Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Is saying sorry enough?

Abbot Martin Shipperlee has been saying sorry to anybody prepared to listen to him. Here is him quoted in the Times.
I apologise. I apologise to anyone. Actually apology is a feeble word but what words are there. This is too awful. You can’t ever stop apologising to everyone.

Defenceless children were hurt and harmed by bad or foolish or weak people and they weren’t stopped from doing that and that’s awful and I can’t ever stop saying sorry. Sorry’s not a very good word either, but what more can I say? If someone wants me to say sorry, phone me up. I’ll say sorry.
There's one refreshing thing about what Shipperlee is saying - and that is that he's not trying to duck responsibility. He's not trying to put the blame for Pearce having access to his last victim on anybody but himself. For this he deserves credit.

But there are two extremely troubling aspects to this nonetheless.

The first concerns what quite frankly has to be regarded as his dishonesty in failing to explain at the time the true reasons for Pearce being placed on restricted ministry.. Instead, in a letter from the time which was later read out in court by the prosecution at Pearce's sentencing hearing, he said that it was "to protect Father David from unfounded allegations" when he knew perfectly well that the allegations were all too well-founded. They had been tested in court and found to be substantiated. It is not as if those were the only allegations which had been received about Pearce either.

We must be blunt here, this was a lie. It is a lie which is on record. It is a lie which put children in danger, and very directly contributed to causing harm to a child. Pearce's last victim was aware that he was under restriction. He didn't know why. The sole responsibility for that state of affairs lies with the Abbot. If he were the Chairman of Governors of a maintained school and something comparable had happened, his immediate resignation would have been required by the Local Education Authority.

What happened here is something which is dreadfully familiar to those who have read the various reports about the Catholic abuse crisis in Ireland and elsewhere. Abbot Martin put the welfare of an abusing priest ahead of that of his abused victims and ahead of the welfare of the children of his parish.

The 1989 Children Act establishes a principle in law and in government practice that in any decision concerning children, the child's interests are paramount. Now, the Abbey is not a public body, so the Act doesn't quite apply directly in this way. But it is still a good principle. Children have to be defended because they aren't in a position to defend themselves. In lying in this way, Abbot Martin did the precise opposite. One might forgive an honest mistake in keeping Pearce at the Abbey, but a deliberate lie with such harmful consequences is harder to stomach. I haven't yet heard the Abbot apologise for it. He's had opportunity enough these last few years.

The second really troubling aspect is this. If he realised what a disaster this is, why has he persisted with the same policy with two other monks under restriction, even since Pearce's arrest and trial?

Following his trial and acquittal in 2007, Father Stanislaus Hobbs was placed on List 99, presumably because of his admission under police questioning of an indecent assault against a pupil during a school trip to Italy. (Because of the way the law stood at the time, this incident could not be prosecuted in the UK.) The Abbot chose to keep him also at the Abbey under restrictions.

In their supplementary inspection report published in July 2010, the ISI took an extremely dim view of this policy, and said that it had to cease.

The Abbot fought this decision tooth and nail. By September, Hobbs had still not been moved, and at the Parental Forum held to discuss the ISI Supplementary Report, he explained all the reasons why he opposed the process. The reasons included concerns for Hobbs' welfare and the fact that he didn't have anywhere to put him. Hobbs was moved to a care home outside the diocese in March 2011.

At the same Parental Forum, the Abbot mentioned the other monk described in the ISI report who was on restrictions, but didn't name him. This was in fact Father Gregory Chillman, and he had resigned as a Trustee in March 2010 following allegations of abuse from a former pupil. Abbot Martin said that there was no need to remove Chillman because "almost all the restrictions had been lifted". He didn't say what restrictions remained, why the restrictions had been imposed or why they had been lifted. He also it seems did not trouble to inform the diocesan safeguarding team of Chillman's changed status.

Restrictions were re-imposed when an incident dating from 2004 concerning pupils at St. Augustine's Priory School came to light. This had previously been handled internally within the school and not been reported to Social Services at the time.

