Friday, 20 December 2013

Jeremy Forrest Serious Case Review

You may remember that Jeremy Forrest, a teacher at Bishop Bell C of E School in Eastbourne, last year had a sexual relationship with one of his pupils, a 14 year old girl (who cannot be named for legal reasons) and when the relationship was about to be found out, abducted her to France.

The Serious Case Review was published earlier this week by East Sussex Safeguarding Children Board.

The review contains the usual depressing story of concerns being ignored, of the child being treated as a problem rather than as a possible victim of abuse, of other children raising concerns and these not being passed on, of poor safeguarding practice, inadequate communication and non-existent record keeping.

But then something jumped right off the page as I was reading the report.
3.2 It is now clear that School D did not keep any formal contemporaneous records of the events under review. Information was initially submitted to this review on a tabular timeline document, which was drawn up soon after the abduction of Child G. This was accompanied by three documents, pro formas headed “Child Protection Incident / Welfare Concern Form”. This review was at an advanced stage when it became clear that these pro formas were not contemporaneous – although they were dated variously in March, May and July 2012. The Panel noticed that they were inaccurate, in particular referring to the outcome of an event in April on a pro forma dated in March.
What!! A form of that type is normally filled out in order to communicate a concern by a teacher to the Designated teacher for child protection. If such a form is handed to the serious case review team, they would have every reason to think that the date written on the form is the date it was actually completed. But it seems this was not so, staff at Bishop Bell School filled out these forms later and backdated them.
3.3 This was raised by the SCR Chair with the school and further investigations were carried out. It was confirmed by the school that all the documentation had been completed after Child G was abducted. One of the school’s two teachers with particular responsibility for safeguarding (ST1) told the SCR that the decision to backdate the forms was made jointly by herself and her colleague (ST2), the Deputy Head Teacher (DHT), the Head Teacher and the Executive Head Teacher. The Executive Head Teacher described this, in a letter to the Chair of the SCR, as a misunderstanding arising from the fact that they had not been asked to provide contemporaneous records.
Forrest abducted the girl in September 2012. So in preparing the school's evidence for the SCR,  a group of senior staff at the school consisting of the Executive Headteacher, the Headteacher, the Deputy Headteacher and both of the school's child protection officers, made a joint decision to backdate three forms, which were in fact not prepared until after Forrest had fled to France, there was an international manhunt for him and it was blindingly obvious to everybody that the girl was at risk of harm, and by the way that it was pretty inevitable that there would later be a serious case review.

They weren't even competent at it, including in one form events which didn't occur until a month after the form was supposedly completed.

And the Executive Headteacher's excuse is exceedingly lame. The tabular timeline document provided by the school was non-contemporaneous, obviously so. But there really can't be any excuse for creating child protection forms and backdating them.
3.4 It is a matter of concern that the school should have provided its evidence to this review in the way that has come to light. It is a fundamental and obvious premise that the accuracy and propriety of records will be a cornerstone of an exercise such as this.
That is about the most restrained way of saying this that it is possible to achieve. The report contains more on the subject in the "Key Issues" section later on.
7.2 The information provided to this review by School D
7.2.1 This review has identified serious concerns about the ways in which information was recorded, stored, retrieved and provided to us by School D. Those concerns are detailed in the previous sections of this report. They emerged gradually during this review and were substantiated when it was well advanced. There may have been no intention to mislead but the Child Protection Forms were submitted to this review without any indication that they were not contemporaneous records. It was through the SCR’s investigations that it became clear that these were not contemporaneous records, that they were the only documentation of the events and that they had not been compiled until after the abduction. There has been no adequate explanation of why that was not made clear at the outset other than, effectively, to say that “we were not asked”.

7.2.2 It was at best naïve not to realise that the review needed to see original documentation. Significant time was wasted before realising that there were no contemporaneous school records. It then became difficult to trust the records which were provided when they were found to contain errors and omissions. This became a particular concern when hand written notes taken at the time of events were eventually seen and it was established that critical information – for example, that Mr K was picking Child G up from work experience - had not been included in the Child Protection Forms.
To say that "there may have been no intention to mislead" seems excessively generous, when coupled with the remainder of the sentence "but the Child Protection Forms were submitted to this review without any indication that they were not contemporaneous records."

Morever, the report says that "It was at best naïve not to realise that the review needed to see original documentation". I notice that they carefully do not say what the worst case would be, or what they actually think happened.

So let's summarise what the report has found. Several of school's senior staff including its child protection officers got together and decided to backdate these child protection forms. If they didn't realise that the review team would think the forms were contemporaneous records then I'm a teapot.

If they didn't realise it, then they are so completely out of touch with normal human reasoning that thy aren't competent to be looking after children, and should resign immediately.

If they did realise it, then they deliberately tried to mislead a Serious Case Review in their their own failings to protect one of their pupils. There's only one reason I can think of why records should be falsified in this way, and that is because the truth is even worse than what has been admitted.
7.2.3 The Chair of Governors of the school has commissioned an independent enquiry to inform a decision as to whether any action should be taken under the school’s disciplinary procedures. That enquiry has confirmed many of the matters set out in this report.
I should jolly well hope so! While they are about it they might look into why Canon Gordon Rideout was allowed to remain as chair of Governors for more than a year after an adverse CRB report on him came to light. They could ask why the school's child protection policy in force at the time Forrest did his moonlight flit had not been reviewed for five years, and they might ask themselves why the school's child protection procedures had a special arrangement for the handling of alleged abuse by staff, where the headteacher would conduct an investigation himself rather than pass the concern to the authorities.
7.2.4 In summary it is the clear view of the SCR Panel that the school’s recording has been inadequate and fed in to this process in a way that was unhelpful. Nonetheless the SCR Panel has agreed that it has been possible to draw together a sufficiently accurate account of events to inform this report and the judgments it contains.
I think that the SCR might be being a trifle optimistic in that respect. One can speculate whether contemporaneous records might once have existed but exist no longer. One can speculate whether the the contents of the memories of the staff concerned have been accurately disclosed. Such speculations are well within the range between the "at best" interpretation by the SCR and the "at worst" which they have been a bit too coy to state. The review team themselves stated that it "became difficult to trust the records which were provided when they were found to contain errors and omissions".

