Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Carlile Report analysis - 7

The next section, paragraphs 44 to 46, is titled "Post Nolan and Cumberlege procedures" contains some of Carlile's most trenchant common sense combined with the most amazing failure to follow that common sense to its logical conclusion.

He starts extremely well.
Of course, the governance of a school or any other institution is no guarantor of good practice. To state the obvious, effective practice depends upon a strong set of written procedures, the management to enforce them, and the commitment to effective enforcement.
Hallelujah! I thought that in all this business about governance he would never actually manage to state this extremely obvious but vitally important point.

In the next paragraph, albeit in the specific context of the reporting arrangements for the school nurse, he goes on to make another very acute comment.
it is possible that, from time to time, allegations will be made against teaching colleagues regarded as of the highest quality and probity, and the danger of the allegations being brushed aside by understandably incredulous colleagues is significant.
Yes! This is the point! Not only is there simply the matter of straightforward incredulity, but this is going to be reinforced by a will to disbelieve caused by the fact that believing and acting on the allegations may damage the reputation of the school. Carlile goes on to say:
At the very least, it should be a given that any person who is or is analogous to a school nurse should be required to report all concerns and allegations about abuse to the Head, Deputy Head and/or designated safeguarding officers. It is also self-evident from these comments that the skills, training and approach of any such employee should be equal to the challenge of abuse allegations, whether such allegations be true or false.
All true and extremely sensible. But the problem is that he stops there, and fails to take the vital next step, which is that particular measures must be taken not to permit this incredulity to determine the subsequent action of the designated safeguarding officer. He must promptly pass on all allegations to the authorities, specifically to the LADO. There must be absolutely no exceptions to this. Only by having a policy of no exceptions can the children be protected from the entirely natural inclination of staff and monks to believe their colleagues incapable of such a thing.

Given that the shortcomings of the school's past practice have been particularly about the school's failure to report allegations to the authorities, this point really needed to be made absolutely explicit in the report. It isn't. Such an opportunity missed.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Carlile Report analysis - 6

The next section covering paragraphs 37 to 43 is titled "Best practice: the Nolan and Cumberlege reviews". Carlile includes the following brief extract from the Nolan report
Recommendation 1. The Catholic Church in England and Wales should become an example of best practice in the prevention of child abuse and in responding to it.

3.1.8 The 1994 Guidelines concentrated on the response to allegations of child abuse. In the present climate, much more emphasis is placed on child protection and it is worthy of note that almost all dioceses have in fact adopted policies and practices that are designed to prevent abuse occurring in the first place. Whilst the proper handling of allegations is important, it is much more important that the opportunity for abuse does not occur because awareness is high and an effective regime of good practice is in place, and is known to be so.
Recommendation 2. The top priority is to have preventative policies and practices operating effectively in parishes, dioceses and religious orders that will minimise the opportunity for abuse.

3.1.9 It is necessary, however, to face the reality that no organisation which has dealings with children can eliminate the risk of child abuse completely. It is therefore important to complement prevention policies with a clear understanding by those in positions of responsibility that abuse of their position in any way will inevitably have the most serious consequences for them.
All very good in principle. The problem with the Nolan report is that the principle isn't followed up with properly effective practice. For instance, this is recommendation 61 of the Nolan report
Recommendation 61. When there is a disclosure, the statutory authorities should be brought in straight away, without any process of filtering, to take the lead in investigating and assessing the situation
If that "should" had been a "shall" then it would have been the basis for an effective policy - if followed. But having "should" there allows people at the local (parish or school) level to subvert the intent of the recommendation by writing exceptions which neuter it. Nolan reported in 2001, but eight years later, the child protection policy for St. Benedict's was so far from implementing the Nolan recommendations that it was essentially one long excuse for never reporting anything. As the ISI stated in its 2010 supplementary report:
The school did not have a fully established policy for reporting directly to the Department for Education and Skills (later the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and currently the Department for Education) or to the Independent Safeguarding Authority, responsible for such referrals since 20 January 2009.
But as Nolan only said "should", the abbey would have been able to claim if asked that they were complying with the Nolan recommendation, even though they didn't have an effective policy for reporting anything to anyone.

Carlile mentioned that the Cumberlege commission reviewed the situation after 5 years, their report being published in 2007. In paragraph 39, Carlile notes that
One of the members of the Cumberlege Commission was the Abbot President then and now of the English Benedictine Congregation. To objective observers it will be a disappointment that the governance of Ealing Abbey, St Benedict’s School and other related schools were not subjected to a governance review within a short time.
The Abbot President is Richard Yeo. At the press conference, Carlile criticised the appointment of Yeo to conduct the Apostolic Visitation, arguing that he had too close a connection with Ealing Abbey for any review by him both to be independent and to be seen to be independent.

All of Carlile's criticisms are entirely valid, and yet he has still missed the key point. It's not the governance that had to be reviewed, it was the existence sand implementation of appropriate and effective child protection policies. The school's was useless, and the parish in fact had no policy at all.

In fact, as far as I can tell, the parish still doesn't have a child protection policy. The Ealing abbey website has a child protection statement, and a link to the CSAS procedures, without actually stating that the CSAS procedures are being implemented in the parish. I have my criticism of the CSAS procedures and its extremely unfriendly website, but that's a story for another day. For now, it is sufficient to say that even after all the publicity, the Ealing Abbey website still doesn't have an unequivocal statement declaring what (if any) child protection procedures it is following. I would have hoped Carlile might have noticed that, but there is no mention of it in the report.

Carlile ends this section of his report with the following.
43. The above comments should not be seen in any way as implying that the Abbey Community should now, in 2011, be seen as a failure. My meetings with them suggest that is not the case. The vitality, academic success, community reach and diversity of the school are evidence of the positive aspects of the Abbey and St Benedict’s School. As one of my interlocutors put it:

“Any community of Christian men and women who take their Christian vocation seriously is going to be grappling all the time with the consequences of human sinfulness and our natural backsliding tendency.”

This very realistic person recognised that there are ‘backsliding tendencies’ so unacceptable that there can be almost no limit to the level of vigilance required. The outcome of the events under consideration, and of this Report, should be to provide assurance that the lessons have been learned.
It may well be true that the school is awash with "vitality, academic success, community reach and diversity. That doesn't for a minute excuse it for its shortcomings in safeguarding. In any case, Carlile is no more an expert in education that he is an expert on safeguarding procedures, and he's completely unqualified to make that statement.You can give it whatever weight you think it deserves.

In this section, Carlile has noticed that Abbot Richard Yeo (who was a participant in the Cumberlege Commission) failed to ensure that governance of the school was reviewed post-Cumberlege, but hasn't noticed the far more important point, that safeguarding at the school and parish were also not reviewed, because it is those policies which provide the primary protection against the backsliding tendency which Carlile's correspondent so correctly identifies.

You don't get a mess like Ealing without there having been management failures at multiple levels. Three such failures are now clearly visible. The headmaster should have been implementing an effective policy and proposing improvements in it for the Trustees' agreement and approval. The Abbot should have been taking note of the Nolan and Cumberlege recommendations and taking action to see to it that they were effectively implemented. And the Abbot President should have been conducting a review of all the English Benedictine houses to ensure as far as possible that Nolan and especially Cumberlege were getting implemented.

But none of this happened. This isn't a mere historical tragedy, this a serious failure of the duty of care on the part of the current management. Had even one of these three levels of management been doing their job properly, then the school's and probably the abbey's child protection procedures would have been in a fit state. And we know that at least one child suffered as a result of that failure.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

More on Soper

The Mail on Sunday has more revelations about Abbot Laurence Soper.
The Mail on Sunday has been told that after hiding in Montenegro on the Adriatic coast – where the European Arrest Warrant is not valid – he secretly returned to the Vatican to empty his account.

