Monday, 6 September 2010

The ISI Supplementary Report - 1

Neither the school nor the ISI comes out very well from this report. I think it's about time we subjected the report to the same degree of analysis as the St. Benedict's School Child Protection Policy.

Firstly, I notice that the school has been careful at the time of writing not to put a copy of the report up on its website. I'm not surprised. You have to decode the language, but make no mistake, this is a public verbal kicking the like of which the ISI has never in its history delivered to a school. And this is on the subject of child protection - the safety of the pupils at the school. But the report is available on the ISI website for you to view or download and print.

Let's start with the first introductory paragraph.
As a result of information provided by a member of the public, further work was conducted after the inspection of the school in November 2009 and after the publication of the senior and junior school reports. The information referred the inspectorate to public records of a total of six prosecutions or civil actions raised in connection with the Abbey and the school. At the time of the inspection, a number of these cases had not been brought to the attention of the inspectorate either by safeguarding agencies or by the school. This follow-up report has been prepared to update the findings in relation to these and related matters. At the time of the follow-up inspection, there were no allegations against current staff or governors at the school.
It will be no surprise to any regular readers here to learn that that I am the "member of the public" referred to in the first sentence. The report was commissioned from the ISI by the Department for Education, and their concerns about the school were raised as a result of me providing information to the ISI and the Department for Education about the school which ought to have been addressed in the ISI's November 2009 inspection.

And notice that this is not just about Father David Pearce. The opening paragraph refers to six (!) separate prosecutions or civil actions which had not been disclosed previously to the ISI.

By the way, don't treat the last sentence as any kind of assurance. The fact that "the time of the follow-up inspection, there were no allegations against current staff or governors at the school" is merely a matter of timing. There has been a recent allegation against Father Gregory Chillman, and he resigned as a Trustee and was placed in restricted ministry almost certainly less than a month before the first of the ISI visits on April 30th.

This in fact shows up a serious failing by the ISI - they should be reporting not the snapshot of how things are on the day of their visit, but everything that has happened during the time since the last inspection. Since this is a supplement to the November 2009 inspection, the inspection period extends back to January 2004 for the senior school and May 2003 for the junior school. During that time, there have been safeguarding issues with regard to two current Trustees - Father Gregory Chillman and Father Stanislaus Hobbs.

The fact that the ISI was not in possession of this information at its previous inspection has two possible causes - that the school failed to report it, or that the authorities failed to pass on the reports to the ISI. Later in the report, we will see that the cause is that the school failed to report.

It is vitally important that the school inspectors are given full details of all past incidents that have come to light since the last inspection, no matter when the incidents actually occurred. Only by knowing about the incidents can the inspectors discover whether they reveal shortcomings in the school's policies and procedures that need to be addressed. Note that a paedophile incident doesn't necessarily reveal a shortcoming in the school. it may be that there was nothing adverse known about the teacher before an incident, that the incident was discovered immediately, reported promptly and appropriate action taken to protect the children at the school. if parents were to hear that such prompt and effective action had been taken, in my view that would enhance a school's reputation as being a safe place for children. But if the school covers up incidents, the inspectors (and by extension, the parents) can't tell whether adequate action has been taken.
In paragraph 4.4 of the senior school report and paragraph 4.5 of the junior school report of the ISI inspections held on 9 to 12 November 2009, mention is made of ‘an independent review of the measures taken to minimise risk’ and it is stated that these had been fully implemented. This refers to a review of the risks posed by a monk resident in the monastery and not to the full diocesan safeguarding review, which was a review produced later, following a meeting with the Abbot on 18 November 2009 (see below).
What this means is that the ISI has supposedly seen a report of an "independent review" from "experts" which has never been published, and never previously been publicly referred to. The Abbot was apparently unaware that any such report had been compiled when I met him in September 2009, and yet the version of the child protection policy current at the time of the inspection (published on 1st September 2009) had been updated with the benefit of this "expert" advice. Quite frankly, this is not all that plausible. I shan't believe it unless and until the report of this "independent review" is published.
Summary of evidence

Two one-day follow-up visits were made (on 30 April and 17 May), the first of which was unannounced. Each visit was undertaken by two inspectors. Documentation was viewed, including welfare records, the central register of appointments, the safeguarding policy, and the full diocesan safeguarding review following the conviction of a member of the monastic community in October 2009. Interviews were held with those responsible for safeguarding and with groups of senior and junior pupils. Mass was attended in the Abbey.
So, this describes what they looked at this time. Quite frankly, as a matter of routine the ISI ought to have looked at this back in November. Note the dates of the visits. These become important later.
Designated child protection officers

The designated child protection officers and others working in the school have been suitably trained. The Abbey and the parish also each have their own designated child protection officers. However, the various designated officers do not hold formal meetings together.
I'm very suspicious of that phrase "suitably trained". The ISI doesn't say what it means by that. The school's child protection policy requires only "basic child protection training" for the Designated Teachers, but the Ealing Safeguarding Children Board clearly describes in its brochure that the advanced Target Level 3 course is suitable for "Social workers, paediatricians, GPs, youth workers, those working in the early years sector as Designated Safeguarding Professionals, residential staff, midwives, school nurses, health visitors, sexual health staff, designated teachers, probation staff, sports club welfare officers, those working in community play schemes." I've highlighted the categories relevant to the school.

