Monday, 27 September 2010

28 Days

A comment left on the Call For Evidence article said this:
Abuse at St Benedict's has been going on for decades and we have 28 days to submit our evidence!
Of course, he's right. It is completely unreasonable for this to be limited in this way. I've been contacted in private by a significant number of victims of abuse at the school. I know how hard it was for them even to make a private and confidential approach to me. Some of them have gone on to make a report to the police, some have not yet felt able.

Among those who have made a report, in some cases it took a gradual process of encouragement over several weeks before they finally plucked up the courage to pick up the phone and make the call. For the inquiry to go in just 28 days from an impersonal (and obscurely worded) ad in the local paper to victims coming forward with cogent accounts of events which they had suppressed in their memories for anything up to 40 years is just not remotely plausible.

There are only two possible explanations of this.
  1. Those who placed the ad have not the faintest idea of the psychological effect abuse has on children.
  2. Those who placed the ad have deliberately designed the ad in order to get the most minimal possible response.
The ad also omits issues of absolutely vital importance to any victims who might be considering contributing. Issues such as confidentiality - Will my name be published? Will the details of my experiences be given to the school? Will contributing to the inquiry in any way affect my rights to make a civil claim or to report a crime to the police? Would contibuting to the inquiry in any way impede ongoing police investigations?

I sent Lord Carlile an email saying that I had advised any victims who might be considering civil action to consult with their solicitors before making a decision about participating, and that similarly I had advised those who had made statements to the police and where there were ongoing police investigations to check with the police to ensure that any contribution would not hamper police enquiries. He replied as follows.
You are right to suggest that the persons you mention should obtain independent legal advice. I expect such advice to be to the effect that anything said to me will not risk compromise of other proceedings - not least because it is not my intention to publish the material they provide in an attributable manner.
That's fine, but this is the first knowledge I had that  he would not publish such material "in an attributable manner". That ought to have been included in the ad, not in an email reply to me. And unless that intention is published, then any legal advice provided by victims from their solicitors can't make the assumption that the information will be treated confidentially.

Then there are issues of the location of any meetings. Lord Carlile appears to be assuming that for his own convenience and the convenience of those who live near the school, meetings will be held at the school itself, and people will be waiting in the school for the previous meeting to end so they can go in for their own discussion. Nothing could be better calculated to discourage people to come forward than the idea that they would have to return to the scene of the crime in order to give evidence about it. I have arranged to meet Lord Carlile at his chambers. You can too. It is neutral ground, in Central London, away from the school. But it shouldn't be me assuring you of this, this should have been included in the original ad - if the aim was to encourage people to come forward.

Given that a current teacher is under investigation, and there are indications that the abuse has been going on for decades, even if the school were overnight to change so radically that no new abuse were to occur starting tomorrow, the chances are that as past victims gather the courage to come forward, there is going to be a long "tail" to this matter, as people perhaps 30 years hence come forward with complaints of abuse that they suffered at the school in their childhood. The inquiry cannot and will not be the end of the matter.

If you are a victim, even if you find yourself unable to contribute evidence to the Carlile inquiry, that doesn't in any way affect your right to go to the police later on with a description of the abuse you suffered, whenever you find that you have the strength to do so. The Carlile inquiry is entirely separate from any police investigations and has a different purpose.

I've been calling for an independent inquiry since my very first article on this topic back in August last year. I can hardly refuse to co-operate now that it has been set up and I've been invited to give evidence, no matter what my reservations might be about how it has been organised. So I'm going to tell Carlile all I know, subject to the promises of confidentiality I have made to the victims who have contacted me.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Call for Evidence

An advert has appeared in this week's Ealing Gazette, top left quarter of page 17. The wording is as follows:

An enquiry is being undertaken by Queen's Counsel, Lord Carlile of Berriew, in relation to events at St. Benedict's School, and Ealing Abbey, which have given rise to adverse publicity. The terms of reference are:
  • The history of abuse allegations and findings made by and/or at St Benedict’s School.
  • The history of abuse allegations and findings made in connection with Ealing Abbey, and anyone involved in any activities at the Abbey.
  • The action taken in respect of the matters described in paragraphs 1 and 2 above.
  • Past and present policies, written or otherwise, for dealing with such abuse allegations and findings.
  • A future policy for the effective protection of young persons by whom any such allegations are made.
  • An effective complaints system, and the provision of information about such a system.
  • Files and paperwork concerning complaints.
  • Other reassurance for present and prospective students and their parents/guardians.
  • Issues concerning presence at the Abbey or School of persons who have been the subject of findings and/or allegations.
Anybody wishing to provide evidence to the enquiry should do so in writing within 28 days to:

Lord Carlile of Berriew QC
c/o 9-12 Bell Yard
London, WC2A 2JR
Quite frankly, unless anybody already knew about what the publicity has been all about, I doubt very much that this advert would enlighten them. As I've mentioned before, the terms of reference aren't even grammatically stated, and this version is even worse than the one which appears on the school website, in that the numbered list of points has been converted into a bulleted list, making it that much less clear what "paragraphs 1 and 2" are.

But the thing that I think can be discerned from this advert is the true objective of the Trustees. The advert doesn't once mention "sexual abuse" or the harm done to victims, but instead coyly refers to "events" and "allegations", as if these allegations had not already been substantiated in four separate criminal trials and one civil action. Most tellingly, the first paragraph mentions that these events "have given rise to adverse publicity".

That seems to be the primary concern of the Trustees, spelled out in the first paragraph of the advert. The objective is to find a way of damping down the adverse publicity, not to find out the extent to which sexual assaults have been endemic within the school over decades.

I doubt that Lord Carlile saw the wording of this advert before it was approved for publication. But in due course I will be able to find out.

If you are a victim of sexual abuse at the school or the Abbey, then I have the plea for you: Please go to the police and report it. It doesn't matter if the abuse happened last week, last year, 10 or 30 or even 50 years ago. It doesn't matter if the perpetrator is now dead or already in prison. It doesn't matter if you feel that the abuse you suffered is "relatively minor". Any kind of sexual abuse can be thought of as "relatively minor" compared to forcible rape or buggery, but many kinds are nonetheless illegal and can wreck the victims' lives.

You may feel that there is no point - that it would be your word against your abuser's. But if several different victims of the same abuser all come forward, then it is no longer a matter of the unsupported word of one victim. So by coming forward you might not only obtain justice for yourself, but also help others to obtain that justice, and help ensure that pupils at the school today are made more safe.

The police can use every piece of information that is provided to them. The more they have, the more detailed is the picture they can build of those who have been involved, either in actual abuse or as an accessory to crimes by engaging in a cover-up, procuring the silence of victims.

Paedophile abusers depend on obtaining the silence of their victims, through fear, shame or misplaced loyalty. And they are very good at instilling all these. Abusers who are Catholic priests have all the magisterial authority of the Catholic Church to draw on, they can fill you with fear that you will be condemned to hell if you tell, they can threaten you or your family with ruination, they can tell you that nobody would believe you. They can make claims on your loyalty because of other help or assistance they have provided to you or your family, they can say how much harm would be done to the school (and to your education) if you were to have to leave or he were to stop teaching you. Because they have worked themselves into positions of trust and authority, they are especially dangerous, because parents have trusted them with the care of their children.

If you decide you are able to come forward and report crimes to the police, it is worth also considering providing a submission to Lord Carlile's inquiry. Any contribution to that can go wider than merely describing crimes against you. You can describe the overall atmosphere and culture of the school, so he can decide whether that contributed to allowing the sexual abuse to remain hidden for so long.

Let's tell Lord Carlile what has really been going on. Write to him, ask for a meeting. He may suggest that he meets with you at the school, but if the school holds bad or fearful memories for you, you are under absolutely no obligation to meet him there.

I shall be meeting Lord Carlile, and after the recent unpleasantness outside the school gates, I have told him that it would be entirely inappropriate to meet on school premises. I have made an appointment to meet him at his chambers in Bell Yard. If you want to meet him to go through your account in person, you can make the same request.

Lord Carlile has requested that the meeting be private, in that no account of it (beyond the fact that a meeting has taken place) is published before he issues his report. My guess is that this request is being made as a matter of course to all those he is arranging to meet, and I think that is fair enough, though I've pointed out that it's not reasonable for other accounts to be suppressed in perpetuity should publication of his report be cancelled or unreasonably delayed.

As I understand it, the Call for Evidence advert will also be placed in the national papers as well. If you happen to see one please let me know. I've suggested to Lord Carlile that the call for evidence should also be placed on the Abbey and School websites, included in a letter to all parents, and sent out as an email to everybody on the OPA mailing list. To the best of my knowledge none of this has been done so far.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Reporting abuse to the police

A comment today on my previous article raises some important issues, sufficiently important that I'm going to repeat part of the comment here and respond rather than simply reply in another comment on the other article.

