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.
It is very important to realise that under successive Education Acts since about 1959, schools have a statutory duty to return a Notification to the authorities (until recently the Department for Education, now the Independent Safeguarding Authority) whenever a teacher or governor resigns or is sacked in circumstances where their suitability to work with children is in question. The Trustees fulfil the role of governors. But since 2003, two trustees have resigned in precisely these circumstances. And yet, the ISI reports that the school's records make no mention of any such notification.
Clearly, there was no Notification when Fr Stanislaus Hobbs resigned as a Trustee in 2005 following his arrest (as described in the Charity Commission report), or when Fr Gregory Chillman resigned last April following the Social Services investigation.
Since the school hasn’t done so in the case of Chillman even when they knew they were under the spotlight, it is reasonable to think that the school has never sent a Notification apart from this one time. That means not when Pearce "retired" as Junior School Headmaster in 1993 to become Bursar instead, and not when Maestri suddenly resigned in the early 1980s.
The redeployment of Pearce would be illegal today under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 – but a Notification should have been returned at the time because there was no other instrument to advise the Department for Education of abusive teachers.
John Maestri subsequently obtained a teaching position elsewhere after abruptly leaving St. Benedict’s.
But we aren’t in a position to know for certain about the lack of Notifications in these two cases, because the ISI hasn’t gone back further than 2003 (when they previously inspected the school). This is wrong – they should go back as far into history as they need to in order to get to the bottom of a case which has been reported to them since their last inspection. They haven’t done that here.
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.This is not correct. The school does have a written policy on this. It is in section 26 of the school's Child Protection policy. The relevant paragraph reads as follows:
"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."
That is perfectly clear and unambigouous. There's only one small problem. The school doesn't apply it. And by not applying it at the times of the resignations of Hobbs and Chillman, the school has broken the law. Twice.
If a school doesn't make a Notification, an abusive teacher is able to get another job involving children, since the Independent Safeguarding Authority doesn't know to warn a subsequent school that the teacher may be unfit to work with children. This means that there may be more victims. John Maestri was able to get another teaching job after he left St. Benedict's, and so continued to have access to children. I don't know if he abused any of them. I sincerely hope not.
This is very important. It means that merely getting the written policy into a fit state is not enough. The policy is not worth the paper it is written on if the Trustees and Headmaster are not prepared to ensure that it is implemented fully. What is needed is to change the culture at the school so that staff and trustees know their safeguarding obligations and are prepared to fulfil them. This is clear evidence that at the moment they aren’t.
The nature of the relationship between the school and the AbbeyThere are only 14 monks resident in the abbey, and they are all under the authority of the Abbot. So it makes for a limited pool of talent from which to choose trustees responsible for running a charity with an income of £11m. And since they are all subject to the authority of the Abbot, you can’t really get much in the way of independent thinking going on.
The Abbot and the Prior are ex officio trustees, and of the four other trustees two are elected by the monastic community and two appointed by the Abbot. The trustees are the same as the Abbot’s Council and have ultimate responsibility for the school and the Abbey.
In any independent school, only the Board of Governors can get rid of a bad governor. In the case of St Benedict’s, the Abbot appoints the Prior and two other trustees. The other two trustees are elected by the remaining monks. So the Abbot and his appointees form a majority of the trustees. There’s no mechanism for getting rid of bad trustees if the Abbot supports them. And as far as I can see, there is no means at all of getting rid of an Abbot who fails in his duties.
Chillman was appointed as a trustee on 6 April 2009 and resigned in April 2010. Hobbs resigned as a Trustee on 23 September 2005.
Boy choristers, aged from eight to thirteen, number about 20. They belong to the Abbey male voice choir and sing in Masses in the Abbey. In addition to the boys, there are six professional adult singers, known as ‘lay clerks’.What relevance any of this has for safeguarding is a mystery, unless the ISI takes the view that monks by definition form a greater hazard to children and should generally speaking be kept away from them. That would be a very curious attitude to take, certainly on the part of inspectors responsible for assessing a school's compliance with statutory obligations. In any case, the school's child protection policy should not be directed merely towards protecting children from monks, but rather towards protecting them from any abusive adult who may be on the premises.
For most pupils, contact with the Abbey is reported (by the school and pupils) to be confined to whole-school Masses and formal occasions such as Remembrance Day. Junior school pupils attend Mass weekly. The school stresses the separation between the school and the Abbey. Twenty years ago the situation was different, when the monks were heavily involved in the school
The steps that the trustees have taken to balance their responsibilities to the different classes of beneficiariesNeither the name of the designated governor nor her responsibilities are mentioned in the current child protection policy for the school, nor so far as I can tell are these details mentioned anywhere else on the school website. Unless the responsibilities are defined and publicly stated, there is no means by which anybody with a child protection concern (e.g. a parent) can contact her. She's therefore useless and her existence is an irrelevance.
