Friday, 4 November 2011

From a parent

Below is an open letter about St Benedict‘s School from a parent of a child who attended this school between the age of 7 and 18. For entirely understandable reasons the parent wishes to remain anonymous.


The revelations about the child abuse that went on at St Benedict’s School for a period of about 40 years are distressing. As a parent one attempts to do the very best for one’s child; this included a Catholic and Christian education at what was then known to be an excellent private Catholic school in West London. The struggle to find the fees was thought to be well worth while for the prize of a place at St Benedict’s.

My son was taught religion by Father David Pearce and Father Pearce was also his form master. As “Captain David” he ran the Cadet Corps which involved going away to camp in Wales. This priest, as we all now know, is serving 8 years, (now reduced to 5 years) imprisonment for child abuse. One trusted these priests and the lay teachers, as one consigned to their care, the most precious commodity – a child.

My son did not really achieve what he should have done at St Benedict’s, although with much parental support and help he has turned out to be a model and responsible citizen, with a good career and a happy marriage. His success in life has come through his own efforts with strong family support and not, I regret to say, from his time at St Benedict’s which made him under achieve and with left him with a contempt for authority. I now understand why.

When the news broke about Father David, my son’s reaction was “Oh, I am not surprised it’s him, but there was one monk, much worse that has not been mentioned”. I had had no inkling at all before this that anything inappropriate had gone on. My cousin’s son, also a pupil at St Benedict’s at about the same time, similarly never raised with his family any inappropriate behaviour, yet both boys were obviously aware that “things were not right”. I suppose some strange code of schoolboy behaviour prevented them from saying anything. 

My son, regularly returned home from the Rugby field, dressed in two shirts (possibly not his) no socks or two pairs of socks and clothes thrown on any old how; my reaction to that was that boys did not care, and paid no attention to how they dressed. Now I learn that Father David appeared in the changing rooms complete with ciné camera and, with hindsight, I now realise the need for speedy dressing. It never dawned on me at the time that anything could be wrong; my son never complained. 

Likewise my cousin’s son mentions a group of boys going up to one monk’s office to stand outside and make a noise, whilst one of their friends was inside being “chastised”. This was their effort to ensure that the headmaster knew they were there, so nothing “inappropriate” might happen to their friend. My worried question to my son “were you.....?” was answered by “don’t worry Mum, I knew enough to keep out of his way”. Really? Is this the best St Benedict’s could offer its children? 

My question to the monks and lay teachers at St Benedicts is this: How over a period of nearly forty years did all this abuse go undetected? Within any organisation, especially one as close-knit as an abbey, can no-one else, ever have raised or had any suspicion about what was going on? I am afraid it beggars belief.

Careful wording of documents issued from the abbey can confuse the issue. Does one need to know “officially” about child abuse before deciding to take action? Letters stating that “I am sorry you feel you were let down” puts the blame on the victims. Fathers, we don’t just feel we were let down. Five or six child abusers in one school? We were let down and badly. 

We now hear that Father Lawrence Soper, has failed to turn up for police questioning or “jumped bail” as eloquently reported in the national press a few days ago. It is a wild stretch of the imagination to believe that this 80 year old, known to the boys as Father Florence, has simply gone on the run. Obviously someone, somewhere is looking after him, caring for him and giving him succour. I only hope and pray that this won’t turn out to be a Benedictine monastery or convent somewhere in Europe.

As for my son? His “caring” Catholic and Benedictine education has made him “not officially” a practicing Catholic. Not quite the hoped for result in sending him for a good Catholic education. With whom, Fathers, rests the responsibility for his lost Soul?


  1. I am pleased to see a former parent writing here; after all it was parents who paid the fees. However, I regret to say that parents bear a responsibility. If a boy is coming home in mixed-rig, two rugby jumpers a mother or father who notices would ask. The ultimate responsibility for a son's education rests with the parents, always with the parents.

    As for the last sentence the responsibility for one's Soul rests with oneself. As Catholics we distinguish sharply between the office of Priest and the particular office-bearer. One of the things I learned at St B's was that priests could be unpleasant, angry, drunk and selfish: they are not angels.

    Bryan Dunne

  2. As a former pupil (possibly a little before your son's time? I'm in my mid-40s) I have to say I identify with much of what you wrote there, and I do feel for the sense of deep betrayal you seem to rightly have.

