Thursday, 15 November 2012


That is what The BBC is paying Lord McAlpine in compensation for its libel of him, promptly corrected. And there may be more coming to him as his lawyers search the internet for more people to sue.

How much compensation have Jimmy Savile's victims received from the BBC so far? Zero.

How much will they receive? An awful lot less than McAlpine did.

Payouts of as much as £50,000 in child sex abuse cases are rare, and require proof of loss of earnings capability directly attributable to the abuse, or some diagnosed mental or physical condition that can be proved to have been solely caused by the abuse.

Most child sex abuse cases get settled for £5,000 to £15,000, with more towards the lower end of that scale.

So a retired politician's hurt feelings are valued by this society as being about twenty times as valuable as a life wrecked by childhood sex abuse.

Am I angry about this? You bet I am!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Newsnight, the BBC and Savile

In almost all of the coverage of Newsnight, the BBC and the Savile scandal, people have been missing the main point. They are treating this as a news story, handled badly or well by Newsnight according to opinion. But it isn't.

From the moment Karin Ward mentioned Gary Glitter it was an allegation of a serious time committed on BBC premises by a living person. At that moment, the news story should have taken second priority behind passing the issue up the management chain so the authorities could be informed. Even had Glitter not been mentioned, the word should still have gone straight to the top of management because if Savile has been able to hoodwink the BBC for so long about this, there was still the possibility that the BBC's procedures even today are still inadequate.

But Newsnight didn't do that. They held onto the story so they could make a big public splash. That might be good journalism, but it stinks as a child protection measure. Had the abuse happened elsewhere, e.g. a school, we would expect the head teacher to be informed and the authorities immediately after, even though from experience I know that doesn't actually happen at some schools.

Panorama didn't notice the child protection aspect. They just treated it as a news story badly managed by Newsnight.

After making an apology to the victims, George Entwistle has also concentrated solely on the journalistic aspects of the issue. It doesn't seem to have occurred to him that Newsnight ought to have informed his predecessor for child protection reasons.

And the MPs on the Select Committee who grilled Entwistle have also comprehensively missed the point. They grilled him on how Newsnight covered the story.

When is everyone covering this going to stop thinking as journalists and start looking at the child protection issues? If the abuse has remained hidden and unaddressed until now, there is nothing to prevent there from being another Savile still at the BBC.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Mandatory reporting of child sex abuse

The following Letter to the Editor was published in The Times on Friday 19th October.

The Government should act without delay to pass a law on mandatory reporting of known or suspected child abuse

Sir, Child sex abuse cases have some very important similarities. Many cases involve abuse that occurred in an institutional context, usually in a school. In these cases the abuser was able to work himself into a position of trust, and the management of the institution had knowledge or suspicions of abuses and did not pass those concerns on to the authorities. In every case, the abuser was able to commit further serious crimes after those concerns had first come to light. Had the concerns been promptly reported to the authorities, it is at least likely that the abuses could have been stopped at a much earlier stage, and much avoidable suffering prevented.

Unbelievably, Britain has no law requiring schools or other institutions responsible for the care of children to report allegations or incidents of child sex abuse. A head teacher can know that one of his or her staff has sexually assaulted one of the pupils and he or she has no legal obligation to report anything to anybody. This has happened in some cases.

A law on mandatory reporting of child abuse was passed last year in the Republic of Ireland, with a sentence of up to five years’ imprisonment for failing to report abuse. A similar law is urgently needed in Britain to ensure that people can report without fear of losing their jobs, and that their employers are prompt in passing those concerns to the authorities.

The Government should act without delay to pass a law on mandatory reporting of known or suspected child abuse in all environments where adults act in loco parentis.

Jonathan West, Lucy Duckworth,; Ken Acons, Rosminian Boys Group; Piers Brogan, Chairman of Rosminian Boys Group; Bob Brecher, Professor, University of Brighton; Helen Charlton, Minster and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors; Tracey Emmott, director, Emmott Snell Solicitors; Michael Ghersie, chartered accountant; Valerie Gibbs, vicar; David Greenwood, chairman of; Phil Johnson, Eastbourne Survivors Group; Rory Johnston, Rosminian Boys Group; Anne Lawrence, barrister, Atlas Chambers; Francis Lionnet, communications consultant; Donald MacFaul, Dere Street Barristers; Olenka Frenkiel, investigative journalist; Clint McMillian, Rosminian Boys Group; John Poppleton, product manager; Peter Saunders, CEO, Napac; Richard Scorer, partner, Pannone LLP Solicitors; Michael Sheridan, accountant; Sam Simeonides, Rosminian Boys Group; Matthew Starrett-Bigg, Rosminian Boys Group; Anna Whiting, campaigner; Clare Whiting, art director; Julian Whiting, ex-police officer, campaigner; Mrs Lorena Whiting, campaigner; The Rev Peter Whiting, Baptist minister; Sophie Whiting, teacher; Alex Wilson, Rosminian Boys Group; Rory O’Neill, Rosminian Boys Group

Friday, 5 October 2012

Anonymity for teachers

On October 1st, a new law came into effect protecting the anonymity of teacher accused of child abuse. According to an Info Update from the DfE

It is an offence to report information that could lead to the identification (e.g. name or school) of a teacher who is subject to an allegation of a criminal offence made by, or on behalf of, a registered pupil at the school. Any publication of such an allegation that identifies the teacher involved before they are charged with a criminal offence will be in breach of the restrictions. Such restrictions would remain unless or until the teacher is charged with a criminal offence, a warrant for arrest is issued, or until the Secretary of State or GTC for Wales publishes info about an investigation or decision in a disciplinary case arising from the allegation.
Had Jimmy Savile been alive and a teacher, it would have been an offence for the recent reports about him to be published.

The DfE website contains a nauseating statement on the subject
In The Coalition: our programme for government, the Government made a commitment to give anonymity to teachers accused by pupils and to take other measures to protect against false allegations. A survey commissioned by the Department found that of the 2827 allegations of abuse made against school teachers in 2009/10, almost one-fifth (19 per cent) were considered to be unfounded (no evidence or proper basis which supports the allegation being made). False allegations can blight careers and ruin lives.
I'm particularly outraged by the slide from "unfounded" to "False" in successive sentences, which gives the impression that all unfounded allegations are false.

Parents, please realise that you are on your own. If your child is being abused at school, the school has no statutory obligation to report anything it knows. The only have to "have regard for" statutory guidance which says that they should report it. They can regard the guidance all they like and then they can perfectly legally decide that they will handle all such allegations in-house without making any report to the authorities.

And if they don't report it to the authorities, of course no charges will ever be made, and so you are permanently barred from publishing anything about it. All you can do (if you child tells you about it, which they might not) is go to the police yourself.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Failing to report abuse

In recent weeks, two senior Catholic churchmen have been found guilty of failing to report child sex abuse.

In July, Monsignor William Lynn was sentenced to three to six years in jail for covering up a sex abuse complaint against a priest. According to the report on the BBC website:
Lynn supervised hundreds of priests in his role as secretary for clergy at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Last month he became the most senior clergyman convicted in connection to the US Roman Catholic Church scandal.

Judge M Teresa Sarmina said Lynn enabled "monsters in clerical garb... to destroy the souls of children".

"You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn, but you chose wrong," the judge said.
Then last Friday, Bishop Robert Finn was convicted of failing to report suspected child sexual abuse to authorities and was sentenced to two years of supervised probation for the hushing up of suspicious activities by Reverend Shawn Ratigan.

I wholly welcome these convictions. Abusers cannot operate in an environment where suspicions are promptly reported and acted on. In this respect child sex abusers are just like other criminals, they have an interest in not getting caught. If they perceive that the risks of getting caught are very high, they do not dare abuse in the first place. So an institution with a diligently implemented policy of prompt reporting acts as a powerful deterrent to abusers. Preventing abuse from happening in the first place is by far the best protection for children. That is why in all my blogging one particular theme keeps coming up, the need for prompt reporting of all allegations to the authorities, and for it to be thoroughly known to everyone, including potential abusers, that this is what will happen.

If allegations are handled "in-house", the result can be disastrous. First, a school doesn't have investigators trained in this, so they will make mistakes. Second, the investigator is inevitably going to be a colleague of the alleged perpetrator, and may well believe "Mr X is a fine teacher, he would never do a thing like that", and so the allegations are discounted when they should not be.

Finally, even if it is established that abuse has happened, the handling of the matter sometimes also remains in-house. For instance Pearce was moved from being Junior School Headmaster to Bursar at the end of 1992 in response to substantiated complaints about his behaviour. At Downside, Robert White was prevented from teaching the youngest boys as a result of allegations which were admitted by White to be true. Stephen Skelton was given a good reference and sent on his way. In all three cases they went on to abuse again.

