Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Abbot of Downside explains

... or does he?

The following email has been sent out to the Old Gregorians mailing list, and has been forwarded to me.
On Tuesday 3rd January 2012 Richard White, known at Downside as Father Nicholas White, a House Master and teacher in the School was sentenced to five years imprisonment for the abuse of children at Downside School. The Media have already made this public. This letter is to inform the whole Gregorian Family about this sad episode. Father Nicholas showed a fundamental betrayal of trust and, on behalf of the whole community, I apologise without reservation for what he has done. We are conscious that the care of children is our paramount concern as educators and we are truly sorry that any child should have been abused here while under our care. We must not underestimate the great damage such abuse can inflict on people and we will do everything possible to ensure that it does not happen again in the future.

The offences for which Richard Nicholas White has been convicted occurred over twenty years ago, when safeguarding procedures were clearly not adequate, something that is a matter of great regret to all of us now associated with Downside.  The School has since fundamentally reviewed the way it approaches safeguarding issues, and continues to reform in order to provide the safest possible environment for those in its care.  This will include a major re-structuring of Governance over the next year.

In 2010 the police and the safeguarding office of the Clifton Diocese, with the full co-operation of the Abbey, undertook a detailed review of historic cases that involved safeguarding concerns. It was after this re-opening of his case that Fr Nicholas was brought to court.

Before that, Richard Nicholas White had been through therapy and a risk assessment and had lived under restrictions. After Abbot Aidan Bellenger's election as Abbot in 2006, Richard Nicholas White continued to live under the same restrictions as during Abbot Richard Yeo's period of office (1998-2006), and remained withdrawn from public ministry and any direct contact with children.

I wish you all a Happy New Year.

Apud bonos iura pietatis
Aidan Bellenger
Let's take the key points one at a time.

"Father Nicholas showed a fundamental betrayal of trust and, on behalf of the whole community, I apologise without reservation for what he has done."

Two points here. First, it is very convenient to put the blame onto Fr Nicholas, but it won't wash. The offences to which he pleaded guilty occurred after it was already known to the abbot of the time that he had already abused another boy. Despite this, he was not removed from contact from children, and the police were not informed. This abuse should never have happened. Even if the formal policies were inadequate, any person with the slightest concern for child safety must surely have realised leaving a known abuser in a position supervising children is wrong. It is so obvious, it shouldn't even need to be said.

It is also not Fr Aidan's job to apologise for what Fr Nicholas has done, only Fr Nicholas can do that. What the Abbot should be doing is apologising for what he himself has done or failed to do, or what the monastic community as a whole (including his predecessors as Abbot) have done or failed to do.

"We are conscious that the care of children is our paramount concern as educators and we are truly sorry that any child should have been abused here while under our care." 

"Should have been abused"? Rather odd form of words here. It seems as if he is trying to shrink from the fact that at least two boys were abused at the school. If it turns out to have been only two, I'll be astonished. If Ealing Abbey is anything to go by, once the first one or two victims come forward, others will gather the courage to do the same. I suspect that this story will run and run.

"We must not underestimate the great damage such abuse can inflict on people and we will do everything possible to ensure that it does not happen again in the future."

That's a promise that the parents have a right to hold him to. I've taken a look today at the school's child protection policy. It has clearly been updated recently (August 2011), no doubt as a result of official scrutiny, both because of Downside's association with Ealing Abbey and St Benedict's and also because of the police investigation at Downside itself. I have to say that on first reading it seems to be considerably better than the travesty of a policy still being operated by St Benedict's School (how Lord Carlile ever thought the St Benedict's policy was as good as any in the country is still a mystery to me), but it is still short of best practice.

One absolutely key element of best practice is that all allegations of abuse of children by staff or volunteers, must without exception be reported promptly to the LADO. Whenever I look over a school's safeguarding policy, this is always the very first thing I look out for. The Downside policy requires that the school "consult" with the LADO rather than "report". At least it seems to be without the glaring exceptions present in the St Benedict's policy, but there is a distinction to be made between reporting and consulting, and Downside has come down the wrong side of that line.

"The offences for which Richard Nicholas White has been convicted occurred over twenty years ago, when safeguarding procedures were clearly not adequate, something that is a matter of great regret to all of us now associated with Downside."  

The problem is that it seems that Fr Nicholas remained a monk at Downside (though he visited other monasteries for a time as well) until he was arrested. His offences were known to the Abbot of the time, and to all his successors, including Aidan Bellenger himself, and none of them thought it appropriate to report the matter to the police, social services or the LADO.

So an obvious question is to ask whether Fr Aidan is aware of alleged abuses committed by any other Downside monks, either past or present, which have not previously been reported to the police or social services. If he does know of any others, then since he has promised to "do everything possible to ensure that it does not happen again in the future" he must immediately contact the police in order to fulfil that promise.

The other point is that by emphasising how long ago the offences occurred he is making himself a hostage to fortune. He's implying that things are different now, and that this sort of thing won't have happened more recently. We shall see.

