Sunday, 24 July 2011

Pearce and Maestri Trial - the verdict

On day 6 of the trial the jury acquitted both Pearce and Maestri. I've been busy with work since then, and so am a bit behind on getting the other days' reports out. I'll finish them as soon as I can.

Pearce and Maestri trial - day 4

At the beginning of the day, the defence gave a copy of my blog to the judge. They didn't ask him to do anything, just to be aware of what was out there. The judge reiterated his normal admonishments to the jury not to go looking for stuff about the case on the internet.

So, anyway, the jury came in. DC Christine Hobson still on the stand. Rather than play the recording of Maestri's police interview, she & the prosecuting barrister did a play-act, reading it out with each taking one part of the conversation.

In essence, Maestri's line of defence at the interview was that either the abuse didn't happen, or that it was Lawrence Soper who did it and the victim had got them mixed up, and that it couldn't have been him because at the time (1977-78) he he was an ordinary teacher and so didn't have the authority to administer corporal punishment. At the interview he gave accounts of two incidents that meant that he thought it might be Soper.

The two incidents he described regarding Soper were as follows:
  • During a rugby festival, a boy had been recounting some episode involving Soper. But it wasn't specifically to him, but seemed to be being told to all around, including parents.
  • On another occasion, he had gone to Soper's office to find Soper sitting in his armchair and the boy standing by him,. Something about the scene made him wonder if something untoward had happened.

The defence asked her if she had investigated the victim's financial status. She said no, the police don't do that. They asked if they had checked his computer for confirmation of the first date on which he had emailed anybody about the abuse. She said no, again they don't do that sort of thing. On re-examination the prosecution established that the police don't do that in any case, that Hobson had been  a police officer for 29 years and hadn't done that in any case.

They asked if the police had asked the school for relevant records, of punishments, of school reports, of class lists to see who Maestri might have taught at the relevant times. The police had asked, and the school had stated that they had kept no such records.

They asked if the police had followed up the idea that the abuse had actually been perpetrated by Soper rather than Maestri. She said no.

Then Maestri took the stand. And his evidence seemed to do more damage to himself than to anybody else. It largely consisted of him, at the direction of his own barrister, going through his police statement and recanting reveral bits of it, specifically the point that he hadn't had the authority to cane anybody at the time. In fact, he had been made "Master in charge of discipline" in the middle school in about 1974 when Anthony Gee had been made Master of the Middle School, and "Second Master" of the middle school when Lawrence Soper had been appointed Master of the Middle School in 1977 on Gee's promotion to Headmaster of the school as a whole.

In both roles he did have the authority to administer corporal punishment, contrary to his original statement to the police. But he says he didn't use or like the cane, he used a slipper. He also said he didn't like applying corporal punishment. He thinks it likely that he did beat the victim on more than one occasion, (in the police interview he had described him as an "obstreperous boy").

He also admitted that he left the school in 1984 as a direct result of a complaint from a parent about abuse of another boy.

Maestri said he never caned anybody, he always used the slipper instead. He says he never took anybody's trousers down, and never rubbed them better after. Never gave "pastoral care" in terms of asking whether they still hurt from the last beating. He said he left all that kind of thing to the monks. He says he never touched his own genitals during or immediately after a beating

Neither Pearce nor Gee mentioned to him that any kind of complaint had been made against him.

Maestri was apparently a priest for a time before he became a teacher. The prosecution asked him why, at the time of the first abuse he committed, whether he knew it was wrong. he realised it was, but said he was naive, and didn't think it had really done any significant harm. He says that eventually he did admit it to one of the monks with a request that it be passed to the Abbot. He didn't say when, and the prosecution didn't ask. It doesn't seem to have caused him to stop teaching there.

He was asked if he still had a loyalty to the school, and he said that he had.

He was asked why he had fingered Soper rather than any other monk.He said because of the two incidents that he mentioned in his police interview.

He was also asked in respect of the two incidents regarding Soper he mentioned in his police report, why he hadn't reported it to anybody at the time, he said he thought it was common knowledge and so must have been being dealt with. At another point, he said he hadn't taken it seriously.

Maestri want on within a couple of years to teach elsewhere at a Catholic girls school in Berkshire. He said he couldn't remember the name of it.