We need to describe in-house handling of complaints by its true name - protecting abusers. And when abusers are protected, they will often abuse again. A school with a policy of handling abuse allegations in-house might has well have a large "Paedophiles welcome here" sign above its entrance.

It is easy to see the temptation to handle it in-house. Management has a responsibility to maintain the reputation of the school (and its associated church if it is a church school), and a reported paedophile case is very bad publicity. So the temptation is to believe that the school's pupils can be protected and the school's reputation maintained all at the same time by dealing with the matter internally.

These two convictions, of Monsignor William Lynn and Bishop Robert Finn occurred in the US. Had these events happened in Britain, prosecutions would never have been brought, because  - unbelievably - failing to report child sex abuse is not a crime here. It ought to be, not because I expect to see a large number of convictions for failing to report, but rather to resolve this conflict of interest decisively in favour of reporting allegations. A headmaster will hesitate to cover up abuse (even if he thinks of it as handling it in-house) if he knows that he might go to jail for three-to-six years as a result. There will be much more reporting at a much earlier stage, and schools will become far more dangerous places for abusers to operate.

This won't stop all child sex abuse, but it will greatly reduce it within institutional settings. And that has to be a good thing.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Update on Soper

The online version of the Mail on Sunday article has just been updated with an interesting new piece of information.

A former worker has also raised concerns about Soper’s time as part-time chaplain at Feltham Young Offender Institution between 1988 and 2000, while Ealing Abbey has now confirmed that Soper was questioned by police during this period.
In the mid-Nineties, Scotland Yard investigated an alleged paedophile ring visiting boys there.
The Metropolitan Police have also put an appeal for information up on their website. Unfortunately, at the time of writing this, their appeal is somewhat inaccurate in its details about him.
  • They have misspelled his name as Lawrence Soper instead of Laurence Soper.
  • They have neglected to mention that Laurence is his monastic name, his forenames are Andrew Charles Kingsdon and that is probably what is on his passport.
  • They have called him a "former priest" which is untrue, he has not (yet) been laicised by the church though I have no doubt that their wheels of bureaucracy are grinding away on that task. They also have failed to mention that he is the former Abbot of Ealing.
Also, they have said that he is wanted "on suspicion of historical sexual assault". I loathe that word "historical". Child sex abuse is the only crime which commonly gets tagged with the word. The implication is that it is a matter which is or should be only of interest to historians. It isn't. This is a crime for which the alleged perpetrator has not yet been brought to justice.

The Metropolitan Police would not call an unsolved murder from the 1980s "an historical murder". And no officer would dare describe the murder of Stephen Lawrence as an historical murder, particularly not in the presence of Mrs Doreen Lawrence. Victims of child sex abuse deserve the same consideration.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Horsey Building

Father Kevin Horsey, an Ealing monk from 1942 until his death in 2006, was a prolific child sex abuser. I have written about him before, here and here, The Daily Mail has also named him. His obituary has been taken down off the OPA website.

And yet, the school still has a building named after him, or at least it does according to the school site map on the school website. Building number 13 is the Horsey Building, next to the Orchard Hall.

I rather think it should be renamed, with a public ceremony of rededication to which the press are invited.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Abbot Laurence Soper

Abbot Laurence Soper
Abbot Laurence Soper, wanted by the police
The police have obtained a European Arrest Warrant for Abbot Laurence Soper in connection with allegations of sexual assaults committed while he was a monk and teacher at St Benedict's.

The Mail On Sunday broke the story first today, and they were rapidly followed by the Daily Telegraph, the BBC, the Press Association, The Times (behind paywall) and a whole load of other news outlets.

One remarkable aspect of these stories is that we now at last have a good clear photo of Soper (albeit taken 10 years ago). I wonder why it took Abbot Martin Shipperlee so long to release it? If he is truly as keen as he says he is to see Soper brought to justice, why has it taken 18 months from when Soper disappeared for him to make this picture available to the press and the police? Does he really expect us to believe that he never noticed that the previous press pictures of Soper were either very old or very blurry and indistinct?

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Wellington College

Yesterday, Bruce Roth, a teacher and housemaster at Wellington College, began an 11 year sentence following his conviction in Reading Crown Court on 17 counts of sexual abuses against five boys, some at Wellington College and others at King's School Rochester where he previously taught.

The following is from today's report in the Times, written by Laura Pitel.
The trial exposed a series of missed opportunities to stop Roth’s pattern of abuse. On two occasions, the court was told, family members had raised concerns about his behaviour at King’s, where Roth worked from 1987 to 1994. The first of these came within months of his joining the school as a 21-year-old physics graduate from the University of Hull with no formal teaching qualification. A boy told his mother that Roth had touched him inappropriately after he was kicked in the groin. She complained to the school, the court heard, but was told that Roth had merely been explaining to the boy how to apply cream for a rash.

In 1989, the school received a second complaint. A boy told a relative that his teacher had put his hands down his pyjamas as he lay in bed. Roth was suspended while an investigation was carried out, but the headmaster chose to believe his denial and he returned to his post.

In 1994, Roth, who was born in Poole and grew up in Scotland, was appointed to Wellington College in Berkshire, where boarding fees are £30,000 a year and former pupils include the comedian Rory Bremner and the writer Sebastian Faulks. The school was informed verbally of the King’s investigation by the headmaster, the court was told, but chose to go ahead with the appointment.

Several years later, when he was being promoted to housemaster, Roth, who is also a talented musician, had a discussion with Hugh Monro, who was the school’s headmaster at that time. “He said, “I’ve got this one issue I would like to talk to you about’,” Roth told the jury. “We chatted it through.” Wellington College maintains that no suspicions about Roth were ever put in writing to the school, and that the present headmaster had no knowledge of the earlier questions over Roth’s conduct at King’s.

But in the years after those conversations are alleged to have taken place, the teacher would go on to sexually abuse three more boys.

Many of his victims were vulnerable: they had lost parents, were homesick or had just struggled to fit in. A classic grooming pattern emerged: Roth, himself a former boarding school pupil, would start by sitting on the boys’ beds after lights out, a friendly figure in whom they could confide when they were feeling alone. He would then progress, over a period of weeks or months, to sexual abuse.
This is all dreadfully familiar. The welfare of the abusing teacher and the reputation of the schools are prioritised ahead of the safety of the children in their care. At no point in all this did it ever occur to any of these highly qualified and even eminent gentlemen that a phone call to the police or social services might be in order, just in case they might be wrong to trust Roth. Instead, it was all handled in-house, Roth's denials were believed over the allegations and he continued to have trusted access to children. If they were ever trained in child protection procedures, all the lessons must have been as water off a duck's back to them. Sound safeguarding procedure is that you always report allegations to the authorities. But in twenty years, at two schools, they never did it.

The manner in which Roth selected his victims is also classic, choosing those who were most vulnerable and least able to defend themselves - children from broken families, those who were homesick or struggling to fit in. Anybody familiar with what  happened at St Benedict's will immediately recognise the techniques.

The school can take no credit for the way in which he was brought to justice. Here is the Times again:
Then crucially, in 2008, Roth picked the wrong victim. At first the boy did not protest and kept the matter secret. But in 2010 he called Childline and told a counsellor, who informed the school and the police.

Roth was immediately suspended and then arrested.
The Guardian, the Daily Mail, and the Independent have all covered the outcome of the trial, but nobody has addressed how Roth was able to get away with it for so long - his abuses spanned a period of over 20 years.

The headmaster of Wellington College, Dr. Anthony Seldon, has been quoted in the Wokingham Times.
Dr Seldon said: "This abuse is a terrible betrayal of trust - that Roth could have preyed on vulnerable boys who were in his care is unforgivable. As head of this school, which is trying to provide education and care of the highest standard, I am deeply sickened and appalled by what has happened.

"The whole staff team at Wellington College, who work tirelessly to nurture and protect the pupils at the College, are angered and saddened that a staff member could have committed these vile crimes.

"The very day a former pupil of the College came forward with his accusations, we immediately suspended Mr Roth and reported our concerns to the police and social services. During the subsequent investigations we have worked closely with the authorities to ensure that no stone has been left unturned and that the police managed to gather sufficient evidence to lead to a conviction. Indeed, the police have publicly acknowledged Wellington's actions and responsiveness throughout the course of their investigations.

"Unfortunately, no vetting system can ever guarantee that every paedophile is identified. I am happy that Wellington offers the greatest possible protection to its pupils. We have been praised in the highest possible terms by outside inspectors for our pastoral care."
Well, according to the Times, that's not quite how it happened. Dr Seldon is being a bit vague about who the former pupil actually came forward to.