There are still very troubling discrepancies here. The Carlile Report states that these new allegations came to light in July 2010, and that restrictions were imposed, but based on his own account they had not been put in place by September at the time of the Parental Forum.

Paragraph 68 of the Carlile Report states the following.
The Department for Education, to Ministerial level, has been following carefully the progress of the ISI inspections. I have reviewed the correspondence. The Minister of State for Schools in July 2010 sought reassurance that all the recommendations the ISI had made would be implemented promptly. This has been done. The Minister was particularly concerned about the arrangements whereby monks, after conviction or being placed on List 99, had continued to live at the Abbey, even under restrictions imposed by the Abbey in consultation with the Archdiocese of Westminster. These arrangements were described as ‘ineffective’ (and the practice no longer continues).
There just one small problem with that last sentence. It isn't true. The Carlile Report itself states as the outcome to the 2004 incident "Deemed inappropriate behaviour: restrictions imposed". And at the time of writing, Father Gregory Chillman is still listed as one of the "Monks Resident at Ealing Abbey" on the Abbey website.

Are we expected to accept the Abbot's apology when he is continuing with the behaviour he has apologised for? In such circumstances, can his repentance be regarded as genuine? Or is he merely sorry that he has been found out?

Update: Pearce's last victim has sent me a message via a friend of his. He has asked me to add the following note to this article.

"I did not know that David Pearce was on restricted ministry, I only found this out while/during the moments when I brought it to the attention of the deputy head. I believe the court case, or whatever was said was misinterpreted, of what I actually meant, I could be very grateful if you could amend your blog post."

As this has come from the person concerned, I must of course accept this as his accurate account of events, and I'm happy to correct the record. My earlier statements were based on what I myself heard and made notes from the prosecution barrister's recitation of Pearce's crimes at his sentencing hearing.

In terms of what Abbot Martin should have done, my original point still stands, and if anything it is made stronger. Young people should not have been allowed inside the monastery at all, and the reasons for Pearce's restricted ministry should have been known more generally.


  1. Mr. West, I must very strongly correct an inaccuracy which you have made in this post. You state that Abbot Martin informed THE PARISH that restrictions had been placed upon Father David to protect him from "unfounded allegations". No such statement was made by Abbot Martin to THE PARISH following the civil case against Father David in 2006. I would suggest that you check your facts and where the relevant document which you quote from in fact came from.

    The statement which he read out in mass and distributed to parishioners stated the facts of the case and apologised to anyone who might be affected by anything which may have led to these allegations being made. Speaking as a parishioner, I fully understood Father David's guilt at that time and I am fairly certain that the majority of parishioners would agree with that.

    There were some parishioners who did not recognise his guilt, some who were directly friendly with him and others who were just too shocked to believe it but they were certainly in the minority and to imply otherwise as you do above is again incorrect.

  2. The words I used were quoted in court at the sentencing hearing for Father David Pearce. They were from a letter from Abbot Martin.

    In court it was very clearly stated that Pearce's last victim was aware of the restrictions on Pearce and unaware of the reasons, because they had not been disclosed. I was in court to hear those words.

  3. Mr. West, I am not disputing that. However, you state or imply in your article that this was included in a statement made by Abbot Martin to the parish, which is quite simply incorrect.

    I think that the letter which you are quoting is the one where Abbot Martin describes the child protection advice offered to him by Peter Turner in 2005, whereby it is Mr. Turner who uses the words "unfounded allegations":


    I can provide you with other links if you so desire. Your posting as it currently stands is misleading. No such description of "unfounded allegations" was ever made by Abbot Martin in a statement to the parish. Please correct this misrepresentation made above.

  4. Ste statement read out in court clearly referred to a letter from the Abbot. I am also aware of the letter from Peter Turner to the Abbot. The Abbot's letter, as read out in court, made no reference to protecting children from Pearce, only to protecting Pearce from unfounded allegations.

    It is also a fact clearly stated in court that Pearce's last victim was aware of the restrictions on Pearce but unaware of the true reasons they were in force.

    But in order to satisfy you, I shall edit the article to remove "to the parish" and similar words. The letter from Abbot Martin was read out in court and so is amatter of public record. But if you say that this was not read out to the parish, then I will accept this.

