Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Why automatic reporting is important

This is an issue relevant to all independent schools, not just Catholic schools. St Benedict's is part of the Catholic abuse scandal, but it is also part of the independent schools abuse scandal. There have been abuse cases at many independent schools reported recently, and in almost all cases there have been failures to properly report the abuse, either at the time, or when a teacher is removed.

The Times (behind paywall) for instance yesterday reported the resignation of Peter Crook as headmaster of the Purcell School, following the way he handled incidents of sexual bullying at the school. There are quite a few other cases that could be mentioned.

Private schools may claim status as charities, but it must be understood that they compete with each other as businesses. The problem is that an abuse scandal is very bad for business - it unsettles the parents something terrible. So when an allegation of abuse comes to light, there is a huge temptation to find some way of handling it quietly and internally with no publicity. The teacher is moved to another post to put him out of the way of the victim, or is quietly kicked out and sent on his way with a good reference.

Both these techniques have been used at St. Benedict's, but the school if far from the only one which has been caught at it.

Make no mistake, kicking a teacher out because of abuse and not telling the authorities about it is against the law. The school by law must send a report to the Independent Safeguarding Authority describing the circumstances, so that they can in turn decide whether the teacher ought to be put on "List 99", the government's list of people not considered suitable to work with children.

St Benedict's has undoubtedly broken the law in this respect, not once but several times. But so have other schools. In any of these cases, if you ask the Department for Education what they are going to do about it, they say something wishy-washy like "we are working with the setting to improve matters". So, while there is a law against non-reporting, there aren't any really effective sanctions. To the best of my knowledge, no independent school has ever been de-registered by the DfE because it has broken the law on reporting abuse.

In the absence of effective legal sanctions which at the moment just don't exist, the only way to ensure that St. Benedict's doesn't gradually slip back into its old bad habits is for there to be a major change in attitude there. There has to a firm determination that nothing like this will ever be permitted to happen again.

That has to be backed with actions, the first of which must be a well-written safeguarding policy that is a model of best practice: unambiguous, thorough, and which commits absolutely to automatic reporting, both of allegations of abuse and of allegations of misconduct related to safeguarding. Misconduct covers things such as making inappropriately sexual remarks to children, or having or viewing child pornography. These can be the precursors of more serious abuse, and so must also be reported so that a stop can be put to it before anybody is harmed, even though inappropriate remarks aren't a crime.

In addition, a culture of awareness needs to be fostered, so that inappropriate touching is not a taboo subject, the parents have to be made aware of the issues so that they know to respond appropriately in the hopefully unlikely event that their child tells them of something untoward which has happened. The teachers have to be trained in child protection, including how to prevent themselves from being placed in situations where allegations could arise. There has to be an open-door policy to ensure that teachers are not unavoidably alone in a closed room with a single pupil.

And because of the risk that there will be backsliding and a reversion to old habits, the school needs to accept that it doesn't trust itself for the time being, and voluntarily submit to increased external monitoring for the time being, by an organisation expert in child protection in independent schools. The Lucy Faithfull Foundation could do an excellent job of this.

I doubt that the existing management can pull through such a radical programme, especially when they are so identified with the culture of denial that has existed up to now. That means that the abbot and the headmaster at the very least have to go. If you are going to clean up this mess, you have to have a new broom.

That is what I hope Lord Carlile will recommend and what I hope the school will implement, because the children at St. Benedict's deserve to be safe there, and future generations of children going there deserve also to be safe.


  1. They will appeal,of course, but oh dear...


  2. I agree with you about the present management de Cintra and Cleugh must stand aside no amount of brow beating and apologies can exorcise their culpability ,however I feel that their self preservation gene will kick in and they will turn these events to their advantage,it appears they are past masters at it. Keep up the good work Jonathan.

  3. Finally this is all starting to come out. It is about time that the people concerned were made to face the music. Martin Shipperlee and Chris Cleugh should be made to go now - both are totally corrupt and have covered up for many years. All the advisors including Patten should go too as well as Catherine de Cintra who clearly knows much more about the inner workings of the school and abbey than anyone else. It is high time that there was an ELECTED board of governors with parents included on the board and until that happens there will be no peace for St Benedicts school.

  4. The slow unveiling of the corruption that existed and continues to exist has been a long and arduous process. Countless people have suffered, not only those directly and sadly abused, but also many innoccent lay teaching staff too. Particularly those who stood up for the right thing and followed through on good practice, but got bullied relentlessly because of it. I am very relieved that light and hope can be brought to the school.