Of course, there's no evidence that any laws have been broken by the staff concerned. There is no statutory obligation to report abuse, even when it occurs on school premises. There is no statutory obligation to maintain child protection records. Evidence provided to a Serious Case Review is not provide under oath, it is not a criminal investigation, so there is not even any statutory obligation to tell the truth to an SCR.

On all of this there is only guidance, even if it is called "statutory guidance". The only statutory thing about this guidance is that professionals have to "have regard" to it. But they are legally entitled to regard it as long as they like and then decide to do something completely different. This is what it appears that the management of Bishop Bell School has done.

Whether they realised or not that they were misleading the SCR panel, in backdating those records they acted wholly unprofessionally. In such circumstances anybody with an ounce of honour would resign immediately.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Daniel's Law

There are two aspects to what Mandatory Reporting is designed to achieve.

The first is the kinds of cases described by Panorama last week, of schools or other institutions which deliberately decide to hide abuse in order to protect the own reputations. There's no real way of knowing how many such cases there are still hidden. What we do know is that quite a number of cases have come to court, sometimes decades after the event, of teachers convicted of child sex crimes against the pupils in their care. The following is a non-exhaustive list of recent cases
  • Fr David Pearce (St Benedict's School, Ealing)
  • Richard White (Downside School)
  • Bruce Roth (Wellington College and Kings School Rochester)
  • Stephen Skelton (St Benedict's School, Ealing and West Hill Park School, Titchfield)
  • Nigel Leat (Hillside First School)
  • Michael Brewer (Chetham's School, Manchester)
  • Jeremy Forrest (Bishop Bell School, Eastbourne)
The additional thing all these cases have in common is that in every case, concerns about abusive behaviour were known to management of at least one of the schools concerned, and those concerns were either ignored by management or handled "in house" without notifying the authorities. In each case the matter later came to the attention of the police by a route that didn't involve the school.

One can theorise that some kinds of schools are more at risk than others - that the vulnerability correlates with the extent to which the school is dependent on  its reputation for its future. So independent schools might be considered more of a risk than state schools, because they operate as business. Faith schools might be regarded as more vulnerable than secular schools because they have the reputation of their sponsoring religion to consider. And academies might be more at risk than schools under local authority control because they compete for pupils (and the money that follows them) against their neighbours.

But these are only rules of thumb. The list above contains two Catholic independent schools, three secular independent schools, one specialist music school, one C of E assisted academy and one community school under local authority control. There is no variety of school that is immune to the possibility that management will hide abuse.

The other thing that Mandatory Reporting will help is where abuse isn't reported because of incompetence and disorganisation in a school, without any malicious intent. The Daniel Pelka Serious Case Review described the following.
Of considerable concern during this period of time in either late 2011 or early 2012, was that the school noted injuries on Daniel which had not been caused by any accidents in the school. The lack of recording of them by the school was a concern in itself as well as the fact that there were two books in which to record concerns about a child. One of the injuries was recorded in the book for the reception class but none were recorded in the school book for this purpose. It was therefore apparent that the school did not have clear protocols to enable the compilation of information and concerns. This meant that there was lack of clarity about when exactly injuries were seen, how many there were, and of the response to them. Within the criminal trial, school staff gave conflicting accounts, particularly about the occasions when the head teacher was informed (who also had the role of designated safeguarding lead). It appeared that there were three occasions as a minimum when injuries occurred, and that these included facial injuries, and potentially finger bruising to the neck. In fact in the trial, the class teacher said that in her view this was caused by someone trying to strangle Daniel, and that she thought that the mother had done this.
What was thought by his class teacher to be evidence of an attempted strangulation of Daniel was not reported to social services as a child protection concern. How can this be?

What ought to have happened is that the teacher should have reported this to the head within an hour, and the head should have had social services round before the end of the school day to interview Daniel's mother. Social Services should in turn have arranged for a medical examination and then called in the police.

The Serious Case Review was highly critical of the safeguarding arrangements at the school. The next paragraph includes the following.
With the background of mounting concerns by the school about Daniel’s obsession to seek out food, as well as poor growth and possible loss of weight, it was surprising and very concerning that these injuries were not linked to those concerns. Whether the evidence presented by school staff within the criminal trial was influenced by a level of hindsight is not possible to say, but if there were such concerns about the injuries alongside the background of the other concerns, it is difficult to understand why the school did not coordinate these and ensure that a child protection referral was made to CLYP at the time. Despite considerable individual concerns by school staff, these were not developed into a coherent referral to CLYP. The school missed this clear opportunity to formally raise the level of concerns to the child protection level. The reasons why they did not do so appeared to have reflected a disorganised response to injuries witnessed, meaning that no records were made, incidents were viewed individually, and there was no person who was coordinating the concerns and identifying that a clear pattern of risk was potentially emerging. The system within the school to respond to safeguarding concerns was therefore dysfunctional at this time. The schools own safeguarding and child protection policy does not make it clear what the internal arrangements were for reporting and recording concerns.
I've read the safeguarding policy that was in place at the time. The SCR is quite correct in its description of it. However, OFSTED had no concerns. When they visited the school in March 2011 they had this to say about safeguarding at the school.
Procedures for safeguarding pupils are robust; staff and the designated governor are well informed about child protection. Good practice in multi-agency work to support individual pupils is an example of the school's effective partnership work.
Any parents reading that report would think that their children were safe at the school. And yet less than a year after that inspection, Daniel was dead.