That bit about having been "praised in the highest possible terms by outside inspectors for our pastoral care" caused my antennae to twitch a bit. So I took a look at the school's most recent inspection report. As it happens, Wellington College is one of the very first schools to have had its boarding provision inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, since the task of inspecting boarding provision of ISC-member independent schools was handed over to ISI from OFSTED at the beginning of this year. Back in October last year, I expressed concerns about whether the ISI was competent to do this job. Alas, it seems that my concerns were entirely justified.

The report on Wellington is available on the ISI website. There was a 3-day inspection visit starting on 31st January this year. The report states the following concerning safeguarding.
Suitable child protection and safeguarding policies and procedures are in place and implemented. Links are maintained with the Local Safeguarding Children Board. Staff are regularly trained in child protection, as are pupils in Year 13. The school’s designated person is the Deputy Pastoral. Detailed records are kept of any concerns. A designated governor receives appropriate training. All visitors are checked in and receive safeguarding information on arrival.
This immediately struck me as fishy. The school's last OFSTED social care inspection visit was in July 2008. The school's last general inspection from the ISI was January 2009. Roth was arrested and suspended in 2010. The fact of his arrest was obviously known to the school, boarding pupils were among his (at the time alleged) victims. So, there was without any shadow of a doubt a "safeguarding incident" concerning the school's boarding provision and therefore subject to this inspection. It was the school's duty to bring this to the attention of the ISI, and the ISI's duty to inspect against it. The purpose would not be to determine Roth's guilt or innocence (that was a matter for the police and the courts) but rather to see whether the events had exposed any shortcomings in the school's safeguarding policies.

And yet there is no mention of anything on this in the report. It was a very serious matter, the allegations have merited a conviction and an 11 year sentence for Roth, but not a single sentence in the ISI report. This is the report that Dr. Seldon is frantically waving about to claim that all is now well with the school.

So the next thing to do was to take a look at the child protection policy of Wellington College itself and see what it says. As I understand it, by law all independent schools have to make their safeguarding policy publicly available on their website if they have one. So I went to and had a look around. And lo and behold I found a page listing their policies.

That page says the following about safeguarding.
The Safeguarding policy is available to all. Our Child Protection Policy is an integral part of this Safeguarding Policy and can be accessed via intranet Safeguarding page.
So I clicked on the link. this took me to a page which said the following.
Safeguarding and Child Protection
Wellington College is committed to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of every pupil. More information about our Child Protection procedures are our recent ISI boarding inspection can be found here.

The College Safeguarding and Child Protection Policy can be found here.
The College cue card issued to all staff, volunteers and senior pupils can be found here.
The Safer Recruitment Policy can be found here. 
The execrable grammar is an indication of the priority given to this page. But more telling is that only one of the links indicated by the various repetitions of the word "here" was open to the public - the first one which provided a link to an extract from the ISI report. All the others ended up with the following message.

So much for "The Safeguarding policy is available to all." It isn't.

I would have liked to be able to say that the policy is sufficiently good to justify the ISI's glowing report. In the circumstances, I would have thought that the school would want to publicise the fact that it has an outstanding safeguarding policy and make it widely available to parents of both existing and prospective pupils. But instead I ended up with a demand for authentication. I have of course written to the school requesting the policy. I'll let you know if and when they reply.

Wellington is not a church school. Not a Catholic School, not a C of E school, though it is "a Christian foundation" according to the first paragraph of the ISI report. It is run by a secular and very eminent board of governors, not a single cleric among them! And yet, they have had a catastrophic failure of child protection that has resulted in one of their trusted senior staff being thrown in jail for 11 years. The case might not quite match the dreadful story of decades of unchecked abuse by multiple monks and teachers at St Benedict's, but it is pretty bad.

So if you think that Lord Carlile's recommendation for a reform of governance at St Benedict's will necessarily prevent these sorts of events from happening again there, then think again.The problem is not the monks, the problem is the school's attitude to child protection, and there is not yet evidence that that has changed sufficiently.

UPDATE 26 July 2012
I have received an email from Wellington College in response to my request for a copy of the child protection policy, and the password protection has now been removed. You can view the policy here

Monday, 9 July 2012

The cost of Carlile

The "Annual Report and Accounts" for The Trust of St Benedict's Abbey, Ealing to the end of August 2011 have recently been published on the Charity Commission website. You can see the accounts for 2011 and the four previous years here.

They do make very interesting reading. The point that I most wanted to see was how much Lord Carlile's fees had been for his report issued in November last year.

The accounts don't have a separate heading for "Lord Carlile", but it is pretty clear under what heading his fees have been placed under. Page 35 of the report contains section 7 "Governance costs". This section contains just one item "Professional fees and charges". In 2010 these totalled £20,392, in 2011 they were a whopping £256,372, an increase of just under £236,000. The vast majority of this increase will have gone on Lord Carlile, with perhaps a modest additional fee for the school solicitors through whom he was engaged.

Of course, the total cost may be considerably higher. Lord Carlile didn't issue his final report until November 2011, so I'm sure his final bill will appear in the accounts for the current financial year, so we won't see those on the Charity Commission website for another 12 months or so.

But let's just consider the £230,000 that appears on last year's accounts. As the school has about 1000 pupils, that's the equivalent of about £230 on the fees, probably somewhat more since a proportion of the pupils are on scholarships and bursaries. Or it can be thought of as 70% of the parish collections and donations for the year, which were £341,322.

Back in September 2010, I estimated that the school wouldn't see much change out of a quarter of a million pounds.

They are spending a sum probably of the order of a quarter of a million pounds on an exercise in reassurance. As the headmasters comments at the safeguarding meeting amply showed, there is no evidence of any interest in actually improving safeguarding, but they want to give the impression that Something Is Being Done. Lord Carlile's name will of course appear on the cover page of the report in letters rather larger than the title. And of course a glossily printed copy will be sent to each parent. The aim is to provide a reassurance to parents that All Is Well Really, if with some minor tweaks to procedures.
I'm gratified that my estimate of the cost was so close to the mark. Let's have a look as to my estimate of the aims of the exercise back then, that it wasn't to improve safeguarding, but rather that it was an exercise in reassurance. 

A glossily printed copy of the report was of course printed and sent to all parents, and Lord Carlile's name wasn't merely larger than the title, it was the title, or most of it.

Recall that Lord Carlile made no new recommendations concerning safeguarding in the course of his report, he merely repeated recommendations which others had already made. His only new recommendation concerned governance, the proposal to split the governance of the school from that of the abbey and parish. The annual report includes just one paragraph from Carlile's report, as follows.
I believe that St Benedict’s School, Ealing, is an excellent place for boys and girls to be educated in safety today and for the future. No school is perfect, and ‘never’ is a dangerous word and a hostage to fortune. However, if those responsible for the School adopt the advice offered in this Report, and advice from the agencies referred to above, I consider that St Benedict students will be as well safeguarded as anywhere else in the country, without in any way losing the Benedictine connection and ethos.
The annual report also lists "Objectives for the year". The first of these is as follows.
Over the next year the School will be responding to the two main recommendations of the Lord Carlile Report (see above). Firstly, ensuring that its Safeguarding Policy is not only a model of excellence but that implementation of the Policy is given top priority by all those working in the School. Secondly, it will be working towards setting up a new educational charity, separate from the main Trust, for the School’s operations. This will ensure that the governance of the School is separate from that of the Trust of St Benedict’s Abbey, Ealing.
As far as the first of these points is concerned, "ensuring that its Safeguarding Policy is not only a model of excellence but that implementation of the Policy is given top priority by all those working in the School", the wording is so vague that no tangible and measurable objective can be obtained from it. There is no sign of any progress with regard to safeguarding. I have raised continuing concerns with the school concerning its safeguarding policy, and its latest version still contains language that is far too full of holes to give confidence that safeguarding really is a priority.

Looking to make the safeguarding policy "a model of excellence" is meaningless unless there is some external yardstick against which excellence is measured. None has been provided, so there is no means of telling whether this objective will have been met by the end of the year.

Looking see that "implementation of the Policy is given top priority" is also meaningless. Priority doesn't matter at all, what matters is tangible achievements, and none are stated.

So the objectives for safeguarding are so woolly that they can be declared as having been met more or less at any time and with no actual changes having been made. It is noticeable that the school's other objectives for the next year are far more tangible. They include:

  • setting up the new educational charity separate from the main trust
  • continuing the improvement in exam results
  • continuing to recruit girls and boys as pupils to the school
  • investment in facilities, including specific named building projects
  • increases in the number of bursaries available, including some 100% scholarships.
All of these are sufficiently well-defined that it is possible to look at what has happened over the year and see whether the aims have been met. Not so with safeguarding.