  5. I was watching events outside the school last night. An aggressive staff member carrying a St Benedict's umbrella, with which he hit TV cameras, behaved appallingly, trying to incite security guards to move observers away, even though we were on public property. At least two of the heavies were Russian.

    His reaction to this former pupil who took issue with him was hostile and threatening, and hopefully gave the watching journalists a taste of the culture of staff level bullying that existed at the school in my day and still exists, according to current pupils and as this man's performance showed.

    As one TV crew asked him: "Why do you need these heavies to protect a few monks?". Another asked him who the heavies were protecting the staff from.

    The strangest sight was a Tablet journalist buttonholing parents scurrying past the press lines, a sign both of how times have changed and how the bell is tolling for the paedophiles of Ealing if Britain's leading Catholic magazine is getting stuck into them, albeit a tad late.

  6. 06:19
    A tad ironic that Gumley-Mason used to write for the Tablet!

  7. What did Chris Cleugh do wrong? He did everything he could to help the last victim. He's done nothing wrong! Why should he go? You don't understand much do you.

  8. "At least two of the heavies were Russian." - What is this comment supposed to infer? What difference does it make if they were Russian, English, Polish, Irish, French, Pakistani, Australian or whatever? Sounds like implied racism to me. Are you going to remove this racist post from your blog, Mr. West?

  9. Yes having an elected board of advisors seems plausible. Parents that know little or nothing about the workings of a school? If you actually took the time to look at the make up of the governing body, it consists of current parents, people who have had children go to the school for several years, and ex-pupils. All of these are experienced in their own areas and bring a lot to the table for the benefit of the school. The board of governors did not know about the systematic abuse of school children, which I admit is abhorrent, but this overhaul you suggest will be to the detriment of the school you are trying to make better.

    With regard to Mr Christopher Cleugh, Mrs Catherine de Cintra and the rest of the teaching staff, how can you possibly suggest that they knew about the abuse that these awful men undertook? Isn't it the way that these people do it in the utmost secrecy so as to maintain their persona of priestly or trustworthy? Mr Cleugh, Mrs de Cintra and the staff cannot be held responsible for the abuse that occurred upwards of 25 years ago. The Abbey has a lot of questions to answer to I admit, but to tarnish a highly respected teaching body with the "corrupt" brush as you so espouse is to go a step too far. If any of the educated people on this site actually looked into what Mr Cleugh, Mrs de Cintra and the rest of the faculty had done for the school in the 10 years that he has been at the helm you would not have this vindictive hatred that you do now. In his tenure as headmaster, has any abuse occurred within the school? I think not, therefore he cannot be held responsible and the culpability should be placed upon the Abbey and not a very good school, and headmaster.

  10. A former pupil and the mother of another both told me "everyone knew about it", then when I railed against the monks for not dealing with it earlier, the mother insisted how holy some of the teaching monks were. How can you have everyone knowing about the abuse, but some of them leading such lives of sanctity? Am I being thick or what?

  11. He is head of the school and shoulders the responsibility, so he should resign.
    Just like Gumley Mason at St Augustines, he need to go as well.

  12. 12:09, the attempt to smear Mr. Cleugh is I am afraid part of West's tactics. I have come to the conclusion that he has no real interest in Child Protection Matters and is running this "campaign" for his own ends, which are clear from a little research into this man's background.

    Mr. Cleugh has been an excellent headteacher. One only has to look at the marked improvement in the school's exam results and other achievements to see that. To tar the current teaching staff with the same brush, as Mr. West is attempting is a disgusting and entirely disreputable action. As you correctly point out, have any incidents of abuse occured in the school during Mr. Cleugh's tenure and if so is there any evidence that they have been incorrectly dealt with?

    Perhaps some honestly from Mr. West would not go amiss? I'm sure that blog readers would be interested to know of the circumstances of his decision to leave the UK in the early/ mid nineties for starters. Honestly and openness Mr. West, you demand it from others, now its time to start displaying it yourself.

  13. Exactly. The (one or two reported) abuses during Cleugh's headship occurred at the Abbey, not at the school (although they did involve its pupils). Calling Cleugh corrupt and culpable is therefore ridiculous. Shipperlee's responsibility is a separate matter, however.

    Could people try to approach this sensibly and not bay for blood or resort to blanket accusations? Exaggerated, hateful comments are disservices to the cause.