I would be more convinced by that assurance if I knew that the school had called in outside experts (such as the NSPCC or the Lucy Faithfull Foundation) to review the school's policies and provide additional child protection training to staff. Once a school gets into the habit of turning a blind eye to abuse, it is desperately difficult to change the culture into one of awareness, vigilance and automatic reporting. Just changing the written procedures isn't enough, they have to be zealously implemented.

The school had an inspection from the ISI in December 2010, an inspection of boarding provision from OFSTED at the same time, and a follow-up inspection from ISI to review progress in June 2011. In all three inspections safeguarding was rated inadequate and not meeting statutory requirements. Some of the criticisms are very severe and the shortcomings described extremely basic. So the issue of inadequate safeguarding is not a matter of an historical mistake long since corrected, it is a matter of shortcomings which extend to the present or at least the very recent past.

"In 2010 the police and the safeguarding office of the Clifton Diocese, with the full co-operation of the Abbey, undertook a detailed review of historic cases that involved safeguarding concerns."

It's not really enough that the abbey co-operated with a review of historic cases conducted by somebody else. There ought not to have been anything that needed to be reviewed - the case of Fr Nicholas was known to Fr Aidan, and he did nothing to report it until the police happened across the file when looking into another case.

After Abbot Aidan Bellengers election as Abbot in 2006, Richard Nicholas White continued to live under the same restrictions as during Abbot Richard Yeos period of office (1998-2006), and remained withdrawn from public ministry and any direct contact with children.

In January 2008, Father David Pearce was arrested, having abused while already under restricted ministry at Ealing Abbey. The descriptions of the abuses and grooming techniques are really very similar. The Charity Commission, the Independent Schools Inspectorate, the Schools Minister and Lord Carlile have all severely criticised this policy. And yet, it appears that when Fr David's abuses came to light, a fact which must surely have come to the attention of Fr Aidan, he continued with the policy which had so disastrously failed at Ealing. This must change - there must be a policy henceforth that any monk under restrictions because he is considered a risk to children must not live at the Abbey. As far as I can see, there is no such commitment in the Downside Child Protection Policy.

When Fr Nicholas stopped teaching at the school, the school had a statutory duty to return a Notification to the Teacher Misconduct Section of the Department for Education (or whatever it was called then) outlining the nature of the abuses he had committed.

Also, perhaps inadvertently, Aidan Bellenger has rather dumped is predecessor in it with the statement about restricted ministry. Because it is clear that it was Abbot Richard Yeo who set up the restricted ministry, and by the time Yeo was appointed to the Apostolic Visitation to Ealing, he will have known that one of the major criticisms of Abbot Martin Shipperlee was the fact that precisely the same policy failed at Ealing with respect to Father David Pearce. Knowing that he had operated the same policy at Downside, Yeo should have recused himself from the Visitation at the very start. It shouldn't have taken pressure from Lord Carlile to get him to offer to resign.

This letter from Abbot Aidan Bellenger shows every sign of being from somebody still in deep denial about the scale of abuse at the school he runs. There is every reason to believe that more bad news from and about Downside has yet to appear.

13 comments:

  1. margaret laughton8 January 2012 at 09:40

    The Abbot wrote in his letter that "Father Nicholas showed a fundamental betrayal of trust". To me a more accurate description is that Fr Nicholas showed fundemental lust and self- interest and satisfied these by getting himself a job where he had access to young boys so he could then, with calcuated and deliberate actions, repeatedly abuse these children.

    Instead of the "apology" the Abbot should add that the then Abbot and many, if not all, of the other monks knew of Fr Nicholas' paedophillia and rather than being honest and lawful by reporting him , protected him and, initially at least, did not even protect the children in his care.

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  2. I hear the Benedictine's are authoring a series of books on child protection.

    I understand working titles include:

    • Benedictine Safeguarding Policies
    (Blank paper)

    and;

    Safeguarding for Idiots
    (A credible policy)

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  3. I was at said school at the time of Dom Nicholas' exposure, I remember it well and it was very swiftly swept under the carpet. Incredible it took twenty years for life to catch up with him.

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  4. 20:52
    Please email me privately and in confidence at jonathanwest22@googlemail.com. I would be very interested to know more details.

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  5. 20.52 - Concealment of such matters was and remains, the default of very many private schools.

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  6. Abbot Bellender s use of the word 'SHOULD' hmmmmm surely 'should' means something that 'has to be done' . The way I read english he is really saying "of course this was always going to happen, thats what happens here."
    In other words if boys are here they have to be raped, (I'm sure were they not it really would be an out rage)
    Bellender should hold up his hands, or is he afraid of us all seeing the hairs on his palms. I appocolize for my not very brill I aint ing lish but I was rather distracted from my hugely overpriced education by a load of filthy perverted old queens who liked screwing peoples lives up for entertainment. Tank boy.