    I was particularly struck by your comments on your son's under-achievement... oh yes, indeed. We mostly focus on the primary damage done by the abuse (both sexual and simply sadistically violent) at St B's over all those years. But should not lose sight of the "low level" effect which is not so directly visible. I suffered minor abuse at the hands of Pearce myself (groping, touching - like dozens of others) which, for me, seems to have not *directly* harmed me (which is not to say it didn't directly harm others). Yet I have no doubt for one single moment that the abuse and violence of that place profoundly affected me in terms of my early adult life... That's not sour grapes, blaming others for a lack of "success". I am now a very successful, happy, contented person! But it did not come easily.

    One final thing. You wrote "I suppose some strange code of schoolboy behaviour prevented them from saying anything." Not as such. Sadly it was that we simply thought it was normal. That was how the world was, no....?

    Please send a "Hi!" to your son, one St B's survivor to another.


  3. Bryan.

    for the parents of the time, the idea that their sons might be being abused was unthinkable. It was made unthinkable by the unquestioned authority of the church. So it never occurred to the parents to think it.

    With the benefit of hindsight, it is very easy now to say that parents ought to have thought of it. But I cannot fault the parent concerned. You cannot be responsible for things that are beyond your knowledge and power.

    My son was at St Benedict's, admittedly for only two years in the junior school. I met Father David on more than one occasion. I had no idea about him and no reason to suspect him. Had my son stayed at the school for longer, it could easily have been me writing that letter above.

    If the question of abuse came into my head at all at the time, it would have only been to dismiss the idea that somebody like Father David could possibly have been a serial abuser. He was trusted and appointed to the job by the Abbey, who couldn't possibly have neglected their duty of care to the children to the extent of leaving a known abuser in charge of children.

    Sadly, I now realise how young and naive I was then. I and my son are fortunate that I moved him to a different school for reasons unconnected with abuse. I claim no credit for that decision, just as the parent must not take any unjust blame for choosing St Benedict's for his or her son's education.

    The best that any of us can do is honestly to make the best decisions possible based on the knowledge and wisdom we have at the time.

    The author of the open letter clearly has done that. The same cannot be said of successive Abbots of Ealing.

  4. "I suppose some strange code of schoolboy behaviour prevented them from saying anything."

    To whom? You were talking about a headmaster here. Whilst many of us knew he wasn't "right". Unless you had been directly abused or knew someone who had been what did you have to say? An inkling, a suspicion, but nothing concrete.

    Video cameras in dressing rooms, checking you were dry at swimming, appearing in changing rooms - these weren't covert operations. They were in full view and lay teachers said nothing. If it was ok in their eyes, why would you firstly see the behaviour as odd and if you did who would you feel would be the right person to talk to about your headmaster at that time?

    I already stated in another post, refusing to go to see Fr. David when reported by a teacher unless he went with me.

    The signs were there and we had the least power and knowledge but were the ones, the vast majority of whom were not abused, who should speak up.

    I remember returning from school to inform my mother that during a lesson Fr. David pulled a hair from my knee. Her solution was to stay as far away as possible from him and wear long trousers. Not the strongest of actions but again what recourse would she have had for an action that whilst inappropriate was hardly abuse.

    There were people far better placed who did nothing.

    I remember getting away from the deviant to the upper school only to be called in on Dr. Dachs first day to inform me, that he knew all about me from Fr. David. So, another nightmare of a headmaster hounding me began. As an aside, how he must have felt in later years taking such advice from a paedophile.

    Whilst I like many, wasn't abused the likes of Pearce had a nature to make the lives of those whom they couldn't control a bloody nightmare either by their own hand or by influencing the hand of others.

    I say this becasue the OP states,

    "from his time at St Benedict’s which made him under achieve and with left him with a contempt for authority"

    which I fully understand and completely agree with.

  5. It is only in recent years that I have fully begun to realise just how dysfunctional St Benedicts was during my time there (OP 74-84).

    On the one hand I achieved well academically and was never sexually abused. On the other hand like most of us I was beaten with a variety of implements including leather straps, rounders bats, cricket bats and bamboo canes. The effect of this was to desensitise me to violence. I was violent at school and for many years afterwards. I don't claim that St Benedicts made me violent but it did nothing to civilise me in that regard. As well as the formal punishments there were some lay teachers who were completely out of control. One short, stocky teacher in particular was notorious for phsical assaults including punching boys in the stomach.