But it gets worse. In January 2013, 9 months after Daniel died, OFSTED inspected the school again. This was their opinion of safeguarding.
The arrangements for the safeguarding of pupils meet requirements. The school carries out the necessary checks on adults to ensure that they are suitable to work with children.
There was no mention of any lessons learned or changes of procedure that had been made as a result. There was not even any mention of Daniel or his death. From the evidence of the report there's no reason even to think that the inspectors were even aware that Daniel had been a pupil at the school.

And no lessons had been learned, and no procedures had been changed. The same child protection policy, issued in 2009, was in use at the time of both OFSTED inspections, the death of Daniel and the Serious Case Review.

Since this was first publicised in an article by Louise Tickle in the Guardian, Little Heath Primary School has issued a new child protection policy. It is a mere four pages long. It contains a list of things that the child protection policy should do, such as "Ensure all staff and volunteers understand their responsibilities in being alert to the signs of abuse and responsibility for referring any concerns to the designated senior person responsible for child protection." But it doesn't describe the procedures for doing that, so staff are no better off than before about what they should do. It is slightly better than the shambles of the 2009 policy, but not by all that much.

So let's describe the current situation. There is no law requiring schools to report. There is "statutory guidance" which schools "must have regard to", but having regarded the guidance schools are free to do anything they like, including nothing. OFSTED does not notice bad safeguarding procedures, or at least does not report on them. Increasing numbers of state schools are being turned into academies and required in effect to compete for pupils with their neighbours, increasing the temptations to hide abuse. And a year and a half after a child dies when there had been clear signs that he was in danger, his school has updated its child protection policy without describing clear procedures for reporting child protection concerns to the authorities.

The system is broken. We must fix it. Please sign the @MandateNow and Daniel's Law petitions.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Panorama on Mandatory Reporting of Child Sex Abuse

On Monday night BBC Panorama had a programme "After Savile: No More Secrets?" about coverups of child sex abuse in schools, hospitals and similar institutions. Some of the cases such as Downside School and Hillside First school are ones I've previously mentioned here.

The key point of the Panorama programme was that there is no law requiring institutions to report abuse that comes to their attention. A headteacher can know that one of his teachers has raped a pupil on school premises, and has no legal obligation to report anything to anybody. Panorama had examples of such failure to report dating back to the 1950s and forward to very recent times. Keir Starmer, until recently the Director of Public Prosecutions, stated that he thinks that a law requiring institutions to report abuse is necessary to prevent this from happening again in future.

I was on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 on Monday morning debating this issue with Dame Clare Tickell. You can hear it for yourself here. The section starts at 2:10:00 in to the programme.

Dame Clare Tickell is against mandatory reporting, and her view is that everything can be handled with better training and communication.

What Panorama has described as happening time and time again is the deliberate cover-up of abuse that has been reported within the institution. The problem is that management often does not want to have the bad publicity associated with a child sex abuse scandal on their patch. In such circumstances there is a clear conflict of interest - a conflict of duty if you prefer to call it that - between the welfare of the children and the reputation of the institution.

And many institutions are subject to this temptation. Independent schools for instance are run as businesses (even though they may be constituted as charities) and are dependent on their reputations in order to attract pupils and the fees that go with them.

Faith schools are also vulnerable, because they have the reputation of their sponsoring church or other faith group to consider.

Increasing numbers of state schools are being removed from local authority control and set up as academies or free schools. They are quasi independent, and compete for pupils with their neighbours in much the same way that independent schools do, even though the money comes from government rather than directly from the parents. With the growth of academies and free schools, the proportion of schools which are dependent for their future on their reputation has vastly grown in recent years. Even in the maintained sector, the reputation of a school is often also the reputation of the headteacher, and so reports can be suppressed if the head's reputation is under threat.

To resolve this conflict of interest between the welfare of the children and the reputation of the institution, schools and other institutions frequently try to square the circle by handling cases "in house". They think they can protect children without all the messy publicity associated with reporting the case to outside authorities. For instance they quietly tell the employee concerned not to do it again, or they get rid of him by sending him on his way with a good reference.

The first option is perfectly legal. The decision not to report might be taken in all good faith, but in fact protects nobody except the abuser. When he abuses again, management is compromised. They dare not report the new case lest their earlier bad decision come to light. In such ways, you can have abuse at an institution which goes unchecked for decades.

The second option simply throws the problem over the fence - somebody else is given the job of reporting the abuse - after the abuser has harmed another child. This is technically illegal, but I know of no case where a school has been prosecuted for it, even though we know it has happened many times, and Panorama described a couple of cases.

No amount of training will resolve this conflict of interest. No amount of training in how to recognise and report abuse will change the mind of an organisation which has decided that its reputation is better served by suppressing reports. This is why Dame Clare Tickell's analysis of the situation is profoundly wrong-headed. The only thing that will change this situation is for the balance of interest to be decisively tipped in favour of reporting. Mandatory reporting does this. No head teacher is going to risk going to jail in order to cover up somebody else's abuse.

