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.