    Aside from the physical violence there was the sarcastic verbal violence of Pearce and his ilk. I remember after one soul destroying dressing down from Pearce he finished with the words "Friends again?" and a smirk.

    I was unaware of the level of sexual abuse at the time but everyone knew about Pearce's U4th tea parties where there was always one chair too few. This allowed Pearce to suggest that someone might have to sit on his knee. There was always the camp question, "Who will be mother" when it came to pouring the tea. Nothing too shocking but unsettling for a child. Again as other people have recorded there was Pearce's passion for making sure the boys got the mud off their legs after rugby. These incidents may sound faintly comic in an Uncle Monty sort of way but Pearce was preying on 13-14 year old boys not grown men and we now know how much further he went on other occasions.

    The recent prosecutions and publicity have made me question so much about my childhood. There were a number of boys who left abruptly, I know of two suicides, there were any number of violent incidents. It is difficult to know what, if any, connection there is between these incidents and the abuse the boys suffered, the general malevolent atmosphere of St Benedicts and the particular actions of a group of paedophiles.

    There were good people among the staff but they did nothing. Did they turn a blind eye, did they refuse to believe what was happening or were they afraid for their jobs and careers? Only they will know.

  6. ok,I think we get the picture but we all say teachers knew, but we see no names, only the clergy from the Abbey named so lets start the list.......
    but I will not hold my breath.

  7. 15.28

    Did they turn a blind eye, did they refuse to believe what was happening or were they afraid for their jobs and careers?

    All of the above.

    I did not attend St Benedict’s but another prep school with a ‘good’ reputation. The staff were an interesting mix of all the colours in all the sizes, including eccentrics, drunks, misfits and a minibus number of paedophiles.

    This will sound all very Tinker Tailor, but the classics master who both irritated and scared me in equal measure, discovered that a very senior teacher was bedding boys. He remonstrated with the perpetrator and kept a very close eye on his activities. Decades later I managed to find remonstrators sister who told me the following.

    “At weekends he would arrive at my home in a very depressed and distressed state. He believed if he reported his discovery to the police then by the time it reached court he would be portrayed as a former MI6 ‘spook’ suffering from alcoholism and depression." In short an unreliable witness. He was also convinced he would never get another job.”

    This would be as true then as it is today particularly if you work in the independent sector which is a small and exclusive group which are mostly all members of the same 'club.' What he did not know was that his fate had been sealed months earlier and his replacement already hired. Later still we discovered the man who replaced him was a paedophile.

  8. My father taught at the school from 1948 until his death in 1974. As careers advisor early in that period, his notes on young Maurice Pearce (later to be known as Gay Dave / Fr David) included the word 'Priest?' I'd like to feel sure that the question mark expresses a doubt and not a suggestion, but I'll never know.
    I have been told by a victim of (minor) abuse on one occasion that the abuser - my father's colleague and our frequent guest at home - took steps to prevent the victim speaking to my Dad immediately afterwards. That particular victim was not abused again. I've no doubt that abusers have no qualms about deceiving their colleagues.
    However, I do think my father and his colleagues were at fault in that they don't seem to have even entertained the possibility of abuse occurring. As we should all know by now, that is something that everyone who works with kids or vulnerable adults needs to be aware of. They were not. Nobody in a position of responsibility with children should ever be that naive. (How far there may have been a wish not to notice and a culture of not noticing, I can't judge).
    This is one of the reasons why I back the campaign to encourage Ealing Abbey/St Benedict's/St Augustine's/St Gregory's to improve their child safeguarding procedures, and to follow them.
    Since the 1980s we've all learnt a lot about child abuse and child protection issues, thanks largely to the courage of victims and whistleblowers around the world - except that some of us still don't seem to have learned anything.
    Obviously, anyone who was actually told about abuse and did nothing (or who silenced the accuser with the fear of violence and hellfire, as in the incident reported from St Gregory's) is in a different level of culpability altogether.

  9. Sarah

    That's a very brave comment.

  10. Well 16.49

    Read the posts. If the boys were aware of what was happening, and there have been enough posts since this blog began indicating this was the case, can you tell me how the staff did not know what was going on?