Mandatory reporting is not intended to be a threat hanging over ordinary teachers. Most class teachers want to protect the children in their care and will report child protection concerns that they have. At the moment, if the school doesn't want to report, these class teachers are in the position of being whistleblowers, they have to go over the head of their own management to get their concerns into the hands of the authorities. Whistleblowers often pay the price of doing the right thing with the loss of their job. If you are a teacher with a mortgage and a young family, it takes enormous courage to do this. Understandably, a significant proportion don't dare risk their jobs.

Mandatory reporting will protect these people and ensure that management doesn't suppress the reports that are passed to them. It will ensure that all reports actually get to the authorities so they can be properly investigated.

Nothing less will address the coverups which Panorama described. This is why mandatory reporting is needed. If you agree, please sign the @MandateNow petition.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

It Took Four Years

The Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted.

That saying, frequently but incorrectly attributed to Churchill, is also a good description of the way that St. Benedict's School has approached the writing of its safeguarding policy. Last week, the school published a new safeguarding policy on the school website which finally removes the "wriggle room" over reporting which I have been campaigning about for so long.

The new policy is very clear. Any member of staff with a child protection concern must immediately report it to the Designated Teacher, and the Designated Teacher must contact the LADO within a working day. No exceptions.

The policy is a complete rewrite of the previous policy about which I have been complaining. It looks as if the earlier policy (the one Lord Carlile approved) has been completely abandoned and a wholly new one put in its place.

I have been in correspondence with the Governors over the last six months. I first wrote to Mr Patrick Murphy O'Connor on 11th March this year asking for a meeting to discuss safeguarding at the school. He replied on 18th April refusing my request. Instead he asked me to put my concerns in writing. He closed his letter by stating "I can assure you that the school's arrangements do reflect best practice in safeguarding and we are determined to remain vigilant in this matter."

So I wrote to him. It was a long letter, and I shan't reproduce it all here. I pointed out that the first part of his final sentence was demonstrably not true, and that changes were needed if he was going to live up to the second part.

I spent the first five pages analysing the shortcomings of the then-current policy, particularly with respect to its arrangements for reporting child protection concerns. If you have read previous articles on this blog you will be familiar with the contradictions in the reporting arrangements which I have previously pointed out. In attachments to the letter, I provided examples of school child protection policies which do have a clear, unambiguous and effective reporting procedure.

I then described my concerns about Mr. Cleugh's conduct in the handling of the abuse crisis and finally I stated my concerns about Abbot Martin Shipperlee's conduct in the handling of the abuse crisis. There is nothing new on these subjects in the letter that I haven't previously stated here.

I sent the letter on 17th May. I got no reply. Concerned that the matter might be being kept from the rest of the governors, I wrote to all the governors at their home addresses on 4th September, enclosing the correspondence with Mr. Murphy O'Connor and all the attachments.

I received a letter from Mr. Murphy O'Connor on 6th September acknowledging my 17th May letter (but not my subsequent letters to the governors). In the letter Mr Murphy O'Connor said "Thank you for your letter of 17th May. The Governors have noted the content and your views."

I received a direct reply from just one of the other governors, Mr Jonathan Berger, who emailed me saying "I note the contents of your letter and the enclosures. I will be raising the matter at the next Governors meeting." On 22 September he wrote again saying "Following the recent meeting of the Governors, the Chairman of the Governors will be writing to you."

On 8th October, a letter finally arrived from Mr Murphy O'Connor saying "The contents of your letter datd 17th May 2013 and subsequent letters have been considered and noted by the Board of Governors and our School Patron."

By itself, that letter gave a very good impersonation of a brick wall. But what Mr. Murphy O'Connor didn't say was that the Governors had approved a new version of the child protection policy that very same day.

It is a touch under four years since I wrote an Open Letter to the Abbot asking for improvements in safeguarding at St Benedict's. This new policy does exactly what I asked for way back then. The primary objective of all my campaigning has been to get this policy and so ensure as far as possible the safety of the pupils of St Benedict's.

But it could have been done in four weeks rather than four years. It should have been done in 4 weeks. In the intervening time, because of the stonewalling by the Abbot and school management, the Independent Schools Inspectorate issued an unprecedently bad report about the school's safeguarding. That inspection would never have happened had the Abbot improved safeguarding as I had originally suggested and as has now finally been done.

The school would not have needed to spend more than £600,000 on Lord Carlile's report and on the change in governance that he recommended. The safeguarding policy that Lord Carlile recommended was fundamentally flawed as I pointed out at the time, and has now been replaced.

The school's reputation has suffered enormously. "St Benedict's" is well known in safeguarding circles as a synonym for how not to handle an abuse crisis.

But after exhausting all other options, the school has finally done the right thing and written a proper safeguarding policy. It is now for the staff, governors and particularly parents to hold the school to account and ensure that the policy is fully implemented. I urge all parents of children at the school to read the policy thoroughly. You need to understand what should be done if your child is abused in any way by anybody (from inside or outside the school) and a member of staff has a concern about it.

I shall continue to take an interest in St Benedict's, for instance if and when Abbot Laurence Soper is brought to justice. I shall keep an eye on the school to ensure that wriggle-room is not re-inserted into the safeguarding policy. But my active campaigning on the subject is now at an end. I set out to ensure that there is a safeguarding policy in place at the school that would as far as possible prevent a continuation of the 60 years of unchecked child sexual abuse that occurred at St Benedict's.

That job is now done. Time to move on.

My emphasis will now be on the national situation. The amazing fact is that in failing to report abuse at the school to the police or social services, St Benedict's didn't break any laws. It is possible for a headteacher to know for certain that a member of staff has raped a pupil on school premises, and the headteacher has no statutory obligation to report anything to anybody. Any obligation towards the child and its parents exists only as contract law, a school's child protection policy being an implied part of the contract between school and parents.