Fr Laurence, 68, who worked at Barclays Bank between 1960 and 1964 before becoming a monk, is said to have several thousand pounds in investment portfolios and also a ‘large inheritance’ from his parents.
I see that the reports of his age have been changed. The police originally stated that he was 81, and this was reported in various papers at the time. The Mail is now reporting that he is 68. I've independently been told that the original statement concerning his age was wrong. I wonder who could have told the police that he was 80 at the time he was interviewed by them in September last year? And I wonder why?

Friday, 25 November 2011

Carlile Report analysis - 5

The next section, including paragraphs 35 and 36 is titled "Creating necessary safeguards".

Paragraph 35 quotes the text of a solicitor's letter to the school in respect of a civil claim, which alleges a wide range of failings in the school's duty of care towards pupils.

Let me quote paragraph 36 in full.
Allowing for the customary tautology in the content of legal pleadings, the allegations set out in the previous paragraph are a formidable menu of complaints. All have been repeated by correspondents to my Inquiry. Many would be avoided or at least made far less likely by a form of governance that removed conflicts of interest, and separated sometimes irreconcilable functions.
And that's it. That's all Carlile has to say in terms of creating necessary safeguards. Get the governance right and everything drops into place with no apparent additional effort.

As far as can be judged from the content of the report, Carlile seems to have entirely failed to notice that the "irreconcilable functions" of protecting the children from harm from paedophile abuse and protecting the school's reputation in the event of a paedophile abuse case are permanently irreconcilable, no matter who the governors are.

Because the two duties are permanently irreconcilable, a decision has to be made to give one duty priority over the other.

It is obvious that the duty of protecting the children from harm must come first, but this requires that governors and staff to some degree act against their own interests and the interest of the school. There is a terrible temptation to find some way of squaring this circle, and the way often found by independent schools is to handle any allegations internally. This can involve any one or more of the following approaches.
  • Believing that the allegation is probably unfounded or mistaken, so there is no danger to the child and therefore no need to report anything.
  • Believing that the child's best interests are served not by having lots of strangers (i.e. police or social services) compound an already bad experience for the child by asking him or her lots of questions about it. As a result, it is decided that a report to the authorities is not in the best interests of the child.
  • Believing that a staff member, if he abused, is unlikely to do so again now that the first incident is known.
  • Believing that the problem is specific to that particular combination of child and staff member, and that the problem will not recur if they are separated. The separation can be achieved by ensuring the staff member doesn't teach that particular pupil's class, moving the staff member to non-teaching duties, asking the staff member to leave or asking the parents to move the child.
These aren't hypothetical, all these approaches have been used and justified in other (non-catholic) independent schools. And all these approaches have the extremely convenient effect of not needing any kind of report to the authorities, and so they don't risk any kind of bad publicity for the school. The first time an abuse case happens, the headteacher might genuinely believe he is acting for the best. But in fact he is grossly deluding himself, persuading himself that what is in the interest of himself and the school is also in the interest of the pupils. It isn't.

Then another case occurs, and having not reported the first one, the management find it necessary not to report the second. And so by slow degrees a culture of denial and non-reporting gradually builds up until you have a disaster on the scale of St Benedict's in the 70s and 80s, where there were multiple abusers all active at the same time,  quite probably covering for each other, and all taking advantage of the opportunities available from the knowledge that they wouldn't be reported. I shudder to think how many children in total were abused at the school over the years.

By the time of Pearce's conviction, the St Benedict's safeguarding policy was 11 pages of excuses never to have to report anything. This is not specifically a catholic school problem, even though St. Benedict's happens to be a catholic school. This can happen at any independent school, because the temptations exist for all independent schools. It may be that catholic schools are more prone to this than others, because they feel they have the reputation of the catholic church as a whole to protect and not merely the reputation of the school, but it seems to me this is a difference of degree rather than of principle.

This is why I think Carlile's magic bullet of a change in governance is profoundly wrong-headed. It simply doesn't address the institutional and psychological factors that cause a culture of non-reporting to come into existence and to develop. It is not all about the monks. The change in governance is a good idea, but for reasons quite unrelated to safeguarding.

The only way to be sure of preventing abuse from building up is to make a firm decision from the outset to automatically report everything, withstanding all temptations to the contrary. Everything means everything, even if it seems trivial at the time, and even if publicity will result in short-term damage to the school's reputation. All allegations and incidents. No exceptions.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Carlile Report analysis - 4

Now that Lord Carlile has made his major recommendation, he finally gets down to what his report is supposed to be about, an analysis of the abuse itself. The next section is titled "A summary of historical abuse cases" and covers paragraphs 33 and 34, with a table placed between them..

The title irritates me to start with. Of all serious crime, only child sex abuse ever gets the label "historical". If somebody is arrested for a murder that took place 30 years ago it isn't called an "historical murder". Similarly we don't have historical rapes or historical robberies. Only child sex abuse gains the dubious distinction of being labelled "historical".

For those still trying to obtain justice or to come to terms with what they suffered, the abuse is anything but historical. The phrase I suspect has been coined and is promoted by those who would minimise the importance and effect of the abuse. It doesn't matter any more, it's "historical". The use of this phrase is a significant insult to victims. As somebody who has prosecuted child sex abuse cases, Carlile ought to know better.

The news has mentioned 21 cases by 8 different people. And indeed the table following paragraph 33 has 21 rows in it, and mentions 8 different people.
  • Father Gregory Chillman (2 cases)
  • Father Anthony Gee (2 cases)
  • Father Stanislaus Hobbs (1 case)
  • John Maestri (4 cases)
  • Father David Pearce (6 cases)
  • Mr X (prosecution pending) (1 case)
  • Mr Y (teacher) (1 case)
  • Father Laurence Soper (4 cases)
The table is somewhat unclear, but it doesn't seem to be the number of allegations brought to Carlile's attention, it appears to be the number of cases which have been brought to the attention of the school in some fashion or other, most generally by means of a civil action initiated by the alleged victim. For instance Pearce merits 5 rows in the table, but the 11 charges he pleaded guilty to in 2009 are all contained within a single row of the table.

Moreover Carlile was well aware of allegations against Father Kevin Horsey (now deceased). His name came up at the press conference and Carlile acknowledged he had received accounts of abuse by him, but he does not appear on the list. Moreover this seems also to have been acknowledged by the Abbey, and a decision has been made to rename the Horsey building at the school.

So the table is not an accurate description either of the number of probable perpetrators nor of the probable number of victims or cases. Carlile has made no attempt to provide any kind of estimate of the probable total number of victims.

The information in the table is extremely minimal. I wouldn't expect Carlile to provide details of the abuse allegations, but I would have expected some attempt at describing the actions taken by the school in response to allegations and where those actions fell short, at least in a representative sample of cases.

Let's take just one row from the table as an example.

Accusation against: Fr. Pearce
Victim: Male pupil
Date: 1992
Allegation received date: 1992
Social Services: Informed
Charity Commission: No
DfE aware: No
Outcome: CPS decided not to proceed

This is very thin. From the dates, we can infer that this was the allegation which led Pearce to "retire" as Junior School headmaster. We are informed that social services were informed, but not who by or when. We could reasonably have expected Carlile to provide some details of the case, not in terms of the details of the allegation itself, but in terms of the procedures which led to the decision to move Pearce from his post and appoint him Bursar instead. The fact that the CPS did not proceed with a prosecution might have any number of reasons which would not affect a balance-of-probabilities assessment that Pearce was a danger to children. And clearly that assessment was made, otherwise Pearce would not have been moved from his post.