The kind of dilemmas I face in coming forward include (1) is my own complaint enough - an allegation that one of the three parties under investigation would regularly squeeze my thigh high-up during regular extra coaching sessions as a tongue-in-cheek and slow punishment for getting answers wrong? It's horrible to have to explain it and even worse if it doesn't help the police make a case.(2)Although I know this is wrong, one cannot help having a sense of guilt about betraying Benedictines who, along with abuse, did actually help me a lot, and I have had it said to me by a former old boy contemporary that to go public with any complaint would be a very wicked thing to do. It would certainly upset a lot of people if they were to know.
I do entirely sympathise with your dilemma, and have heard similar things expressed by other victims, both at St. Benedict's and elsewhere. Your concerns and reactions are entirely normal for the situation you find yourself in.

Let's deal with the individual points in turn.

Is my own complaint enough? By itself, perhaps not enough for a criminal prosecution. But it might help police discern part of a larger pattern of abuse which enables them to move forward with a prosecution. There's also the matter of Lord Carlile's inquiry which I'm going to discuss again in another article soon.

It's horrible to have to explain it. I wholly sympathise. I've heard the same from others. This is a major reason so few victims ever come forward, and why it is that of those who do come forward it takes so many of them decades to summon the courage. But if you can summon that courage, I think that you will find that in the long run it helps you with the rest of your life, it will be a bit of control you have wrested from those who would have you remain silent and helpless. From what I've seen of other victims, taking power back in this way often does wonders for the person's confidence and self-esteem.

It's even worse if it doesn't help the police make a case. If you don't come forward, it can't possibly help the police. But you know from other arrests and prosecutions that the police have taken an interest, and that their interest is continuing. The chances are that it will help, even if it is only in a small way. And of course, if you don't come forward, there is perhaps an increased chance that other children will end up suffering as you did.

Although I know this is wrong, one cannot help having a sense of guilt about betraying Benedictines who, along with abuse, did actually help me a lot.  Gary Glitter had some good songs as well, and those songs gave a lot of enjoyment to people in his day. That doesn't make the abuses right, nor mean that he didn't deserve to go to jail for them. And of course, it was only because they worked themselves into positions of trust and authority that those Benedictines were able to have access to so many children and were so able to do so much damage to them. Some of the monks and priests who didn't actually participate in the abuse are undoubtedly complicit by themselves remaining silent in the face of anything that they have seen and heard. The fact is that the good they did is what they said that they were supposed to do.

I have had it said to me by a former old boy contemporary that to go public with any complaint would be a very wicked thing to do. This old boy is saying that it is OK for priests to abuse children and not OK for the abuse to be reported. I'll leave it to you to decide what form of morality this represents.

It would certainly upset a lot of people if they were to know. Social pressures. Who do you think has been involved in building up those social pressures? Amongst others, it is the very priests who have been involved in the abuses. Clever career paedophiles go to great efforts to burnish their outward appearance of respectability.

Paedophile abusers thrive on secrecy and silence. They rely on their victims not coming forward. The main reason it is so difficult to come forward is that imperative not to tell was imprinted at an emotional level long before your rational mind was sufficiently developed to question and reject an order of this kind coming from somebody in such a position of high authority.

Some victims have gone on to make statements to the police after contacting me privately. The reports that I have had of the interview process are that it is handled sensitively, that time is given where necessary for coffee or smoke breaks to allow the victim to recover his composure after going through a difficult part of the interview, and the officers conducting the interview are specialists in investigating this kind of crime.

If you come forward and live in the London area, you will probably be invited to come to Northwood Police Station to give your statement, and be interviewed by one or more officers of the Northwood Child Abuse Investigation Team.

If you live elsewhere in the country and reaching London is difficult for you, then as I understand it what normally happens is that you will be interviewed by officers from a Child Abuse Investigation Team from your local police force, and your statement and a videotape of the interview is sent to Northwood.

This is what will probably happen if you are a victim of abuse at St. Benedict's. If you happen to have come across this blog having been abused elsewhere, the procedure will of course vary to some extent - it will be a different Child Abuse Investigation team which investigates your case.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Continuing shortcomings in the Child Protection Policy

I have to say that as a result of the DfE having a hissy-fit about the May 2010 version of the Child Protection policy, the new September 2010 version is somewhat better. But it would have required a very serious effort to make it worse than the May 2010 version, so saying it is an improvement isn't that much of a commendation. There certainly isn't enough of an improvement to justify the policy being described as "good" or even "adequate". It still has very serious deficiencies. These are some of the most obvious:

Section 22 deals with the duties of the Designated Teacher, but does not specify what the Designated Teacher will actually do on receiving a report or allegation of abuse, but rather there is a list of things which the Designated Teacher "will take into account". This kind of wriggle-room is precisely what a Child Protection Policy ought not to have.

The training requirements with regard to safeguarding remain wholly inadequate. Section 9 specifies that the Designated Teachers and deputies shall receive "basic child protection training and training in inter-agency working and will attend refresher training at two yearly intervals". Other staff, according to section 16(h) are to undertake "appropriate training including refresher training at three-yearly intervals". What is "appropriate" is not specified, but is presumably less than the "basic" training specified for the Designated Teachers. This falls far short of the recommendations of the Ealing Safeguarding Children Board, as indicated in their Training brochure. This document indicates that the Ealing SCB Target Group 3 training is suitable for Designated Teachers and people with comparable levels of responsibility for safeguarding matters, while Target Group 2 training appears to be the level suitable for other teaching staff, and Target Group 1 is suitable for ancillary staff who have occasional contact with pupils. Only the Target Group 1 training could reasonably be described as "basic". The Child Protection Policy should be specific in describing the required levels of training, and should reflect the recommendations of the local Safeguarding Children Board.

The ISI supplementary report mentions that a member of the Board of School Advisers has been appointed as the "child protection governor". However, this person's name and duties are not stated anywhere in the Child Protection Policy. Also, the policy makes reference in section 31 to "Other staff with Child Protection responsibilities", but does not describe what their responsibilities and duties are. There's no point in having such positions unless there is some description of what the occupants of those positions are supposed to do.

Appendix 2 appears to have been copied and pasted whole from the policy of another school. No attempt has been made to harmonise the text with the rest of the policy. An obvious example is that Appendix 2 refers to "Child Protection Officers" rather than "Designated Teachers". It is clearly necessary that this new Appendix is properly integrated into the policy and that any necessary consequential changes to other clauses are made, to ensure that there is no contradiction or confusion between potentially conflicting requirements in different clauses.

Although the policy is now clearer about always referring cases to Social Services, it doesn't state that allegations of adult-on-child abuse shall always be referred specifically to the Local Authority Designated Officer for Child Protection (LADO). This needs to be changed.

The policy is silent on the procedures to be followed on completion of a police or Social Services investigation, either in terms of what to do with a teacher pending a criminal trial, or in terms of what procedures to follow if the case is passed back to the school for further investigation and/or disciplinary action under the school's internal procedures. This is a particular concern, since the school is presumably applying these non-existent procedures to the current investigation of the suspended teacher.

Section 30 requires that the Designated Teacher shall monitor the operation of the policy and procedures. Since a large proportion of the procedures are carried out by the Designated Teacher, we have the ridiculous situation where the Designated Teacher is supposed to monitor his own actions. A more independent monitoring scheme needs to be put in place.
The overwhelming impression is that the school has made the minimal changes necessary to scrape through the regulatory requirements, and that there is no desire or intention on the part of the school to make the thorough overhaul of both its policies and the school culture that would be necessary to promote excellence in its safeguarding practices, as described in Recommendation 2 of the ISI Supplementary Report. The headmaster even tried to pass off the May 2010 version as "wholly compliant" until the DfE rumbled him. It took me 22 articles to highlight the shortcomings of that version, and even then I probably missed a few!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Providing Evidence to Lord Carlile

Lord Carlile is conducting his inquiry into safeguarding and child abuse at St. Benedict's School, and I understand that he's willing to take submissions from anybody connected with the school who has any knowledge, information or concerns that they want to impart.

It appears that Lord Carlile intends holding meetings at the school itself. This seems to me to be a fantastically bad idea - any former pupil who was a victim of sexual abuse or other mistreatment at the school is likely to find the thought of re-entering the school very intimidating, especially if the purpose is to dredge up painful memories of past events there. Even parents who have had bad experiences with the school might find it difficult to go into the school to meet Lord Carlile.

I have been in contact to make arrangements to meet Lord Carlile, and I have requested that we meet away from school premises.

As far as I can tell, neither the school nor abbey website has yet published any means by which parents, former pupils or others can contact Lord Carlile directly.

So if you have information you want to pass to the inquiry, but feel that it would be too intimidating either to pass written submissions via the school or to go into the school for a meeting, I am happy to act as a channel, either to pass a request to Lord Carlile for a meeting elsewhere or to pass on a written submission. Email me at

But if you want me to act as a channel to Lord Carlile please contact me soon, ideally within the next week. As I understand it, he's aiming to get his report completed by the end of the year, it will take time to order all the evidence that he has received, and I don't doubt that he still has other commitments to fit in. I can only presume that he's going to try and fit in as much evidence-gathering and as many meetings and interviews as possible into early October.