This needs to change. In case after case, children have suffered and even died while schools were aware of concerns but didn't report them. One of the most recent cases is that of little Daniel Pelka, starved and beaten by his mother before being killed. Daniel's school noticed his emaciation, his bruises and his constant hunger, but didn't pass these on as child protection concerns.

Daniel's Law as it has come to be known, would make it mandatory for child protection concerns to be reported by professionals who work with children. This would support the many good staff who want to report and want to protect children. It would introduce absolute clarity in respect of conflicting duties - in any conflict between the welfare of the children and the reputation of the school, the children must come first.

Mandatory reporting would make it almost impossible for a long-running situation such as occurred at St Benedict's to happen. First, there will inevitably be a greater climate of awareness making reporting more likely. And second, no head teacher is going to risk being prosecuted for suppressing a report of somebody else abusing. These two factors will make it extremely dangerous for abusers to operate in schools. They won't dare. Abuse will be prevented as a result.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Abbot President Richard Yeo

I've just been watching Sins of Our Fathers again, and decided to pay particular attention to the interview with Richard Yeo, Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation.

He started out by saying that he was "very sorry about any abuse that may have been committed at Fort Augustus", which of course very neatly avoids admitting that any abuse in fact had been committed there. These kinds of mealy-mouthed non-apologies are actually worse than useless. For victims and any right-thinking person, they just make the blood boil.

He was then asked about abusive monks who were relocated to Australia rather than the police being called, and how neither the civil nor church authorities in Australia were warned about the people they were receiving. those monks were free to abuse again, and they did. He said that "that is unacceptable, I'm not defending that."

He was then asked whether he had spoken about this to Fr Francis Davidson, the headmaster at the time. At that point Yeo clammed up and said that he wasn't prepared to talk about specific cases.

Yeo was then told that the BBC had evidence that the headmaster in the 60s had ignored allegations of serious sexual abuse by Fr Aidan Duggan. Yeo was asked what he had done to investigate this. He was asked whether he had looked at the school records. Yeo had not - the records are apparently in Edinburgh. Quite why this makes them inaccessible to him was not stated.

Yeo was then given a long list of monks: four who had committed physical abuse, three who had committed sexual abuse, and two headmasters who had covered it all up. Yeo was asked what he was going to do about this. His answer was "I want to wait until I get evidence." What!

He went on to say that "The big problem of Fort Augustus is that the school closed 20 years ago, the monastery closed 15 years ago, and a lot of the people involved are dead. Under those circumstances, it is going to be very difficult to get answers that are going to satisfy people."

But of course he is not going to be active about finding such answers as there may be, instead he is going to "wait until I get evidence"!

Yeo was then asked whether he had met Richard White (Fr Nicholas White) at Fort Augustus.White had been sent to Fort Augustus after having abused Rob Hastings at Downside School. Yeo admitted having met White there in 1997. On being asked whether he knew White was a paedophile, he said he knew there had been serious allegations made against him, which hadn't been handed to the police.

But the reporter Mark Daly I suspect was unaware of the next part of the history of Richard White. At about the time Yeo was elected Abbot of Downside in 1998, White was permitted to return from Fort Augustus. White continued to live at Downside until his arrest in 2010. For eight of the twelve intervening years, Yeo was his Abbot.

Of course, as Abbot, Yeo had access to the records of his predecessors. So he would have been fully aware of the abuse that White had admitted to before being kicked north, and it is for this reason that White was kept on "restricted ministry".

So Yeo must be regarded as a long-term participant in the cover-up of abuse. He said in the that the cover-up "is unacceptable, I'm not defending that." But he joined in that unacceptable action.

The Catholic Church's commitment to safeguarding can be judged by the fact that Yeo was one of the participants in the Cumberlege Commission, and was appointed to carry out the Apostolic Visitation to Ealing Abbey.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Sins of Our Fathers

The BBC Scotland documentary Sins of Our Fathers, first shown on BBC1 Scotland on 29th July, is to be repeated nationally on BBC2 on Monday 19th August at 11.20 pm.

The documentary concerns the physical and sexual abuse of children at the now defunct Benedictine abbey and school of Fort Augustus.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Recovering from sexual abuse

The Lantern Project has published a new booklet to help victims of sexual abuse recover from the long-term impact of the trauma they have suffered.

The new booklet, which is being distributed to GPs and medical practices across Merseyside, will help victims of sexual abuse understand more about the cause of the problems they have, and how to seek and get the type of therapeutic support they need to recover.

Graham Wilmer, who wrote the booklet, said: “When I needed help with my recovery from abuse, there was very little information available, which is why I set up The Lantern Project in 2000. Since then, we have worked with hundreds of victims, of all ages and from all walks of life.

“Among the many questions we were asked, time and time again, by almost all of them, were: ‘How do I tell people about what happened to me? Who should I tell? How will they react? How can I recover? Will I ever recover?’

“We have written books and training materials that answer these questions before, but they were written to help professionals understand the impact of sexual abuse, so they can help victims who have come forward and asked for help.

“This booklet is for the victims, and there are many of them, who are still struggling with their problems, and not sure how or where to seek help, so we are making it available in as many GP practices and other agencies as possible, where it can be picked up and read by people who want help, but don’t know how to take the first step.

“It’s only a small booklet, but it contains the answers to some very difficult questions, and if this booklet had been available when I was looking for the help I needed, after my breakdown in 1999, I am sure that my recovery journey could have been much less difficult!