Anybody who wishes to see what a really good safeguarding policy ought to look like can take a look at the policy for Welbeck Defence Sixth Form College. Just compare the language between that and what St Benedict's has.

A good written policy is the foundation of effective procedures on the ground. Without a good written policy, nobody knows what ought to be done in the event of an incident, and so you have no chance of effective implementation. But a good written policy has to be backed by a determination to ensure it is effectively implemented. I have noticed the conspicuous lack of attention given to safeguarding improvements in recent Headmaster's Newsletters. For instance, when the new policy was brought out in February 2012 (just after my article in The Tablet about safeguarding in the school), there was no mention in the headmaster's newsletter as to why the new policy had been brought out and what changes had been made. All the signs are that they want the safeguarding issue to be quietly forgotten.

Well, it might have been addressed long ago - without the Abbey spending £230,000 on the subject. They could have taken some notice of my concerns about the school's child protection policy when I raised them in the autumn of 2009.

Remember that the same Abbot and the same headmaster are still in place now as then.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

An apology to a victim

Last month, one of the many cases against Ealing Abbey was settled, and Abbot Martin Shipperlee, as part of the settlement wrote the following apology to the victim.
Dear [name withheld]

Following the settlement of your claim, I am writing to offer you an apology.

I am deeply sorry that you suffered abuse when you were a pupil at St. Benedict's School. Such abusive behaviour was wholly wrong, offends all our values and is indefensible. It should never happen.

I apologise for any decisions taken in the past and any mistakes, failures or lack of knowledge on the part of those who held positions of responsibility. I acknowledge  that this matter has caused you distress and suffering and for that I am sorry.

I can however assure you that Ealing Abbey and St. Benedict's School's practices now, together with recently introduced statutory procedures, including Criminal Records Bureau checks and much closer collaboration between agencies, make it as certain as possible that such unacceptable behaviour does not occur. Our own procedures are under constant review. I am committed to doing all I can to put in place best practice for the future.

Please also be assured that we are doing, and will do, all in our power to seek to ensure that no-one else suffers as you did. Anyone who suffers abuse by employees or anyone else for whom the Ealing Abbey and St Benedict's School is responsible is assured of prompt and compassionate attention, in conjunction with the police and other statutory authorities.

Yours sincerely

Abbot Martin Shipperlee OSB

The problem with this letter is that the available evidence suggests that the last two paragraphs aren't true.

Let's take to start with the "recently introduced statutory procedures, including Criminal Records Bureau checks and much closer collaboration between agencies". The first point to make is that CRB checks, had they existed in the days when this victim was at the school, would have provided no protection from his abusers as they did not have prior criminal records. As for closer collaboration between agencies, the victim of Stephen Skelton (who was convicted in December 2011 of two indecent assaults on boys, one of them a St Benedoct's pupil) stated  in an interview for BBC London News that the school had been extremely unco-operative during the police investigation.

Then Shipperlee goes on to say that he is committed to doing all he can to "put in place best practice for the future".

But best practice involves (amongst many other things) a commitment to make a prompt report of all incidents or allegations of abuse to the authorities, specifically to the local Authority Designated Officer for Child Protection (LADO). As I previously pointed out, the school had a huge hole in its commitment to make such reports. Since my article in The Tablet, the school's policy has in fact been modifed, and the wording of paragraph 30 (c) has been modified. But it is still weasel words. The previous version (which lord Carlile thought was as good as any policy in the country) included the following as paragraph 30(c)
The Desginated Teacher shall:
(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.
The new wording, in a version published a week after my article in The Tablet, now says this.
The Designated Teacher shall:
c) where practicable, discuss concerns with the parent and seek agreement for a referral to LA children’s social care unless such discussions or agreements are likely to place the child at risk of significant harm through delay or the parent’s actions or reactions. Where the school decides not to seek parental permission before making a referral to LA children’s social care, the decision will be recorded in the child’s file with reasons, dated and signed and confirmed in the referral to LA children’s social care.
But this is still not the "no exceptions" clear wording that is required, because the wording still suggests that there are occasions where parental permission will be sought before making a referral, and this implies that if permission is withheld, the referral will not be made. The wording is a bit more subtle, but the wriggle room is still there. This just isn't good enough, and it makes a mockery of the assurances given in Shipperlee's apology to the victim.

I could have helped make the wording watertight. Back in November, when the Carlile Report was published, I wrote to the headmaster offering to meet to discuss my continuing concerns, so that the school's safeguarding arrangements could finally be put on a sound basis. The offer was initially accepted, and then they went back on their word before a meeting could be arranged. Here is the correspondence.
From: Jonathan West
Date: 10 November 2011 09:53
Subject: The St. Benedict's Child Protection Policy
To: Chris Cleugh, Martin Shipperlee
Cc: Lord Carlile, Peter Turner

Dear Abbot Martin and Mr Cleugh,

I welcome Lord Carlile's recommendations regarding the governance of the school, and I especially welcome his recommendation concerning the child protection policy, stated in paragraph 63 of the report.

"It should be kept continuously under review by the governing body of the school, and should be a specific agenda item, with adequate time for discussion at least annually at meetings of the governing body, and of the trustees of the Abbey. Every effort, including through external consultation, should be made to ensure that it remains an example of best practice at all times."

You might recall that I tried to raise concerns about the safeguarding policy in emails to both of you in the autumn of 2009. I received no reply from Abbot Martin and a fairly dismissive one from Mr Cleugh. Subsequent events have shown that my concerns were justified.

As was pointed out during yesterday's press conference, the newly updated child protection policy still offers significant cause for concern. I share those concerns, and I would like to adopt a constructive approach in this matter. I think it is very much in the interest of the school, the Abbey, the Catholic Church as a whole, and most especially the pupils that any remaining shortcomings are addressed as soon and effectively as possible.

To that end, I would like to meet you both, bringing with me a small number of colleagues who are expert in this area, so that we can address our concerns to you, go through the policy together and agree on any changes needed. I have copied Lord Carlile on this email, and would welcome his presence at such a meeting if you and/or he desire it. I would also welcome the presence of Mr Oliver and any other staff, trustees or school advisers whose presence you think would be helpful.

I suggest that we arrange to meet at the start of the school Christmas holiday, when the day-to-day distractions of running the school are absent. This date would give me and my colleagues time to prepare a detailed submission concerning the current version of the policy, which of course we only obtained yesterday. It would also give you the opportunity to make any agreed updates the policy and have it ready for use by the beginning of the spring term.

I have no wish to spend the rest of my life publicly criticising the safeguarding shortcomings of the Abbey and the school, but I will continue to do so if that is necessary. As soon as I am satisfied as to the present and future safety of the pupils of the school, then I shall publicly wish the school well and cease to take an active interest. I suspect that this event will be greeted with a sigh of relief by all of us.

I do not wish to hide from you my current opinion that your past and present approach to this crisis merits the resignation of both of you. However I am always ready to change my mind in the light of new evidence. A positive response to my request would be significant in this respect.

Yours sincerely

Jonathan West

From: Chris Cleugh
Date: 10 November 2011 14:27
Subject: FW: The St. Benedict's Child Protection Policy
To: Jonathan West
Cc: Abbot Martin, Catherine de Cintra, Lord Carlile, Headmaster's PA

Dear Mr West

Thank you for your email. We all have the same objective, which is to ensure that child protection and safeguarding at St Benedict’s should be as good as it possibly can be.

As I stated at the Press Conference we are confident that the current policy is both DfE and ISI compliant and includes best practice. However, we are committed to keeping it under review by the governing body.

With this in mind, Fr Abbot and I would be happy to meet with you as you suggest at the start of the Christmas holiday and hear what you and your advisers have to say. We shall also ask a member of BSA and Mr Oliver to be present.  We can then take your contribution back to the governors with the other independent advice we receive on safeguarding matters and allow them to make an informed decision on how the policy can be further strengthened.

Yours sincerely

Chris Cleugh
There was a delay for a bit of time, as I compared diaries with the others I wanted to bring to the meeting. I then tried calling Mr Cleugh and left a couple of messages. He never called back. Eventually I received the following email from him.
From: Chris Cleugh
Date: 2 December 2011 16:02
Subject: Safeguarding Policy
To: Jonathan West
Cc: Headmaster's PA

Dear Mr West

Since our recent e-mail exchange, Abbot Martin has received a letter from [Mr P] offering some advice on how our policy might be improved.  Given [Mr P's] training as a barrister and informed interest in child protection policies, Abbot Martin and I both feel that meeting him rather than you will be more constructive and we will be arranging to do so in the near future. We will listen to his advice and then consider possible further change to the policy with our advisors.

