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.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.
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.
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.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.
Roth was immediately suspended and then arrested.
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.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.
"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."
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 www.wellingtoncollege.org.uk 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 ProtectionThe 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.
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.
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.