You can purchase the booklet from the Lantern project's website.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

St Bede's college - governors resign over abuse legal action

There's a fascinating little article in The Tablet, an inset to a larger article about calls for an inquiry into the abuse at Fort Augustus.

The inset is about St Bede's college. Paul Malpas has been blogging extensively about sexual abuse there. The article in The Tablet is worth quoting in full.
A Catholic school in Manchester is advertising for new governors after seven of them resigned to avoid liability in an impending abuse action, write Elizabeth Gould and Christopher Lamb.

The governors of St Bede’s College, Whalley Range, are being sued by former pupils who claim they were sexually and physically abused while they were at the school.

The claimants are being represented by AO Advocates, the London legal firm set up by American lawyer Jeffrey Andersen, who has spearheaded numerous legal actions in the United States for clerical sexual abuse.

The governors who resigned are all lay people and include the school's headmaster.

They stood down because they understood that action would be taken against them personally to hold them financially accountable. Since their resignation two priests from the Diocese of Salford have been appointed governors at the school.

Georgina Calvert-Lee, a barrister working for AO Advocates, said the action was being taken against both the governors of the school and the Diocese of Salford. The alleged sexual abuse took place in the 1950s and 1960s by three priests, all deceased.

In 2011 the Bishop of Salford, Terence Brain, apologised for abuse said to have taken place at St Bede's after complaints were made by 57 former pupils.
It is worth noting that the governors of a school, especially the chairman of governors, are personally responsible for ensuring that safeguarding at a school is adequate, and this is a legal obligation which cannot be delegated. And as appears to have been recognised by the resigned governors of St. Bede's, this is a legal obligation which might be translated into personal financial liability in the event that safeguarding arrangements are inadequate and children are harmed as a result.

I know that AO Advocates also keep track of events at St Benedict's (they follow this blog for instance), though of course I have no means of knowing whether any St Benedict's victims have appointed AO Advocates to represent them.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

What Lord Carlile cost Ealing Abbey - and what they got for their money

I've been looking at the Charity Commission website. It's fascinating source of information about Ealing Abbey and St Benedict's School. The accounts for the year to August 2012 were published a few weeks ago.

I've been comparing the accounts over the last few years, and while there is no specific item of expenditure titled "Lord Carlile", the figure for "Governance" is most illuminating.

These are the values for recent years.

2007 -   £24,114
2008 -   £21,280
2009 -   £20,278
2010 -   £20,392
2011 - £256,372
2012 - £419,451

The average for the years 2007-2010 is £21,500 give or take a few pounds. This is the baseline governance cost for the Abbey - probably covering accountants' fees, auditors' fees and an occasional bit of solicitor's advice.

But the sum total in excess of that baseline figure for 2011 and 2012 is huge. The combined cost of those two years is £675,823. Subtract 2 years worth of baseline costs and you still have about £633,000 (rounding to the nearest thousand).

Not all of that will have gone to Lord Carlile. The Abbey appointed a solicitor to instruct him, who as it happens was defending Father David Pearce in a further criminal trial at the same time as he was instructing Lord Carlile concerning an inquiry that was at least in part looking into his client's criminal activities.

No doubt other solicitors were also employed in drawing up the trust deeds which separated the school from the Abbey and set up a separate charity for the School with effect from 1st September last year. But knowing that Lord Carlile is a senior barrister, a former MP and a member of the House of Lords, one can surmise that he is far from cheap, and I suspect that quite a large proportion of that money was spent on him.

So, what did they get for their money?
In terms of anything to do with actual improvements in safeguarding and protecting children in the school, this is an awful lot of money for staggeringly little.

One can only conclude that they didn't really want a report that got to the bottom of their safeguarding problems, given how happy they have been with this report.

So this has essentially been a PR exercise aimed at rehabilitating the reputation of the school at a cost of about £633,000. That comes to an extra £633 or so on the fees for every pupil in the school, spread over 2 years. Given that a proportion of pupils are on scholarships and bursaries, it has cost more for those pupils who pay full fees.

Remember that the Carlile report hasn't made any new recommendations at all about safeguarding or child protection. None. So the Abbey has spent £633 per pupil on Carlile for the purpose of improving the school's reputation, and spent £0 on Carlile for the purpose of safeguarding improvements.

Parents, I hope you feel your school fees have been wisely spent.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Fort Augustus

Last week, BBC Scotland aired a documentary Sins of Our Fathers about the former abbey at Fort Augustus, and its associated schools at Fort Augustus and Carlekemp.

It had all the elements we have become dreadfully familiar with through Ealing, Downside and all the other cases we have learned about over the past few years. Brutal physical abuse, physical abuse being administered for sexual pleasure, grooming, sexual abuse up to and including child rape.

And there were the cases of children not being believed, and being threatened into silence when they tried to report what had happened to them.

The BBC journalists traced one monk who many children had reported abused them to a house in Australia. Unsurprisingly Fr Chrysostom Alexander did not want to be interviewed, but it was quite clear that he was completely unsurprised at the BBC being there. His only reaction was to threaten to call the police if the journalists didn't get off his property.

But there is another aspect which is also dreadfully familiar. Fr Chrysostom was sent back to Australia, but it seems that neither the diocese of Sydney nor the Australian civil authorities were warned about his abusing. He continued to act as a priest for many years.