Yours sincerely

Chris Cleugh

Chris Cleugh
St Benedict’s School
W5 2ES
I've redacted Mr P's full name, for reasons which will become obvious at the end of the correspondence. I replied immediately.
From: Jonathan West
Date: 4 December 2011 16:17
Subject: Re: Safeguarding Policy
To: Chris Cleugh
Cc: Headmaster's PA, Catherine de Cintra, Martin Shipperlee, Lord Carlile

Dear Mr Cleugh

It is excellent news that you intend to meet and take advice from [Mr P] on this matter. He and I have discussed the St Benedict's policy at some length and have much the same view regarding areas for improvement. He is one of the experts I intended to bring with me to the meeting.

I have discussed your email with [Mr P], and he is very keen to meet you. He agrees that it would be helpful for us to meet you together, as you and I had already agreed to meet. In an earlier email to me you stated that we have a shared objective in making the child protection policy a model of excellence. [Mr P's] view is that combining our understanding in one meeting would best achieve that objective

[Mr P] will be writing to the Abbot to this effect.

Therefore I suggest that the meeting proceed as originally agreed, including you, Abbot Martin, a member of BSA and Mr Oliver, as previously proposed by you. I suggest that the meeting take place on the afternoon of Monday 19th December at the school.

In addition to [Mr P] and myself, it is our intention to bring [Mr. TP], who is a close colleague of [Mr P] on child protection matters, and also Mr Jeremy Harvey, former president of the OPA. Some of these people will be travelling a considerable distance to the meeting, and so I would appreciate it if arrangements could be made for us to park at the school.

Jonathan West
Cleugh was by now looking for any excuse not to meet me.
From: Chris Cleugh
Date: 8 December 2011 11:01
Subject: Meeting
To: Jonathan West

Dear Mr West

Thank you for your email of 4th December.

I regret we are unable to make the meeting on 19th December.

We remain committed to meeting with [Mr P] but this will likely now be in the New Year. As yet, Abbot Martin has not heard further from him, but if he does not, he will contact him in due course.

We request that your other colleagues and yourself present your thoughts about possible further improvement in our Safeguarding Policy in writing to [Mr P].  He can then present them to us at the meeting and  if  we require any clarification we will direct this through [Mr P].

Yours sincerely

Chris Cleugh

Chris Cleugh
St Benedict’s School
W5 2ES
I discussed this with with Mr. P, who had been carrying on his own correspondence with the Abbot. We agreed that since I had knowledge of what had happened at the school which he lacked, the greatest benefit in terms of improving the safeguarding policy (which Cleugh had claimed was his intention) would be for us to meet the school together, so the our combined knowledge could be brought to bear. He agreed to write to the Abbot to this effect. He did so, and received no reply. Eventually I wrote directly to the Abbot myself.
From: Jonathan West
Date: 18 March 2012 21:49
Subject: Safeguarding at St Benedict's School
To: Martin Shipperlee

Dear Abbot Martin,

Following publication of the Carlile report, I wrote to Mr Cleugh requesting a meeting to discuss further improvements to the school's safeguarding policy which I believe to be necessary if it is to be made fully effective and a model of good practice.

After initially agreeing to a meeting, he went back on his word, stating that he intended to meet with [Mr P] instead, since he is a barrister with experience in the field of child protection.

I have been in regular correspondence with [Mr P] for some significant time, and we have already discussed the St Benedict's safeguarding policy in considerable detail. It had been my intention to bring [Mr P] along to any meeting with the headmaster.

Mr Cleugh suggested that I should provide my input to [Mr P] and that [Mr P] should meet with him (and also with you) without me. I discussed this with [Mr P], and we formed the view that that we should attend a meeting together, since we each have knowledge of the situation the other lacks, and having our combined knowledge available at the meeting itself would best serve the obective of ensuring that the school's child protection policy is made as good as possible.

As I understand it he wrote to you to this effect, and proposed that there be two meetings, one attended by both [Mr P] and me where general issues could be addressed, and a further meeting with him alone where specific past cases could be reviewed under conditions of legal confidentiality to see whether they highlighted any remaining weaknesses in the policy which needed to be corrected.

[Mr P] advises me that he has not had the courtesy of a reply to his last letter to you. I am therefore renewing my request for a meeting with you, Mr Cleugh, the Designated Teacher for safeguarding, and any other designated trustee or member of the Board of Advisors who has a responsibility for safeguarding.

Allow me to repeat what I wrote to Mr Cleugh when I made my request. I have no wish to spend the rest of my life publicly criticising the safeguarding procedures of St Benedict's School. However, I shall continue to do so until such time as I am satisfied that the school's written policies are the model of excellence which the safety of the pupils deserves, and that the policies are diligently and effectively implemented. As soon as I am satisfied of that, I shall make an announcement to that effect on my blog and promptly cease to take an active interest in the affairs of the school. I am sure that this is a state of affairs you would welcome.

It is my intention in the near future to conduct another detailed analysis of the school's current child protection procedures, for instance describing the means by which it would be possible to comply with the policy and still avoid making a prompt report of all incidents or allegations of abuse to the Local Authority Designated Officer for Child Protection. This analysis will be published in parts on my blog.

If you wish to have a truly effective child protection policy and make all possible efforts to ensure the safety of the pupils of the school, then it seems to me that you should be willing to take advice from anybody with knowledge of and interest in the subject.

I must say that I believe Lord Carlile's report was a waste of a considerable sum of the school's money, since Lord Carlile made no recommendations concerning safeguarding which had not already been made already, either by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, the Charity Commission or by Mr Philip Wright when he conducted the earlier independent review. Lord Carlile's only new recommendation concerned governance. I have no objection to his proposed governance changes, but lay leadership of the board of governors is not a guarantee of good safeguarding practice, as can easily be shown by the number of independent non-religious schools which have had child abuse scandals, including as it happens Caldicott school, which was attended by [Mr P] in his childhood and from where two teachers will be standing trial later this year on child abuse charges.

Jonathan West
I have had no reply.

So the situation is that not only is the school not wishing to meet me, they appear to have decided that they won't meet with Mr. P either - a person whom they have in fact already previously invited in to the school as he is an acquaintance of a member of the Board of School Advisers.

Since neither Cleugh nor Shipperlee will meet me in order that we can go over the policy in private, I'm going to start all over again with the latest (February 2012) version of the policy, and analyse it paragraph by paragraph again in public. Since a change to the policy was made following my criticisms as published in The Tablet, clearly this approach does work, albeit very slowly. 

I shall continue to do so with each successive new version until I am satisfied that the policy is the model of good practice which Cleugh claims is his aim. It would be quicker for them to meet me and get it over with.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Julian Clary on St Benedict's

In an interview in the Times Magazine today (behind paywall), Julian Clary has spoken out about his time as a pupil at St Benedict's School.
Like the parents of so many comedians, his too are Catholic. They were delighted when young Julian won a scholarship to St Benedict’s – they wouldn’t have been able to afford it if he hadn’t. The burden of his good fortune weighed on him, however, when life at school began to take an unpleasant turn. “School was very, very tricky.” Years later, he told them what really went on, although the truth could not have escaped them for ever. In 2009, Father David Pearce, the school’s former head, was jailed for eight years for abusing five students. Then, last October, it emerged that the Vatican had ordered an inquiry into similar allegations involving other staff. Father Laurence Soper, the now 80-year-old former Abbot of Ealing Abbey, was arrested, but jumped bail. He is still being sought by police.

Julian Clary lives, he says, “in a village”, but even in his Lexus 4x4 with blacked-out windows it would take ten minutes to reach the nearest pub. Which is fine by him. “I’m not one for mixing and mingling,” he says in his tart, poised, quiet drawl, a soothing voice honed over many months as a young teenager in defiance of some of the monks at St Benedict’s, Ealing Abbey. They used to come after Clary and his best friend, Nick, with canes and miniature cricket bats. “Each one had his weapon of choice,” he says, with quiet disparagement.

His schooldays were horrible. How satisfying it must be to see one of the monks, David Pearce, getting his comeuppance for crimes committed at the school – very serious crimes, of child abuse. We will return to the monks and Clary’s wretched schooldays later. Suffice to say for now that Clary believes the high camp of his act and, more importantly, his urge to succeed, was a retaliation: “It’s my revenge on being bullied at school and on the monks and on that repressive situation [to become] the most outrageous, amusing character, that people actually like.”