The Carlile Inquiry

We now know a bit about the Carlile Inquiry. The inquiry was described in the meeting on 14th September and the the Terms of Reference have been posted on the school website. They are as follows:
To provide a report and recommendations covering the following issues:
  1. The history of abuse allegations and findings made by and/or at St Benedict’s School.
  2. The history of abuse allegations and findings made in connection with Ealing Abbey, and anyone involved in any activities at the Abbey.
  3. The action taken in respect of the matters described in paragraphs 1 and 2 above.
  4. Past and present policies, written or otherwise, for dealing with such abuse allegations and findings.
  5. A future policy for the effective protection of young persons by whom any such allegations are made.
  6. An effective complaints system, and the provision of information about such a system.
  7. Files and paperwork concerning complaints.
  8. Other reassurance for present and prospective students and their parents/guardians.
  9. Issues concerning presence at the Abbey or School of persons who have been the subject of findings and/or allegations.
The first and most obvious thing we can say is that this appears to be authentic Abbotspeak. As with the previous "independent review", it appears that the Abbot is constitutionally incapable of creating a numbered list consisting wholly of grammatical and meaningful sentences. One would have thought that given the huge amounts of money that they are about to spend on this inquiry (somebody who is a Lord and senior QC isn't exactly going to be cheap) that they would have taken a bit more of a look at this before publishing. It doesn't exactly stand up as an advert for the quality of education currently provided by the school.

With respect to items 1 and 2, the question is "findings by whom"? Whose findings are we concerned about here? If we are talking about the school's findings, then items 1 and 2 will be very quickly be disposed of, since the school has hardly ever found that anybody has abused anybody at all!

Whether there is anything to report with regard to item 3 depends to a great extent on how Lord Carlile interprets items 1 and 2.

On all these points, there is a worrying point in that nothing is said about how far into the past Lord Carlile is to probe. The earliest account of abuse I'm aware of dates from the late 1940s, and there is no reason to expect that the earliest example I happen to have heard of is the earliest that has occurred. If Lord Carlile is going to get to the start of the abuse, he might have to end up investigating the founding of the Abbey back in 1897 and of the school in 1902!

With regard to item 4, it might be hard to obtain evidence about unwritten policies. But the absence of written policies or the failure to follow written policies shouldn't be too hard to spot.

Item 5 is simply not grammatical. If it had ended with "young persons" then it might have made more sense. I suppose I'll have to ask Lord Carlile what he thinks it means when I meet him.

Item 6 is unclear. Does in mean investigating whether there has been and effective complaints system in the past or whether there is one at present? Or is it accepting that there isn't, and this point is about what needs to be done to institute a complaints system in future?

In any case a "complaints system" is far too broad an issue. Complaints about what? This inquiry is supposed to be focussed on safeguarding, and therefore what is needed is an effective and well-operated child protection policy. An effective child protection policy by definition includes provisions for dealing with allegations of child abuse. It seems that the trustees don't even have a clear idea about the basic vocabulary of child protection, let alone how to run a child protection policy in a school. I suspect that Lord Carlile might have his work cut out!

Item 7 is also ambiguous. Does this mean that Lord Carlile will review existing files and paperwork concerning complaints, or that he will make recommendations concerning how such files should be maintained in future?

And what on earth is this business about reassurance in item 8? How on earth is Lord Carlile supposed to investigate that? In fact, I rather suspect this betrays the Trustees' real objectives in this. They are spending a sum probably of the order of a quarter of a million pounds on an exercise in reassurance. As the headmasters comments at the safeguarding meeting amply showed, there is no evidence of any interest in actually improving safeguarding, but they want to give the impression that Something Is Being Done. Lord Carlile's name will of course appear on the cover page of the report in letters rather larger than the title. And of course a glossily printed copy will be sent to each parent. The aim is to provide a reassurance to parents that All Is Well Really, if with some minor tweaks to procedures.

Sorry if the capital letters make this all look a bit like Winnie the Pooh, but as far as I can tell, this is how the school is actually in the habit of addressing parents, as if they were three years old and being read a bedtime story. With some parents it may work. The interesting thing is going to be whether Lord Carlile is prepared to go along with such an exercise in reassurance. It may turn out that he feels that the abuse had been so bad and the attempt to avoid facing it is so blatant that he isn't prepared to go along with it and issues a surprisingly critical report. We shall see.

Item 9 is really none of the inquiry's business. There are legal obligations which the Abbot is trying to sort out with the Department for Education, but the law and the ISI's recommendations are perfectly clear. The school, as part of its duty of care to the children, has a legal obligation to ensure that persons who are known to a be a danger to children are kept off the premises.

There is another issue here, and that is what has been left out of the Terms of Reference. The above covers what his Report is supposed to contain. But the Terms of reference don't include anything about how he is to go about his inquiry.

This was filled in a bit by the headmaster at the meeting last week. Apparently Lord Carlile will be interviewing people in addition to looking at documents. Adverts are to be put in the local and national press inviting old boys and victims to come forward and give evidence. And even I have received an email invitation to speak to him! But there is one obvious way of encouraging OPs to come forward with their experiences which seems to have been forgotten - an email to the OP main email list. Or perhaps it is just that Richard Baker is less than keen on more evidence appearing about the activities of his friend David Pearce.

But the real problem with this inquiry is that it ends merely with a Report. The trustees will have spent all that money, and still will not know how to operate an effective child protection policy. To change that, several additional things are going to have to happen.
  1. The Trustees and headmasters are going to have to decide that they want to have an effective policy
  2. The Trustees, headmasters are going to have to be provided with an unambiguous and well-written policy and set of procedures, that not only meets the school's legal obligations but is a model of excellence.
  3. The Trustees, headmasters and staff need to learn how to operate the policy
  4. The Trustees, headmasters and staff need to have ongoing mentoring to ensure that they don't drop back into old bad habits.
At present, the evidence from the headmasters comments in the Safeguarding meeting offers no confidence that even item 1 can be achieved.

Item 2 isn't all that hard, I know where a model policy can be found and it would be a straightforward matter to adapt it to the school.

Item 3 is much harder, especially if the will from top management is absent. But if that problem can be overcome, there are organisations who could come in and provide a consulting and training service for this. One possible organisation is the Lucy Faithfull Foundation.

Item 4 can be dealt with by ongoing mentoring and refresher training from the same organisation, if there is the will from management.

The interesting thing though is that these four items could be achieved perfectly well without involving Lord Carlile at all, but by commissioning the Lucy Faithfull Foundation or somebody similar immediately.

So why are they spending all this money on Lord Carlile?

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Keeping the Faith

ITV1's documentary Keeping the Faith earlier this week contained an extended segment about St. Benedict's School. The section about St. Benedict's starts about 15 minutes into the programme.

The programme includes interviews with two victims of Father David Pearce, from the 1980's and 1990's. I know who both victims are though of course I shall not name either. I had no part in the making of the documentary. The complaints from the victim named "James" in the programme didn't result in a criminal prosecution because James's father unfortunately died before he was able to successfully press charges. The Abbot at the time flatly refused to discuss the matter. However, the threat of scandal almost certainly resulted in Pearce being moved from the post of Junior School Headmaster a year after James's father first made his complaint. The Abbot of the time was Lawrence Soper, the monk now living abroad who is being required to return to the UK and report to a police station to answer questions concerning child abuse.

The second victim "Mark" spoke of abuse that spanned over ten years, apparently starting in the 1990s, and described systematic and regular abuse not only of himself but of other boys, and stated that it is completely implausible that the Abbey authorities had no idea of what was going on. He is one of the victims of crimes for which Pearce was convicted. Pearce was ultimately convicted of a string of offences spanning 36 years, from 1972 to 2007.

But the most gobsmacking thing about the documentary is the part of the interview with Archbishop Vincent Nichols which dealt with the subject of St. Benedict's. The segment of the interview followed a narration which explained that Pearce had been abusing at the time that Nichols was chairman of COPCA, the body responsible for setting in place child protection guidelines within the church. Here is the relevant part of the interview.
Q: You put the guidelines in place, you made sure that things happened in parishes up and down the country, and yet we have St. Benedict's in Ealing, it was happening whilst you were in charge of the guidelines. What are your reflections on that?

VN: Anybody that produces guidelines knows that they are only as strong as they are implemented. And the duty for implementing them lies at different levels in the church. The church is quite a complex old thing, this is a Benedictine house, therefore the lines of accountability lie within the Benedictine community.

Q: What was your reaction when you heard about... well it was the tip of the iceberg as well, really at St. Benedicts.

VN: COPCA did not receive reports on cases, so we were not managing cases and allegations. We were trying to provide a framework within which those with immediate responsibility should work, and clearly it didn't work in this case.
The response to the first question can basically be summed up in the words "nothing to do with me, guv". He's saying that the guidelines are OK, and it's all the Abbot's fault that they weren't properly implemented. If I were the Abbot seeing that interview, my reaction would be "Gee thanks Archbishop!"