These are the details that the abuse victims deserve to have in the report. These are the details which need to be disclosed so that the errors of the past can be clearly identified and therefore be avoided in future. And these are the details which are entirely absent from  the report.

Without knowing past events in sufficient detail to identify the institutional failings of the school and the abbey, we have no means of knowing whether Carlile's recommendations are sufficient to prevent the same failings from recurring in future.

Again, Carlile seems to be going at this as a lawyer, concentrating on cases which have or may come to court, either civil court in respect of claims against the school, or criminal court to determine the guilt or otherwise of the alleged perpetrators.

But good safeguarding practice requires that you should take action to protect children hopefully long before matters get sufficiently serious as to justify a criminal prosecution or a civil claim against the school. I have little doubt that Pearce for instance exhibited a steadily escalating sequence of behaviour until he got to the point of committing criminal offences. But the report is silent on the subject. It is silent on the measures taken or not taken, it is silent on the reasons for this. All Carlile says in the last part of paragraph 34 is the following.
I have concluded that a more modern form of governance, in which the senior teaching management of the school were not effectively under the total control of the Abbey, and with effective procedures for dealing with possible abuse, would have rendered it more likely that abuse would have been suspected, detected, rejected, and the future secured.
That is his conclusion. It might even be true to an extent - a more modern form of governance quite possibly would have "rendered it more likely that abuse would have been suspected, detected, rejected". But he doesn't describe the line of reasoning by which he gets from the rather minimal facts provided to that conclusion.

And it is a pretty dubious conclusion anyway. Secular independent schools have had abuse crises without there being a monk in sight. So his proposed form of governance isn't a magic bullet. He hasn't explained why he thinks the new form of governance will achieve what he claims for it.

He seems to have worked on the basis that since the majority of (known and currently alleged) abusers have been monks, then what is needed is to take governance of the school away from the monks and hey presto all will be well.

But three of the 8 people listed in his table are or were lay teachers, not monks. Teaching attracts paedophiles, because it is an occupation which (like the priesthood) involves trusted contact with children. So, under the old form of governance it wasn't merely monks refusing to shop other monks who were abusing, it was monks not shopping anybody who was abusing, in order to protect the reputation of the school. Protecting a school's reputation is not an action which monks are uniquely inclined to take. Lay governors are prone to it as well.

Carlile Report analysis - 3

I find the next section of the report "Governance of school and abbey" is really very odd. Carlile goes straight into governance issues without even having yet described the extent, nature and duration of the abuse or the institutional failings which allowed it to go on for so long.

Paragraphs 15-19 briefly describe the current governance arrangements, paragraph 20 points out that the arrangements leave all decision-making power in the hands of the monks, paragraph 21 describes the academic staff and the (lack of) support they have from the governance structures.

Paragraphs 22-24 compare the structure with the governance structures of other English Benedictine schools.

In paragraph 25 Carlile describes the school's existing governance arrangements as "wholly outdated and demonstrably unacceptable".

In paragraphs 26 to 32 he makes his proposals for a new governance structure for the school.

There seems to be a good deal of jumping to conclusions here. First of all, the review was supposed to be about abuse and safeguarding against it, and Carlile hasn't even got to the point yet of providing any details about the abuse and who did it, what institutional failings allowed it to continue and how they could be prevented in future. Instead he steps straight in with recommendations about governance.

Those recommendations are basically for there to be a separate charitable trust to run the school, while the existing trust continues to run the abbey, monastery and parish. the new trust for the school will have a relatively large governing body, drawn from a wide range of experience and interests, including monks, staff, parents and pupils. There will always be a lay majority on the board and the chairman will always be a layman.

If Carlile had been requested primarily to conduct a review of governance this would have been fair enough, but he wasn't. He was asked to review the abuse and make recommendations about putting a stop to child sex abuse at the school and making sure it can't start up again

In his governance proposals, Carlile seems to be proceeding from two principles. One is that the present arrangements are outdated (which is true but irrelevant to safeguarding), and the other is described at the start of para 26.
In a school where there has been abuse, mostly (but not exclusively) as a result of the activities of members of the monastic community, any semblance of a conflict of interest or lack of independent scrutiny must be removed.
Those of you who have been thinking of me as being some sort of rabid anti-catholic may be surprised by the next bit: These shortcomings are not limited to monks. Paedophiles will be paedophiles, and the clever ones who can do the most damage will always be attracted to occupations which involve the supervision of children. That includes teaching as well as the priesthood.

In being aware that the Ealing Abbey scandal is part of the wider catholic abuse scandal, and also that in this particular case the majority of the abuses were committed by monks, Lord Carlile seems to have forgotten that abuse can and does happen in non-catholic independent schools as well. So the principles of independent scrutiny have to be applied whoever is given the job of governing the school.

If abuse is to be prevented, or where it can't be prevented, if it is to be quickly detected and stopped, then it is vital that those tasked with governing the school are aware of their responsibilities in this area, and also aware of the inherent conflict of interest involved in running an independent school.

That conflict is simply stated. The publicity of a paedophile abuse case at a school is very bad for business. Independent schools compete with each other for pupils, they are businesses, even though they are usually constituted as charities. So the short-term interests of the school demand that publicity is avoided, and this is best achieved by making sure that nobody outside the school is aware of it, and so there is a great temptation to find ways of not reporting it to the authorities. This temptation isn't unique to monks. So, whether a school is Catholic, Anglican, Muslim or secular, this conflict of interest remains and must be openly acknowledged so that effective measures to combat it can be devised, whoever is running the school.

Having a board of governors with a secular majority doesn't by itself achieve this. It's a good idea in its own right for the general welfare of the school, which quite frankly needs governors with a wider range of expertise and backgrounds. It will even help safeguarding a bit, but the effect will be minor. A school with a secular board can still fall prey to bad safeguarding practices and end up covering up abuses.

It seems to me that Carlile has been going at this as a criminal lawyer rather than as an expert on the dynamics of child abuse in institutional settings. He has of course both prosecuted and defended child abuse cases and that has no doubt been useful to him, but it is no substitute for knowledge of the institutional failings which allow abuse to flourish, and how those institutional failings are permitted to occur. In my view it has also led him to place too much emphasis on those who committed the abuses (which is what he has to concentrate on for the purpose of criminal trials) rather than on those whose job it was to prevent them.

It is a pity that Lord Carlile did not request the participation of an expert in this field as an equal partner in the conduct of the inquiry. I suspect that if he had, a rather different report would have been produced.

That the monks are being removed from control of governance is what grabbed all the headlines in the papers. An anachronistic governance structure is a nice easy target and a recommendation to reform it is obviously sensible.

But it doesn't address safeguarding.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Carlile Report analysis - 2

The second section of the Carlile report, paragraphs 9 to 14, is titled "The evidence in summary, and my approach to it".

Carlile described how in response to a call for evidence and more general publicity, he was contacted by about 100 people who felt they had a contribution to make. He also mentions that he met the Abbot and headmaster as and when he required, the DfE, the ISI, the monastic community, several of the lay advisers, and some former pupils, both those who were aware of abuses and those who were not.

A wide range of abuses have been described to him, but he has decided not to describe them in detail in the report. His reasons are worth quoting directly.
First, and most important, in my judgment for the effect of what may seem at first sight to be less violent abuse may be just as damaging for the victim as more obviously violent or overt acts. Secondly, it would be wrong for a report on such matters to provide reading material for the prurient and worse.
I think Carlile is right in this. It is one thing for victims who want to bring the matter to public attention to contact the papers or TV news and describe their stories, knowing that publicity will result. It is another for people who have contacted Carlile in confidence to have their accounts described even in paraphrase in the report.

