26. Allegations Against Staff MembersThe school might have procedures, but they aren't written down here! And there is a little phrase that is very striking: "the need to protect staff and volunteers from false or unfounded allegations". I've come across that phrase before. At Father David Pearce's sentencing hearing, it was revealed that the publicly-stated reason for Pearce having been put on a restricted ministry was "to protect Father David from unfounded allegations". That was a letter written by Abbot Martin Shipperlee. The allegations, stretching across a great many years, were all-too-well founded, as the Abbot knew perfectly well. After all, Father Martin (as he was then) was Father David's immediate successor as Junior School headmaster. But that didn't stop that little phrase from getting used to cover up the true reason for Pearce's restricted ministry.
The School has procedures for dealing with allegations against staff (and volunteers who work with children) that aim to strike a balance between the need to protect children from abuse and the need to protect staff and volunteers from false or unfounded allegations. These procedures follow the guidance in chapter 5 of Safeguarding children and safer recruitment in education.
Suspension will not be an automatic response to an allegation. Full consideration will be given to all the options, subject to the need to ensure:If there is an allegation of mistreatment of a pupil by a member of staff, it is hard to imagine how the pupil's safety can be assured by any means other than the removal of the member of staff from proximity to the pupil. And it is hard to imagine how that can be done without the removal of the staff member from the premises. That means suspension. A suspension in such circumstances while an investigation is carried out should not be regarded as a disciplinary action, but rather as an administrative procedure. It shouldn't carry any implication as to the guilt or innocence of the staff member.
- the safety and welfare of the pupils or pupil concerned; and
- the need for a full and fair investigation.
Oh, and that "full and fair investigation"? The school's not supposed to even attempt that. If there is a case of any substance, it should be referred immediately to the Local Safeguarding Children Board. But the policy strangely doesn't say that.
Where an allegation or complaint is made against the Designated Teacher, the matter should be reported immediately to the Headmaster. Where an allegation or complaint is made against the Headmaster, the person receiving the allegation should immediately inform the Chair of Governors, or in his absence the Prior, without first notifying the Headmaster.This is great, except that the next step is completely missing. What is the Designated Teacher, or Headmaster, or Chair of Governors or Prior supposed to do with this reported allegation or complaint? Based on what is described in this policy, the answer is nothing, because nothing is precisely what is included on the subject.
Appendix 1 of this policy gives guidance to staff on how to ensure that their behaviour and actions do not place pupils or themselves at risk of harm or of allegations of harm to a pupil.I'll come to Appendix 1 later.
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 actually not all that bad a paragraph. It ought to be elsewhere in the policy, as it deals with a rather different stage of the procedure, where as a result of an investigation it has been decided that the teacher is unsuitable to work with children. There's a whole lot of text that ought to be in the policy describing how you get from there to here which is entirely absent.
But the real problem with this paragraph is that we know the school ignores it. How do we know this? Because the ISI report says so, and they visited the school in April and May this year and examined the records. This is what the ISI had to say 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."
Now, since 2003, there have been the following incidents.
- The arrest and trial of Father Stanislaus Hobbs. At the time of his arrest in 2005, he was a Trustee. He was acquitted in 2007, but was placed on restricted ministry. To the best of my knowledge, he is still at the Abbey on restricted ministry.
- The civil case brought by "C" against Father David Pearce and the school in 2006. The school lost the case and Pearce was placed on restricted ministry.
- The various trials and convictions of John Maestri in 2003, 2005 and 2008. Admittedly Maestri had left the school (rather suddenly) in the 1980s, but the trials were concerned with offences whose victims were pupils at the school at the time, and the police investigations must have involved visits to the school.
- The resignation as a Trustee of Father Gregory Chillman in 2010 and his being put on restricted ministry, at the time of a police and Social Services investigation.
But according to the ISI, this didn't happen. If the ISI report is correct, this is a clear breach of the law by the school. Twice.
The ISI appears only to have examined the school's records as far back as 2003. One does wonder what happened in previous years. For instance it would be interesting to find out whether a Notification was sent at the time of John Maestri's abrupt departure from the school in the early 1980s, or whether a Notification was sent at the time of David Pearce's "retirement" as Junior School Headteacher. Since John Maestri was able to obtain a teaching post elsewhere after he left St. Benedict's, we can only conclude that no Notification was issued. That would rather suggest that the school has been breaking the law for the better part of 30 years.
This is utterly dreadful. Even where the school has a policy to report, it doesn't actually apply the policy, and breaks the law as a result. There is a very important conclusion to be drawn from this. Even if the policy were to be be rewritten properly, the school could still not be trusted to follow it. There is no more reason to expect the school to properly apply a good policy than there is to expect it to follow the good fragments of a bad policy.
Until such time as the Abbot and Headmaster show themselves to be trustworthy, they will have to be watched like hawks. Who is going to have to do that watching? You, the parents. There isn't anybody else who can.
The ISI can't do this for you. According to its report:
"Soon after the inspection visits, the school had posted on its website a fully compliant version of its safeguarding policy"
The inspection visits occurred on 30 April and 17 May. The version of the school's child protection policy I have been reviewing is dated 24 May. This is the policy the ISI thinks is "fully compliant". That should tell you all you need to know about the ability of the ISI to protect the pupils at the school.
Parents. Know this. You are utterly on your own.