And Nichols is also saying that even though he now knows all about the problem, he can't do anything about it, because "the lines of accountability lie within the Benedictine community". So it's nothing to do with him at all. Hands washed entirely clean of the business. Pontius Pilate couldn't have worded it better.

Nichols quite frankly comes out very badly in his answer to the second question as well. Actual cases of child abuse within the church are far too lowly a matter for the chairman of COPCA to dirty his hands with. He produced his guidelines and then apparently showed no interest at all in whether they were working or whether they were being implemented. One would have thought that some passing interest in current cases coming to light would have been appropriate, if only to see whether the guidelines were being implemented properly and whether the cases had highlighted weaknesses that needed to be addressed. But no, it seems that the grand theory of the guidelines mustn't be sullied with such inconvenient things as facts.

This is the degree of support your children will get from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church as a whole. They will try to push the whole business onto the Benedictines, and since the Benedictines report direct to Rome, and they will tell you that you will have to write to Rome in order to get anything done. In fact, that is precisely what Vincent Nichols' Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser Peter Turner has said. I asked him some time ago what routes were available in the event that the Abbot remained intransigent. This is what he wrote in reply.
You asked me to ascertain who is responsible for overseeing the Abbot and I have tried to explain below.

The Abbot President (Abbot Robert Yeo) [sic] has the duty to advise and warn, but cannot directly intervene in the life of a united Community.

The local bishops have an interest but like the President have no power to directly intervene

Ultimately there is recourse to the Holy See. This could be done via the Apostolic Nuncio, but he’s very sick, so you would have to approach the Congregation for Institutes of Religious Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in Rome. They could ultimately invoke an Apostolic Visitation, but they’d probably go first to the Abbot President

The Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation
Abbot Richard Yeo OSB
Downside Abbey
Bath BA3 4RH
Of course, Vincent Nichols is not really quite as helpless as he makes out. There has been a comparable case in the Benedictine monastery of Ettal in Bavaria, where Archbishop Reinhard Marx of the archdiocese of Munich-Friesing asked  Benedictine Abbott Barnabas Bögle of the Ettal Abbey and Prior Maurus Kraß of the abbey’s school to resign. In response, an Apostolic Visitation was carried out. Ultimately Cardinal Franc Rode, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, cleared the names of the abbot and prior and said that the visitation found "that Abbot Barnabas had done all he was required to", even though Ettal is one of three church schools in Bavaria which have been rocked by abuse scandals.

But Archbishop Vincent Nichols hasn't even done that much. You really are on your own.

Correspondence with the headmaster

After the original November 2009 inspection reports were issued, I wrote to the headmaster.

From: Jonathan West
Date: 11 February 2010 17:02
Subject: ISI Inspection reports
To: Senior School Headmaster

Dear Mr Cleugh,

I have just had the opportunity to read the ISI inspection reports for both the Senior and Junior School.

There is one matter about which I am extremely curious and I would like your help in clarifying. Paragraph 4.4 of the Senior School report and paragraph 4.5 of the Junior School report both make mention (using more or less identical wording) of an independent review that was conducted of the measures taken to minimize risk, following the case of Father David Pearce (though he is not mentioned by name in either report).

I notice that the most recent child protection policies published on the school website are dated 1st September 2009. I met the Abbot on 10th September to discuss issues arising from the conviction of Father David, and suggested that an independent review would be a good idea. He said that he would give the matter some thought, but did not promise to proceed with such a review.

On 2nd October, the day Father David was sentenced, the Abbot made a press statement in which he promised an independent  review.

The promise of an independent review is also mentioned in the report published in December of the two Statutory Inquiries held by the Charity Commission. The Commissioners stated that they looked forward to receiving the report of this review.

The Abbot again promised a review in a statement made to the Ealing Gazette in response to the Charity Commission criticisms. This statement was included in an article published on 7th January this year.

I have in the past asked the Abbot for details of this independent review, but he has not so far been willing to provide any.

So perhaps you could help. Could you please indicate what information you provided to the ISI inspectors that led them to state that the review had been conducted and that "the advice from the independent experts has been fully implemented."

Furthermore, I have some quite serious concerns about the adequacy of the existing safeguarding policy as published. I have made those concerns known in writing to the Abbot in his capacity as chairman of governors, but have not had the courtesy of a reply.

I attach a copy of the comments I made to the Abbot. As you can see they go into considerable detail concerning the procedures described, and their shortcomings in terms of clarity and consistency.

Yours sincerely
Jonathan West
The list of comments I attached was the same as I had previously sent to the Abbot (without receiving any reply), and had subsequently published.

Mr Cleugh replied two weeks later.

From: Senior School Headmaster
Date: 25 February 2010 11:54
Subject: RE: ISI Inspection reports
To: Jonathan West

Dear Mr West

My apologies for the delay in replying to your e-mail dated 11th February, but the school was closed for half term and I myself was away.

I do assure you that we do take our child protection procedures most seriously and review our policies regularly and with the guidance of both the Diocese and the Local Authority.  The safety and welfare of all the children is of paramount importance to us.

When we are next reviewing our policies, which will be towards the end of this academic year, we shall take your comments into account.

Yours sincerely

Chris Cleugh
An email assuring the paramountcy of the welfare of children is a waste of electrons unless it is backed by policies and procedures that actually protect the welfare of children. I replied as follows:
From: Jonathan West
Date: 25 February 2010 18:46
Subject: Re: ISI Inspection reports
To: Senior School Headmaster

Dear Mr Cleugh

Unfortunately, you have neglected to answer the specific question I put. It was this:

Could you please indicate what information you provided to the ISI inspectors that led them to state that the review had been conducted and that "the advice from the independent experts has been fully implemented."

I would be grateful for a response on this particular point.

Jonathan West
And answer came there none.

As it turns out, the DfE agreed with me that the school's procedures were inadequate - the headmaster would have been better advised to take some notice of me.

It's probably worth repeating Section 4.4 of the ISI's November report on the Senior School.
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.

In the meeting last Tuesday, Mr. Cleugh gave a somewhat confusing account of this, suggesting that the ISI had managed to get two completely different cases mixed up, that there had been a separate review of the risks posed by Father Stanislaus Hobbs in addition to the diocesan review of Father David Pearce.

But if that were so, then the ISI would surely have made reference in this paragraph to two cases. But they didn't. The only reasonable conclusion is that the ISI was not made aware of the Hobbs situation. Given that Father Stanislaus Hobbs resigned as a Trustee in 2005 at the time of his arrest, the school had a statutory duty to send a Notification to the DCSF Teacher Misconduct Section in Darlington. And that Notification should already have been available to the inspectors when they arrived in November 2009.

And if the failure to make a Notification at the time in 2005 had merely been due to an oversight, it ought to have been rectified in information provided by the school in the pre-inspection questionnaire, so that the inspectors had full information by the time they visited.

Friday, 17 September 2010


Apparently I received an honourable mention from the headmaster at last night's prizegiving ceremony at St. Benedict's School. Parents were told about this blog (though in indirect terms) and warned to be highly skeptical about what it contains.

If you are reading these words as a result of wondering what the headmaster was talking about, let me welcome you, and add that I entirely agree with the headmaster about not taking my word for anything.

Read as much as you wish, compare what I say with official documents, the Abbot's letters to parents, the school's child protection policy, what you have discussed with teachers or other parents, and then make up your own mind.

If you conclude that there is nothing to concern you, then fine. On the other hand, if you decide you do have a worry, then feel free to contact me in confidence. Send me an email, my address is

Why didn't victims approach the police before?

One commenter on Outside the Safeguarding meeting has asked the following.
I have to say that I find some of the comments posted here - utterly bizarre. If the anonymous above have had such a bad time at st benedict's, why didn't they go to the police about their experiences with Father David? He was sentenced on 5 separate counts yet there were many more boys who were abused by him. Without the statements from those affected the police were unable to take any further action. It is not just the Abbey who are to blame here - so too are the many ex pupils and parents who knew and yet did nothing. Going to the Abbot to complain is not enough. It was a criminal offence and so they should have gone straight to the police with their child.
If you genuinely wish to understand why victims often don't come forward for years or even decades, and are prepared to spend 90 minutes doing so, then I recommend that you watch the documentary Chosen. It is available online at the link I've provided. Or if you don't have 90 minutes, read the review in the Guardian or The Times or The Independent instead.

In the documentary, three victims of child sex abuse at Caldicott School, all now in middle age, describe their experiences, how they were groomed and then abused, and how they were made to feel complicit, and how at one point one of them even denied there was anything going on when directly asked about it. And they describe the devastating effect it has had on their adult lives.

I have seen the entire film, and I also attended Pearce's sentencing hearing and so heard the recitation of the offences by the prosecuting barrister. As a result I can tell tell you that there is a great similarity between the grooming techniques used by Pearce and those used by the abusers at Caldicott, so if you watch Chosen, you will understand some of what has been going on at St. Benedict's and why it is so hard for the victims to come forward. You can be quite certain that there are a very great many victims of Pearce and others at St. Benedict's who have not yet summoned the courage to tell anybody about it.