Carlile describes the majority of the abuse described to him consisted of physical punishment carried out in in appropriate ways and circumstances and with sexual motives. That is is far as he goes with descriptions.

Carlile says that it is not appropriate to describe one kind of abuse as "more serious" or "worse" than another. While it might be in a criminal sense in terms of the severity of the sentence an offender might receive, the effect on the victim doesn't map neatly onto this. As he says:
The reality, borne out by some of my correspondents, is that the combination of fear, a sense of guilt, repetition, physical pain, revulsion and knowledge of impropriety may have an extremely damaging effect on future life chances whatever the detail of the abuse.
Carlile's allocation of blame, though this is not the primary purpose of the report, is simple.
Primary fault lies with the abusers, in their abject failure of personal responsibility and self-control, in breach of their sacred vows if monks, and for all in breach of all professional standards and of the criminal law. Secondary fault can be shared by the monastic community, in its lengthy and culpable failure to deal with what at times must have been evident behaviour placing children at risk; and what at all times was a failure to recognise the sinful temptations that might attract some with monastic vocations. Fault lies too with the trustees and the School historically, for their failure to understand and prepare for the possibility of abuse with training and solid procedures for unpalatable eventualities.
Carlile is saying, in clear and simple prose, that the monks knew that there was abuse going on, and they did nothing to stop it.

Carlile described his main purpose as follows.
to use the lessons and failures of the past to ensure that such problems are avoided in the future; and to provide structures to give confidence to pupils, parents and guardians, staff, and anybody else with a legitimate interest in the School in the future.
That's an entirely appropriate objective, one which any right-thinking person would agree with.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

St Augustine's governance

The following email has gone out to staff & parents
We are writing to you following the letter from the Headmistress dated 15th November 2011 in which she, amongst other matters, discussed the governance of the School.

The Trustees have confirmed the appointment of the incumbent Governors.  The Governors are:-

Professor A.P. Hemingway (Chair)
Dr. M. Barnard
Professor G. Bennett
Mrs. F. Carey
Deacon A Clark
Dr. M. Dowling-Brannigan
Mrs. A. Kendall
Mrs. C. Phillips

We confirm that the first priority, led by the appointments sub-committee of the Governing Body and TES (Times Educational Supplement), is to continue the search for a new Head Teacher of the highest calibre.

The Governors, with the unreserved support of the Trustees, are committed, with appropriate advice and assistance, to review and update where necessary the Instrument of Government to ensure it provides effective transparent and accountable governance.  This process will commence immediately.  Amongst other objectives, it is hoped that this will prevent the recurrence of the difficulties recently experienced in the relationship between Governors and Trustees.

The Diocese of Westminster, although not having any direct involvement in the School’s governance, has also pledged its support and assistance.

We are committed to build on the School’s undoubted achievements, to continue and build on that success and to support the dedicated and professional Staff in providing education of the highest quality to the Pupils.

Yours faithfully,

Professor Anne Hemingway
Chairman of Governors

David Murphy
Chairman of the Trustees

Mrs Catherine Wilson
Acting Headmistress Elect
A few things here worth noting.

First, whoever was behind the attempt to oust the governors has been decisively defeated, both in terms of the governors' continued presence and in the acknowledgement of the need to review the governance arrangements. All the governors are back in place.

Second, the governors seem to have regained control over the process of appointing the new headteacher.

Third, this outcome appears to have the support of the diocese.

Fourth, it is interesting to note whose signature is absent from the email!

There have been comments on previous articles concerning the past willingness of the governors simply to go along with what Mrs Gumley Mason requested. That criticism can be made of their past behaviour. I'm not sure that it is entirely fair: if they genuinely believed that Mrs Gumley Mason's proposals were in the interest of the school, then it is reasonable for them to accept them. And it is normally a reasonable assumption that a headteacher's proposals are both well-informed and in the interests of the school he or she is head of.

However, since the publication of the ISI report, it seems to me that the governors have recently shown appropriate degrees of independence and professionalism and have managed to get to grips with the difficult situation resulting from the ISI's criticisms, Mrs Gumley Mason's subsequent announcement of her retirement and other recent events. So, whatever criticisms there may be of their past approach, it seems to me that their present approach is clearly working in the interest of the school. And that is what matters the most right now.

I suspect that there has been a whole lot of work going on in the background which hasn't been communicated in parent emails and other public communications. As far as possible, I suggest that the governors communicate more of this background work to the parents. Sorting out the appointment of the new head and the various other issues facing the school is a complex task, and the parents are going to be greatly reassured by open communication of the work that is going on. If it turns out that some task is taking longer than expected because of some unanticipated difficulty, then it is better for the parents to be told so they can understand the issues. The trust of the parents in the school has taken a battering over the last few months and an implemented policy of openness and transparency on the part of the governors can do more than anything else to earn that trust back.

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.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The governors are back

Well, I think we all now know that the St. Augustine's governors have been reinstated. It seems that the fuss kicked up by parents phoning in all directions has had an effect.

But the turnaround didn't happen until after a quite extraordinary letter had been sent out by Mrs Gumley Mason to all parents, presumably with the authority of the Mr Murphy, the chairman of trustees. A copy of the letter has of course been passed to me (a number of copies in fact) and it is worth quoting a few key paragraphs.

The latest rumour is that all the School's Governors have been sacked; that, consequently, the School is in breach of various (unidentified but numerous) regulations, that we may have to close and so on, with hair-raising variations and embellishments.
Well, I wouldn't call it a rumour, at the time of writing it was a fact that the governors had been sacked. The business of them not being "confirmed in office" is sophistry. They had been attending governors meetings, some of them for a considerable period of time. Of course they were sacked!

Those sacked included two lawyers, the two recently elected parent governors, and a deacon who is also a diocesan school inspector. If you're going to pick a fight with that group, you had better be very sure of your ground.

What makes a difference, of course, this time around is the fact that I am retiring at the end of this term, and in any independent School the departure of a long-serving Head can create uncertainty and anxiety. Another factor that has not helped the situation is that there has been a certain amount of frenetic jockeying for position by a few members of staff in the run-up to my departure. This has been an unwelcome and unexpected distraction.
And with this, Murphy and Gumley Mason don't merely declare war on the parents by sacking their elected parent governors, they create additional enemies by attacking the staff as well. Even if it were true, it's a really bad strategic move to unite the staff and parents against you. It's a colossal error of judgement, compounding the error made by picking this fight in the first place. And in any case, all other accounts I've heard suggest that this jockeying for position is the purest fiction. There's no point in it. There's one vacancy, for headteacher. It's going to get filled by an open interview process, to which both internal and external candidates can apply. There's no purpose in "jockeying for position", because there aren't any positions to jockey for. Any staff member who wants additional responsibilities will in most cases achieve this by applying for a more senior post at another school.

Then we come to a masterpiece of creative writing, the questions and answers!
Have all the Governors been sacked?
No. A number of Governor appointments, however, were subject to approval by the Directors. The Directors were quite content to confirm the appointments of all those who had been acting as members of the Board of Governors, but made it a condition of their appointment that they (the Governors) would confirm that they would act in accordance with the Instrument of Government. Unfortunately, six individuals did not give this undertaking when asked to do so, and consequently their appointments did not take effect at that time.