    The wording you refer to sounds very much like the wording the Abbot used in an announcement to the parish on the conviction of Pearce in 2009. Is it possible you have confused the civil case and the criminal conviction?

  5. Mr. West, my turn to apologise for being confusing in my meaning. I am fully aware of that quote being in the Abbot's letter to the court. In the letter he was simply stating the reasons why Father David was on restricted ministry, one of which was "to protect him from unfounded allegations" as he had been advised by the Diocese's Child Protection Advisor. This was to protect him from further allegations in the future which may be untrue to which he could be vulnerable having already offended.

    However, your posting implies that Abbot Martin actually "lied" by not stating that the allegations were substantiated. At no point did Abbot Martin make any statement saying that the allegations were not substantiated. If you could show me such a statement, I would be grateful and stand corrected.

    He may not have stated directly that the restrictions were in place to protect young people and maybe he could have been clearer. However, given the circumstance of the case, most people were familiar with the reasons. To put it simply, you have stated that Abbot Martin 'lied' or told an untruth. I cannot find such a statement, again if you can show me an untrue statement made by Abbot Martin, I will stand corrected.

    Unfortunately, Mr. West, the St. Bens website was not as good in 2006 as it is nowadays and I can't locate a copy of the statement made by Abbot Martin and read out in all masses to parishioners c. March/ April 2006. However, I can assure you that I am not confusing the statements. A reasonable summary of the key points from the 2006 statement can be found in this article:


  6. I assure you that I want nothing more than to get at the truth of the matter. The letter read out in court made no mention of the fact that allegations had been made that were well-founded, the sole reason given was that they were to protect Fr David from unfounded allegations.

    The article you refer to makes no reference to Fr David being placed under restriction. and therefore makes no references to the reasons why.

    I am sure that Abbot Martin can resolve the matter with a statement to the Parental Forum tonight, especially if he is able to dig out the relevant letter and read it out in full.

    My other point still stands, that he has continued with the policy of allowing monks under restriction to remain living in the monastery even after the failure of that policy was demonstrated with Pearce, and even after an assurance from ministerial level in the DfE was sought and given that the ISI recommendation on this point would be promptly implemented.

  7. Mr. West - "I assure you that I want nothing more than to get at the truth of the matter." - I'm glad to hear it. On this we agree.

    You have accused Abbot Martin of lying without providing any evidence of where he has lied. It may well be so that Abbot Martin did not mention in his letter to court that allegations which had been made were well-founded. However, this is not a lie as you seem to suggest. As far as I can see, you have no evidence that Abbot Martin has 'lied' so I would caution you strongly against your use of language in this case.

    On your other point, yes he has allowed these monks to remain in the monastery but in both cases there were specific reasons for this. In the case of Father Stan, the evidence against him in the criminal prosecution was extraordinarily weak, to the extent that I am surprised that it even made it as far as a court. During the police interview, Fr. Stan was very naive and displayed a lack of full understanding of the police questions. He later denied all allegations of abuse made against him in court and this was believed by the jury. I note that no other allegations have been made against Father Stan. There is certainly an argument that Abbot Martin should have appealed Father Stan's inclusion on List 99. Given the circumstances, it was unneccessarily cruel to remove an ill 80 year old man out of the place where he had lived for 60 years, when even if you had believed him to be a danger to children, he was not physically capable of posing such a danger.

    With regards to Father Gregory, I suggest that you do more research regarding the period and timing for when he was on 'restrictions'. It may be enlightening for you.

  8. 14.12 - I found this posting interesting and informative until the last paragraph where for unknown reasons you become coy.

    Please, continue in the same clear way as you started as inform us about Gregory Chillman.

  9. 14.12 - Yes, I agree very interesting. It is necessary to hear both sides in every argument. Thank you

    If we are going to investigate schools retrospectively, why don't you start on boarding schools from the 1970/80s? I don't think many of them would pass unscathed if subjected to the same scrutiny.

  10. 19.08- well of course this blog is not investigating all schools - it is exposing the problem at this school and St Augustines for the reasons we all understand.

