Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Carlile Report analysis - 1

This is the first in a series of articles I shall be writing on the Carlile report. As I mentioned before, it is a substantial document and I felt it deserved a measure of reflection before I wrote in detail about it.

Paragraphs 1-4 deal with the background and history of the school and contain nothing contentious.

Paragraph 5 briefly describes the circumstances of Carlile's appointment, but neglects to mention what I at least regard as a significant issue and which I raised at the press conference.

Carlile accepted this appointment as a barrister, and was therefore instructed by a solicitor, this being the normal way of things in the law. His instructing solicitor was the school's solicitor Mr. Anthony Nelson of the firm Haworth and Gallagher.

At the time Carlile took the instruction, Nelson was also acting as the defending solicitor for Father David Pearce, not only for his appeal against sentence (successful in that it was reduced from 8 years to 5), but also for Pearce's second trial this summer along with John Maestri.

At the press conference I asked Lord Carlile how the apparent conflict of interest was managed between Nelson acting on behalf of Pearce while at the same time commissioning an inquiry which would inevitably in part be an investigation into Pearce's criminal activities. Carlile replied to the effect that there was no conflict of interest, in that he had made it clear to Nelson and the Abbey that he would conduct the inquiry in his own way, and would not provide any of the documents he received or the notes he made to Nelson, these would all go into his own personal archive at his chambers and not be made available to the abbey.

I've no criticism of Carlile in the way he has approached the task, but it seems to me that by saying this, he has tacitly accepted that there was a potential conflict of interest on the part of Nelson which needed to be guarded against by the precautions Carlile described.

I'm astonished that, even after he pleaded guilty to multiple crimes against pupils of St Benedict's, Pearce has continued to be represented by the school solicitor. I'm even more astonished that the Abbot thought it appropriate at the same time to use Nelson to instruct Carlile. I realise that Nelson and Carlile have worked together before and that there is nothing at all wrong with that. I accept that provided that everybody concerned is happy that Nelson is able to compartmentalise his mind, he can continue to represent these different clients with potentially conflicting interests.

But politically it stinks. Carlile is perfectly well aware of the need for independence in such matters not only to exist but also to be seen to exist, and in the press conference he criticised the conduct of the Apostolic Visitation, in that he felt in particular that Abbot Richard Yeo ought not to have been appointed to it because he has too close a prior connection with Ealing Abbey and its monks. I agree with him on this point, and I feel that the same issue applies to the involvement of Mr. Nelson in the Carlile inquiry. This doesn't sound like an example of the openness and transparency that the Abbot and Mr. Cleugh have been banging on about recently.

Just how acute those conflicts might turn out to be was demonstrated at the trial of Pearce and Maestri this summer. One of the arguments used by the defence was that the alleged victim had mistakenly identified his abusers and had in fact been abused not by either Pearce or Maestri, but instead had been abused by Father Laurence Soper. While that line of argument was a perfectly valid one for the defence to use, it showed how the interests of Pearce and of the abbey and the other monks are no longer necessarily the same.

Paragraphs 6 & 7 mention the status of Pearce and Hobbs at the time of the inquiry, and paragraph 8 describes his agreement to conduct the inquiry "on the understanding that this report would be published on the School and Abbey websites, and made available in printed form on request to the Abbot or school Headmaster".

That concludes the introductory "Background" section of the report.


  1. Does anyone know who the suited and booted individuals who are in and out of St. Bens at the moment?
    Are they from the DoEd or ISI ?

  2. From the laymans perspective, the fact that the same lawyer acted on behalf of the school in commissioning the inquiry and the Carlile Report, whilst at the same time acting as defence for Pearce remains simply ... hallucinatory. No amount of sophistry or "compartmentalisation" can convince me there isn't a fundamental conflict of interest there. Not only this, but the question needs to be asked again: who paid the law firm for Pearce's defence? If it's the abbey or the school, then the stink is more than unbearable.

  3. from Charity Comission report into Trust of St Benedict's Abbey Ealing, published 15 December 2009, inquiries conducted 2006-2008.

    paragraphs 19,20:


    19. The Charity confirmed that both Individual A and the Charity were defendants in the civil claim. The Charity also confirmed that its legal costs in this claim and the award of damages against Individual A were covered by an insurance policy held by the Charity. The legal fees for Individual A were paid for from the Charity's funds. The Charity explained that it had a responsibility to cover these costs for the following reasons:
    (a) Individual A is a beneficiary of the Charity and therefore entitled to support from the Charity;
    (b) it is important to defend Individual A and the priests more generally, as their reputation is tied to that of the Charity. If the Charity's reputation is tarnished this could lead to the future financial loss to the Charity through fewer pupils attending the school;
    (c) it is the nature of the community life that the Charity is a part of, that it cannot turn its back on its memebers prior to them being found guilty of the allegations made. A failure on the part of the Charity to be supportive in these circumstances could be damaging to the principles of community; and
    (d) there was a realistic prospect that the Charity could be held liable for Individual A's actions as a former employee of the Charity.