That left three Govemors, one of whom has now resigned for family and personal reasons unconnected with the action of the other six. The remaining two are being joined by three appointees (so as to achieve the required quorum of five) who havs agreed to abide by the Instrument of Govemment and who, subject to their confirmation by the Directors, will take office. The Instrument of Government provides for these Governors to appoint two other Governors, and the line-up will be completed by two Parent Governors.
Well, as we all now know, this appointment of unnamed replacement governors didn't happen. But the whole business is utterly ridiculous. It makes the instrument of governance sound as if it is Holy Writ. It isn't, it's a school document, detailing the powers of the governors and certain other aspects of the way the school is run. It should be reviewed at regular intervals in order to ensure that it reflects the situation as it currently exists at the school. But the current instrument of governance hasn't in fact been updated for several years, and is demonstrably outdated and incorrect. The single most obvious flaw is that it doesn't even get the age range of the pupils right - the age range has been extended as a result of the opening of the nursery, but the instrument of governance hasn't been updated to match.

And governors, especially the lawyers among them, know perfectly well that they have act within the powers given to them. Requiring them to sign a letter, in the way it happened seems to have been a deliberate insult, designed to provoke the governors into a refusal and to walk away. Such a letter has never previously been required. So this issue of adherence to the instrument of governance is not the real issue, it is a clumsy pretext for something else altogether.
Why has an advertisement for the new Head not yet appeared in the Times Educational Supplement?
I found out the reason for this over the weekend, when I was telephoned by one of the TES staff dealing with the advertisement. He told me that one of the six (ie one of those who had refused to give an undertaking to comply with the Instrument of Government) had contacted the TES and told them to put the advertisement "on hold". This was done without my knowledge or agreement, and since the individual concerned has no authority to give such an instruction I directed the TES to place the advertisement as soon as possible. (The TES have since told me that the advertisement will appear on November 25th.)
This is highly implausible. If you engage a firm of headhunters for a top job, they do a bit more to earn their money than simply typing up an ad to put in the TES. There's a bit of preparatory work that has to be done first, because you want to ensure that the best possible candidates are minded to apply when the ad is placed. If you engage the services of recruitment specialists, you take their advice on such things. It is extremely unlikely that anybody could possibly take up the post until September, so there is time to do the job properly in order to get the best possible candidates.What matters is not that the ad is placed as early as possible, but that it attracts the best candidates.

It is extremely unprofessional for Mrs Gumley Mason to get involved in any way in the recruitment of her successor. She has no valid interest in the matter. If her primary interest had been the welfare of the school, she would have given a year's notice of her departure so as to avoid the need for an interregnum at all. Of course, Mr. Murphy is aware of the arrangements for recruiting the head including the use of consultant, and yet he must have authorised this precipitate action by Mrs Gumley Mason.

Let's think about Mr Murphy for a moment. I have no idea why he has chosen to pick this fight with the governors. The issue of the instrument of governance was trivial, and an obvious pretext. If had been the real issue, then it could have easily been sorted out with a bit of goodwill and a few phone calls, as between professional colleagues with a common objective. I have no idea what is the issue that he felt required the sacking of the governors and their replacement with appointees. It would be good if he could enlighten us.

Then there is the matter of how he went about it. This showed serious lack of judgement. First, whatever the issue is, it would have been better to get it openly discussed with the governors. It's the obvious course of action - you discuss the problem with colleagues who can help. One has to wonder why he didn't do this.

Then there is the choice of people to pick a fight with. The elected parent governors have a strong mandate, they were voted into their positions. Sacking them without good evidence of misconduct was bound to enrage the parents who participated in the election. Refusing to sign some silly letter to order doesn't even come close to misconduct. Trying to solve the problem, whatever the problem is, by sacking them was seriously unwise.

Then there was the decision to go public with the letter. If there had to be a letter to parents on the subject, Mrs Gumley Mason was the wrong person to write and sign it. She's supposed to report to the governors, not the other way round. If the letter was to be sent at all, it should have been sent out over Mr Murphy's own signature.

Then there was the issue of picking a fight with the staff. It's exceedingly unlikely that the letter was sent without Mr Murphy having looked it over first. So he approved the paragraph that took a pop at the staff. Not clever. Whoever is appointed the new headteacher, and whoever does the appointing, you still need to find ways of minimising the disruption. The last thing you need is to provoke an exodus of your best staff who are mortally offended by the insult. Another seriously bad judgement.

And then finally there is the climbdown. If the replacement of the governors was justified two days ago, it is still justified today, Mr Murphy ought to tell us what that justification is. If it wasn't justified, then the sacking shouldn't have happened in the first place.

And in any case, the ploy has failed. He's failed to shift the governors, he has provoked the ire of the parents, and has undoubtedly lost the respect and confidence of the staff. So, whatever ideas he has for taking the school forward, he's now entirely unable to implement them because he's not got any allies to work with. His only effect he can have by remaining in position is to obstruct the work of others. That's an untenable position. If he has the welfare of the school at heart, he should go.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

BBC Inside Out

The Inside Out programme about St Benedict's School is now available on BBC iPlayer

No Governors at St. Augustine's

With all the publicity that has surrounded St Benedict's over the last few days, it has been hard to credit the extraordinary goings-on at St. Augustine's Priory School. The following has come from a number of impeccable sources. For obvious reasons, I am not going to say who.

The School currently has no Board of Governors. With the possible exceptions of Dr Dowling-Branagan and Mrs Kendall, the Trustees have told all the Governors that they have not been "confirmed in office" by the trustees.

It appears that they received a letter from Mr Murphy to the effect that he required them to sign a letter promising to adhere to the Instrument of Governance before they could be confirmed. This has apparently never previously been required, and Governors of any school by definition have to act within their defined powers as governors. In phone conversations between them, I understand that the governors decided to wait until their meeting on November 9th and discuss the issue there before deciding whether to sign.

Mr Murphy arrived at the meeting with a solicitor in attendance. He handed out a letter to the governors. The letter was threatening in nature and required them to sign to agree the terms of the instrument of government immediately, or the governors' meeting could not continue. A very stormy meeting followed, and there was no resolution. Mr Murphy made it clear that the governors' meeting could therefore not take place and that he required them all immediately to leave the premises. They requested to remain while they discussed matters, as private individuals if necessary.

Mr Murphy was adamant. One of the governors pointed out that they had been invited in not by Mr Murphy by by the headmistress, and it was for her to withdraw the invitation. Mr Murphy remained adamant, and said that if they wished to continue their conversation, they must do so in the car park. It was a remarkably petty demand on his part.

The governors in further discussions amongst themselves over the next couple of days concluded that it would be better to sign the letter and then to be able to get on with the urgent business of the arrangements to recruit the new headteacher. However, it seems that Mr Murphy is taking the view that this is not sufficient, and that a decision of the trustees is now needed to confirm them in office, and that a decision on this point has not yet been made.

So, the current situation seems to be that there is no quorum of Governors at present, so in effect there is no Governing Body.

This for all practical purposes renders aspects of the school's safeguarding policy inoperative, because there is no suitably trained Safeguarding Governor to oversee it. The Complaints procedure is also inoperative, because there are no Governors to hear any complaints.

Some of the (former) governors have informally met with staff to appraise them of the situation. There has been a staff meeting attended by Mr Murphy at which he was by all accounts robustly questioned.

This is not the first time this term that Mr Murphy has interfered with the decisions of the governors operating validly within the areas of responsibility delegated to them by the Instrument of Governance. Earlier this term, it came to the attention of the governors that Mr Mason had requested of an IT technician passwords to staff email accounts, and that the technician in all good faith had provided them. On learning of this, the governors suspended both of them while the school computers could be re-secured.

It seems that Mrs Gumley Mason appealed to the Trustees and that Mr Murphy advised the governors that he was taking over the matter and that the Governors no longer had any part to play. Apparently the Instrument of Governance allows for this to happen if the headteacher appeals to the Trustees. The governors threatened to resign unless the issue was returned to them since it fell squarely within their delegated responsibilities. Mr Murphy backed down.