    That said the point you make about boarding schools is quite correct as I can attest and I suspect there were few exceptions. Boarding schools were / are a very British form of child abuse - with few exceptions.

    But let's not get diverted - Chillman. You were saying?

  11. @14:12 You think that it was "unnecessarily cruel" to have the self confessed paedophile Stanislaus Hobbs evicted from the Abbey just because we "believed him to be a danger to children".

    I was one of those who wrote to the Department for Education to ask for his removal. If it were within my powers to do so, I would have him thrown into a cage alongside David Pearce.

  12. I have just checked the Abbey's website and noticed that Chillman is indeed still listed as one of the "Monks resident at Ealing Abbey".

    What is Shipperlee playing at?

  13. Really pleased that at last several parents are asking for shipperlee's resignation as from the meeting at benedicts last night

  14. There are a lot of very hard working teachers in St Benedict's, who have provided the bedrock of stability and care for the pupils throughout this growing crisis. These teachers could take the school forward in a positive and productive way, but this won't happen fully until Mr Cleugh and the Abbot leave. Both these men have done a great diservice to the children, their parents and teachers who are just trying to do their jobs well. I know this because I was a teacher at St Benedicts and really cared for the pupils and my colleagues. Every day I worked hard and aimed to do my best and the kids were great to teach, but I saw the bad behaviour of Mr Cleugh and the failings of the Abbot undermine the school and fail to hold up the true principles of Saint Benedict. I want St Benedict's to be the great and successful school it deserves to be, for the children, their families and the whole community. Mr Cleugh and the Abbot cannot be a part of the schools future, they would only hold it back, keeping the poor culture and mismanagement that has existed for too long. I do remain hopeful for the future, they will go eventually, but I hope sooner rather than later. For the moment I am glad and appreciative of the body of teachers and support staff who keep the school moving forward and stable each day.

  15. Very sorry all you so called Christian parents, but you cannot protect The Abbot any longer..... He has to go and as soon as possible for the school to try to rebuild its reputation.
    If he protected a pervert once, he could do it again. He is not to be trusted and he has to face up to what he did. He has made some bad decisions and he cannot continue to be protected by the catholic church. It is an outrage that the parishioners and parents do not insist that he goes. It seems like people are afraid to speak out. Why are you not putting your children first?

  16. regardless of blame. those in charge at the time of the crisis should "fall on their swords". then the school and abbey can move forwards.

  17. @18:22 the people in charge have either died, moved on (in one case more so than authorities would like) or been arrested. The current people in charge are the ones that have been responcible for bring this all out into the open in the shape of the report just published and I would add have done so with some dignity in the face of extreamly underhand tactics on the part of certain would-be 'media personalities'. So what's your point? You think they should re-instate Soper and GD so they can then in turn resign? I suggest you re-focus your mad and associated embarrassment, take a deep breath and get on with life.

  18. 23:43 said "The current people in charge are the ones that have been responcible for bring this all out into the open."

    What planet are you on exactly?

    Those currently in charge are PRECISELY the ones who had been fighting tooth and nail NOT to allow this to come out into the open. Just months ago the Abbott seemed to be more concerned with unfounded allegations than with child welfare, while Clough was spouting nonsense about an anti-Catholic conspiracy.

    If there's anyone responsible for bringing this out into the open it's Jonathan West (and I think we all owe him a huge debt of gratitude), and of course those former pupils who have been brave enought to come forward and press for prosecutions.

  19. 23.43. 18.22 means Martin and Cleugh should "fall on their swords". they are in charge at this time of crisis. keep up

  20. 23:43
    If it were simply the fact that Cleugh and Shipperlee were the ones in charge at the time past abuses came to light which they had no responsibility for, then of course it would be wholly unfair to expect them to resign.

    But it isn't so. Shipperlee seriously mishandled Pearce's last abuse. He was Soper's immediate successor as Abbot and earlier was Pearce's immediate successor as junior school headmaster. It is not reasonable to believe that he didn't know at the time (wnd of 19920 what sort of mess ge was being asked to clear up, and yet he has subsequently said that he wasn't "officially" aware of Pearce's activities until almost a decade later. Pull the other one!

