The letter that follows is about historic safeguarding issues and the present condition of Downside School.
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. We can be confident that the children with us are safe and able to flourish. We have the right structures in place, but we have to remain constantly vigilant and I recognise that you will help us to do that.
We are also in contact with the Charity Commission, who are advising us on our governance structures. Writing of St Benedict’s, Ealing, Lord Carlile has concluded in his report that a ‘more modern form of governance would have rendered it more likely that abuse would have been suspected, detected, rejected and the future secured.’ I want to thank our Governors for what they have done; we owe them an immeasurable debt. We are continuing to develop our governance structures and bringing in new governors to ensure that we are fully accountable to the world outside the monastery and school and that there is no room for accusations of cover-ups.
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.
You may have read the articles in The Times on Monday January 9 or in the Daily Telegraph on January 11. Local families may have seen the Points West interview with one of Fr Nicholas’s victims. 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. There is an article in the Tablet and in the next issue of the Sunday Times on the Catholic Church and safeguarding in a more general context, though we have not been approached directly by the Sunday Times. In these circumstances it is very important that you should feel that Downside is keeping you properly informed.
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.
Those investigations are now complete and this letter is to inform the whole Gregorian family of the outcomes. It is not appropriate to name the parties in all cases because that information is not in the public domain and naming them could lead to the identification of victims. However, in a spirit of openness and transparency it is important that what has been investigated is not hidden.
Fr Raphael Appleby has accepted a caution for abuse of a vulnerable person, not a pupil in the school, over a long period in the 1980s. He has expressed profound sorrow for what he has done and has left the Abbey. He will not return.
Father Antony Sutch was subject to a police investigation that concluded without any action being taken. He was subject to an independent investigation and risk assessment which gave no reason why he should not return to ministry from his voluntary suspension.
A monk who left this country many years ago received a formal police caution for the abuse of a pupil during his time at Downside in the 1960s.
Another monk was issued with a police warning. This case does not involve a vulnerable adult or a pupil in the school.
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.
Although not mentioned in recent media reports, there was also the case of Fr Dunstan O’Keeffe who was convicted of possessing indecent images and was subsequently imprisoned and who is no longer a priest or a monk.
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.
Downside Abbey and School have changed from a policy of dealing with safeguarding in house and now have the Clifton Diocese safeguarding office co-ordinating all matters. Any allegations that might arise now will, without exception, be referred to the diocesan safeguarding officers, the LADO (Local Authority Designated Officer for allegations) and to the statutory authorities in line with national safeguarding procedures. Through this approach, along with the major restructuring of school governance, safeguarding decisions will always be made independently of the monastic community.
We must never underestimate the great damage suffered by the victims of abuse. Their bravery in telling their stories has resulted in radical changes in the way safeguarding is approached. Victims of abuse are in our prayers and the sadness we feel for what they have suffered will be with us always.
These unhappy events inevitably cast a long shadow, but your chief concern will of course be the welfare, security and happiness of children currently at Downside. Many steps have been taken to ensure that the Downside portrayed in some parts of the media is a thing of the past.
By any measure it is now a safe, happy and thriving school whose many recent achievements will be built on in 2012 and beyond.
Dom Aidan Bellenger
Abbot of Downside
Saturday, 14 January 2012
Today, the Abbot of Downside sent the following email to the Old Gregorians mailing list. I'm going to reproduce it in full and then comment on it in my next article, so that nobody can claim that I'm quoting him out of context.