“Even though I was only 12 and I was never molested, we knew something funny was going on. We knew there was something strange about this monk [Pearce]. He used to sort of waft around and had this grin on his face. And he was always hanging around outside the boys’ toilets. I’m fascinated that it went on for so long. And the damage that has been done to these boys who are now men is… unforgivable.”

One can imagine that his immunity to all this lay partly in his angry exhibitionism. Quentin Crisp inspired the teenage Julian and his friend Nick to camp up their voices. They became deliberately provocative, effeminate, homosexual; “mincing around. And I quite enjoyed that.” The monks did not, and often said so. Clary’s tutor would frequently take him to one side and utter the ominous phrase, “You bring it on yourself.” “But he would never say what ‘it’ was.” What does Clary think “it” was? With disdain, he replies: “The persecution.”
It is this kind of oppressive atmosphere which provides a cover for the crimes that Pearce and others committed.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

£50,000 settlement

A former pupil has reached a settlement with Ealing Abbey concerning abuses committed against him by Father David Pearce. The victim, whose identity is protected by court order, is one of the five whom Pearce admitted abusing when he pleaded guilty to 10 indecent assaults and 1 sexual assault in August 2009. The former pupil will receive £50,000 in compensation.

The website of Bolt Burdon Kemp has more details. The story has also been covered in The Times (behind paywall).

In my view it doesn't reflect well on Ealing Abbey that this former pupil has had to wait two and half years for compensation since Pearce pleaded guilty to the offences against him.

I've heard that there are still a considerable number of claims against Ealing Abbey still outstanding concerning sex abuses committed by Pearce and others.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Father David Pearce

Yes, at the time of writing he is still Father David Pearce. He's due out of prison fairly shortly, having served half of his five year sentence. If he hasn't been laicized by the time he leaves prison, the church will have a responsibility to house him, since he will still be a priest.

I asked Peter Turner whether Pearce had been laicized yet, and if not, whether he would be by the time he left prison. He has written the following in reply.
It is anticipated that by the time of his release from prison Fr David Pearce will be laicised.
Anticipated. Not certain. Especially as it is up to Rome, not the church in the UK. I have a sneaking suspicion that he will still be a priest on the day he comes out of prison. I'll keep you posted on anything I learn on the subject.

UPDATE 10 February
I have just received an email from Peter Turner in which he says "I can now confirm that the laicisation process regarding David Pearce is now completed."


Father Gregory Chillman

Time for a recap. Paragraphs 57 and 58 of the Carlile report stated the following.
57. There remained continuing concerns about what should happen to monks who had been convicted, banned (named in List 99) so that they should not work with children, or otherwise should not have any access to children in the school. This was a concern of mine from the earliest stages of my Inquiry. I have discussed the issue with the Abbot, who was alert to the inevitability of a change from previous practice. I recognise that the sense of responsibility felt by the Community for its Brothers, even those who have strayed and sinned heinously, is considerable.

58. I am pleased to say that the Abbot has accepted that another dwelling has to be found for any member of the monastic community falling within the categories described, and that none is at the Abbey now. This must continue as a permanent policy.
Simple enough. Monks on restricted ministry because of behaviour towards children can't stay at the Abbey.

It isn't just Carlile who made this point. it was previously made by the ISI in its April 2010 supplementary inspection report, and Carlile reported that the issue had attracted high-level interest in the DfE. This is paragraph 68 of the Carlile report.
68. 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).
One of the monks mentioned by Carlile as having substantiated allegations against him is Father Gregory Chillman. It indicates that the outcome of an allegation against him was "Deemed inappropriate behaviour, restrictions imposed." At the press conference for publication of the report, the BBC caused a great deal of confusion when they asked where Father Gregory Chillman was now living. It was subsequently clarified that he was away from the Abbey at the time.

Well, he wasn't away for all that long, just long enough for the dust to settle. He has continued to be listed on the abbey website among the monks resident at Ealing Abbey. I thought that might be an error, so I wrote to Peter Turner (the diocesan safeguarding adviser) and he replied as follows.
Fr Gregory Chillman is still residing in the Monastery under restrictions and is not allowed to partake in any public ministry.
So, despite the inspection report of the ISI, despite the recommendation of Lord Carlile, despite the assurances made to the Minister of State for Schools, despite the Abbot being "alert to the inevitability of a change from previous practice", despite Lord Carlile's belief stated in the report itself that "the practice no longer continues", Chillman remains at the abbey under restriction.

What on earth is going on there?

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Abuse must have no hiding place

The following is the text of an article I wrote that has been published in this week's edition of The Tablet.


One man's blog has highlighted complaints of abuse at St Benedict's School, Ealing, and what he believes are the monks' shortcomings in addressing them. But here the author of the blog identifies potential difficulties with protecting the vulnerable at all independent schools .

The abuse that happened at the schools run by the abbeys of Ealing, west London, and Downside in Somerset is unacceptable and the long coverup that occurred even more so. At Ealing, eight monks and teachers have had credible accusations of child abuse against them: one of these, Fr David Pearce, is in prison after abusing a pupil in 2007 and another - a former abbot, Fr Laurence Soper - has gone missing after failing to keep an appointment with police to discuss abuse allegations against him. At Downside, complaints against seven monks have been made public, among them Fr Richard White, a teacher who was jailed earlier this month for abusing two pupils in the 1980s.

To put it bluntly, successive abbots at both locations harboured criminals who they knew or should have known had committed sex crimes against the children in their care. It is a Catholic mess, and it is a Catholic responsibility to clear it up. It is urgent to learn the lessons of Ealing and Downside and apply those lessons to all Catholic schools.

Unfortunately, Lord Carlile’s report on how pupils of St Benedict's can be better protected in future is of little help. Apart from repeating recommendations already made by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) and a previous independent review, his only real proposal is for a change of governance so that the school is run by a separate trust with a larger board of trustees from a variety of backgrounds under a lay chairman.

At Ealing Abbey the senior monks are currently both trustees and beneficiaries of a charitable trust responsible for monastery, school and parish. The arrangements at Downside are similar. This is not a healthy state of affairs. Even with the best will in the world, the monks will tend to prioritise their own interests above those of the other beneficiaries.

Lord Carlile's proposal is a good idea on general principles, but it is not a magic bullet. It is not just schools run by monks or even just Catholic independent schools which can have trouble with sexual abuse. There have been cases of abuses covered up by independent secular schools as well.

Carlile assigned primary blame to the abusers themselves. This is true, but provides no guidance as to how to combat a career paedophile in an occupation where he gains trusted access to many potential victims. Outwardly, abusers cannot be distinguished from the many honest and hardworking priests, teachers and youth workers. It can take children a long time to report abuse, so by the time something is noticed there might already be a serious problem in the school.

At this point, school authorities (Catholic or otherwise) face a dilemma. Independent schools are, in effect, businesses. They compete with each other for pupils and the fee income they generate. An independent school's reputation is a key asset. The governors have arguably conflicting duties to protect the children and to maintain the reputation of the school.

It's easy for management to believe that these conflicting duties can be reconciled. This is where things can go horribly wrong. Management might delude itself into thinking that an allegation is mistaken, malicious or trivial, or assume that a member of staff has been so frightened by an allegation that he won't abuse again, and so decide that the children can be protected without reporting the incident to the authorities. Once one incident has been covered up, management is compromised and it's hard not to do the same next time, lest the previous bad decision also come to light. The cumulative effect of this can be decades of unhindered abuse.

Schools must prioritise child protection, and so must without exception make a commitment to report promptly in writing every allegation and incident of abuse to the Local Authority Designated Officer for Child Protection (LADO).

There is a major gap in the SI Benedict's policy which Lord Carlile apparently hasn't noticed. Paragraph 30(c) requires that the school "satisfy the wishes of the complainant's parents". This is dangerous because the wishes of the parents can be manipulated. It would be easy for a head teacher to say, ''Your child has had a bad experience. We don't want to make it worse by having lots of strangers ask him questions about it.” How many parents in such difficult circumstances would have the knowledge and force of personality to insist that the authorities be contacted against the recommendation of the head teacher?

The Downside policy also has a serious weakness. It promises (with exceptions) only to "consult" the LADO, not to report all allegations in writing.

It is vitally important that it be made unthinkable to hide abuse. A commitment to report all allegations was recommended in the 2001 Nolan report. It is hugely disappointing that two schools at the centre of sex-abuse scandals seem still not to have got this basic point right.

Parents should review the safeguarding policies of their children's schools. If there is no commitment on reporting, or if it looks like the school has given itself wriggle-room by allowing exceptions, or the policy is just hard to follow, then the school needs to make improvements.

