Friday, 28 October 2011

Sex abuse fears grow

That is the front page headline on today's Times, describing a story (behind paywall) of another Catholic abuse scandal, concerning another Benedictine monastery with a school attached.

Victims have come forward describing abuse they suffered while at Buckfast Abbey School, a boarding school attached to the abbey, since closed. In one case, the investigation was handled by Chris Jarvis, the diocesan safeguarding adviser for the diocese of Plymouth.

The investigation never went anywhere, and now we know why. Jarvis has pleaded guilty to posessing and distributing child pornography and will appear in Plymouth Crown court today, presumably for sentencing.

The Times also has an editorial on the subject today, Rooting out Evil (also behind paywall), in which they lay into the complacency and secrecy of the church in the face of numerous stories of abuse. The end of the editorial is as follows.
But when things go wrong, the response to calamity must never be secrecy. Those calling for rigorous investigation are not anti-Catholic; they are anti-abuse. From the Vatican down, that must be the response to these latest scandals.
Mr Cleugh, please remember that. In September last year, you used your prizegiving day speech to accuse me and others of anti-catholicism. Do you remember saying this? (It is recorded in the 2010 Priorian magazine, page 7).
Recent media and blog coverage seems hell-bent on trying to discredit the School and, at the same time, destroy the excellent relationship between School and Monastery. Is this part of an anti-Catholic movement linked to the papal visit? I do not know, but it feels very much as if we are being targeted.

What matters to parents most is that their sons and daughters are safe and happy. I promise I will continue to do everything possible to ensure this is the case and I know that, in this assertion, I speak for all my colleagues.
I have two questions for you Mr Cleugh.
  1. Are you now prepared to withdraw and apologise for those claims of anti-catholicism?
  2. If you are truly doing everything possible to ensure the safety of the pupils, why have you removed from the school's safeguarding policy the appendix which described the procedures for dealing with allegations against members of staff?
UPDATE: Chris Jarvis has been sentenced to a year in jail for his crimes.


  1. PART 1

    The only people who can hold a school to account for handling allegations of abuse are current parents. As you can imagine any parent responding to a phone call from the headmaster informing them that their child has been involved in a safeguarding incident will be in an agitated and confused state. Like most parents they will probably never have read the safeguarding policy because very sadly parents mistakenly confer trust on schools they choose for their child/ren. Reading the policy after the event is no good for your child.

    This posting states that an all important safeguarding appendix has to be requested. Is everyone happy to ask for this or might it be intimidating? Why is it not on the website? What is the secret? FACT – this is a breach of primary legislation as child protection policies (in full) should NOW be on the website. The all important appendix should explain how incidents will be handled by the school; if you are unaware of this protocol the school can do as it wishes ‘on the day’ because you the parent will unlikely ask, and you will be too disorientated to make sense of matters. And let’s not forget, St Benedict's has for decades made no reports of abuse to police, social services and has also failed to make statutory referrals to the ISA and its predecessors. This was clearly stated in the ISI follow up report of 2010 commissioned by the DfE. The administration of St Benedict’s should have never been trusted in the past. It will take a while before parents can have any confidence in the current administration – if ever without a sea change of personnel.

    First and foremost it is the child and then the child’s parents who suffer most from non-reporting. The child seems to have been forgotten in these matters. Humanity ‘is not included’ in the guidance – no matter what the words say.

    The Visitation charade (oh please!) then informs us that Abbey is adhering to the “national minimum standards!”

    It sounds great, but do you know what this means?

    In reality almost nothing because there is no mandatory obligation on any school, church, scout group or any similar setting, to report allegations of abuse or a crime such as gross indecency with a child, to the LADO, police or social services. So if a boy or girl is discovered in a room at the school having been indecently assaulted, what MUST the school’s administration do?

    A: Nothing. You might find this difficult to believe but it is true.

    The next point gets a little confusing, so here’s hoping I make it clear. The single statutory obligation on the school is the mandatory requirement on its chairman of trustees to send a letter to the Independent Safeguarding Authority detailing all the facts surrounding the indecent assault. This is termed a “referral.” (not to be confused with a referral to the LADO, which is a non-mandated action that should be undertaken for the benefit of the child and parents). The referral to the ISA MUST happen within 30 days of the incident or the adult leaving a school because of their unsuitability to work with children.(heavily prĂ©cised)

    The ISA receives this referral from the school, and then looks to see if is accompanied by a Police ‘Notification’ which is generated when a complaint is made by the school or the parents of the pupil either via the LADO or directly. If there is no Police ‘Notification’ to be paired with the school Referral, the ISA immediately becomes aware that no complaint of the assault has been made to the Police, they also know that no referral was made to the LADO who would call in the police on identifying the likelihood of indecent assault.

    So what does the ISA do then? Cutting straight to the bottom line – There is nothing it can do other than make a call to the LADO perhaps, but if the school does not wish cooperate with the LADO, that’s it.