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  7. Mr. West,

    I have had a brief read of the Downside 2011 ISI report which you have linked to here and your summary of this report and the others seems to be accurate. There are clearly some very serious shortcomings in the safeguarding procedures at Downside. However, I would invite you to contrast this report with the St. Bens follow-up report by the same inspectorate, which is not as critical of the current situation and indeed indicates that St. Benedict's is complying with regulatory standards. So, why are you focusing your attentions on St. Benedict's and not on Downside.

    You also state that you consider the Safeguarding Policy at Downside to be better than that in place at St. Benedict's despite the fact that Downside has failed to meet statutory requirements on its Safeguarding procedures when St. Benedict's has. To me, quite clearly, the situation at Downside is currently worse that at Ealing, do you not agree? Yet you say Downside has a better Safeguarding Policy in place!!! This does highlight the fallacy of your fixation on words rather than the process which is actually in place. I do however, note that Downside appears to be taking the correct actions to rectify these failings.

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  8. i was at downside in the mid eighties and had fr.nick as my house master at junior house, he was bloody disgrace then, beatings,mis treatment and perverse nature / night time and middle of the day made no differance to him. he had me expelled from the school when he told philip jebb, " either he leaves or i do ", jebb folded and bowed to his pressure , even though fr alex had spoken in my defence against nicholas, and i was asked to leave that mid day and saw no one again for almost 20 years.
    when now i read of the cover ups i now know that his silence has allowed some poor bastards to be abused by nicholas and others.... i pray that they come forward as yet again the monks do not appear fully accountable..and we should speak up to seperate the good ones from the bad here.. after all that had happened in this vein at buckfast abbey(again a community that "protected itself",where 3 monks are serving time and others questioned, of which i was present for 5 years )i find it remarkable that action was not taken early with nicholas when the devon and cornwall police contacted over 600 boys from that prep school ,and fr.nick was mentioned to them by myself and apparently other boys who tried to enlighten them to the benedictine structure.again no action was taken against him?
    miraculously i was never abused throughout the decade i was at 3 monastic schools that all have numerous cases bought against them , but i would love to know the whereabouts of the "cautioned" monks that have been tucked away. we must all speak up over this .

    toby powell

    buckfast abbey 1980>85
    downside abbey 1985>89
    douai abbey 1989>90

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  9. a disgrace that monks are still unaccountable , the police should interview each and everyone of them...

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  10. 09:48 - you need to read the current policies of both settings. Had you done so you would appreciate the nonsense you have authored.

    Your agenda appears not to include the safeguarding and welfare of children.

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  11. Just seeing this particular thread. I remember Fr Nicholas in the mid 80's. He was my Housemaster for a while in the 3rd form, Before I moved to Ramsay house in my 2nd term of third form with Emmet Breen, Ben Ramsay and Simon Leeder. Fr Nick is definitely perverted and also a sadist. He had it coming to him, Just a pity it took so long. But I also remember Fr Alex George (Ramsay House Housemaster) as a great guy full of life and christian values. i also remember Fr Aidan taught me RS then, He's just a regular guy to me, unlike Fr Nick, a freaking sadistic man and unrepentant pedophile.

    Pete Olusa Downside sch 86-89

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  12. I was at downside during Father Nicholas's reign as junior housemaster. He always had this look in his eye when he beat you, you could tell that he enjoyed administering the beatings which were common place at boarding schools around that time. At my previous boarding school the cricket bat was used on the naughtiest boys thankfully not me!!
    The most apparent part of the whole sordid affair was I know he would never have tried to abuse me or my fellow housemates because we would have either punched him back or reported it to the relevant authorities. As with all cowards it was the younger boys he targeted and he tempted them with "I will give you 50p if you sit on my knee"!!!

    I conclude by saying it was refreshing to see how this had affected him when he was convicted. I didn't even recognize his pic in the paper he was a shadow of his former self and this was sweet to see. His eyes that used to twinkle when he beat you had been extinguished and you could see the horror and gaunt look in his face, ha!!

    As always we have our own type of retribution on earth but I would love to see the look on his face when he comes face to face with his maker!! Then true justice will prevail.........

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  13. Interesting posts.

    I was in Junior House at Downside the year that the abuses took place. They shit canned Fr Nick overnight. One evening he was holding prayers, while we 13-year-olds made a display of covering our genitals with both hands (news of his abuses spread like wildfire, and we no longer cowered at the sight of him because we all knew he was in the shit) and the next morning he was gone. Good, no more leering at us in the showers, or insisting that we dry ourselves in front of him while he watched.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the other comments that castigate Bellenger and, later, Yeo. For a bunch of guys entrusted with the care of children, and whose Christian values should have dictated that children come first, sending old Nick on the bus to Suffolk (where there are also lots of children, apparently) smelled to us all more like self-preservation.

    When I read Bellenger's letter - the one he wrote because he had to, not because he chose to - it made me nauseous.

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