In addition to the use of restrictive covenants, the trustees have taken other steps to balance their responsibilities for monks and pupils. A lay person on the Board of School Advisors (governors, including trustees and others) was appointed as the child protection governor for 2009 to 2010, and her responsibility for safeguarding has very recently been assumed by an advisor who has previously carried out work as a schools inspector. The minutes of the Board of Advisors for June 2009 mention various sessions of child protection training. The school has provided training for the Board of School Advisors, including the trustees.
We aren’t told what training has been provided by the school, and whether it was up to the standards defined by Ealing Safeguarding Children Board.
The inspection evidence is that the pupils are confident, relaxed, young people with a high standard of personal development, happy in the school and quick to recommend it for others. They have members of staff whom they regard as approachable to help with concerns. The only monks with whom they are familiar are the chairman of trustees and the three members of the monastic community who have school responsibilities. The choristers are escorted for Mass and choir practice. They are proud of their role as choristers and enjoyed their recent visit to France.The fact that the pupils appear “confident” and “happy” is not evidence that they are not being abused. If you look at the film Chosen which won a BAFTA for Best Single Documentary in 2007, you’ll find victims describing how good they were at hiding their misery. And paedophiles are very good and drawing children into complicity and persuading them to keep quiet. If the ISI doesn't know this, then they are incredibly incompetent. If they do know it, then they are complicit in misleading parents as to the safety of the school.
Choirboys can be proud of being choirboys, and still be being abused. They are singled out for special attention for their singing abilities, and this can be used as a precursor to their being groomed for other activities. Statements to the effect that choirboys are proud of their role have no place in a report such as this, since it can be abused by the school to provide reassurance to parents that all is well when an objective examination of procedures would reveal otherwise. That the ISI includes such statements is further evidence of their incompetence in safeguarding matters.
On the other hand, the school had not made all necessary referrals directly to the appropriate authorities and the use of restrictive conditions is not altogether convincing, since the restrictions were not adequate in the case of Fr DP and the failure to implement them occasioned serious criticism in the Charity Commission report of 15 December 2009. Shortcomings were also apparent in the school’s safeguarding policy and in the single central register of appointments. An obvious safeguarding emphasis is not included in the school improvement action plan 2009 to 2010 or in the programme for personal, social, health and citizenship education (PSHCE).This is far more important. This is evidence that the procedures of the school are severely lacking, to the point that even the ISI makes it rather gently clear that the school has broken the law.
Let's make this perfectly clear. The school has broken the law by permitting known abusers to leave quietly or to remain on site at the Abbey. The school has failed to return Notifications under the Education Acts which has the effect of permitting known abusers to go and get jobs working with children.
And don't you love that little British understatement "the use of restrictive conditions is not altogether convincing". Of course it isn't - the policy quite simply failed in the case of Father David Pearce!
The ISI does not say which “Shortcomings were also apparent” and they should – we need to clearly understand what was wrong – there are many important matters to do with CRB and much else in the single central register of appointments. Why was this not noticed in any previous inspection?
The Abbot’s Council has considered children safest if an offending monk is well looked after in the company of others and kept under restrictions. This view acknowledges that the monastery is not a prison or a hospital, but sees difficulty in finding other monasteries to which a monk might go. The commitment to trust within the community and to St Benedict’s rule of love and forgiveness appears on occasion to have overshadowed responsibility for children’s welfare, as in the case of Fr DP.That's an incredibly charitable way of putting it. Let's describe the policy of "restrictive covenants" in simple terms. Monks against whom credible complaints of sexual abuse have been made are permitted to continue living next to the school which their monastery runs. Although the monks are nominally placed under restriction, few people are permitted to know that the restrictions exist, and even fewer are given accurate information as to the reason for the restrictions. As a result, the restrictions are not adequately enforced.
This nonsensical and foolish policy failed completely with Pearce, demonstrates no understanding at all of paedophilia, and indicates a far greater concern for the reputation of the Abbey and the individual monks than for the safety of the children in their care.
It’s incredibly convenient that that this policy of “love and forgiveness” permits the Abbot to keep abusive monks at the Abbey and not report their crimes to the civil authorities.
In other words, the ISI is now acknowledging that the school’s safeguarding policy and arrangements fall below that standard, a fact the ISI completely missed in its glowing November 2009 inspection and also its previous inspections in 2003/4.
In view of the past safeguarding incidents, largely involving current or previous members of the monastic community, the inspection has deliberately included detailed guidance to bring the school’s safeguarding policy and arrangements to the highest possible standard.
What the ISI carefully does not mention is that this additional inspection was carried out at the specific request of the DfE (formerly DCSF), and that the DfE's request was made as a result of me expressing concerns to Jeannette Pugh, Director of Safeguarding at the DfE. Had I not gone over ISI’s head to speak to DfE, there’s no reason to think that ISI would have acted at all.
We really need to know what the “detailed guidance” is which the ISI has referred to, so we can evaluate it. Unless we are informed of this, as soon as the ISI leave, the school is likely to return to its old ways. Parents are the only ones who can police a child protection policy, but without knowing what it should be, they are helpless.