they are meant to fulfil as one can see from the questioning above.

    The Independent School Incompetents then turn up once every six years with an understanding of safeguarding that would not embarrass the edge of a postage stamp. They hope they will find nothing and invariable don’t from their own enquiries, because of course they are inspecting one of “their club.” If they do have to make safeguarding recommendations the voice is quiet, almost inaudible. As soon as the “inspectors” leave there is no one to police any recommendations that the ISI 'hopes' are followed. So it’s hardly difficult to work out what happens next.

    As the clear and overriding concern at St Benedict’s is that no member of staff is reported to an external agency for alleged abuse, any recommendations that might emerge from the ISI designed to protect children will only appear fleetingly in any policy, just long enough for Superabbott to hear the sound of ISI car doors shutting. Because parents are inevitably excluded from these recommendations made by the “inspectorate” they are left unable to police the recommendations. Ms Ryan – you need to start doing better because you are failing children, schools, and parents because you and your inspectorate are safeguarding incompetent. St Benedict’s is just one example but there are more as we know.

    The ISI really do possess a quite misplaced assessment of their abilities. This is common in the deoxygenated levels of the educational world – the same can be said of Ofsted and the DfE. This triumvirate are like three drunks propping each other up, each useless but managing only just to stay vertical by ensuring their brief is so difficult to grasp that no one gets it including them.

  3. Well Mr West - this posting has had an effect on the screaming Abbeyvistas similar to Top Kill in the Gulf of Mexico and just like the challenge there after weeks of leaking filth - all is quiet.

  4. Well this silence suggests the super believer Abbeyvista's have suddenly discovered that the blind faith they held Superabbott in was misplaced. You see what happens when no one questions and Groupthink takes over!

    The St Benedict's Way

  5. This whole matter of the return of Notifications is interesting. grimersta highlighted this matter in a number of postings. We'll see what the news brings on this matter.

  6. Given that this is just about the only requirement on independent schools that appears in primary legislation, the administration would have to be wholly incompetent (whilst running a multi million pound business) or an accessory to the child abuse that was being committed at the school if they failed to return these statutory instruments’.

    But there are further potentially nasty issues for the school to face if it has been failing to return Notifications.

    More when we know.

  7. Gregory as well???
    We always hated him, but I've not heard of *anything* like that regarding him...

  8. According to the ISI's recent inspection report, at the time they visited, two monks living at the Abbey were subject to restricted ministry. neither is named, but anybody with any familiarity with recent events would immediately be able to identify them as Fr Stanislaus Hobbs and Fr Gregory Chillman.

  9. yes and no.. secrets are still being kept

  10. It's worth bearing in mind that Fr Gregory was 80 when he resigned. I'm not saying that this doesn't mean he's not involved, but old age could be a valid reason for him stepping down.