    Boys singing songs about a teacher , a member of staff being called 'Gay Dave,' pupils standing outside rooms making noise to indicate they were present, beatings, hair grabbing, drying sessions, videoing in the changing rooms?

    Jeremiah 5:21
    Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not:

    Have you got it?

    And 17.16's points are highly relevant. Silence is the default!

  11. Is Father Gregory still at the Abbey, and why was he allowed to continue at St.Augustine's?
    Was Gumley Mason aware that he shouldn't be working with children?

  12. 16:49
    One of the staff who turned a blind eye all the time and actually ridiculed you if you spoke to him about the subject was Mr Strahan.
    Straham then moved on to St Augustine's Priory where he apparently continued to turn a blind eye on what Chillman was up to there.
    Straham knew all along what was going on at St. B's but did nothing and it appears that he protected Chillman yet again at St A's.
    Strahan is by no means not the only person that did nothing, but it is time to name and shame these people who made life intolerable for so many boys.

  13. Everyone seems to turn a blind eye, I no that at St.Augustine's this is done out of fear of the Headmistress, the physcological damage that has been done by her is just as damaging as the abuse that has taken place at St.Benedict's.

  14. No one would dare stand up to Mrs. Gumley Mason, you wouldn't have a job if you did, maybe the same applied at St. Benedict's.
    Mrs Gumley Mason has damaged a lot of children over the years and she too needs to be held accountable for the pain she has inflicted.

  15. Where are the 'Abbeyvistas?' Are you blocking them Mr West? We'd all be interested to measure the radii of the holes they create below the plimsol line of their beloved Abbey as a result of their 'considered' contributions to this site.

    But maybe Super Abbot has belatedly realised that his fleet of habited 'banzai' monks and their ever attendant brown nose yappy poodles are not the most positive weapon in his armoury. A quick flick through their past postings of the past provides a flavour!

  16. I have had dealings with both school, and i had reason to complain in both establishments, in St. Benedicts I was treated with respect and kindness, the same cannot be said about St.Augustine's the Headmistress tretaed me like I was something she had picked up on her shoe.
    I removed my daughter and sent her to another school and it wasn't St. Benedicts.

  17. 21:09
    I've had cause to block very few comments in the last few weeks.

  18. Can someone answer why both Heads are still in situ, you have the one who lies and wastes money all to protect her good name, bully's children parents and staff, and the other one who instead of admitting fault believes its an anti-cotholic conspiracy.

  19. Well I no which one I'd rather deal with, the on with the heart unlike the iron lady up the hill!

  20. 15:28 "One short, stocky teacher in particular was notorious for phsical assaults including punching boys in the stomach."


  21. Thank you Mr West. Super Abbot appears to have silenced his suicide squad. Well!

    But it is unlikely to be as a result of reality kicking in.

    We appear have a new school 'advisor' by the way. Date of appointment not provided.

  22. Let us turn the spotlight back in time St B's early to mid 70s, Stirzaker fits that description, by the way, although I did not do the post, and I'd say it was certainly he who was referred to. I think if Stirkaker was operating today as a teacher, he'd be up in court.
    Two points:
    1) The lay teachers were complicit in the culture. Who does not remember the 'walk of shame' in breaks as boys sent up to the fifth form division master were sent by him to Father Edmund to fetch the cane in public, to be used for their own beatings. Every day.
    2)More of the monks were involved in this than are currently targeted - Father Edmund (now deceased) was an exceptionally prolific beater, and was widely believed to enjoy it. How about Father Dunstan's 'mass executions'. All this requires questioning of their motives and some of the pupils were in no doubt about the conclusions.
    3)Ealing Abbey regularly invited boys to dinner in evenings and there was an active 'lay community' in which Father Pierce lived, in a house next to school, where some boys at the school had a lot to do with, and where in some cases temporarily removed from their homes. This community was not subject to policing or control and the boys living there and visiting there were underage. I am not suggesting anything grossly wrong happened there, but only that it was not healthy given some of the people involved (with all the monks against whom action was taken companies with whom those boys took meals, and drank coffee and shared facilities).