  2. PART 2

    To recap:

    1. The school has no mandatory requirement to report allegations or actual abuse either to the LADO or the Police.

    2. A referral to the ISA, which is mandatory, brings no contemporaneous in/direct benefit to the assaulted child.

    3. The ISA never has contact with the child, the alleged perpetrator, the parents, or the school.

    4. A Referral to the ISA is required in order to track the alleged/actual perpetrator.

    So when you are told there IS a mandatory requirement to report allegations and abuse – it is to the ISA only, which is a non-prosecuting body that is responsible for managing the banned list of perpetrators but this report brings no benefits to the child or the parents.

    The Child has been forgotten in the useless legislation and ludicrous ‘guidance’ that fails totally when applied to independent schools.
    How and why has this appalling situation arisen?

    The “statutory framework” legislates suitably for maintained schools but NOT independent settings. Non-reporting of allegations in the maintained sector is rare. In the independent sector it appears to be the default – just look at the history of St Benedict’s! I am aware of a Director of Children’s Services who is sure under reporting (to the LADO) in the independent sector exists in his/her authority, but s/he is powerless to do anything about it. Social Services can only go to an independent school by invitation.

    Bizarrely the safeguarding framework actually gives the headmaster and the board of governors of an independent fee paying school a conflict of interest as a result of a school only being ‘guided’ to report actual abuse or allegations. To an independent school this makes the referral to a LADO an ‘option’ which can be ignored. Think about it. ”I do not need to report this incident to the LADO or the Police. If I do all hell will break loose and the damage to the reputation of the school (on my watch) will be incalculable, to say nothing of the loss of waiting list numbers. If I don’t report the abuse and this is subsequently discovered what can happen?” The school will in all likelihood statutorily refer to the ISA because this does not being the police into play and therefore there is no likelihood of the reputation of the school being damaged. But St Benedict’s did not even do this as the ISI follow up report states.

    In reality very little can happen to a school that fails to refer to the LADO because there is no law stipulating that either a assault or allegations of abuse MUST be reported, and by the time the failure to report is discovered it will be for following administrations to sort out. And what happens if the DfE becomes aware the school knew about the abuse but did not refer either to LADO? As far as independent schools are concerned the DfE is almost powerless despite the DfE’s farcical chocolate ‘nuclear’ option of “deregistration,” often spoken of in very muscular terms by civil servants who take on the characteristics of pantomime dames when describing the threat. Look at St Benedict’s which did not even return statutory notifications to the ISA and its predecessors. The school also determinedly failed to report actual abuse to the police for decades. Ampleforth had mirror issues with Hume refusing access to the Police. What happened? Where is deregistration? Where is any sanction? The DfE has almost no powers to sanction either of these schools, or the others in the independent sector which refuse to comply with the guidance. There is only one small technical ‘undertaking’ point that the DfE apply to schools which have gone ‘off the rails,’ but guess what? the DfE then does not insist that the school put the ‘undertaking’ into its safeguarding policy.

  3. PART 3

    As a result you the parents are unaware of the existence of this important sanction and therefore you cannot hold the school to account. In reality there is no one to police adherence to the ‘undertaking’ so it becomes another piece of pantomime from the DfE safeguarding team. “IT’S BEHIND YOU!”

    The handling of allegations of abuse in maintained settings has an entirely different set of dynamics, and limited conflicts of interest on either staff or governors. The Local Authority also has leverage in a number of places which ‘encourages’ compliance with guidance. The toxic effect of ownership and the presence of a balance sheet does not exist in the maintained sector and these factors change the subject substantially. That is not to say non-reporting does not happen in the maintained sector, but it is mercifully rare.

    Unless there is a clear written undertaking in the safeguarding policy of St Benedict’s that ALL allegations of abuse WILL be reported to the LADO (15.2.1. of the London Safeguarding Children’s Board “guidance” which the school can and does ignore because all “guidance” can be ignored) – parents and more importantly abused children have absolutely no rights and will potentially receive no support from independent (of the school) and knowledgeable people who will assure a child is impact assessed, and that the most appropriate arrangements will be made to assist him/her towards recovery. Parents will also get independent and experienced advice on what to do in the best interests of their child.

    Ironically, this course of action is also in the best interests of the school. There are many reasons why these arrangements have very positive benefits to a school, but governors in few settings understand it because they are void of considered understanding of the subject.

    National Minimum Standards.

    Don’t be so silly!

  4. Here is a senior priest, a professor of canon law, speaking from Southern Ireland to the BBC in Northern Ireland.

    Eire has very similar safeguarding guidance to England - once again there is no mandatory requirement to report alleged or actual abuse to the authorities including the Police.

    Here is an example of the Church in Eire adhereing to the 'National Minimum Standards' for safeguarding procedures.

    When Dooley is asked if he would report a priest to the police if he had been informed by a child that a priest was abusing him - Dooley says 'no.'

    One of the reasons he provides for his considered response is that the law (of Eire) does not require him to report such matters.

    It demonstrates that in Eire, just as in England, Wales and Scotland the 'National Minimum Standards' are part of the problem, not the solution in safeguarding - and the laws need to change.