It would be wrong to assume that Ofsted or ISI have checked a school's policy. ISI inspected St Benedict's in November 2009 (a month after Fr David Pearce was sentenced) and found nothing wrong, even though the policy did not meet regulations. In any case, they can only insist that the school meets statutory requirements, and unbelievably there isn't a statutory requirement on schools to report allegations or even a known crime of child abuse to the LADO.

A strong safeguarding policy deters abusers. By contrast, a weak policy which avoids committing to immediate reporting is an open invitation to abusers to try their luck. Once one abuser has been protected, others will know they also can operate with impunity.

This isn't just about the monks of Ealing and Downside. In my view, separating the governance of either school from its abbey won't magically remove the temptation to cover up abuse. What happened there might happen anywhere. It is up to us all to make sure it doesn't by checking the safeguarding policies of their local school and parishes. Safeguarding is everybody's business.

• Jonathan West is the parent of a former pupil at St Benedict's School and the author of a blog, Confessions of a Skeptic.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Reporting is important

In The Times today
A paedophile primary school teacher was able to abuse children as young as six for years because his head teacher ignored concerns raised by colleagues.

Nigel Leat, who was jailed indefinitely last year, sexually abused dozens of pupils over a period of 15 years at the small village school near Weston-super-Mare in Somerset.
And how was he able to get away with it for so long? It is explained later in the article.
Before he was sentenced at Bristol Crown Court in June, detectives from Avon and Somerset Constabulary described Leat as “manipulative” and said he had been able to dupe colleagues who had no suspicion of what was going on. But yesterday an independent serious case review commissioned by the local education authority revealed that, far from being unaware, staff had repeatedly raised concerns with the head teacher but the warnings were ignored.

A total of 30 “inappropriate” incidents were witnessed by staff. Of these, 11 were officially reported to Chris Hood, the head teacher, but not one was passed on to the board of governors or the local education authority.

Tony Oliver, chair of the North Somerset Safeguarding Children Board, said there had been a “gross failure of responsibility” at the school. Mr Hood was suspended then sacked after Leat’s abuse came to light.

Mr Oliver said: “The fact that these incidents were reported within the school and not acted upon is incredible. It was grossly negligent that those incidents were not reported to the local authority. There was an endemic culture of neglect.”
This is why I keep going on here about how important it is that all allegations of abuse are immediately reported in writing to the Local Authority Designated Officer for Child protection (LADO).

Three Ofsted reports compiled during Leat’s time at the school raised no concerns and rated it as “good” and “academically successful”.
Three consecutive OFSTED reports didn't notice that the school's safeguarding arrangements simply weren't working. Parents, you are on your own. if you don't check the safeguarding policies of your children's schools, then nobody will.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Father Raphael Appleby

This week's Tablet contains an article about how Abbot Aidan Bellenger dealt with the allegations of abuse of a vulnerable adult by Father Raphael Appleby. This is Bellenger's description of the matter.
I did not think that before 2010 there was a safeguarding issue, I regarded it as a pastoral issue. Now I think that was possibly not the correct judgement. I didn’t speak to the safeguarding people until 2010. If that was an error, I just don’t know. I accepted [the complainant’s] word, but Fr Raphael was a person whom many people idolised. He is not in denial of a relationship, but denies it was abusive.
In one short paragraph, this perfectly encapsulates why it is vital that all allegations should promptly be reported to the authorities. The Abbot has fallen into the classic trap of assuming that Fr Raphael was such a good person that he would never to anything like that. Fr Raphael after all was a senior monk and former headmaster of Downside School, and was "a person whom many people idolised".

And of course Fr Raphael would deny that he was an abuser. That is what abusers do, partly simply because they don't want to get caught, but also because they convince themselves that what they do is not abusive.

The Tablet's report goes on to say.
The victim maintains that from the first meeting with Abbot Aidan, a complaint of abuse was made against Fr Raphael. The victim also says that in 2009 a letter giving full details of the abuse was sent to the abbot. Abbot Aidan made no comment on reports that correspondence on the abuse was missing from Fr Raphael’s personal file when police officers from the Avon and Somerset force came to investigate the person’s claim. A force spokesman said they had to obtain duplicates from the victim.
Ah, the missing records malady! Ealing sneezes and Downside catches the cold. This unfortunately is by far from being the first I have heard about inconvenient records going astray. At the start of the Carlile inquiry, I learned that St. Benedict's School had no records of John' Maestri's employment. And during the trial of Stephen Skelton last autumn, it turned out that the school had kept no records of him either.

There are seven monks now know to have acted criminally or improperly. Two convicted, two cautioned, one given a police warning and two placed on restricted ministry because they are thought to pose a risk to children. Just imagine the strain it has been on successive abbots trying to keep all that quiet all these years.

And that is just the monks. At Ealing, only one monk has been convicted but also two lay teachers.As far as I know, there has been nothing looked into with regard to lay teachers at Downside. The abbot has passed over the records of the monks to the police and diocesan authorities, but not so far as I know those of the lay teachers. I wonder what nasties there might still be waiting to crawl out from under that particular rock.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Brother Anselm

The Times has more on Michael Hurt, also known as Brother Anselm.
He taught at Downside during the 1960s but left the order because of “conflict” and worked in adult education in Liverpool before moving to Ireland. In 1996 he rejoined the Benedictines and was accepted at Glenstal as a novice.

He was cautioned by officers from Avon & Somerset Constabulary during an 18-month investigation into Downside. While a police caution does not amount to a conviction, by accepting it, a person acknowledges the offence.

Brother Martin Browne of Glenstal Abbey said: “The allegation for which Br Anselm was cautioned by UK police dates back more than forty years. It is a matter of public record (from many media appearances over the years) that Br Anselm left Downside Abbey in 1970, and was laicised. Many years later, having settled in Ireland, he began monastic life again, entering Glenstal as a novice in 1996.

It is understood that Hurt gave up his role in a chess club for young people after accepting the caution. Fr Bellenger did not name Hurt in his weekend letter to past pupils but referred to “a monk who left this country many years ago” receiving “a formal police caution for the abuse of a pupil during his time at Downside in the 1960s”.

Brother Anselm ran the Glenstal kitchens, feeding 40 monks and their guests with such panache that he published Brother Anselm’s Glenstal Cookbook to acclaim in 2009. The 65 recipes cover traditional dishes such as kedgeree, treacle tart and curries, with illustrations of monks at work and rest.

Brother Anselm and [his brother] John Hurt, star of the Elephant Man and the Harry Potter films, attracted a huge audience when they appeared together as guests on Irish television’s Late Late Show. British TV viewers saw them together on Who Do You Think You Are? when the pair, sons of an Anglican clergyman, investigated their possible Irish roots.
So, let me see if I understand this.

Michael Hurt rejoined the Benedictines in 1996, at Glenstal Abbey. Downside either wasn't asked about or didn't disclose his past abuses, and neither did Hurt himself.

Glenstal Abbey has a school attached. Until the police came calling Hurt had access to children. There was lots of publicity about Hurt's presence at Glenstal and still Downside kept schtumm, and didn't even slip a quiet warning to Glenstal about Hurt's past and suggest that he might be best kept away from children.

It seems to me that Downside has been wholly concerned about its own reputation, and wasn't even prepared to mention a problem to fellow-Benedictines.

I'm not sure what is the word to describe such behaviour, but I don't think "Christian" comes anywhere near it.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The second cautioned monk

Abbot Aidan Bellenger only named one of the two monks who has recently been given a caution. The other who has gone to live in Ireland, was left unnamed. The Belfast Telegraph has named him. He is Richard Hurt, also known as Brother Anselm.

He is presently living at Glenstal Abbey in Co Limerick, a Benedictine monastery in the Republic of Ireland. The Abbey has a school attached. It appears they did not know of his past, and Downside did not tell them.
The current headmaster at Glenstal, Brother Martin Browne, said last night that Glenstal operated totally independently of Downside and had not become aware until last February that an allegation had been made against Brother Anselm.

He pointed out that Brother Anselm had no teaching role there and that his only contact with pupils had been through a chess club. That contact was immediately terminated when Glenstal became aware of the allegation, he added.

Baroness Scotland quits the NCSC

The Times reported on Saturday that Baroness Scotland has resigned from her role as chair of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission. The Times says

Lady Scotland’s office at the House of Lords issued a statement saying: “Increasing pressures in other areas of her work have resulted in this decision. The baroness is encouraged by the continuing commitment of the Catholic Church and the members of the commission in their work to improve the safeguarding of children and adults at risk, and also the work with survivor organisations. She wishes the new chair every success.”
Given the recent scandals at Ealing and Downside, I can't help wondering whether this is merely a convenient pretext, and that the real reason is that she is fed up with the way that the Catholic Church is all talk and no action when it comes to safeguarding.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Truths and half-truths - the abbot's letter analysed.

