I have accounts from victims of abuse by monks and teachers at St Benedict’s School stretching back to the 1940s. I know that that abuse has continued to occur almost to the present day, with the suspension and subsequent departure of a teacher from the school this year. Given the length of time it can take for victims of child sexual abuse to come forward, it is likely that new reports of abuse that occurred at the school or the Abbey will pop up from time to time for the next 30 years or so, even if no further abuse occurs from now on. And abuse could well be continuing now, as the school's child protection procedures are still considerably short of best practice - a fact tacitly accepted by the Trustees when they appointed Lord Carlile to conduct an inquiry.
Unless something decisive is done by the Trustees, this is just going to go on and on. As things stand, every newly-reported case, even if it is of abuse that happened 30 years ago, will reflect badly on the school and the Abbey, and cause the headmaster and the Abbot sleepless nights.
Some people here have suggested that I’m obsessed about St. Benedict’s, that I’m anti-Catholic, that I bear some kind of deep and abiding hatred of the school. Nothing could in fact be further from the truth. I don’t care much about St. Benedict’s one way or another, and I have many things I would prefer to do with my time rather than chivvy the school into making its child protection procedures fit for purpose. For instance I’d like to spend more time on the music I play and write about.
But I’m going to continue to chase this issue until it is sorted, because it is the right thing to do for the safety of the pupils there, of whom my son was one many years ago. If by my inaction further abuse occurred which I might have prevented by shouting louder, then I would feel that I had some small share in the responsibility. I have nothing to lose – at worst this takes up a modest amount of my spare time, and I can afford that.
That spare time is not spent merely writing this blog. Victims contact me from time to time, and I encourage them to come forward to the police with their accounts. I know that some lines of police investigation have been triggered by statements made by victims who contacted me and who I have pointed in the direction of the police. It would be wrong of me to name names or be specific about anything in public, but there is more going on behind the scenes than I describe in the blog.
I do bits of research here and there. I review the reports that are produced by various bodies – the ISI, the DfE, the Charity Commission, the Diocese of Westminster and so on. I have several strands of ongoing correspondence at present, so there is going to be continued official interest in the school. For instance it was as a result of my reporting the discrepancies in the November 2009 ISI inspections that the DfE ordered the ISI to make unannounced inspection in April 2010 (I specifically suggested that the initial visit be unannounced). So those who try to discourage me by writing comments saying that I'm achieving nothing might as well rest their fingers. I've seen the results of my actions.
And the DfE assured me within a few days of the publication of the May 2010 version of the school’s child protection policy that they were continuing to work with the school to ensure that the its policy met regulatory requirements and that they did not regard the May 2010 version as being the final compliant version.
I’m in contact with the press of course. When a paper runs a story on St. Benedict’s, they frequently get in touch with me to check aspects of their story. And I have made an occasional phone call to a journalist when there is something worth reporting.
Quite a number of parents have been in contact, very concerned for the safety of their children and asking what could be done about it. I was barred from attending the safeguarding meeting on 14th September, but parents weren’t. Several parents who attended had contacted me prior to the meeting, and I know that in the days immediately prior to the meeting there was a lot of traffic on the blog as parents were doing their research. So I wasn’t there but my questions were, and of course the answers were reported back to me.
I can immediately see through half-hearted efforts to make token or minimal improvements to the child protection policy. Good child protection procedures aren’t all that hard to recognise once you have taken the trouble to understand the language. In a previous career I was responsible for regulatory and highly technical documents in the telecoms industry that ran to thousands, even tens of thousands of pages, where an error might cost the industry millions to put right if not caught in time. Reading through and analysing the 17-page child protection policy of St. Benedict’s School is nothing in comparison, and even the 538 pages of the London Child Protection Procedures isn’t all that hard to follow, especially as it is possible to skip quite large parts of it which are obviously not relevant to schools.
I have of course met Lord Carlile in the course of his inquiry and provided several hundred pages of documentary evidence to him.
So, I can keep going for ever, until I’m satisfied that the Trustees are doing the right thing and the school has become and will remain safe, or until the school closes because of a falling roll or a deregistration by the DfE. Until they really get to grips with this and start doing the right thing without reservations and qualifications, the Trustees will never know from what direction the next issue will come - press, officialdom, police, irate parents or blog post.
I know several former pupils who would obtain great satisfaction from the school’s closure because of the way in which they suffered when at the school – not just because of sexual abuse but also because of the bullying by staff and pupils, the beatings (thankfully now illegal), and the generally oppressive atmosphere of the place. But I would be satisfied with knowing that the place has genuinely turned over a new leaf.
It will be obvious when this happens. I will be the first to applaud when it does and I will thankfully get on with other much more enjoyable and interesting activities. But there is no evidence as yet that I can do that.