The ISI doesn't tell us what level of training it considered "suitable". That, to put it mildly, is rather regrettable.
Situation at the time of the follow-up inspections

No allegations against current trustees or teachers have been reported. The known cases relate to past events, concerning six previous teachers or trustees. Two involve monks currently living in the monastery under restrictions established by the Diocese of Westminster. The following points refer to each one of the six individuals.

(i) Legal action has been initiated in connection with a previous member of the religious community.

(ii) A monk who had taught in the school a long time ago has recently come under investigation by social services. At the time of the follow-up visits he was living in the monastery under a restrictive covenant barring him from contact with children.

(iii) A similar covenant applies to another monk, also currently residing in the monastery. He had been acquitted of child abuse in 2007.

(iv) A monk, Fr DP, is in custody following his conviction in October 2009 on charges spanning many years. Following a defeat in an earlier civil case, Fr DP was subject to a restrictive covenant, but subsequent to this he engaged in improper conduct with a pupil of the school who was doing work in the monastery. A review of his case was conducted by the safeguarding officer of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton and an independent social work consultant. The review findings were not available at the time of the ISI inspection in November 2009.

(v) A previous lay teacher, for many years no longer associated with the school, the Abbey and the monastery, was most recently tried and convicted in 2008.

(vi) The case of a monk, now for a long time living abroad, has not been pursued.
In the first paragraph above section above, everything turns on the meaning of "current". If "current" is taken to mean "at the time of the inspection", then that first sentence is strictly true. But if "current" is taken to mean "at the time the allegation was made", then I'm afraid that the sentence is inaccurate. During the past inspection period, two Trustees have resigned as a result of allegations being made against them at the time they were Trustees: Father Stanislaus Hobbs in 2005 and Father Gregory Chillman in 2010. Since there are only six Trustees at any one time, to lose two in the space of five years as a result of child protection concerns is really quite remarkable.

But this is not the end of the matter. As you can see from the report, cases involving six separate monks and teachers have now been disclosed to the ISI. This is a shocking list.

I don't know who (i) is.

Father Gregory Chillman is (ii), though I notice the ISI failed to mention that he was a Trustee at the time the Social Services investigation started. They also fail to note that the investigation was originally started as a result of a complaint from a former pupil to the police.

Father Stanislaus Hobbs is obviosuly (iii), his trial in 2007 received plenty of press coverage at the time.  This however is the first public confirmation that I have seen that, notwithstanding his acquittal, he is regarded as a danger to children and has been placed on restricted ministry.

Father David Pearce is obviously (iv). Again, the ISI has been very coy, and failed to state that "improper conduct" consisted of an indecent assault on a pupil of the school, one of a set of offences that saw him imprisoned for eight years (reduced to five on appeal).

John Maesti is (v). He left the school abruptly in the early 1980s, and went on to obtain a teaching post elsewhere. He has been convicted on three separate occasions in 2003, 2005 and 2008 of abuses against pupils committed at the time he was a teacher at St Benedict's.

And I rather think that (vi) is Abbot Lawrence Soper, who has lived for several years in a monastery in Rome.

And it is worth noting that the papers have recently reported that two former teachers (not named but from the descriptions given obviously identifiable as Pearce and Maestri) have been re-arrested as a result of new complaints, and that the police have requested an 80-year-old monk living abroad to attend a UK police station. I'll leave you to work out who that could possibly be.

So this is not a small matter of past misdemeanours committed a long time ago by people no longer at the school or Abbey. This involves allegations against monks resident at the Abbey or able to visit at any time, being investigated now or very recently.

That covers page 1 of the ISI report. I'll describe page 2 tomorrow. It gets worse.


  1. I think "current" means at the time of writing and the school is endeavouring to assure parents that no teachers or monks presently in contact with pupils are a danger. I believe accusations against Fr. Gregory are unfounded and I imagine any restricted ministry would be instituted as a practical necessity whilst investigations are ongoing. In the case of Fr Stanislaus perhaps this is an indication that maybe too little was done in the past (i.e in the case of Fr Pearce) and so more than is strictly necessary is being done so that any potential danger to children, even if unlikely, is being averted.

    Obviously,the fact that Mr West had to inform ISI of past events at St. Benedict's does indicate that the school was not honest at the time of the inspection.It is good that he did so , however.

  2. The tragedy is that in an abusive environment that St Benedict's was, and for all we know still is, the only people who know for sure if there is 'current' abuse is the child/ren and the perpetrator/s.

    An inspectorate as profoundly incompetent on this subject as the ISI cannot ever credibly make such an evaluation. Could the ISI ever reach the bottom of any stagnant safeguarding well?

    No - because the ISI inspectors are exclusively educationalists who are all members of the same club, and who have had a 'bit' of safeguarding training which is no bloody good when you are facing with well practiced criminals.