  14. Very commendable comments in defence of Mr Cleugh and his management team but if you were to study the Carlile report on the schools own website you will note that the last case of abuse took place in 2007 on a school pupil in the abbey knowing the accusations against Pierce at the time they could at the very least prevented this pupil from coming into contact with this known predator,I am afraid it is rather naive of the last correspondent to suggest, the St Benedict's leadership and the Trust Secretary were unaware of the situation if perhaps not the scale of the problem.It was a time bomb waiting to explode and it has blown up in their faces.No one can wipe their hands of this and claim not on my watch,the facts do not add up

  15. Carlile's report is a curious thing; judicial and occasionally magisterial. It is not wholly clear as to his terms of reference but it's a good start for changes to that need to be made to protect children against evil.
    It is of little use or consolation to victims though.
    The abuse at St Benedict's, for me anyway, started in my last year at the Junior School in 1964. It continued through the Middle School and in the Senior School. Priests and non priests were involved and no-one could believe it went on; these were people who went to mass and took communion after all...
    It is difficult to write of the ongoing rage I feel; the impotent desire to cause physical devastation ton these satanic people.
    Carlile brings no healing or closure.

  16. What has happened is beyond contempt. A prayer should also be offered to the current staff at St Benedicts, all of whom are having to deal with the negative publicity. There may also be a flip side that redundancies and/or reductions in salaries may come into effect whilst the organisation is restructured.

  17. Vi veri veniversum vivus vici.

  18. @17:07, you commit just the fallacy that is being pointed out in this blog. The abuse happened in the abbey, not the school. How would the head of the school know about the workings of the monastery, and the inner workings of a paedophile? Mr Chris Cleugh has been an exemplary figure throughout his time at the school and the systematic defamation of his character is somewhat misplaced. He has not covered anything up and if you, as you espouse you have done, read the Carlile report it will show you that all events that have happened within the school since Cleugh's appointment have been dealt with through the neccessary means and have been proven to be incorrect anyway. The Carlile report speaks of the school as a safe environment for children to be housed in. The abbey needs to answer some very difficult questions but to claim that the current headmaster of the country's top leading independent Catholic school should resign over the events of decades ago seems somewhat strange to me. You would not see any top politician resigning over criminal actions that happened in their department before their arrival, so can be said for an upstanding member of the community like Mr Cleugh.

  19. 22:50
    The fact is that Pearce shouldn't by that time have been in the monastery. As the Abbot now rather belatedly realises, he is not competent to supervise child sex abusers in premises next door to a school.

    Pearce was one such, and he was known to be so, since the school had lost the civil action brought by "C". This was known both to the Abbot and to the headmaster.

    The Abbot is chairman of trustees of the charitable trust which runs the abbey, the monastery, the parish and the school. He was responsible for decision to keep Pearce on the premises, and responsible for supervising him and enforcing the restrictions on him.

    He failed. It was a wholly predictable failure, and the Abbot should do the honourable thing and resign.

  20. Was there not also the matter of Chillman remaining until very, very recently on the premises when he should have been elsewhere?

  21. Whether the Abbot should resign is not the point that has been made numerous times by you Mr West and by several of your supporters on this blog. Mr Cleugh has been subjected to hateful rants and vindictive comments against his character. Are you going to do the honourable thing and realise that Mr Cleugh has in fact done nothing to warrant the criticisms that you have continued to voice on this weblog? The abuse of children should never occur and when it does it should be punished to the full extent of the law, but to suggest that someone who has done nothing wrong should resign his post at the school which he managed to turn around is ludicrous. If there is a shred of evidence to suggest that Mr Cleugh knew about the evidence before the correct procedures were entered into then I will rescind my comments and apologise, but until then I find this as defamation of character and wholly inappropriate.

  22. 23:16
    I have that evidence and will be publishing it soon.

  23. Can't wait to see it, always enjoy a good fictitious read.

  24. I agree with anonymous 23:21 and am in support of Mr Cluegh. Cleugh as I know, (because I am a contemporary of the 2007 abuse victim, and writing this with consent) had nothing to do with the abuse, and when the attention of it was raised, Mr Cleugh, The Abbot, and Dr Ferrario at the time did ALL THAT WAS NECESSARY by law, to report it, not only that but I know for a fact that the pastoral care of that boy was beyond the call of duty both by the SCHOOL AND BY THE ABBEY (yes that includes the monks there not all bad!). So Mr West I fail to see (and so does the victim of 2007) your point against Mr Cleugh ???

  25. Mr West I beg you to keep the school and abbey seperate in these matters. Far too many people have been hurt by these incidents, and your cauldron stirring and conjuring of 'facts' does not help anyone. Wether the abbott should resign is seperate to the life of St Benedicts school, and your crude suggestion that Chris Cleugh should resign when he has done nothing wrong, but many thigns right, is quite absurd. As a recent pupil of the school, who was present when the msot recent allegations of 2008 came in to light, I can safely say that Chris Cleugh, Dom Thomas, and indeed all the teachers did all humanley possible to protect every single student and the victim(s). Until you have solid evience that the staff knew of the recent abuses (clearly not the ones in the 70s...most of them werent born then...) then please seperate Chris Cleugh from Abbott Martin.