  23. Crikey, this is bringing back some memories! I haven't thought about this stuff for years! I was a Bennie Boy during the '80s and witnessed (and experienced first-hand) caning, being hit with a rounders bat, hair-pulling and slaps around the head by various teachers (Byrne, Fr David, Fr Greg and Maestri were the standouts).
    I remember those showers and changing rooms at Perivale as well. I learnt fairly quickly never to remove my rugby shorts and even kept them on in the showers, merely washing off the mud from individual limbs without ever actually getting right under the shower. I always waited until I got home to have a proper  bath/shower.
    As others have said already, it's difficult to speak up as a 9-13 year old if the abusers are in positions of power . . . that's how they get away with it for so long. The notion of abuse then (I believe) wasn't as prevalent as it is today, and the staff were held in high regard by most parents - how could they possibly think a holy monk could be an abuser of boys???
    Like Bryan, who was one of my peers, I too learnt that there were a lot of troubled souls wearing those robes. I still thinks there's something a little odd about any individual dedicating themselves to such a cloistered life but then that's for another discussion!
    My life at St Bennies was one I thoroughly enjoyed, don't get me wrong, but I saw a lot that still to this day, leads me to view all priests with suspicion (rightly or wrongly) and to worry when a teacher gets too physically close with one of my children. It's sad, but then life isn't a Mary Poppins movie. There's some unpleasant people out there, folks, and I hope that if teachers knowingly covered up the abuses at the time, they also get their just deserts.

  24. I was abused by father David whilst in the junior school at St Benedict's. It took me some years to report this to a teacher in the senior school, but I'm glad I did because they reported it to the police and encouraged me to do so too. Sadly, the police decided to take it no further due to insufficient evidence or other boys coming forward. I understand that it was only due to the fact that father David abused again that he was eventually prosecuted and sentenced. I loved my time in the senior school and am saddened by some of the comments on this site labelling all the teachers as bad.

  25. You do realise that mrs gumley Mason was an advisory governor at St Benedict's prior to being appointed as headmistress of St Augustine's?

  26. I have been told as a former pupil and as I have noted in a past communication that some staff have stood up and complained to both the authorities and the school hierarchy of their concerns about about Abbot Laurence and other teachers activities ,however it appears their careers and futures have been blighted by their actions.The devious natures of these miscreants and their pernicious influences mustn't be underestimated it is an over simplification to say they stood back and did nothing,the cover up seems to continue and the term historic is a ruse to pass the buck by those in control now.

  27. I never thought I'd say this...but in the light of recent events I'm almost ashamed to admit that I once attended St Benedict's!

    So much damage has been done that I doubt whether the school or the abbey will ever be able to live it down and the reputation of both has been irredeemibly damaged. So would the best course of action simply be for the authorities to close them both down ?

  28. 18.06

    What a surprise Gumley Mason and Advisory Governor at St. Benedict's, she obviously taught them well, look at all the deceit and secrecy now surrounding St. Augustine's.

  29. What other skeletons are there in your cupboard Gumley, come clean and tell the truth, things have a way of catching up with you.

  30. I think I may be one of the ones mentioned in the article above who stood outside an office and made noises while one of our friends was been chastised. The reason I say this, is not that I remember it, but my mother mentioned it to me the other day after she had read the articles in The Times. Apparently I came home after school one day and told her this.

    I was at St B's in the 1970's and while I got through, David was certainly one person that you didn't want to get close to. Indeed I had a major argument with him once over something and I don't think he forgave me!

    If these staff were operating in a State School today, then things are much tighter. We are all trained in CP and have to have refresher course on a regular basis. We are also expected to report in any untoward behaviour to the CPLO. It doesn't mean that nothing happens, it just that State schools give a much higher profile to CP. It is nothing to do with being anti-Catholic, it just makes sense. Believe me that in a well run school (to which I belong) Management take a very hard line on CP issues. It doesn't mean that it can't arise, but it is more likely to be addressed. If St B's wants a consultant.......

  31. 16.55 - You make a relevant observation about safeguarding, but I need to inform you that the statutory framework is hopelessly inadequate. In the maintained sector, and as you indicate, the useless infrastructure can be made to work. The backdrop though is that no child in England Wales or Scotland has any statutory right to have the abuse or even rape they have experienced reported to the authorities (LADO, police or social services)

    The independent sector is another matter all together, and the dynamics of allegations and the management of abuse is entirely different because of (i) non requirement to report/refer allegations or actual abuse, (ii) the existence of a balance sheet.

