Thursday, 16 September 2010

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.


  1. If anyone currently at the school knows more about the teacher who is suspended, they should immediately contact the national press to tell them more. The Times newspaper has taken an interest in the school before and would be an excellent place to start, particularly given the Pope's visit. Even its News International stablemate The Sun reported on the Pearce case, and printed a photo of him, which I regard as a public service. They would be interested and would certainly guarantee anonymity for the source. Sunlight is the best disinfectant for the miasma of abuse that has afflicted St Benedict's for at least 40 years and perhaps longer.

  2. A member of staff “suspended,” the police state they have no continuing interest in the ‘case’ and social services are handling matters.
    With such a series of statements a suspension is ‘minimised.’ Parents often think everything is fine and there is just a little mopping up from a misunderstanding.


    It means that there has been an incident which at the time appeared to be a threat to a child’s welfare. We are told the police are no longer interested which signifies they have established that no criminal actions occurred and that whatever did occur is a matter to be handled by social services.

    Does this mean nothing of consequence happened and that the member of staff is not a danger to children?

    Absolutely not.

    Social Services will now be looking at the circumstances of the incident/s, the frequency of occurrence/s, the dialogue used in the incidents and much else. Grooming a child is almost impossible to prove, but it is the start of a process which often results in a crime being committed on a child.

    In January this year the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act was ‘switched on.’ I believe there has been an enormous cock up by the legislative draughtsmen because the DfE decided to revoke Notifications made under the Education Acts in favour of the “Harm Test.”
    When a member of staff was sacked or left an independent school in circumstances where had they not left they would have been dismissed as a result of their behaviour towards a child - primary legislation stated the school ‘must’ return a notification within 30days of the incident to the ISA [and its forerunners including the DCSF right back to 1959]. Incidentally this was never done by St Benedict’s as the ISI follow up report states. The school has serially broken the law which has permitted all their know abusers to be unmonitored by the authorities, John Maestri for example returned to teaching without any trouble. This would not have been possible had the school undertaken its statutory duty.

    This very simple Notification tool has proven very effective but has been revoked. As a result the abuse threshold bar has been unknowingly (by the DfE) substantially raised because schools must now adhere to the Harm Test. If the Harm Test has not been satisfied then a school can do little – it is a god send for lawyers and a nightmare for morally centred administrations.

    (3) The harm test is that the person may—

    (a) harm a child or vulnerable adult,
    (b) cause a child or vulnerable adult to be harmed,
    (c) put a child or vulnerable adult at risk of harm,
    (d) attempt to harm a child or vulnerable adult, or
    (e) incite another to harm a child or vulnerable adult.

    So for example does grooming a child by the use of face to face dialogue breach the harm test? If a member of staff is on constant duty monitoring the showers, is this a breach of the harm test? If that member of staff then one day took in a camera and filmed the children showering, is this a breach of the harm test?

    The DfE have created a huge problem and all it will do is line the pockets of lawyers, and neutralise the management of schools. Sack / leave and Notify was a simple and effective solution that worked well for all schools except St Benedict’s, for sixty years and it should be retained.

    For parents of St Benedict’s the ISI follow up report said:

    “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.

    This was a statutory requirement St Benedict’s has ignored throughout its history.

    Did Mr Cleugh or the abbot tell you this on Wednesday evening? I doubt it.

  3. Being at that meeting on Tuesday reminded me how badly the school is managed. The Bursar (De Cintra)and Cleugh make the decisions and then pass the buck when they can't handle parents questions, and hide behind meaningless paper and lies.

    De Cintras letter to parents last term was to praise the excellent ISI report and as result the school fees were going up again in order to retain and employ staff. De Cintra is a weasel of a woman who now has a number staff working for her accounts department ( back in 2000 it was just the Bursar).

    Class sizes have increased, cost of music lessons, and now a trip on the school bus is now £3 per child per journey to get them home from the playing fields. Every SPF function money is being raised - but where is it going ?

    We are paying for security which we don't need, (parents can't get in or out of the gates in the morning to drop kids of ) A marketing manager,who produces glossy brochures and an extensive non teaching staff list who do what ?

    I find it disgusting that Cleugh and De Cintra are still in a job and we are still paying for their incompetence. They were instrumental in pushing the co ed on to parents at St Benedict's when it was clear that the parents of the school didn't want it, but it suited a minority. It was a way of taking the bad smell of DP away from the school. As adviser's to the Abbott and the Governors - they justified their actions.

    Over the years, no money, time or interest has be allocated to sort the paedophile problem out - There is no leadership, professionalism, or integrity. They are as bad as the abusers as they have abused parents trust, the school system and most importantly the boys.

    Finally - for all those smug parents who sent their girls to St. Ben's in the last three years and thought their girls were better of at this school, think again

    The current investigation may be interesting reading.

  4. Regarding 15:10, thank you, a very interesting and informative post. I can only say this - 'Twas ever thus'! Nothing has really changed since the 1980's. The school seems to have provided a natural home for weasels and incompetents (as well as paedophiles) for many many years.

    If the hint in your post turns out to be accurate it will really show that the problem goes beyond a few priests/ staff members with a predeliction for boys, it is a direct consequence of an extraordinarily weak safeguarding culture.

  5. 20.48

    But the upleasant reality is that a weak safeguarding culture is assisted by two key things :

    (i) an ineffective inspectorate
    (ii) parents who place blind trust in an institution, and who are therefore disengaged on the subject of safeguarding.