If your child is groomed and then abused in  this fashion, then it is quite likely that he or she may never tell you about it. It is not uncommon for victims to feel unable to speak out until their parents are dead, because they cannot bear to cause the additional distress involved in confronting their parents with the fact that they have failed in a most basic and catastrophic way to protect their child.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

ITV Documentary

The documentary this evening on ITV1 Keeping the Faith includes a significant segment about Father David Pearce and the complicity of the school authorities. It includes interviews with two of Father David's victims. It is available on the ITV Player for the next 30 days.

From inside the meeting

I've now had some excellent reports from parents about the meeting. I was amazed by some of the things that were said. I can't cover everything that I've been told, so I'm just going to address a few key points.

One of the first points that Mr Cleugh apparently made was to the effect that the ISI's issues primarily revolved whether the school automatically passed allegations of abuse to the authorities without "investigation". As I understand it, Mr Cleugh claimed that of course the school has always referred all cases (or was it nearly all cases?), and that the "investigation" carried out by the school is just a basic check to see whether there is any issue to refer. He claimed that the issue with the ISI boiled down to a semantic one of whether this should actually be called an "investigation" in the the Child Protection Policy, and that he was able to make the child protection policy fully compliant by minor edits replacing "investigated" wherever it occurred with some other form of words..

If I've understood this correctly, then this is absolute rubbish. Mr Cleugh has accurately described the change he made in the May 2010 version of the policy, but it is decidedly not the case that the Child Protection Policy stated that all cases will automatically be referred. This is paragraph 23 of the May 2010 version of the policy.
23. Referral guidelines: A referral to the SSD or police will not normally be made where:
  • a referral would be contrary to the wishes of a pupil complainant who is of sufficient maturity and understanding and properly informed, and contrary also to the wishes of the complainant's parents; and
  • the case is one that can be satisfactorily dealt with under the School's internal procedures, the parents being kept fully informed, as appropriate.
However, if during the course of the internal procedures and the procedures required under paragraph 5, it appears that the situation is more serious, the Designated Teacher will again consider whether a referral should be made in accordance with paragraph 22 above.
This is not a form of words which indicates a policy of automatic referral. The referral doesn't happen if against the wishes of the pupil, or if the school's internal procedures (whatever they are) can handle it. I've analysed this paragraph in more detail elsewhere. This is far from the only example of text which provides for substantive decisions before a referral is made. Look back through past articles on this blog. I've analysed the child protection policy paragraph by paragraph, starting here. Then make up your own mind as to whether this was a policy of automatic referral.

Interestingly, and apparently as a result of the DfE's intervention, this paragraph has been changed. In the September 2010 edition of the policy, it now reads as follows:
23. Referral guidelines
Our policy is to refer all matters of concern to the Social Services Department.
Much better. But there are other related paragraphs that haven't yet been brought into line with this. The Designated Teacher is normally the person supposed to make the referral, and yet paragraph 22 still doesn't specify what the Designated Teacher must do on receiving a report. Instead, paragraph 22 gives a long list of things that the Designated Teacher "will take into account". I've analysed the May 2010 version of para 22 in more detail here. Some items in the bullet list in the September 2010 version have been changed, and so the current version is somewhat improved. But it still has this fundamental weakness.

And as for Mr. Cleugh's claim that the school actually always reports cases, this is not borne out by the ISI's findings. This is what the ISI says about the reporting of allegations
The allegations against Fr DP were referred to social services by the school following disclosure by a pupil. The school’s safeguarding records since 2003 do not mention any other report to social services in connection with concerns related to staff, volunteers, trustees or monks. All have been family or other matters. Safeguarding contacts have also been maintained with the Westminster Diocesan Safeguarding Commission. The Abbot made a statement disclosing the cases of Fr DP and another monk, and each headmaster issued copies in March 2006, with covering letters to parents.
The rules on reporting apply to governors and Trustees just as much as they do to staff. And yet, since 2003 Father Stanislaus Hobbs has been arrested and tried and Father Gregory Chillman investigated. Both have resigned as Trustees. And yet no records of any referrals concerning them (or any other staff member or trustee) were found by the ISI or produced by the school.

The rules are even more strict about resignations or sackings in circumstances where a person's suitability to be in charge of children is in question. Since about 1959 it has been a statutory requirement for a school to return a Notification to the authorities (used to be to the Department for Children Schools and Families, now it is to the Independent Safeguarding Authority) describing the circumstances. This is what the ISI report stated about this matter.
At the time of the follow-up inspections, the school did not have a fully established policy for reporting directly to the Department for Education and Skills (later the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and currently the Department for Education) or to the Independent Safeguarding Authority, responsible for such referrals since 20 January 2009. The advisability of making such referrals is now clearly understood even when there may not be a strict legal obligation to do so, and an historical referral was made in May 2010.
 In fact, this is not quite true. The school does have a written policy on this. This is the last paragraph of Section 26.
If the School ceases to use the services of a member of staff (or a governor or volunteer) because they are unsuitable to work with children, a compromise agreement will not be used and there will be a prompt and detailed report to the Independent Safeguarding Authority. Any such incidents will be followed by a review of the safeguarding procedures within the School, with a report being presented to the Governors without delay.
This is perfectly clear and in fact is one of the few well-written parts of the Child Protection Policy. There's just one small problem: in the cases of Hobbs and Chillman, they didn't follow the policy.

Now, this is a very serious matter. It means that not only was the school's policy seriously inadequate, but the school didn't even bother to follow the bits of it that are clear.

Let us be perfectly blunt about this. In failing to make those Notifications, the school has broken the law. So merely getting the school's written policies into a fit state will not guarantee that the school will actually follow the policies.

Next is the issue of Father Stanislaus Hobbs. He is living in the monastery under restricted covenant, imposed because he was considered a danger to children. The ISI made this issue the subject of its first recommendation.
1. Ensure that any staff or members of the religious community live away from the school, if they are subject to allegations of misconduct related to safeguarding or convicted of wrongdoing.
I understand that the Abbot gave a long speech on how Father Stan is old, unable to live by himself, that finding alternative accommodation for him is not easy and that the Abbot is negotiating with the ISI and DfE to gain their agreement to an exemption in his case. That may all be so, and ultimately the ISI and DfE might agree to an exemption. But until it is agreed, it is grossly misleading for Anthony Nelson, the school's solicitor, to have told The Times in August that the school was fully compliant with the ISI's requirements when he knew perfectly well that this issue had not been resolved. It think it's not unreasonable simply to call this a lie.

I'd now like to address the idea that almost all the cases are historical and needn't concern current parents. As I understand it, this line was pushed pretty consistently throughout the meeting. But a parent rather pricked the balloon when he asked whether there had been any cases in the last 12 months other than those referred to in the ISI report. It appears that Mr. Cleugh hesitated somewhat before admitting that a teacher is currently suspended while an investigation is carried out concerning child abuse allegations. He quickly went on to say that Social Services have been brought in, but the police are not interested that it is not a criminal matter, that the children are all entirely safe, and while the investigation is continuing he can't provide further details.

To a degree I can have some sympathy with this. But that sympathy doesn't extend to condoning the claims he had made only a few minutes earlier that we were primarily dealing with matters that had occurred 20 years ago. Don't make claims that aren't true, especially about the safety of children. Parents are apt to get rather upset about it. By the sound of it, the effect on the parents of Mr Cleugh's admission could hardly have been greater had a bomb gone off next door.

Unless the policies are perfectly clear, and they are properly implemented, then there is a very great risk that a new long-term paedophile could get onto the staff, or even still be on the staff undetected. After all, if the trust has lost a third of its Trustees to paedophile abuse in the last five years, what is the probability that there are really no abusers amongst the staff? No doubt part of the reason Father David Pearce was able to carry on abusing for so long (36 years) is that some at least of those around him on hearing rumours disbelieved them because they believed that somebody like him would never do such a thing. There is no profile for paedophile abusers. They can be from any social class, any occupation, any level of intelligence, any creed or colour. In fact the intelligent and socially respectable ones are the most dangerous, because they can work themselves into positions of trust where they do damage to very many children. The reason that automatic referral to Social Services is so vitally important is that they won't know the alleged perpetrator, and so will not be burdened by the belief that he is a splendid fellow who would never hurt a fly, let alone a child.

And what is this about wanting to keep the press out as it is a private meeting? Child protection is a very serious issue, and if the school is as thoroughly in the clear as the headmaster and the Abbot were trying to suggest, then they should have welcomed the press in to hear the parents' questions and their answers. but they didn't do that. They even barred parents of former pupils from attending.

If they have nothing to hide, why has the Abbot repeatedly refused my requests to meet him? And if the school gives such priority to making the Child Protection a model of excellence, why did the Abbot and headmaster ignore my email to them commenting on problems with the child protection policy last November?