It seems that Fort Augustus was also used as a dumping ground for abusive monks and priests.  After Rob Hastings was abused at Downside School, his abuser Richard White (Fr Nicholas White) was sent away from Downside to Fort Augustus. Other priests, including ones who were not monks at all, seem also to have lived there. The former Abbot of Downside, Abbot Richard Yeo, appeared on the program to apologise for any abuse that "might have happened", but seemed remarkably slow off the mark with regard to any possible investigations he might conduct. Mind you, he probably knows quite a bit already. Richard White returned to Downside at about the time Yeo became Abbot. Yeo of course didn't tell the police what White had done.

And it gets worse. Jimmy Savile had his holiday home at Glencoe, only an hour's drive away, and according to the Scottish Daily Record was a regular visitor to Fort Augustus.

I've been told that monks from Ealing used to take "holidays" at Fort Augustus. If anybody knows more details, then I would be interested.

The one good thing in comparison to the other Benedictine abuse scandals is that at least the school and abbey at Fort Augustus are closed, and have been for 20 years. No more children can be harmed there.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Crime & Cover Up

Crime & Cover Up will be a groundbreaking new film exposing decades of child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, a new investigative documentary from the team that made Suing the Pope and Sex Crimes & the Vatican.

They need money to make the new film.

There is a definite need for this film, not just to expose the extent to which the Catholic church in Britain covers up abuse (as has already been found elsewhere in the world), but also to expose the weaknesses in child protection law which makes it so easy for the church to cover things up here.

If you are a victim of abuse and want to see justice done, or if you are a Catholic who wishes to see effective safeguarding put in place within the church, or if you know somebody who was harmed by clerical abuse, then please donate what you can to the making of this film.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Interview in the Universe

I've just had it brought to my attention that Abbot Martin Shipperlee was interviewed in the Universe in November last year, the full text of the interview was placed in the December 2011 edition of the parish magazine.
What is your reaction to Lord Carlile’s Report?
Lord Carlile’s report does not make very pretty reading, in fact, what it contains is a source of shame for us. That is why we have accepted the recommendations in the report and are doing everything that we can to prevent anything like this happening again.
The bit about having accepted all the recommendations of the report is just not true. Father Gregory Chillman was listed in the report as one of the monks against whom there were credible allegations, and one of the recommendations of the report was that any such people should not be permitted to live at the Abbey. And yet he is still there.
Can you describe these measures?
First of all, we have taken a great deal of expert advice on safeguarding and we now have in place trained safeguarding teams for the school, the abbey and the parish.
That's good as far as it goes, it's a bit vague though.
The school has detailed safeguarding policies and procedures which meet with the approval of the Department for Education and the Independent Schools Inspectorate. The parish, of course, follows the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service policy and guidelines and the NSPCC are advising the Abbey on procedures. All key staff have had safeguarding training to the appropriate level.
The school's "detailed safeguarding policies and procedures" are still inadequate. Lord Carlile, though he has prosecuted and defended child abuse cases, is not an expert in how to organise effective safeguarding measures in an institutional setting. The Department of Education and the Independent Schools Inspectorate are only interested in ensuring that a school's policy meets statutory requirements, and given that the ISI and DfE managed not to notice anything wrong with the school until I explained it to them in words of one syllable, a reliance on their approval is not something that inspires confidence.
Lord Carlile advised that the governance of St Benedict’s School was, to be frank, no longer fit for purpose and that the school should become an educational charity, quite separate from the Abbey Trust.

Work has already started on this and everything should be in place by September 2012. The new governing body of the school cannot take over formally until the educational trust is established, but the transition will start shortly and an interim governing body, or governing body designate, will gradually assume responsibility for the school.

The governing body will have a lay chairman and monks will be in the minority. New governors will be recruited with the appropriate expertise and experience.
On this point I agree with Lord Carlile. But Lord Carlile is mistaken if merely changing the governance to a more secular model will of itself make much of a difference to safeguarding. There are plenty of secular independent schools which have had serious safeguarding problems. So this is welcome but largely irrelevant to the reason Lord Carlile was called in.
Over and above what Lord Carlile has recommended, I have commissioned an independent safeguarding expert to make unannounced inspections of the safeguarding arrangements in the school, parish and abbey.
He hasn't said who this expert is. We have been here before. Back in February 2010, long before Lord Carlile became involved, what purported to be the report of an "Independent Review" commissioned by the Abbot was published. I later learned who had conducted the inquiry, and a friend of mine spoke to him concerning the circumstances under which it had been carried out. It turned out that:
  • the terms of reference were the Abbey only, not the school, 
  • it was a paper-only review, nobody was interviewed.
  • the reviewer visited for only half a day
  • the review addressed only the period covering the abuse of Pearce's last victim, when Pearce was already under restrictions
  • the reviewer was not told about the duration and number of Pearce's other known crimes, though he inferred that other crimes not disclosed had been committed.
Despite this, the report was placed on the school website as being the fulfilment of the Abbot's promise of an independent review.
It is on record that abuse occurred over many years, why was nothing done about it?
Hindsight makes everything clear, but in years gone past there was a general unwillingness to accept that such things could happen so that the children themselves found it difficult to find anyone to listen to them. The result was that often enough there was only gossip and rumour and little fact on which to act. That is why we have our present safeguarding structures in the Church, so that people are trained to notice, to listen and to act.
Many of those safeguarding structures were put in place by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, when he was Bishop of Birmingham and chairman of COPCA. However, when I raised concerns about Ealing Abbey with him, his response could be paraphrased as "nothing to do with me, guv". So much for the church's present safeguarding structures.
In his report, Lord Carlile states St Benedict’s rule of love and forgiveness appears to have overshadowed responsibility for children’s welfare. Is this the case?
This I think, refers to my decision to allow Fr David Pearce to continue living in the monastery after a civil claim for abuse had succeeded against him. I could have sent him away, but that would have meant that someone about whom I had justifiable concerns would have been living without any supervision. I judged that it was safer if he remained in the monastery where we could be sure that he had no contact with the school or parish and thus with young people. As it turned out, I made a grave error of judgement and can blame no‐one but myself. What I was attempting was much more difficult than I had expected and a young man was put in harm’s way as a result.
It could also be taken to refer to the habit of the Catholic hierarchy (clear from many other reports into abuse) when talking about "welfare" of considering solely the welfare of the abusing priest. The welfare of the abused child rarely if ever gets a look-in. There are Benedictine monasteries in England which do not have schools attached to them. Pearce could have been sent to one of them. Shipperlee could have cooperated with the local Social Services to work out the best approach to keeping children safe from Pearce.