Then Anthony Gee took the stand. His evidence was brief. he startyed teaching at St Benedict's in 1965. In 75 he was appinted master of the Middle School, and from 1977-85, was headmaster. he remained a monk until 1990 and subsequently left the order and married. He had no memory of any conversation with the victim of the sort that the victim had described. He had no knowledge at the time of any abuse going on at the school, though of course he had learned subsequently of the convictions of Pearce and Maestri. he denied theratening the victim with damnation, denies having threatened his family in any way when the boy left in the summer of 1981 on completing his O levels.

Gee also stated that he had no knowledge at the time of any abuse by Pearce or Maestri, though he had of course heard about it since.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Pearce and Maestri trial - day 3

As a precaution, this article was removed after reference was made to it by the defence at the trial. I decided that although the judge took no action, I didn't want there to be be any possibility of a mistrial being caused by the blog, even though the jurors had been specifically enjoined not to look for details of the case on the Internet. It is now being restored in its original form.

For most of the day the victim fielded questions from Maestri's counsel, Pearce's counsel and the prosecution barrister. The defence lawyers attempted to undermine his credibility and pick holes in his story. The victim presented himself well and remained calm throughout in spite of the way he was treated by the defence.

It was again suggested that the victim was simply after money and that he was on the "compensation wagon". He replied that he was not, and that if he had wanted money he would have taken his case to a civil court and not a criminal court.

The defence pointed out that since leaving the School, the victim had attended a funeral at the Abbey and a party at the School for a history master who was retiring. It was suggested that someone who had experienced abuse at the School would not have returned for these events. The victim said that the funeral was that of a friend and that he had a high opinion of the retiring history master.

A great deal of attention was paid to the rooms in which the abuse took place and the victim was asked to describe them in detail. In his original statement he had told police that the playground was visible from one of the rooms. In court one of the defence lawyers asked him if the playing fields could be seen from the window. The victim pointed out that the playing fields were in Perivale, about one and a half miles away.

Pearce's lawyer made great attempts to stampede the victim into giving specific dates for the abuse. It was claimed that Pearce had moved office at some point and the lawyer's strategy was clearly to try to get the victim to specify the wrong room. He went too far in his attempts and at this point the judge put him in his place very firmly.

Pearce's lawyer pointed out that the victim was fourteen when some of the abuse took place and asked, "why didn't you stand up for yourself?" He said that the victim claimed to have been abused by Pearce seven or eight times and found it strange that he returned to his office if he knew what was going to do be done to him. The victim talked about the controlling culture of the School and explained that in those days the boys were trained to be obedient to authority. He said that the abuse had petered out when Pearce lost interest in him and presumably turned his attention elsewhere.

Some of the issues raised on day two of the trial were revisited. There was further discussion of the interview with Fr Anthony Gee, and of this blog.

An email which the victim had sent to a friend was read in court, in it he described the abuse that he had been subjected to. One of the defence lawyers asked if it was true that he had been in trouble with the police as the result of a fight with another boy on a bus while he was a pupil at the School. The victim admitted that it was true, said that he wasn't proud of it, that he had had to pay for damage to the other boy's clothes and that his own father had been very angry with him.

The next witness to be called was DC Christine Hobson who had carried out the recorded interview of the victim, which was shown to the jury on day two of the trial. She was asked about the interview and in particular she was questioned as to why it was so short (about one hour) and why the victim made claims in later statements that he did not make at the time. She said that this was the way that things were usually done, that it was an initial interview and that the victim could not be expected to remember everything. The purpose of the interview was to establish an outline of the allegations any to determine lines of questioning for later interviews.

The case resumes at 10.15 a.m. on Tuesday.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Pearce and Maestri trial - day 2

As a precaution, this article was removed after reference was made to it by the defence at the trial. I decided that although the judge took no action, I didn't want there to be be any possibility of a mistrial being caused by the blog, even though the jurors had been specifically enjoined not to look for details of the case on the Internet. It is now being restored in its original form.

The jury were told that they would be shown a video of the victim telling police officers about the offences that Pearce and Maestri had allegedly committed against him. They were told that the victim would be appearing in court in person but would be shielded by partitioning.

The video equipment and the partitioning were set up and then the prosecution outlined the allegations that the victim would be making in the video.

The jury watched the video (it lasted for about an hour), after which Maestri's barrister was given the opportunity to question the victim.