    20. Whilst the Commission did not accept all of the explanations offered by the Charity for using its funds to cover Individual A's legal costs, it did consider, given the circumstances of this particular case, it was arguable that this decision fell within the reasonable range of decisions available to the trustees.

    paragraph 5
    one of the monks of the Order of St Benedict, Ealing, Father Pierce ("Individual A") who had previoulsy taught at the school..."

  4. quoting silent majority:

    The Charity also confirmed that its legal costs in this claim and the award of damages against Individual A were covered by an insurance policy held by the Charity.

    Thank-you very much for digging up that fine print, it's an interesting key point in this discussion.

    I admit to ignorance of exactly who or what this charity is in relation to the abbey or the school, but the important thing people would want to be sure about is that no school fees have been allocated towards the legal defense costs of any of the accused. Is that unreasonable? Surely we can agree that would constitute a gross conflict of interest! Apart from that, ok one can understand that the abbey (if indeed the abbey is to all intents and purposes "the charity") wouldn't like to turn it's back on a potentially innocent member of it's fraternity (or teaching staff, in the case of Maestri? btw were his legal defense costs covered by this charity also?), but even so, having once been proven guilty, the fact a defendant goes on to have new defense costs (for new charges) covered again by funds (from insurance policies or otherwise) provided by this same charity still makes it look - to the man on the street - like this charity is doing all it can for the accused, now in the openly declared hope of saving it's reputation and future commercial success more than anything else. The conclusion is that their objective is all about looking after "their own people" to the bitter end, be they innocent or guilty, only now with the excuse that "it's only business after all". Obviously any (real or potential) victims can cover their own costs, as they're just outsiders and consumers. If these consumers of "services" manage to prove they are victims, of course they'll receive an apology and some compensation, otherwise their parents should just keep sending the cheques every month and take their chances. I think I'm finally beginning to learn this "way of living", but I'm not sure I like it. In all fairness, maybe people could understand legal costs being covered by "the charity" the first time somebody accused of this kind of abuse goes on trial, but to have the costs covered ad-infinitum seems a bit much.
    This is the whole problem with the RC church though, and with its tentacle organisations in the real/civilian world - it's a gigantic network of people who look after their own interests first and foremost without a thought for the community at large, or the greater public welfare. Only when things reach a certain limit of absurdity will they act objectively to save face, for glaringly obvious reasons to do with PR. Until then, if you ask too many questions or kick up a fuss, either you're on your own, or maybe you'll get a slap for your trouble, like this reporter here. Let's not be too harsh though - things are definitely changing for the better vis-a-vis reporting procedures and transparency, and anyway the church (like all religious institutions) has always needed to be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern day. Plus ça change as the French say!

  5. 18:17
    The abbey, monastery, parish and school are all run by a single trust, registered as a charity. All the six trustees are monks, and the Abbot is chairman of trustees. You can go and look up the details on the Charity Commission website.

    For the civil case against the school in 2006, the Abbey's defence costs were met by means of a claim on the insurance policy they hold. The sum awarded to "C" was similarly paid out by the insurance company. The claim was against both Pearce and the Abbey. Pearce's defence costs in the civil case were not covered by the insurance claim and were met directly out of charitable funds - i.e. out of school fees.

    I have no idea whether Pearce's legal costs for his subsequent criminal trials have come out of charitable funds. My guess is not, but I've never had the opportunity to put the question.

  6. How is it possible for the abbey, monastery, parish and school to be run by a single trust registered as a charity, when this so called charity runs a profit making enterprise i.e. the school? I can only guess it's perfectly legal by some interpretation or other if it's been going on as long as this, but it doesn't seem right, and one indication of that is what's been going on in the school all these decades. You're either a charity or a profit making, commercial enteprise, not some kind of hybrid halfway house inbetween, because the way things stand now, and the way things have been since 1902, the secular staff are beholden to the abbey's men of the cloth who run the charity, and hold the purse strings. These men are also clearly protective of one another to the point of covering up for criminal behavior, beit deliberately (conceivably), or through the nature of the path they have chosen i.e. loyalty to their brethren (admirable in some ways I'm sure), or indeed the confessional. Can this so called charity then rightfully be expected to drag itself into a modern world of healthy regulation and transparency, casting aside it's opaque, clearly dodgy, legacy infrastructure, or does this task require an external cleanup crew? An external auditor might be a good idea, one empowered to enforce recommendations, and not one hired by the charity. The clearest recommendation I suppose Carlile has given is that the school be separated from this charity, have it's own, separate board of governors, thus becoming a completely independent commercial and legal entity. I suppose it's a good start; let's hope it's enough.