This latest action by Mr Murphy seems to me to be highly irresponsible, As I understand it, the diocese and the ISI have been informed and the DfE is going to investigate. These actions are damaging the Charity's reputation and may potentially damage the charity's income, if parents decide that enough is enough and take their children away from the school. And most importantly they are putting in jeopardy the charity's ability to fulfil its charitable objectives, the education of the pupils.

It is worth noting that Lord Carlile's principal recommendations for St Benedict's concern its governance. Carlile has noted that the St Benedict's governance arrangements are that all decision-making powers are in the hands of the board of Trustees, that all the trustees must be monks of Ealing Abbey, and the chairman of trustees is the Abbot. There is a Board of School Advisers, which in fact makes recommendations and decisions in much the way that a Board of Governors might be expected to, but that in fact the BSA has no powers, and the Trustees can ignore any decision or recommendation from the BSA if they choose to.

Lord Carlile described this arrangement as "wholly outdated and demonstrably unacceptable". What strikes me is how close it is to the arrangements currently in place for the governance of St Augustine's. Admittedly the St Augustine's Trustees are not monks, but in all other respects, the comparison is very close, in that there are two boards, one of which has delegated some powers formally or informally to the other, but which can be taken away at any time and for any reason.

The existing argument shows how very unsatisfactory those arrangements are in the event of a disagreement between the Governors and the Trustees.

Lord Carlile has recommended that other independent faith schools should review their governance arrangements, and that his proposals (essentially of a single governing body with a wide range of experience, and a lay chair and lay majority) are meant to be broadly appropriate for all independent faith schools, of all religions and denominations. Certainly, his recommendations should be studied by St Augustine's.

I suspect that the argument is in fact over who has control over the appointments process for the new headteacher. That is the most important decision that the school needs to take in the immediate future, and it would seem that the Trustees are alarmed at the approach to the matter being taken by the governors.

But at the moment, it doesn't matter in the slightest who has control of the process. I cannot imagine that any competent headteacher would be prepared to take up the post amidst such a shambles. Any prospective headteacher worth his or her salt is going to do some research on the school, if only by typing the name of the school into a search engine to see what comes out. What on earth would anybody think about the recent goings-on at St. Augustines? There's not the slightest point in wasting money on placing an ad for the new headteacher until the present crisis is amicably resolved and some stability is restored. That means getting the governing body back in place, hammering out an agreement concerning an appointments panel for the headteacher, and agreeing that the Instrument of Governance needs to be reviewed and amended, probably to merge the two boards and have a single governing body so that these kinds of deadlocks cannot happen again.

The sooner this happens, the better for the children. They are the ones who matter here. I hope that everybody concerned will remember that.

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.

Misleading the inspectors?

At his prizegiving day speech in September last year. Mr Cleugh said the following.
There have been failures here in the past and quite rightly those involved have been or are being exposed and punished. The School continues to co-operate with all the relevant authorities. I absolutely refute that anyone associated with St Benedict’s School has misled the Inspectors or protected offenders - such allegations are at best misguided and at worst deliberately malicious.

I asked Mr. Cleugh about this at Lord Carlile's press conference. He said that there had been two points he knew about in November and had told the Inspectors about both, and the remaining issues came to light between the November 2009 and April 2010 visits.

But this is very odd. The only safeguarding incident mentioned in the November 2009 ISI reports is the "serious recent incident involving a member of the monastic community" described in Section 4.4 of the Senior school report, with the same text in section 4.5 of the Junior School report. We know that this serious recent incident is the abuse of Pearce's final victim and Pearce's subsequent arrest. We know that because the Charity Commission report mentions that a report was made to the authorities about that incident, and we know from the ISI Supplementary Report that the school has reported it, and that there are no records of any other incidents having been reported.

But it seems to me that at the time of the November inspection, Cleugh couldn't possibly not be aware of the following other matters, relevant to safeguarding at the school and which as an ISI inspector himself he knew were relevant to the inspection.
  • The arrest, trial and placing on restricted ministry and on List 99 of Father Stanislaus Hobbs, which involved Hobbs resigning as a Trustee in 2005. His resignation as a Trustee is an event which the school had a statutory duty to report to the Teacher Misconduct Section of the DfE.
  • The civil action against the school successfully brought by "C" in 2006, in which the judgement was against the school to the tune of £43,000.
  • The resulting placement of Father David Pearce on restricted ministry
  • The first Charity Commission Statutory Inquiry.
  • Father David Pearce's conviction and sentencing for a whole range of other offences to which he pleaded guilty, in addition to the offence for which he was originally arrested.
  • The second Charity Commission Statutory Inquiry.
It is certain beyond any shadow of a doubt that Mr. Cleugh knew of all of these events. Some of them were public knowledge at the time.

In addition, I think it very likely that the police contacted the school in the course of their inquiries which led to Maestri's three convictions in 2003, 2005 and 2008. It would be very normal for them to do so, even though Maestri left the school in 1984.

But lets leave aside the Maestri issue and concentrate on the other points. All these were very much of interest to the inspectors and were mentioned in the Supplementary Report, though not with the names of the individuals attached. Lets go though the issues listed in the Supplementary Report
(i) Legal action has been initiated in connection with a previous member of the religious community.
I had wondered for a long time who this is. Based on the  information in the Carlile Report, I now think this is Anthony Gee, or Father Anthony Gee as he was when headmaster of the school. According to Carlile, the school first heard of this in March 2010. I have no reason to disbelieve this.
(ii) A monk who had taught in the school a long time ago has recently come under investigation by social services. At the time of the follow-up visits he was living in the monastery under a restrictive covenant barring him from contact with children.
This is Father Gregory Chillman. The allegations concerning him appear to have first come to light in March 2010. So we can't say that Cleugh knew about this one in November 2009.
(iii) A similar covenant applies to another monk, also currently residing in the monastery. He had been acquitted of child abuse in 2007.
This is Father Stanislaus Hobbs. It would seem to me that Cleugh definitely did know the situation with regard to Hobbs, and the fact that he had resigned as a Trustee. And equally clearly, the ISI did not know. in November 2009, or they would have mentioned it then.
(iv) A monk, Fr DP, is in custody following his conviction in October 2009 on charges spanning many years. Following a defeat in an earlier civil case, Fr DP was subject to a restrictive covenant, but subsequent to this he engaged in improper conduct with a pupil of the school who was doing work in the monastery. A review of his case was conducted by the safeguarding officer of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton and an independent social work consultant. The review findings were not available at the time of the ISI inspection in November 2009.
This is Pearce, obviously. Note here that the civil case is mentioned, and the full range of his convictions is alluded to. Quite different from the "recent serious incident" (singular) mentioned in November 2009.
(v) A previous lay teacher, for many years no longer associated with the school, the Abbey and the monastery, was most recently tried and convicted in 2008.
This is Maestri. As mentioned above, we can set him to one side for the moment.
(vi) The case of a monk, now for a long time living abroad, has not been pursued.
This is Soper, and clearly the case has been taken up again since. According to Carlile, the first allegations against Soper became known by the school in November 2009, i.e. at around the time of the inspection visit, though whether before or after isn't clear. But it can reasonably be argued that even if the allegation came in after, Cleugh had a duty to ring up the inspectors and mention it, since they hadn't yet produced their report.

The ISI also made mention of the Charity Commission in its supplementary report. Cleugh knew that the Statutory Inquiries had taken place, although the report wasn't issued until December 2009. but this was still well before the ISI issued its reports, and again a phone call to the inspectors to say it was now available would have been a good idea, and I have no doubt it is what Cleugh himself would have expected of another school had he been inspecting it.