Then there is the issue of the Inquiry by Lord Carlile. There seems to be a fundamental contradiction here. If the problems of the school are as minor as Mr. Cleugh was apparently suggesting, then why call in such a major establishment figure to conduct an inquiry? I dread to think how much Lord Carlile will be costing the school - probably something approaching the fees of 20 senior school pupils for the whole year. The school would never voluntarily spend such a sum of money which could otherwise be spent on improved sports facilities for instance. So I do rather wonder who has been twisting the Abbot's arm about this, and therefore who has sufficient concerns to think that such a major and expensive step is necessary. It's obviously not the parents, because the inquiry was decided on before any parents knew about the ISI report. It can hardly be the Trustees, since the Abbot was standing alongside Mr. Cleugh when he was energetically minimising the problem. I would be surprised if it were the ISI, because if they had made such a demand it would have been included in their report. By process of elimination, the obvious candidate is the DfE. It rather suggests they take an extremely dim view of the situation at the school.

I've written a line-by-line analysis of that the ISI supplementary report says and means. Read it for yourself and decide whether you think the school has been open with you.
I'd like to close with one last important point. You cannot guarantee that a school will forever remain free of abusive staff. The discovery of an abuser on the staff should not necessarily be regarded as a failure by the school. What matters is how quickly the abuse is detected, and how effectively the alleged abuser is removed from contact with children. An abuse case might be picked up very quickly and dealt with effectively, in which case parents should regard that as a success for the school, a demonstration that the safeguarding procedures work. I wish I could say that the safeguarding procedures at St. Benedict's meet that description. If in future they do, then I will be the first to cheer.

But at the moment they fall far short, and the headmaster and the Abbot are trying to kid you otherwise. They are playing word-games with the safety of your children. It is for you to decide if you are going to put up with that.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Outside the Safeguarding meeting

I was outside St Benedict's School last night aiming to hand out cards to parents. I was with a couple of friends, I'll call them S and J. J had a video camera with him.

I briefed the others carefully: we will not set foot in the grounds, we will not attempt to obstruct anybody, we will remain on the public highway, we will stand at the exits and offer a card to anybody willing to take it, but not press the matter. I advised J in particular that his job was to record. Even in the unlikely event that I got roughed up, he was under no circumstances to get involved, but merely to record the entire incident.

The cards had a very simple message.
Is your child really safe at St. Benedict's?
Read the facts about the ISI report
The parents' meeting started at 7.30, and we arrived in the vicinity soon after. We did a bit of a recce and worked out that the only two open exits were the vehicle exit on Marchwood Crescent and the pedestrian exit on Eaton Rise, so we agreed that I would cover Marchwood Crescent, S would cover Eaton Rise, and J would stand on the corner of the two streets with his video camera and would film in either direction as required.

There was very obvious security on the entrances both in Eaton Rise and Marchwood Crescent, and of course they soon realised that we were hanging around. Security came out to talk to S at the Eaton Rise exit. J was accosted at the bus shelter on the corner and replied monosyllabically in a deliberately thick Geordie accent - they quickly left him alone.

A security man came out and recognised me at the entrance on Marchwood Crescent, and said "Good evening Mr West, such a pity you've not been allowed in. Still, you might get a few more hits" I replied that it didn't bother me in the slightest. He went in again, and in due course, no fewer than three of them came back out to confront me. I said "Good evening gentlemen", and they replied "Good evening Mr. West"

They went on to tell me that I was not permitted on the school grounds. I replied that I was surprised that the school was so scared of me that they felt it necessary to send three people out to tell me that. They said (of course) that they weren't scared, but I think the point got made!

I said that I had no intention of entering the grounds, and that I trusted that they would do nothing to stop me from going about my lawful business on the public highway. One of them (who looked like a bruiser of a nightclub bouncer) seemed to be itching for an an opportunity to get physical, but the leader said that in that case there would be no trouble. J had by this time seen that there was a conversation going on with them standing rather close to me, and was walking up towards us to get a better shot. The leader, seeing him, said "And you can send your heavy home as well." I replied "Oh, you needn't worry about him, he just has a camera." They beetled off inside very quickly!

A bit later they came outside again, and one said to another "I want you to come and witness this - there is illegal filming going on, I'm being filmed illegally". But they didn't attempt to call the police, and we ignored them.

At about 9.45pm everyone came trooping out. I offered a card to anybody that was willing to take one. No chance of giving one to anybody coming out in a car, the security people were waving the drivers on very insistently, and I wasn't going to have them accuse me of obstructing the exit, but I managed to hand out cards 15-20 to people coming out on foot. S told me that she managed roughly the same number at Eaton Rise.

There was nobody else outside, just the three of us. No press, no TV cameras, just a parent of a former pupil and two friends. The security people seemed rather disappointed at not having more to do.

More on the Safeguarding meeting

I'll have lots to report about the Safeguarding meeting at St Benedict's School in due course, but in the meantime, if any parents (or others) present at the meeting on Tuesday evening have anything they would like to say about it - what was said, what you thought, feel free to comment here.

Remember that you can comment entirely anonymously, or if you prefer to contact me privately, send me an email to Some parents have already contacted me privately. Naturally, I shall not be giving out names. If you wish to contact me in confidence, that confidence will be respected.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Abbot Lawrence Soper

Well, it's now out in the open. The "80 year old monk living abroad whom police want to question" has been named. The following is from the Independent On Sunday today.

Their call comes as it was revealed that a former abbot of a prestigious Catholic establishment has been summoned back to the UK from Rome in connection with a police investigation into allegations of sexual abuse at St Benedict's School, Ealing, in west London. The Right Rev Dom Lawrence Soper, 80, now based at Collegio Sant'Anselmo in Rome, will voluntarily return to London this month to answer questions. Lord Carlile QC has been appointed to lead an independent inquiry into continuing allegations at the school.
This is going to go on and on. If it turns out that the allegations against Soper are substantiated, then this is much worse than the issue of Father David Pearce. Soper was Abbot from 1991 to 2000, and so would have been in a position not only to commit abuses, but also to cover up the abuses of others. For instance, Soper was Abbot when Pearce "retired" as Junior School headteacher and was appointed Bursar instead. It's one thing to have had a paedophile priest among the ranks of the monks at the Abbey, it is quite another for there to  have been a paedophile Abbot in charge of the place!

It is hard to imagine that nobody else at the Abbey had any idea about Soper. If that is the case, then it means that the monks (including the present Abbot, Martin Shipperlee) knew about him when they elected him Abbot. That means that they didn't think that this was a factor disqualifying him from the post. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Child Protection Policy - 22

Here's a quick run through the final paragraphs of the 24 May 2010 version of the St Benedict's School child protection policy - the one published a week after the second ISI visit on 17 May and which in August the school's solicitor Tony Nelson claimed in The Times was "completely compliant with [the ISI's] requirements". In a future article, I'll summarise the changes that have been made in the new September 2010 version of the policy.
28. Allegations against pupils: A pupil against whom an allegation of abuse has been made may be suspended from the School during the investigation and the School's policy on behaviour, discipline and sanctions will apply. The School will take advice from the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) on the investigation of such allegations and will take all appropriate action to ensure the safety and welfare of all pupils involved including the pupil or pupils accused of abuse. If it is necessary for a pupil to be interviewed by the police in relation to allegations of abuse, the School will ensure that, subject to the advice of the LADO, parents are informed as soon as possible and that the pupil is supported during the interview by an appropriate adult. In the case of pupils whose parents are abroad, the pupil's Education Guardian will be requested to provide support to the pupil and to accommodate him/her if it is necessary to suspend him/her during the investigation.
It is very instructive to compare this wording with the paragraph concerning allegations against members of staff. The Staff paragraph falls over itself to suggest that allegations might not be true, and that staff members must be protected against unfounded allegations, and that suspension will not normally occur while an investigation is carried out.

There is no such sensitivity towards pupils similarly accused. It is perfectly clear how the school views things. The children exist for the glory of the school, instead of the school existing for the education and welfare of the children.

And what is this business of the "Education Guardian"? Clearly this isn't a reference to a national newspaper, but it would appear to concern somebody standing in loco parentis when a child's parents are abroad. Such a situation is only likely to occur if the child is boarding at the school. But St. Benedict's doesn't have boarders!
29. Suspected harm from outside the School: A member of staff who suspects that a pupil is suffering harm from outside the School should seek information from the child with tact and sympathy using "open" and not leading questions. A sufficient record should be made of the conversation and if the member of staff continues to be concerned he or she should refer the matter to the Designated Teacher.
The most obvious thing missing from the policy is what the Designated Teacher is supposed to do with this information when it is received from another member of staff.

But there is an additional point - it seems to be the situation that a referral to the Designated Teacher will only be made if "the member of staff continues to be concerned". So it appears that the record that the staff member makes of the initial conversation isn't supposed supposed automatically to go to the Designated Teacher, and from there to Social Services. This is wrong.