    As for Cleughy, The Inspectors came in November 2009. They clearly didn't know all sorts of things about the school and its safeguarding that they needed to know, e.g. Hobbs' arrest, resignation, trial and placement on list 99, Pearce's conviction on 11 charges, the civil case brought by "C", and two statutory inquiries by the Charity Commission.

    Cleugh knew about all these things, and being himself an ISI inspector, knew that they should know. And yet they went away still not knowing.

    So I think they should both resign, not because they happened to be present when the story became public, but because they have participated in mismanagement and cover-up.

  21. A certain long serving teacher's daughter is now both a teacher working with children with special needs and a fairly successful playwright, and incidentally she attended St Augustine's and St Benedict's and her brothers both past through the junior school under the reign of Father Pearce. I hear she is planning to write a new play on this, (Ealing.... a great place for gossip..) From what I hear her previous work is rather confrontational, and she's pretty angry, not just about the atrocities within the schools but the cover up and the random implicating that has occurred and the 'witch hunt' that has followed afterwards. I'm sure she has some inside knowledge. Perhaps we will finally hear something from the unique view point of teacher/ student/ family member...

  22. There should be a vote of no confidence regarding shipperlee from the parents of benedicts children and the parishioners of Ealing abbey which of course would include parents of children in st. Gregory's as well.
    This should happen straight away.

  23. I am not the least bit surprised at the reactions to my post of 23:43. Of course it was terrible that Pierce offended again but think on this. He was DETERMINED to reoffend. The horrible fact is that because of where he was when he did so he was caught BECAUSE of the very procedures put in place by the school. Had he been sent away he would have reoffended BUT it is highly likly given how devious and intelligent he is he would have done so and been undetected for sometime. It's all very well casting your venom at the people who did bite the bullet and deal with this but to blame them for the actions of this vile person seems unreasonable.

  24. 12:00
    One has to wonder whether the matter should have been reported if it wasn't for the fact that the trust was already under investigation by the Charity Commission, and had offered them assurances that this couldn't happen.

    Just think what would then have occurred had they not reported it and then the truth had ultimately come out! The Charity Commission would certainly have required the Abbot's resignation as chairman of trustees, and might well have revoked the trust's charitable status. As it was, the Charity Commission report was "extremely critical" of the trustees for their failure. I suspect that the Abbot escaped removal at the time only by he skin of his teeth.

  25. So, Mr.West, I am very interested in what should happen next? What will it take for Shipperlee to resign? Can he be forced to resign if enough parents in the parish are against him continuing in his role as The Abbot? Why is he able to continue in his post when he has made such errors of judgement? I am afraid "sorry" doesn't cut it with me or many of my friends. He MUST step down for the future of the school and indeed The Abbey. I know of several families who feel unable to continue to worship in Ealing Abbey since this dreadful business came into the public domain, as they feel the Abbot is unworthy. Or is this what Catholicism is about? As long as you say you're sorry, you can do what you like.....

  26. 01:07
    I agree with you, I think that the Abbot should step down. I see no sign of his happening though, in which case the question is who can compel him.

    I'm not an expert on canon law, so I'm not in a position to say who within the church could compel him to resign. I suspect that a suitably strong recommendation from the Visitation would be heard in places high enough.

    With regard to the civil law, the Charity Commission has the power to require the resignation as a trustee of anybody they consider to be unfit to run a charity. The Abbot is ex officio the chairman of trustees for the Trust of St Benedict's.

    While his forced resignation as a trustee wouldn't necessarily require his resignation as Abbot, it would be very difficult for him to remain. For instance, the trust's articles would have to be changed if he were to resign as a trustee and remain as Abbot, since they presently specify that the Abbot is always the chair of trustees.

  27. I hear that the abbot was spouting off more apologies to the Sunday evening mass........ Look nobody is interested in this mans hypocrisy and smarmy attitude. He needs to do some hard labour, community service perhaps, but he certainly shouldn't be in charge of a monastic community. I do not feel very happy at all.