And the ISI definitely wasn't aware of all these events, as you can see from the my correspondence with Durell Barnes of the ISI.

So, we have Mr. Cleugh's assurance that he didn't mislead the inspectors, that the school "continues to co-operate with all the relevant authorities", which he made at his prizegiving day speech and repeated in front of Lord Carlile, 5 TV cameras and about 40 journalists, and yet we seem to have all these relevant pieces of information which Cleugh obviously knew about but for which there is no evidence that he shared with the inspectors.

What are we to make of it?

Monday, 14 November 2011

Write to your MP

If you are concerned about the abuses at St. Benedict's School, and the fact that the Independent School Inspectorate failed to detect the school's shortcomings, please write to your MP along the following lines.

Change the first paragraph as necessary if you live at such a distance from St. Benedict's that no pupils are likely to live in your MP's constituency.

I am sure that the children of some of your constituents are pupils of St Benedict's School Ealing, and that you have been as shocked as anybody else at the terrible abuses there which have recently been reported by Lord Carlile.

It is highly probable that the abuses could have been discovered earlier had the school been effectively inspected. However, the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) completely failed to notice any problems with safeguarding at the school for at least two successive routine inspections in 2003 and 2009.

The Thunderer column in the Times today points out the severe shortcomings of the ISI in respect of safeguarding inspection, and also points out severe shortcomings in the law, in that unbelievably there is no statutory obligation on the part of schools to report allegations or incidents of child sex abuse committed by staff on pupils.

The Education Bill currently going through Parliament includes a clause which would enable the DfE to appoint the ISI to inspect welfare at independent boarding schools (those which are members of the Independent Schools Council). This responsibility is currently held by OFSTED. Baroness Brinton spoke forcefully against this extension of the ISI's powers in the Grand Committee of the House of Lords,.

In the face of the ISI's terrible failure to detect gross shortcomings at St. Benedict's School and elsewhere, and given that boarding school pupils are even more vulnerable to their setting than day school pupils, the last thing that should be happening is for the ISI's responsibilities to be extended to include the welfare of boarding school pupils.

I urge you to support the amendment introduced by Baroness Walmsley and Baroness Brinton, and to oppose any further extension of the ISI's responsibilities.
Email this to your MP, sign your email and give your postal address, so your MP knows you are a constituent.

The Thunderer

The Thunderer column in the Times carries a piece today (behind paywall) arguing that the St. Benedict's abuse scandal could happen elsewhere because of weaknesses in the law.
There ought to be a legal obligation to report every allegation of abuse to child protection officials in the local authority. The statutory guidance does not at present insist that abuse allegations be brought to the attention of the local authority-designated officer for safeguarding; merely that this “should” be done.

There is simply too much temptation for private schools, which have reputations and fee levels to protect, to attempt to deal with damaging allegations in-house and on the quiet, as St Benedict’s did. This allows perpetrators to operate with impunity or to be discreetly moved on, potentially to offend elsewhere.
The Thunderer goes on not only to criticise shortcomings in the law, but also the failings of the inspectors who visited St. Benedict's School.
Nor does Lord Carlile convincingly tackle the failings of the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), which praised the “high quality” of welfare at St Benedict’s in November 2009. Just a few months later, after revelations in The Times about the conviction of a monk who had lived at the school, the inspectors were forced to return. Only then did they discover that a “commitment to trust within the community and to St Benedict’s rule of love and forgiveness appears on occasion to have overshadowed responsibility for children’s welfare”. After years of widespread abuse, this is a dramatic understatement.
The column wraps up by pointing out that the law is about to change to allow the ISI to perform welfare inspections of independent boarding schools, and suggests that far from doing this, the DfE ought to be looking to see if ISI is going its present job properly.

I think the Times has a good point. The pupils of boarding schools are even more vulnerable to their setting than the pupils of independent day schools. Of all schoolchildren, the pupils of boarding schools need an effective safeguarding regime, properly inspected. On the evidence of St. Benedict's, there is no reason to think that the ISI is capable of this.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

BBC Sunday Programme

Lord Carlile and Abbot Martin Shipperlee have both been interviewed this morning by Ed Stourton on BBC R4's Sunday. The relevant section of the programme starts at 32:20.

Automatic reporting

Automatic reporting of abuse can't be regarded as automatic if the school safeguarding policy mentions things that must be done before deciding whether to report.

It has to be understood that in matters of child protection, all independent schools (not just the Catholic ones) have a conflict of interest. The safety of their pupils requires that they immediately report all allegations or incidents of abuse to the authorities so that they can be independently evaluated and if necessary investigated.

But on the other hand, the school's business interests point in quite the opposite direction. A reported abuse case can get the parents very concerned, especially prospective parents deciding what school to send their children to. It is all terribly bad for business, and so there is a strong temptation not to report abuse and instead to handle it quietly within the school so that as few people as possible know about it. This conflict of interest doesn't exist in the state sector, because they aren't businesses competing for trade in the way that the independent schools are.

If this conflict is to be resolved always in favour of the safety of the children, the school's child protection policy has to offer absolutely no wriggle room for finding ways not to report. In addition, there has to be a determination at the school shared by all the staff that everything will always be reported. Notwithstanding Lord Carlile's positive opinion about the latest policy, this is not the case.

In the St. Benedict's policy, the Designated Teacher is the person responsible for reporting allegations to the LADO (Local Authority Designated Officer for child protection), and section 30 of the policy describes "Action by the Designated Teacher". The clause starts "The action to be taken will:" and then provides a list of items. Item (c) of this section is as follows.
c) satisfy the wishes of the complainant's parents, provided they have no interest which is in conflict with the pupil's best interests and that they are properly informed. Again, it may be necessary, after all appropriate consultation, to override parental wishes in some circumstances. If the Designated Teacher is concerned that disclosing information to parents would put a child at risk, he or she will take further advice from the relevant professionals before making a decision to disclose.
This is a hole so big that you can drive a cart and horses through it.

Just imagine a scenario for a minute. You have a school (not necessary St Benedict's, any independent school) whose current management are much concerned for their school's reputation, and it has a policy including the wording above. A mother and father come to the headteacher with a complaint that their boy has been abused by a teacher. Automatic reporting, if it were truly automatic, would require that the LADO is informed immediately. But with the wording above, it is open to the headteacher to persuade the parents that since the boy has had a bad experience, the last thing anybody wants is for it to be made worse by lots of strangers asking him questions about it.

This is not a hypothetical situation, I know of places where exactly this has happened.

If they are persuaded by the headmaster, then the parents wishes are that no report is made. The child and family don't get the professional assistance they may need and are entitled to, and the abuse (and the abuser) goes unreported and uninvestigated. And this is all strictly in accordance with the safeguarding policy, because it says that the school must "satisfy the wishes of the complainant's parents".

This specific point was raised in Lord Carlile's press conference, and Mr Cleugh and Mr Oliver (the Designated Teacher) were asked if the policy would be changed. All we received in reply was a rather vague statement to the effect that it was their policy always to report.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

BBC Inside out programme

The BBC Inside Out programme will be covering the Ealing Abbey and St Benedict's School story in its broadcast this coming Monday, at 7.30pm on BBC1 (London).