I have now become exceedingly cynical, and view this as another case of the school looking to pick and choose whether or not a case is reported, and the wording being such that abuse by non-teaching monks is regarded as harm from "outside the school" and that they want ways of not having to report it.
30. Monitoring

a) The Designated Teacher will monitor the operation of this policy and its procedures and make an annual report to the Board of School Advisors and Trustees.

b) The Board of School Advisors and Trustees will undertake an annual review of this policy and how the related duties under it have been discharged.

c) The Trustees will ensure that any deficiencies or weaknesses in regard to child protection arrangements are remedied without delay.
The Designated Teacher has the major part of the actions (or inactions) specified by the policy. How on earth is the Designated Teacher supposed to monitor himself? This is ludicrous!

We have no means of knowing whether the Advisers and Trustees carry out item (b) or what the review consists of because it appears that the minutes of their meetings are not published.

And the school simply doesn't operate item (c) at all. I pointed out many of these shortcomings in the child protection policy in emails to the Abbot and headmaster in November last year. Precisely nothing was done. I received no reply at all from the Abbot, and nothing more than an acknowledgement from the headmaster that the policy was reviewed annually. Then earlier this year, through Peter Turner, the Diocesan Child Protection Adviser, I requested a meeting with the headmaster and Abbot to discuss these matters, and they refused.

If they did operate item (c) as described, then the ISI supplementary inspection visit probably would never have happened!
31. Essential Information

Senior School:

Designated Teacher for Child Protection: Mr Stephen Oliver
Deputy Designated Teacher for Child Protection: Miss Fiona MacTaggart
Other staff with Child Protection responsibilities: Mr Joe Foley
Mr Peter Halsall

Junior School/Early Years Foundation Stage:
Designated Teacher for Child Protection: Mrs Monica McCarthy
Deputy Designated Teacher for Child Protection: Mr Rob Simmons
Other staff with Child Protection responsibilities: Mrs M Lawry
Very interesting to note that there are "other staff with child protection responsibilities". This phrase occurs nowhere else within the policy, and so we have no idea what their responsibilities are. Also, given that Mr. Simmons is Deputy Designated Teacher and Junior School headmaster, we are in the ludicrous position of him being required by some of the procedures to report events to himself!

Lastly, paragraph 32 lists contact details for verious agencies. Included are
  • Ealing Social Services Child Protection Advisors.
  • The Metropolitan Police Child Abuse Investigation Team
  • Independent Safeguarding Authority
  • Parentline (Opus)
  • Ealing Hospital
No explanation as to why any of these are there, or under what circumstances any of them may be called. And There's no reason for OFSTED to be in the list at all because the school is inspoected by ISI, not OFTSED. OFSTED has nothing at all to do with the school.

Finally, there is Appendix 1.
Appendix 1

Physical Contact with Pupils
It is not realistic to suggest that teachers should never touch pupils and they, and other staff, have the right to use reasonable force to control or restrain pupils in certain circumstances.

Physical contact

Physical contact may be misconstrued by a pupil, parent or observer. Touching pupils, including well-intentioned gestures such as putting a hand on a shoulder, can, if repeated regularly, lead to serious questions being raised. As a general principle, staff must not make gratuitous physical contact with their pupils. It is particularly unwise to attribute touching to their teaching style or as a way of relating to pupils. Teachers and other staff do, however, have the right to use reasonable physical force to restrain pupils in certain circumstances.

Any form of physical punishment of pupils is unlawful as is any form of physical response to misbehaviour unless it is by way of restraint. It is particularly important that staff understand this both to protect their own position and the overall reputation of the school.

Where physical contact may be acceptable
There may be occasions where a distressed pupil needs comfort and reassurance which may include physical comforting such as a caring parent would give. Staff should use their discretion in such cases to ensure that what is normal and natural does not become unnecessary and unjustified contact, particularly with the same pupil over a period of time. Where a member of staff has particular concern about the need to provide this type of care and reassurance they should seek the advice of the Head Master.

Some staff are likely to come into physical contact with pupils from time to time in the course of their duties. Staff should be aware of the limits within which such contact should properly take place and of the possibility of such contact being misinterpreted.

There may be occasions where it is necessary for staff to restrain a pupil physically to prevent them from inflicting injury to others, self-injury, damaging property, or causing disruption. In such cases only the minimum force necessary may be used and any action taken must be to restrain the pupil. Where an employee has taken action to physically restrain a pupil they should make a written report of the incident in the form prescribed by the school's policy on restraint.
This is all concerned with how staff can ensure that any touching they do cannot be construed as abuse. But it is terribly misguided even so. The first paragraph of "Where physical contact may be acceptable" is just plain wrong and dangerous. If a pupil is distressed, the first task of the teacher is to discover the cause of the distress. This is not done by "physical comforting". This is done by sitting the child down somewhere quiet and acting as a reassuring presence without physical contact, and giving the child time to recover to the point where he or she is able to describe what is wrong. Inappropriate physical contact from somebody else might be the source of the child's distress, and so the last thing the child needs is some teacher giving them a hug.

Young children (junior school age) are usually very wary about who they will accept hugs or other physical contact from, and except from their parents they generally do not want physical contact with somebody twice their size if they are distressed. Young children might wrap their arms round a teacher's legs in the playground, but that is when they are happy and pleased to see the teacher, not when they are distressed.

With older children, their hormones are likely to be raging and physical contact when they are distressed is most unwise. The same strategy should be followed - a reassuring presence but no initiation of physical contact. Otherwise, there is a very high risk of the contact being interpreted in a sexual fashion. This would result in a highly dangerous situation whether it is welcomed or not by the pupil. If it is welcomed, you are on the first steps to an inappropriate and illegal sexual liaison between teacher and pupil, and if it is not welcomed, there is a great risk of a complaint against the teacher.

Friday, 10 September 2010

The Safeguarding meeting

I decided that I would write to the headteacher at St. Benedict's to ask if I could attend the meeting next week.
From: Jonathan West
Date: 8 September 2010 15:54
Subject: Safeguarding Meeting 14 September
To: Senior School Headmaster

Dear Headmaster

As I am sure you are aware, as the father of a former pupil of St. Benedict's School I have taken a close interest in safeguarding matters at the school since the conviction of Father David Pearce last year. I note from the August edition of your Headmaster's Newsletter that you will be holding a meeting with parents on this subject in the Cloister on 14th September.

Since safeguarding is a matter of general public interest (for instance to parents who may be considering sending their children to the school in the future),  I would like to attend the meeting, and be able to ask questions. Please advise whether you have any objection to my presence at the meeting.

Yours sincerely

Jonathan West
I have received the following reply from the headmaster.
From: Senior School Headmaster
Date: 10 September 2010 16:53
Subject: RE: Safeguarding Meeting 14 September
To: Jonathan West

Dear Mr West,

Re: Ealing Abbey

I have received your email of 8th September, and the meeting I have called on 14th September is restricted to current parents, and current staff.

As you know, Queen’s Counsel, Lord Carlile of Berriew, is undertaking a review of all child safeguarding matters, both historical and up-to-date. I know Lord Carlile will be contacting you to arrange a meeting to discuss the close interest that you have taken in safeguarding matters at the School.

I should be grateful if you would kindly acknowledge safe receipt of this communication.

Yours sincerely

Chris Cleugh
Notice the request for an acknowledgement that I have receiived his reply. He wants to be sure that he's within his rights to throw me out and charge me with trespass if I were to try and sneak in.

This is of a piece with my previous requests to meet the Abbot. The school can hardly claim to be interested in making all possible improvements to child protection if they persistently refuse to meet with those who have knowledge of the matter and concerns about the situation.

It appears that they will do anything rather permit themselves to be in a position where they have to answer difficult questions in front of witnesses. If they have nothing to hide, why avoid speaking to me?

I have a number of important questions which it would be good for parents to be able to ask. Although I can't be there, the questions can. If you are a parent of a pupil at the school would like to help ask the questions they ought to be answering, by all means get in touch. Email me at

I acknowledged Chris Cleugh's email and asked him when the Terms of Reference for Lord Carlile's inquiry would be published. Until we see the terms of reference, we can't tell whether it will be another whitewash. I would be very happy to see the school make a real effort to put its house in order, and would unreservedly cheer and congratulate them if they do. But on present performance, we have to assume that the inquiry will be a whitewash unless and until we see evidence to the contrary.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The ISI Supplementary Report - 4

Now let's look at the Recommendations the ISI makes in its report:
Recommended action

In view of the previous incidents, it is recommended that an enhanced emphasis is placed on safeguarding and that the following precautionary action is taken where possible.
An "enhanced emphasis". Nice way of putting it. In other words, make some passing attempt at keeping the children safe from abusers.
1. Ensure that any staff or members of the religious community live away from the school, if they are subject to allegations of misconduct related to safeguarding or convicted of wrongdoing.
The ISI has had to tell the school to remove staff and monks suspected of abuse from the  premises! It is extraordinary that a school needs to be told this.

