Abuse at St Benedict's has been going on for decades and we have 28 days to submit our evidence!Of course, he's right. It is completely unreasonable for this to be limited in this way. I've been contacted in private by a significant number of victims of abuse at the school. I know how hard it was for them even to make a private and confidential approach to me. Some of them have gone on to make a report to the police, some have not yet felt able.
Among those who have made a report, in some cases it took a gradual process of encouragement over several weeks before they finally plucked up the courage to pick up the phone and make the call. For the inquiry to go in just 28 days from an impersonal (and obscurely worded) ad in the local paper to victims coming forward with cogent accounts of events which they had suppressed in their memories for anything up to 40 years is just not remotely plausible.
There are only two possible explanations of this.
- Those who placed the ad have not the faintest idea of the psychological effect abuse has on children.
- Those who placed the ad have deliberately designed the ad in order to get the most minimal possible response.
I sent Lord Carlile an email saying that I had advised any victims who might be considering civil action to consult with their solicitors before making a decision about participating, and that similarly I had advised those who had made statements to the police and where there were ongoing police investigations to check with the police to ensure that any contribution would not hamper police enquiries. He replied as follows.
You are right to suggest that the persons you mention should obtain independent legal advice. I expect such advice to be to the effect that anything said to me will not risk compromise of other proceedings - not least because it is not my intention to publish the material they provide in an attributable manner.That's fine, but this is the first knowledge I had that he would not publish such material "in an attributable manner". That ought to have been included in the ad, not in an email reply to me. And unless that intention is published, then any legal advice provided by victims from their solicitors can't make the assumption that the information will be treated confidentially.
Then there are issues of the location of any meetings. Lord Carlile appears to be assuming that for his own convenience and the convenience of those who live near the school, meetings will be held at the school itself, and people will be waiting in the school for the previous meeting to end so they can go in for their own discussion. Nothing could be better calculated to discourage people to come forward than the idea that they would have to return to the scene of the crime in order to give evidence about it. I have arranged to meet Lord Carlile at his chambers. You can too. It is neutral ground, in Central London, away from the school. But it shouldn't be me assuring you of this, this should have been included in the original ad - if the aim was to encourage people to come forward.
Given that a current teacher is under investigation, and there are indications that the abuse has been going on for decades, even if the school were overnight to change so radically that no new abuse were to occur starting tomorrow, the chances are that as past victims gather the courage to come forward, there is going to be a long "tail" to this matter, as people perhaps 30 years hence come forward with complaints of abuse that they suffered at the school in their childhood. The inquiry cannot and will not be the end of the matter.
If you are a victim, even if you find yourself unable to contribute evidence to the Carlile inquiry, that doesn't in any way affect your right to go to the police later on with a description of the abuse you suffered, whenever you find that you have the strength to do so. The Carlile inquiry is entirely separate from any police investigations and has a different purpose.
I've been calling for an independent inquiry since my very first article on this topic back in August last year. I can hardly refuse to co-operate now that it has been set up and I've been invited to give evidence, no matter what my reservations might be about how it has been organised. So I'm going to tell Carlile all I know, subject to the promises of confidentiality I have made to the victims who have contacted me.