Let's start at the beginning of the Abbot's letter. 
We have received our Ofsted progress report, which is on our website and which is attached to this letter. It is very short and I hope you will read it in its entirety. It concludes that ‘robust risk-assessments are in place to ensure the safety of pupils from adults who should not have unsupervised access to children’, and highlights improved security, a greater culture of awareness among staff of safeguarding through extensive training and found, overall, that Downside meets all the required standards of safeguarding."
Lots of issues here. The first thing is that the Abbot is being a trifle economical with the truth. He's not actually lying, but he is giving a misleading impression.

The inspection arrangements for Downside are a little bit peculiar, because it is both a member of the Independent Schools Council and a boarding school. So OFSTED is responsible for inspecting welfare and safeguarding aspects of the boarding school provision, while the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) is responsible for inspecting educational matters across the whole school, and safeguarding and welfare matters as they apply to the day pupils.

OFSTED and ISI normally arrange for a joint inspection visit, and then they each issue their own reports for their own areas of responsibility. There was a routine joint inspection of the school in December 2010. The OSTED report can be found here, and the ISI report is here. The ISI report is prefaced by the report of a further follow-up inspection in June 2011. OFSTED has not produced a report of the follow-up inspection. All three reports are unremittingly awful concerning safeguarding, detailing multiple and serious failures to meet statutory requirements

There was a further joint follow-up inspection at the end of November 2011, and OFSTED has just produced its report of it. This is the report the Abbot has included in his email and posted on the school website. The report concludes that "The school has made good progress and now meets all the national minimum standards for boarding schools."

Having met national minimum standards following a year of effort after shortcomings were first uncovered is hardly something to crow about. Furthermore, only the OFSTED report of the latest follow-up inspection has been published. We are still awaiting the ISI report. We might be waiting a while yet. The Times said yesterday that the DfE is taking an urgent interest in the school. According to the Times:
Inspection reports on Downside, which is run by the Benedictine order and charges boarders fees of £26,000 per year, refer specifically to seven monks who have worked at the school at different times and whose behaviour has been “a cause for concern”.

The figure includes two former employees who despite worries about their past conduct, continued to live in Downside Abbey which shares the school grounds. The practice of allowing senior school pupils to have overnight stays in the abbey recently ended because of child protection concerns.

It is thought to be the presence of the former employees, in apparent breach of child protection policies, that has alarmed the DfE. Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, previously expressed concern over the handling of a similar situation at St Benedict’s School in Ealing, West London, which has also been at the centre of an abuse scandal.
(As it happens, it is probably six monks and a layman, but that is a relatively minor detail.)

It is four years since Father David Pearce was arrested at Ealing Abbey having committed a sexual assault on a pupil while living at Ealing Abbey on restricted ministry. It was reported on BBC Points West earlier this week that two monks are still living at Downside Abbey on restricted ministry. When the OFSTED report says that "robust risk-assessments are in place to ensure the safety of pupils from adults who should not have unsupervised access to children" it appears to mean these two monks. I suspect that the DfE had a fit when they found out about the monks still there on restricted ministry, and that somebody in OFSTED is going deeply to regret putting that phrase in a report which states that the school has met national minimum requirements.
Media interest has greatly increased since the conviction and subsequent sentencing of Richard White (known at Downside as Fr Nicholas White) last week for child abuse committed when he was working at the school in the late 1980s. This raises questions about what was done during the period between the abuse and Fr Nicholas’s eventual conviction. He received counselling and therapy and conformed entirely with all the restrictions that were imposed on him. However, the standards of supervision and communication with the relevant outside agencies have changed over the years and his case would not be handled in the same way today as it was in the past.
Abbot Martin Shipperlee thought that Father David Pearce had "conformed entirely with all the restrictions that were imposed on him" until the day the police came along and arrested Pearce for abusing somebody while on restrictions. Abbot Aidan has left something of a hostage to fortune here, if it subsequently turns out that White was able to gain access to pupils, for instance during their overnight retreats in the monastery. The ISI and OFSTED reports show that Abbot Aidan is in no position to know whether White was obeying his restrictions and in no position to claim credit for it if he was, because the monitoring of him was chaotic bordering on nonexistent.

And that last quoted sentence is really quite nauseating. He is saying in effect that back in the 1980s, it was considered normal and acceptable for the Abbey to harbour a criminal who had committed a sex crime against one of the children in the Abbey's care, and to allow that criminal to continue teaching in the school. Ponder that.
There is a piece in today’s Times, on which we were not asked to comment, which takes no account of the recent positive Ofsted report. I am writing to The Times to correct the misleading impressions given in the article. 
In saying that they were not asked to comment on the Times article, he is implying that The Times is behaving unjustly/unprofessionally or is guilty of biased reporting. This is guff. Today's story is not about Downside, it is about the activities of the DfE and the Charity Commission, so there would have been no reason to contact the school. The Abbot knows this perfectly well.

As part of our response to safeguarding concerns, I made all the monks’ records, stretching back for half a century, available to the police and the diocesan safeguarding office in 2010 as part of a wider review of historic cases and to help ensure that nothing remained unknown and undealt with.
At Ealing Abbey, one monk has been convicted and two lay teachers. Child sex abuse is not the sole preserve of monks. Moreover, child sex abuse committed by lay teachers is just as devastating to the victims. Ealing Abbey has been found to have destroyed the employment records of teachers who departed because of complaints of child abuse, specifically the records of John Maestri and Stephen Skelton. If Abbot Aidan has only made available the records of the monks, he has a lot more records that still need to be looked through, if of course Downside hasn't followed the example of Ealing Abbey and destroyed the more inconvenient pieces of paper.

Two other monks have been subject to investigation and, whilst the allegations against them, dating from the early 1990s, were founded, no prosecutions were brought. Both have had restrictions imposed on their ministry in order to protect children and are living in the monastery under supervision approved by the outside agencies. This situation is kept under constant review.
This is confirmation of the statement in the BBC Points West bulletin from earlier this week. We have two monks (unnamed), both with credible allegations against them concerning child abuse, who have been living in the monastery under restriction for the past 20 years. And in that time, successive Abbots have known this, and until they were stopped by the ISI they continued a policy of inviting pupils into the monastery for overnight retreats, even after they heard the news of Father David Pearce's arrest at Ealing. Reckless doesn't even begin to describe it.

We are truly sorry that children and young people have been abused by those whom they should have been able to trust. We are committed to doing everything possible to ensure that such things do not happen again.
This commitment seems to be a very recent one. The section of the June 2011 ISI report titled "Safeguarding matters generally (raising concern)" starts by saying:

The school is aware that its procedures and practices have not been, and are still not, up to the standard required in all respects, despite the steps taken since the inspection and the safeguarding audit.  Given that 6 months have passed since the inspection, the expected sense of urgency was not particularly apparent, and such progress that has been made has generally been slow and, in some cases, still not compliant.

The summary of the report emphasises this by saying

... overall progress to implement the steps outlined by the school in its action plan have generally been slow at best and, in some areas, it is hard to identify specific improvements that have been achieved in six months.

The situation is very simple. He's been found out, and eventually was presented with an ultimatum. He had to promise that it won't ever happen again and get moving on the necessary changes in procedure, or probably have the DfE insist that the school be closed. They have that power, though they haven't ever used it. He's chosen under duress to make the promise.

But changing the culture and attitudes of an organisation is much harder than writing down a few new procedures. The Summary section of the ISI follow-up report mentions that "Certainly the Head is keen to get things right and achieve full regulatory compliance", but most conspicuously it does not say the same of the Abbot.

If the school is to become and remain safe for current and future generations of pupils, more than a few changes to written procedures will be needed. A whole new attitude and culture will need to be fostered, so that the very idea of hiding abuses and abusers in future becomes unthinkable.

Given what Abbot Aidan Bellenger has written, I have to question whether he has the will and determination to lead the Abbey and the school into this new era, or whether once the journalists have lost interest, the school will gradually slip back into its old ways and endanger the pupils all over again. If he lacks the will to make the necessary changes in attitudes, in himself as well as others, then in the interest of the Abbey, the school and most particularly the pupils, he should stand aside and allow the task to be taken up by somebody who does have that will.

It is up to everybody - monks, staff, parents, pupils and OGs, to work together to see that attitudes change at Downside. Safeguarding is everybody's business.