Thursday, 23 September 2010

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?


  1. Child abuse is a subject everyone walks away from including politicians, and those who manage safeguarding at the DfE who prefer the misguided and incorrect theory of the subject to the reality and unpleasant practicalities of it.

    When the real thing turns up, they all want to leave - quick!

    So why is Alex Carlile stepping into a very risky 'inquiry' like this?

    The risk reward is irrelevant frankly, so this is not the answer.

    No one, including the DfE wants all the truth to surface or even 50% of it. This is an exercise in damage limitation for all parties; the school; the ISI/ISC and the DfE.

    I speculate that the DfE have said - either “you conduct an 'independent' review or we the DfE will undertake an investigation.” So the school has alighted on Carlile somehow - not a man over experienced in the mechanics of child abuse in independent settings. Without this experience you may as well not have an inquiry.

    Is an expert being appointed - if so what are his/her credentials?

    There is something very odd about Lord Carlile's appointment - I hope he makes a declaration of interests, associations and acquaintances before too long so we can all be satisfied over the question of his independence from St Benedicts and the Trust and its administration.

  2. It is not as if Carlile has any real work to do. Just a cut and paste job from here. Money for old rope!

  3. Deja vu.

    In the UK, the Catholic child abuse issue first became front page news in 2000, when Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor [the then Archbishop of Westminster - Head of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales] was forced to admit to "personal failings" [understatement] in his "management" of a paedophile priest, and announced that dramatic steps would be taken to improve the Catholic church’s approach to child protection.

    So what did he do? Murphy-O'Connor invited Lord Nolan to chair an independent committee to carry out a review on child protection in the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

    At that time, there was a media frenzy putting pressure on the Cardinal to resign. He refused and ideftly wriggled off the hook, arguing that "at the time, little was understood of the compulsive nature of paedophilia by the Church, the police and the judiciary."

    Ah that old chestnut. It was too complicated for us to realise what was going on!

    The church is already meant to have dealt with this A DECADE AGO via their appointment back then of a Lord, the Enquiries, the Commissions and the Reports... yet here we are a decade later and it's same the s**t, in the same bucket.

    And in time honoured fashion Murphy-O'Connor's follow-on, Vincent Nichols, echoes him today. Nichols favourite get out of jail free card to avoid answering awkward questions during the ITV show Keeping the Faith was "Ah, but it's very complicated" [or was it "complex"?] ...repeat to fade.

    Their reports are a whitewash. They only clean the outside of the cup, problem is the filth is on the inside. St Benedict's: ADMIT your wrongdoings, CLEAN your house and CHANGE. No one is convinced by your spit and polish reports. We've been here before a whole decade ago and it changed nothing. The abuse continued. The cover ups continued. And to this day they continue. Without an accompanying admission of guilt, any apology is empty.

  4. Addendum: One of Nolan's key recommendations was that priests who were sentenced to more than one year for sexual offences against children should be laicised [defrocked]. The catholic church agreed.

    A Channel 4 News investigation earier this month revealed that more than half of the Catholic priests convicted for child abuse and sentenced to more than a year in prison, in England and Wales since 2001, remain in the priesthood - with some still receiving financial support from the Church and living in church houses.

    The Channel 4 article referred to above states the number of priests convicted for paedophile sex offences to be 22, with 14 remaining in the priesthood. But another Channel 4 article [of the same date] states the number convicted is actually 37. The latter article has an interactive map showing the locations of activity of the paedophile priests, their convictions and sentences.

    First article is here:

    Map and second article is here:

  5. 37 convictions. out of how many priests? a far smaller percentage i would guess than from the laity.but that doesn't make for salacious news does it?