Update: It seems that the Inside Out website maintains an archive of all past programmes. Once Monday's programme is there, I'll provide a link.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Sins of the Fathers

The Times has an editorial today about Ealing Abbey (behind paywall) concerning the Carlile Report. It is worth quoting and commenting on a few bits of it.
It should be read, especially, by those few who may still believe that Catholic bodies have been unfairly tarnished these past few years. For it was commissioned, and published, by Ealing Abbey itself. And its findings are entirely shocking.
I think it worth noting that a number of people have suggested that this blog is merely a self-serving grab for publicity, that it is motivated by virulent anti-catholicism or violent secularism, and that I have been blowing things out of proportion. Well, think again.
This report is not only an acknowledgement of a catalogue of terrible abuse — which began in the 1940s and continued up until 2007 — but also of the long-running failure to address this abuse, or even to acknowledge it as being of suitable severity to be addressed. It was only commissioned long after The Times had begun reporting on a series of allegations of sexual abuse at St Benedict’s, prompting more victims to come forward.
It is inevitable that there will be even more victims who come forward, simply because even if we could wave a magic wand and absolutely guarantee no abuse happens at St Benedict's ever again (something I acknowledge to be impossible), because it can take decades for a victim to acquire the will and courage to come forward, there is going to be a trickle of cases which will probably last for the next 30 years or so.
Lord Carlile recognises primary and secondary fault, with the first belonging obviously to the abusers themselves, and the second being shared between the school and “the monastic community, in its lengthy and culpable failure to deal with what at times must have been evident behaviour placing children at risk”.
All perfectly correct. But I happen to be of the opinion that the secondary fault isn't all that secondary. Paedophiles will be paedophiles, and occupations which involve the care of children will inevitably be attractive to paedophiles. The Catholic priesthood is one such occupation. You can't recognise a potential child sex abuser at sight. As Catherine Pepinster has found out in the case of Father David Pearce, you can know an active abuser very well and still not realise. So, it is inevitable that abusers will get into the priesthood from time to time. The same applies to the teaching profession.

What matters is minimising the number of victims, and minimising the harm done to them. The only way that you can find out that somebody is an abuser is from actual reports of abuse. So these reports, from victims and witnesses are the primary weapon in the fight against abuse. They have to be taken seriously, they have to be passed to the authorities who have the knowledge and training to investigate them properly, and they have to be acted on in so that when abuse is discovered, the abuser is immediately and permanently removed from a position supervising children.

All this Ealing Abbey failed to do. Victims were accused of maliciously accusing their abusers, abusers were permitted to remain, when the complaints got too loud abusing priests were moved to different duties and abusing lay teachers were quietly sacked and sent on their way with a good reference so they they could continue to abuse elsewhere.

All these actions, carried out for the most part by people who weren't abusers themselves, could hardly have been better at maximising the number of victims and the extent of the harm done to them had they been designed with that especial objective in mind. And these action contributed hugely to the overall duration of the abuse and the number of victims, which just at St. Benedict's School must by now number in the hundreds.

Even when Lord Carlile began his report, he writes, another monk banned from working with children was still living there. “The Abbot has accepted that another dwelling has to be found for any member of the monastic community falling within the categories described,” he writes. “This must continue as a permanent policy.”

It stretches credulity that such a thing could even need saying. The fact that it does is indicative of the problems which Lord Carlile highlights, and sheds light upon the Church’s continuing inability to police itself.
In fact, when Lord Carlile began his work, there were two monks living at the Abbey under restrictions, Father Stanislaus Hobbs and Father Gregory Chillman. At the insistence of the Department for Education and over the energetic objections of the Abbot, Father Stanislaus Hobbs was moved to a care home outside the diocese earlier this year. But the Carlile Report lists Chillman as still living at the Abbey under restriction, and the Abbey website also lists him as a monk resident at the Abbey. I believe he has only very recently moved out.

It is this kind of obstructive, grudging response to obviously sensible suggestions for child protection which leave me of the opinion that the abbey and the school cannot move on under their present management.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Carlile Press Conference

The Carlile Report has now been published. it is available on the school website.

It is quite a long document: 58 pages including a new revision of the school's child protection policy. A document of that length deserves a bit of time spent considering it. I shall be reviewing and analysing it over the coming days. But for the moment I want to concentrate on the events of the press conference itself.

It was held at 9am this morning, and journalists had an opportunity to arrive at 8am in order to read the document before the press conference started. There were 40-50 journalists present.

Present to answer questions were Lord Carlile himself, the school's headmaster Mr. Christopher Cleugh, and the schools deputy headteacher and Designated Teacher for safeguarding, Mr, Stephen Oliver.

Both Carlile and Cleugh opened with apologies to the victims who had suffered from abuse. Carlile said that the physical severity of the abuse (whether physical or sexual) does not neatly map onto the extent of the damage to the victims. He stated that, for instance, repeated sexually motivated beatings can be just as psychologically damaging as outright sexual assaults. So, whatever might be severity of this or that form of abuse in criminal terms, in the sense of the sentence that an offender might receive, he was treating all categories of abuse together

Carlile described the delays to the report that had been caused by the recent trial of Pearce and Maestri, how he didn't want to prejudice either the prosecution or defence. He also commented about Father Laurence Soper, and urged himself to return to answer police questions and go though the justice system if necessary, just like anybody else would have to.

Carlile then went on to describe his recommendations. Chief among them are his proposals for the governance of the school. At present, there is a single charitable trust that administers the abbey, the monastery, the school and the parish. Only monks can be trustees and the chairman of trustees is the Abbot.

Carlile (quite correctly in my view) regards this as an unhealthy situation. In essence the problem is that while the charity has a number of different categories of beneficiary (e.g. monks, parishioners, pupils), the governance is wholly in the hands of just one of those categories, the monks. It can lead to distortions in priorities, and the Abbot has apparently acknowledged that it is opaque to outsiders.

Instead, he proposes that two separate trusts be set up, one to administer the Abbey, monastery and parish, and which owns the property, and another educational trust which administers the running of the school. He proposes the following composition for the governing body.
I suggest that it should consist of not less than 13 and not more than 24 members. This governing body should include the Abbot for the time being, the Headmaster/Headmistress of the Senior School, the Deputy Head and (if a different person) the designated senior member of staff responsible for safeguarding. There should be at least two parent representatives (I would suggest one elected and the other appointed by the Chair of the Governors with approval of the body), at least one elected staff representative, a senior student representative over the age of 16, at least two alumni, and up to fourteen independent governors. There should always be a lay (non-Monastic) majority. The student representative should serve for one year only. Teacher and non-teacher governors (apart from those serving ex-officio) should serve for four year terms, renewable no more than twice. The Chair should be elected by the governing body, but should be neither the Abbot nor any other member of the monastic Community. The detailed constitution should reflect contemporary forms of governance of independent schools.
One might quibble over the details, but the general principle is clear. There is a need for the governing body to be able to draw on a wider range of experience than is available to the monastic community alone, the chairman of governors needs to be a layman, and there should always be a lay majoity in the board. By this means, he hopes to avoid the school falling into the trap of placing the perceived interests of the monastic community above those of the pupils and the school as a whole.

Carlile acknowledged that he isn't an expert in trust law, and when the trust is set up it might differ in some details, but his position is that the school needs governance arrangements appropriate to the needs of an independent school in the 21st century, while retaining its Catholic and specifically Benedictine character.

Carlile went on to acknowledge that a good structure of governance by itself is "no guarantor of good practice". As the report says, "To state the obvious, effective practice depends upon a strong set of written procedures, the management to enforce them, and the commitment to effective enforcement."

I'll write about the journalists' questions later

Carlile Report

It was published today, and Mr Cleugh and Lord Carlile gave a press conference. There were a large number of papers and TV channels present. I suspect it's going to be on the news most channels this evening - BBC London, ITV London, Channel 4, Sky, BBC R4.

I'm too exhausted to write about it in detail for now.

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.