    This is not to say an effective policy cannot be implemented in an independent setting, but such a policy in a double edged sword for obvious reasons when they are brought to one’s attention. As a result of the safeguarding infrastructure being guidance, it provides independent schools with a conflict of interest when considering whether to report or not because afterall it is a non mandatory and it therefore becomes a choice. .

    Until there is a mandatory requirement to report all allegations i.e. 15.2.1. of the London Safeguarding Children's board 'guidance' made statutory for all schools, then the any reduction in non reporting/referral, particularly by independent settings, cannot be considered possible.

  32. Pearce forgave no one who criticised him pupil or staff he was an evil vindictive being,sarcastic and destructive ,he also bullied the monks in the abbey who tried to stand up to him,however he was protected by the hierarchy in the Abbey, Rossiter and Soper amongst others.All the monks must not be tarred with the same brush nor must the majority of the school staff ,the trust must be purged of those responsible for the cover ups and hypocrisy that has permeated the whole thing for the last 50 years. Cleughs recent statement and admission in the Mail is the first time that anyone has apologised, perhaps the Abbot could eat humble pie do the same and resign with Cleugh and allow some cathartic relief for those who have suffered.

  33. 16.55

    There is a posting about how the safeguarding elements of the statutory framework apply to independent schools.

    This link takes you to Part 1. of three posts.

    This is not to say things do not go seriously awry in the maintained sector - they of course do and I could list a large number of schools where the failures were systemic. But the maintained sector is a model of safeguarding 'best practice' when set against the OK Coral independent sector.

  34. To the poster who asked where the Abbey's shills were, I can assure you that they are back with a vengeance in the Comments section of the most recent posts, including "Back in the Beginning" on 6.11.2011. And now, they are not just spitting vitriol at Jonathan West but also at victims/survivors, which was always a predictable escalation of their tactics. After all, the current headmaster, having assured me in 2006 that Pearce was no longer a threat, not only enabled Pearce to re-offend afterwards - Abbot Shipperlee shares the blame for this too - but is on record as accusing victims and whistleblowers of being part of an anti-Catholic plot. Stand by for some real nastiness...

  35. As an old boy of the !970's. I have to say that anyone who was not there, is unlikely to understand. The dark, fearfilled days of childhood spent at that terrible institution may be with me forever. At the age of fifty I still wake, in the middle of the night, in terror. Priests and layteachers in cahoots and parents that did not care. If you didn't notice your son covered in cane marks from the back of his knees to the top of his shoulders, you surely can not claim to care. This particular beating was at the hands of Fr Pole.

  36. Shipperlee and Cleugh should both go as both have covered up. That is real evil.

  37. 23:42, please provide evidence for your claims. What have they covered up exactly? Even Mr. West has not accused them of a cover up.

  38. I enjoyed my time at the school too and was taught without harm by all the people accused.
    Let's be honest that much of the beating was considered a game in those days and there was a lot of kudos from who was beaten the most, wearing three sets of PE shorts to see if you could dare the division master to check you (in which case you had ammunitionand kudos). I don't thin it did anything much for discipline however and I don't think there would be many boys who agreed with Fr David about what was "good clean fun".
    It's clear that some terrible things went on towards more vulnerable boys but I doubt very much that was the normal experience for most boys.
    Giving monks responsibility for caning and separate offices outside the monastery in which to deliver the punishment now looks ludicrously naive management.

  39. What an interesting blog.I too went to a school that had numerous abusers who got away with it for many long years.
    Oddly enough it is another St. B's some 180 miles north of Ealing.
    After being abused the first time by the head teacher, a priest, I went home and complained to my father. My poor father would not believe me and spanked me twice over that evening for telling 'lies'. My father, a devout catholic just could not believe his only son.
    I was sent back to the school and more abuse that went on for 4 more years. My schoolwork went down from being in the top five for everything to the last in the class year after year.
    It finally all came to an end after a final attack were I turned on my attacker and belted him, I had grown bigger and stronger over the years, especially after spending a long time in hospital after trying to commit suicide on the way home after yet another attack.
    Finally my father realized the truth and believed me.
    And what happened? I was taken out of the school and the local bishop informed.
    After that silence until about one year ago!