    In such circumstances a self serving administration has carte blanche.

  6. Re the references to security in the post @ 15.10 today...

    So the security team are a daily presence at the gates of St Benedict's, hey. And non-staff adults [parents] aren't allowed within the perimeter of the school grounds. How very interesting.

    Let's face it: the thugs aren't there to protect the pupils are they. Historically the harm done to children in their so-called "care" has come from within St Benedict's, not the outside world. The insidious paedophiles and cover-up merchants within their domain are the ones being protected by the band of thugs.

    And if no wrong-doing has occured amongst those remaining, what of Psalm 90? It regards those who've taken refuge in God and that His presence will protect them in every dangerous situation.

    Clearly the fraternity of St Benedict's are either lacking in faith or don't believe such protection applies to them - the recompense of the wicked does get a mention in the Psalm. Never mind; there's always Rent-A-Thug... or three.

  7. Or should that be Rent-A-Raoul-Moat....we hear one of the hired thugs was a Mackem.

  8. Well what can you expect from the mafia? Such a closed shop, a law unto themselves. They cover up for each other, they lie for each other, they destroy lives, they use their elevated position to put others down. They will get their cummupings. There are some very guilty people in that place........

  9. Well apparently several students have been interviewed by social services and the member of staff concerned is a Head of Year who has worked at the school for several years, but had become obsessed with girls. Apparently, he is not married, and used his authority to be alone with girls in his office, and intimidate them and embarrass them, put them down, and humiliate them. He was far too interested in them in a very unhealthy way. Apparently nothing actually happened in a sexual way, but good, normal teenage girls were constantly harrassed and bullied by this teacher. How can that be allowed to happen? What about staff training? It suggests that the school was not ready for its intake of girls. What training did the staff get? Is anyone safe in that place?

  10. Ah - the Abbetvista has returned leaving his usual trail of multiple postings from "different" characters. The empty vessel of the blogosphere with the chip on his shoulder.

    We did not miss you, but speech is free on this site despite you disapproval.

  11. For clarification my post at 00.38 refers to posts of 21.20, 21.23 and 00.12.

  12. 'Alone with girls in his office!' So there is no open door policy. Why not?

    Most safeguarding aware schools do have such guidance or instructions to staff.

    This is an extract from the exemplary policy operating at the school my son attends. Under the heading: Guidelines for the Protection of Children and Staff + How to minimise risks to yourself and to pupils

    Under the sub heading "ALWAYS"

    Always keep the door open or sit in front of a window if a private conversation with a student is considered important and the room does not have glass in the door.

    Of course this policy does not stop a conversation with a child who is being groomed, but it makes a conversation of this type more difficult. Does St Benedict’s have an ‘open door policy?’ Not in the September 'Final' policy which is still a fundamentally poor document containing weasel words.

    A weak policy run by weak managers is not what you need or want in a school. A safeguarding policy needs to be effective for the benefit of the children. The school must make parents aware that the policy is also to be used by parents to hold the school to account for the quality of safeguarding it operates.

    And training – well there is Government guidance on the training that is required, the type and the frequency. Has this happened in the past? I think this is a question that needs to be asked of the safeguarding incompetent ISI which allegedly inspected safeguarding last November to see if there is any disparity in these requirements. If there is it needs to be brought to the attention of Carlile, perhaps by Mr West.

  13. ok lets look at things. firstly the nazi in the ice cream wagon, which does not even have a price list on the side. as the pope hands back each baby he kisses: "do you want nuts sprinkled on that?" he only gives them back because they still have their clothes on.

    the masters at st benedict's; one looks a great deal like pat sharp, he is a very perfect bully. if you dont know what pat sharp looks like, well he is bright orange. shame he neglects to balance it out with a yellow eye liner, it will reduce contrast darling. also if you wear a suit, hard shoes (not hush puppies) you might as well go the whole hog, white socks sandals and shorts with no back pockets.

    I wonder how many false id's have been handed out by "bursars" at the school over the years. What is the schools annual budget for financing "escapes"? how much does it cost to turn a monk into a tourist. the law outside your disgusting little museum of filth says this. Any master at st benedicts must be considered guilty until proven otherwise. cardinal hume sanctioned assisted suicide. like abortion for smelly, old relatives who place one in a care trap, but one is forgiven in advance by hume. what a racket.
    that didn't taste nice did it. st benedicts is about as safe as an inner city crack den. in fact they are very similar. old before your time, take all your money and trash your life in ways that ways that bring new terrors constantly. Oi abbott "PULL THE WOOL OVER YOUR OWN EYES" I'm claiming my life back.

  14. Naming the 80 year old priest

    Artical from Sunday, 12 September 2010

    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.

  15. Independent? inquiry it certainly is not!

    And it is a bought and paid for "review," and nothing more.

  16. In view of the concerns raised by some parents at the meeting about risks posed by Fr Stan living at the Abbey, I noted that there was also mention of another monk who has been subject of allegations and concern about children's safety who was described as having been living abroad for many years, but who 'visits the Abbey from time to time' or words to that effect. Nobody asked what measures were taken to notify child protection officers or the school or police (for instance) when those visits take place.

    Everyone seemed to assume that there are no children wherever it is he lives abroad, but the general tenor of the meeting seemed to be that this is not Cleugh's or Shipperlee's problem.