Unsurprisingly he tried to find daylight in the evidence provided. Days, dates, differences in what was said. “Did you have friends at school?’ ‘Why did you not confide in them about the abuse?’. There were detailed questions about precisely when the abuse happened, the barrister seemed keen to get the victim to commit to certain months, but it was clear the victim could not remember specific dates.

Maestri's barrister asked whether the victim was motivated by a desire for financial compensation. The victim replied that although he was aware that others had been awarded compensation, he was not looking for money.

The barrister asked for details about the beatings that Maestri had given the victim:

  • How many times had he been beaten?
  • What clothing had he had to remove?
  • Was the door locked?
  • What was he beaten with?
  • What was the temperature in the room?
  • Was there central heating?
  • Was anyone else present in the room?
The victim answered all of the questions and said that he believed Maestri had been masturbating while he beat him.

There were questions about the tea parties to which the victim and other boys were invited by Maestri. It seems that on these occasions the victim and Maestri were never alone together.

The barrister noted that the victim now made a living as a lifestyle counsellor and asked him if he had ever studied psychology. The victim said that he had.

Repeated mention was made of this blog, emails to me, and the report of the Times in April 2010.

The victim said that in spite of achieving good O-level results he decided not to go into St. Benedict's sixth form. His form master was surprised that such a capable pupil didn't want to stay at the school and sent him to see Father Anthony Gee (the headmaster). When Father Anthony asked him why he was leaving, he told him about Pearce and Maestri. Father Anthony became very angry and said that his stories were untrue and malicious. He threatened to blacken the names of the boy's father and grandfather if he repeated his allegations. The interview had ended with the victim and the headmaster shouting at each other.

The victim said that he was very fond of his father and grandfather and so he never told them anything about it. His grandfather is now dead.

The case resumes at 10.15 on Friday.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Pearce and Maestri trial - day 1

As a precaution, this article was removed after reference was made to it by the defence at the trial. I decided that although the judge took no action, I didn't want there to be be any possibility of a mistrial being caused by the blog, even though the jurors had been specifically enjoined not to look for details of the case on the Internet. It is now being restored in its original form.

The trial of Pearce and Maestri started today, a day late because a previous trial involving one of the lawyers overran.

Not that much happened today. Although no plea was formally heard from the defendants, it was clear that the "not guilty" plea they gave at the previous hearing was still applicable. So we have a trial.

There was a bit of discussion between the judge and the lawyers concerning questions to be put to the prospective jurors. The first was whether any of them had any previous connection with St. Benedict's School. The second question was whether any of the jurors had read in the papers or on the internet any article which made any mention of sexual abuse at St.Benedict's School. The third question was whether any juror had a connection with anybody on a list of names read out to them. (I can't list the names here as most of them are protected by court order, so it would be contempt of court to publish them.)

There was also a bit of discussion involving timetabling and logistics for the trial. The delay to the start has played havoc with the timetable, and one of the lawyers has also been called away to another case for a day. It was agreed that the hearings would be on 7-8 July, and 12-13 July, extending into the following day if it should be necessary.

So the jury was selected and sworn, and the charges were read out, and the judge gave them the usual stern warning against talking to people about the case, or doing their own research on the internet. He mentioned the recent case of a juror in Manchester who had done that and had been sent to jail as a result.

The charges against Maestri are three counts of indecent assault against a boy under the age of 16, all occurring between 1st September 1977 and 31st July 1978. Similarly, the charges against Pearce are three counts of indecent assault against a boy under the age of 16, all occurring between 1st September 1978 and 31st July 1979.

The prosecution opening statement briefly described the alleged assaults by Maestri, when the boy was in the 2nd year of the Middle school, how when he moved up to the upper school he confided in Pearce who allegedly promised to sort it out, but swore the boy to secrecy, and allegedly abused him again. The same boy is the victim in all 6 counts. His name is protected from publication by court order (not that I would want to give it anyway).

The prosecution barrister made it clear that the three charges each are specimen charges, that the prosecution intends to show a pattern of repeated abuse lasting through both academic years, Maestri in the first year and Pearce in the second.

Two other brief statements were read to the jury, describing the occasion of the arrest and caution of each of the defendants.

And with that, the jury was sent home and told to return in time for a 10.15 start on Thursday.