  26. Mr West,

    Do we really need the Abbeyvistas' clogging this site with banzai defence of the instutition at which children have for decades been abused? They contribute nothing to any resolution simply because they cannot acknowledge that people at the Abbey and the school failed to act on suspicions.

    You excluded them before and progress was rapid. Its time to do the same again, particularly because Carlile's report fails in its important objective of making St Benedict's safe for children. These matters need to be aired without their attendant chaff.

  27. 05:52
    I'm inclined to let as much through as possible. If the volume of such comment becomes excessive, then I'll cut it down. But it seems to me that the main effect of their comments is to anger the real victims to the extent that they become more determined to come forward to ensure that changes are made. So by & large, they are scoring an own goal.

    Far be it from me to stop them from encouraging people to come forward with their own accounts of abuse.

  28. 23:46
    Why should I separate Chris Cleugh from Abbot Martin? They stand side by side at the parental forums discussing these issues, they consult each other on a regular basis, and as headmaster and chairman of trustees they jointly have the ultimate responsibility for the safety of the children in the school.

    As for the incident which resulted in Pearce's arrest in 2008, I can well believe that they did all that they could. At the time, there was a Statutory Inquiry underway from the Charity Commission which had not yet reported.

    They had made assurances to the Charity Commission that they had measures in place to ensure that precisely that event couldn't possibly happen in the first place. Had there been the slightest hesitation in doing everything they should, then given how extremely critical the Charity Commissions subsequent report was, I have no doubt that The Charity Commission would have demanded their immediate resignations at the time.

    But I don't think that correct actions in one event when they already had a regulatory spotlight on them is evidence of a change of mind. Even after Pearce's arrest, the policy of keeping monks who are under restriction continued almost until the present.

    I have been told that Father Gregory Chillman, who was first placed on restricted ministry in March 2010, has finally been moved out of the monastery very recently, so recently that he is still listed on the Abbey website as resident at the monastery. This was a recommendation of the Independent Schools Inspectorate report that was published in July 2010, and which has been resisted by the Abbot until now.

  29. I fail to see again how people on this site can say that the school failed to act on suspicions. At the first sign of an accusation against a current member of staff was made, even though found to be completely unfounded, he was suspended as an investigation was brought underway. We are not trying to anger the victims, far from it. I do not want to do that in the slightest. I cannot stress that enough, and I will not even try to say that I know what they are going through because I don't. But, I will reiterate my point from earlier, the school in the time of Mr Cleugh has not failed any child with regards to protection. The Abbey needs to foster a new approach but I shall not let you continue with this hate campaign against the school.

    If you were to speak to any one of the children currently at St. Benedict's they will speak with nothing but the utmost respect for the teaching faculty, and even as Leaver 08 pointed out, so does the victim of David Pearce. A separation must be made between your investigation into the abbey and the school.

    The abuse that happened decades ago occurred in the school and the abbey, yes. And that is why Fr Abbot, and Mr Cleugh stand together at parental forums to discuss these issues because it concernED both these institutions. However, the school has not seen this abuse occur in the period where lay headmasters were in charge, so I fail to see how pursuing this vendetta against Mr Chris Cleugh will achieve anything.

  30. Er... isn't Chris Clough retiring anyway?

    And has he apologised to Jonathan West yet about the earlier "anti-Catholic" slur?

  31. 12:43
    No, he's not retiring, he's said he's going on for another 5 years.

    And no, he hasn't apologised to me for the anti-catholic jibe.

  32. Mr West, if you have evidence that shows some sort of culpability on Cleugh's part for the 2007 abuse, why on earth wasn't it in Carlile's report? I know details of the incident, and the victim's part-time employment with the abbey was entirely private and nothing to do with the school, so I still don't see how Cleugh can be (even partly) blamed for any of the abuses that have happened.

    And I'm not an "Abbeyvista" - I have long believed that Shipperlee needs to go - so could the author of 05:52 not patronise every person who doesn't share every last opinion with him/her?

  33. You clearly recognise the vacuous comments from Abbeyvistas' which are entirely focused on knocking West. They do not post on the issues on which Carlile, the DfE, the ISI, the Charity Commission, and others have for so long been engaged.

    Opposing opinions are perfectly acceptable but the childish drivel of one poster in particular and his alter ego is unwelcome.