It will be interesting to find out whether this has been done with respect to Hobbs and Chillman.
2. Follow the advice given to render the safeguarding policy a model of excellence in its wording, implementation and review.
Unfortunately, as it stands this recommendation is totally useless, because we don't know what advice has been given! So parents will have no way of knowing whether or when this is done. If the school is serious about improving safeguarding, they should be prepared to publish the correspondence from the ISI which contains this advice.
3. Ensure that referrals are always made to the Independent Safeguarding Authority when appropriate. For historical cases, ensure that all relevant information is passed to the Independent Safeguarding Authority.
And this shows how weak-willed the ISI is. Rather than recommend that the school be prosecuted for breaking the law, it is just asking the school retrospectively to put its paperwork in order.

The ISI isn't saying how far back the school must go in respect of "historical cases". One year, two years, 30 years? We don't know. In the absence of a specific timescale, the school is almost certainly going to be very tempted to interpret this recommendation in the narrowest possible way. Remember, the school's failings in this respect (for instance in the case of Father David Pearce) have led directly to additional pupils of the school being abused. This is not a mere administrative matter of inadequate record-keeping. This has wrecked pupils' lives.
4. Give greater emphasis to safeguarding in the school personal, social, health and citizenship (PSHCE) programme and reflect this in the school improvement plan.
There is no evidence that this has yet been done, nor any indication as to how (or if) the ISI will enforce this.

As far as I’m aware, the School Improvement Plan is not published, so again parents cannot enforce this because they can't tell what the targets are and whether they are being met.
5. Emphasise awareness raising and training in safeguarding across the whole community of school, Abbey and parish, with formal contact between the child protection officers.
There is no evidence that this has yet been done, nor any indication as to how (or if) the ISI will enforce this. On the matter of Parish safeguarding, it appears that no lessons have been learned. The safeguarding page of the Ealing Abbey parish website has a statement on safeguarding which contains no procedures, it is merely a statement of good intentions. The page also contains a reference and link to the CSAS model procedures, but doesn't say that those procedures are actually being followed in the parish.

For the CSAS procedures to be followed effectively, far more is needed than a mere link to the CSAS website. Actual written procedures need to be developed that are specific to the abbey and the parish, and for them to be published and regularly reviewed. Names of individuals need to be given, with details of who is responsible for what.

This was touched on in the Diocesan review published earlier this year. Curiously, the Diocesan review addressed procedures in the Abbey (but not the school), and yet the sumary of the review is only available on the Information for Parents page of the school website! One does get the overwhelming feeling that the Abbot is looking to do as little as possible about all this and hope that all the bad publicity eventually blows over. He shows no sign of any interest in actually doing the right thing and getting child protection working properly.

Se let's summarize. The ISI is recommending a variety of measures which could make a real improvement in the quality of safeguarding. However, they have not stated how they propose to ensure that these measures are actually put into effect by the school, and they have not provided enough information about the recommendations to enable parents to check this for themselves.

The ISI Supplementary Report - 3

Let's look next at what the ISI says about the school's compliance with regulatory requirements, and what needs to be done about it.
Regulatory requirements

At the time of the inspection visit on 30 April 2010, the school’s safeguarding policy was found to cover most of the requirements which are the duties of governors of independent schools. However, the school’s written policy for dealing with allegations and suspicions of abuse was focused on investigation by the school rather than speedy referral to outside agencies. As a result, under Regulation 3.(2)(b) of the Independent School Standards Regulations, the school was required to word the policy so that it is clear that in the case of a disclosure or suspicion of abuse:

(i) the investigations are to be carried out by the local safeguarding children board or in case of doubt the advice of such an agency is to be sought;

(ii) the child’s interests are paramount;

(iii) referrals are made not only where a case is considered by the school to be serious and criminal;

(iv) no case of substance is investigated and dealt with under the school’s internal procedures.

The school was also advised to include in the policy more of the best practice guidance from Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education.
Let's be completely clear about what this says. The school is not supposed to investigate complaints of abuse. Any case of substance is automatically passed to the local safeguarding children board (part of Social Services) for them to investigate. As you can see from my previous articles analysing the school's Child protection policy, the school has been dedicated towards finding any possible excuse not to make such referrals.

Only in the new version of the policy issued today (4 months after the initial visit in April) is any attempt made to fulfil these requirements. The 24 May 2010 version of the policy, and before that the 1 September 2009 version had none of this.

It would appear that the school has been breaking primary legislation for many years, perhaps even decades, and not returning Notifications to the DfE or the ISA, and in all that time the ISI and its predecessors have never noticed. You can't expect the ISI to police the school - if they have let this past for so many years, one can't really expect them to keep a close eye on the school hereafter.

Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education is 129 pages long. The report doesn't say what improvements should be made from from what sections of this document. So parents aren't in a position to know whether all the requested changes have been made.

The DfE has said that it is parents who are responsible for holding schools to account for child protection – clearly this is not understood by the ISI and so they determinedly do not inform parents of their expectations of the school – presumably because it would further damage the school’s reputation.
Soon after the inspection visits, the school had posted on its website a fully compliant version of its safeguarding policy, and it undertook that from September 2010 it would include examples of ways in which staff, volunteers and members of the religious community are guided to help avoid the possibility of allegations in the future.

The 24 May 2010 version of the policy most certainly did not comply with the requirements mentioned above in the report. The ISI appeared to be unaware of this when I contacted Durell Barnes on 4th August to ask him about it.

I was outraged when I saw this paragraph in the report, as I had received assurances from the DfE that they were aware of the 24 May version of the Child Protection Policy and did not regard it as the final compliant version. I phoned the DfE on 4th August demanding an explanation, following up with an email to describe my concerns. In reply, I received the following very cagey email from Georgina Carney of the DfE on 5 August.
Dear Mr West

Thank you for your email confirming the concerns we discussed.  The detail you have provided is helpful.

We have now obtained a copy of what the school considers to be the final version of its child protection document.  Officials are in the process of reviewing the document in detail and we will take advice from the relevant policy team. I confirm that any on-going concerns will be taken up with the school directly.

Georgina Carney
Independent Education and Boarding Schools Team
Department for Education

And yet the following appeared in an article in the Times the next day.
Anthony Nelson, solicitor for Ealing Abbey, said the Abbot was anxious to address the mistakes of the past and make sure they were never repeated.

“We held an urgent two-hour meeting with the ISI and the Department for Education last week to discuss the report and the school’s child protection policy is now completely compliant with their requirements,” said Mr Nelson.
Something similar appeared on the BBC website.
Chris Cleugh, St Benedict's current headmaster, says policy changes had been implemented since the visit.

"We have fully co-operated with the ISI while they did the inspection. Whenever they have made suggestions we have been very compliant.

"We would never do anything that would not ensure the safety of the children in this school."

But the fact is that at the time these statements were made, no significant changes had been made to the child protection policy. The ISI had made suggestions, and they simply hadn't been carried out.

On to the next paragraph of the ISI's statement on regulatory requirements:
Under Standard 4C of the Independent School Standards Regulations, the school was required to ensure that the dates of checks are included in the single central register of appointments. At the time of the second follow-up visit, this action had been taken.
What! The school didn't even maintain the statutory information properly in its central register of appointments? That is a scandal! Unfortunately, we don't know how much of a scandal, because the ISI hasn't been very specific in terms of what was missing. This is what Regulation 4C states.
4C.—(1) The proprietor shall keep a register which meets the following requirements.

(2) In relation to each member of staff appointed on or after 1st May 2007, the register shall show whether—

(a) his identity was checked;

(b) a check was made to establish whether he is subject to any direction made under section 142 of the Education Act 2002 or any disqualification, prohibition or restriction which takes effect as if contained in such a direction;

(c) checks were undertaken to ensure, where appropriate, that he had the relevant qualifications;

(d) an enhanced criminal record certificate was obtained in respect of him;

(e) checks were made pursuant to paragraph 4(2)(c);

(f) a check of his right to work in the United Kingdom was made; and

(g) checks were made pursuant to paragraph 4(2)(e),

and the register shall include the date on which each such check was completed or the certificate obtained.
That's a lot of different checks, and a lot of different dates to be entered. But we don't know which ones are missing, because the ISI doesn't say. And they didn't notice this in their November 2009 inspection.

As you can tell from the wording of Regulation 4C. correct maintenance of the register is crucial to safe recruitment practice, making sure that unqualified teachers are not appointed, and making sure that staff who have been found to be unsuitable to work with children are not appointed.

This is not limited to those who have actually been convicted of something. When a staff member is appointed, an enhanced disclosure CRB check is supposed to be conducted. This should reveal details of any Notifications reported by schools who had previously employed the person. A school really should not be recruiting a teacher who has been sacked by another school for inappropriate sexual conduct towards pupils, even if that conduct did not result in a criminal conviction. If there is any irregularity in the register of appointments, this is a the sort of thing that can happen.

This should have been noticed in the November 2009 inspection. Since the ISI didn’t notice that the school hadn’t published a compliant child protection policy, why should we believe them when they say that the school now has a compliant register of appointments?

Let us summarise the situation the ISI has found. At the time of their visit, the school had a Child Protection Policy that failed to fulfil the school's statutory obligations, and the school was not maintaining its central register of appointments according to statutory requirements. So it was practicing unsafe recruitment and inadequate child protection. And breaking the law in the process.