But he did none of these things. He kept Pearce at the abbey, he did not tell people the truth about why he was on restricted ministry, instead he put it about that the restrictions were "to protect Fr David from unfounded allegations", and worst of all, he allowed a pupil of the school into the monastery itself as an employee to wash dishes at weekends.
Is the situation as bad as has been reported in the national press?In some ways, yes, in others no. As I have already said, I am making no excuse and I don’t seek to minimise what happened in the past. The press are quite right to report this. However, some reporting has given the impression that abuse has been taking place up to the present day. Editorial comments have sometimes appeared to be biased against the school, again dwelling upon what happened in the past with no recognition of the school as it is today. Certainly since I have been abbot and since Christopher Cleugh, the present headmaster has been in post, which is over a decade, there have been no suggestions of abuse in the school.
That is quite simply not true. We can admire the Abbot's sophistry of "no suggestions of abuse within the school", in that while Pearce's last victim was a pupil of the school and Pearce was a monk and priest and former teacher at and Trustee of the school, his last victim was abused outside the school. But even allowing for that, the Abbot's statement is not true. The Carlile report refers to a further incident that occurred within the school in the summer of 2010, after Pearce's arrest and conviction. Admittedly no criminal charges followed, but additional training in "communication skills" was given to the teacher in question.

Furthermore, Social Services have been notified of incidents concerning Father Gregory Chillman's conduct as chaplain of St Augustine's Priory School as recently as 2005 - in other words during Shipperlee's time as Abbot.
Why was Lord Carlile chosen to carry out the inquiry into events at St Benedict’s School?
As the situation unfolded, I quickly realised that I was out of my depth, that I needed guidance from professional people with experience in dealing with safeguarding matters in schools and within the Church. I had benefit of advice from a number of people from within the Church and others with no connection to the Church, including a senior social worker who has carried out high‐level investigations into the Church in Ireland. The consensus of advice was that a thorough independent investigation into past events was required, and Lord Carlile was recommended as someone eminently suitable to carry out that investigation. He has a track record of in depth investigations and has extensive experience in child abuse cases.
"Out of my depth" is about the most charitable possible interpretation of the situation. It is worth noting that Lord Carlile, by his own statements, did not carry out "a thorough independent investigation into past events". He did not report on individual incidents, he did not make recommendations concerning needed safeguarding improvements identified as a result of examining those incidents. He included in an appendix to his report a child protection policy for the school which he stated was as good as any in the country, but which did not ensure that all allegations of abuse without exception would be reported promptly to the LADO. If Shipperlee was wanting and expecting a thorough investigation, he didn't get it.
It has been widely reported in the press that (former Ealing monk) Fr Laurence Soper is on the run from the police. What exactly are the circumstances?That is the case. For the past 12 years, he was working as bursar at the Benedictine University in Rome. Back in March, he agreed to return to England for an appointment with the police.He had returned at the request of the police on two or three previous occasions, it was a matter of trust. In March, he abused that trust. He left the monastery in Rome, ostensibly to come to London and he hasn’t been seen since.
Laurence Soper is not just a former Ealing monk. He is Shipperlee's immediate predecessor as Abbot. We have a former Abbot of Ealing who is on the run rather than face child abuse charges.
Don’t you have any idea where he could be?
He could be anywhere, I have absolutely no idea. I have notified religious houses where he had stayed in the past about the situation, no one has any idea where he is. We have given every possible assistance to the police and we urge him to contact the police so that they can deal with allegations against him. He is an embarrassment to the Order of St Benedict and to the Church. He betrayed the trust placed in him by the police.
That photo was a bit slow appearing. It only appeared about 18 months after Soper went on the run.
Should you resign as Abbot?That is something I have thought about every day. As I have already said, I made one serious error of judgement but aside from that, all of the cases highlighted in the report happened in the past, many in the distant past, and all before my watch. The community has confidence in the measures I have taken and want me to see this through. Before I complete my term as Abbot I want to ensure that everything that needs to be done is in place for my successor.
By definition, all the cases in the report happened in the past, but there have been three known cases involving either Ealing monks or teachers at St Benedict's which have occurred during Shipperlee's time as Abbot. So "all before my watch" is not true. It is, to put it in the vernacular, a lie. What is more, it is a stupid lie because the dates of the incidents are recorded in the Carlile report available for anybody to take a look at.
What future do you see for the Benedictines in Ealing?
There have been times in recent months when I have wondered if Ealing Abbey has any future at all. But if I step back from the immediate train of events I can see a school that has flourished in the past decade and which is larger and more successful than ever despite the stain of its past. As for the monastery, we will prosper if we can show that we have learned from this terrible story, that we can confront the past and be better people and better monks for it.
If that is the basis for his confidence in the future of the Benedictines in Ealing, then the monastery is doomed. There is no sign that he has "learned from this terrible story". The school's child protection policy is still not of very good quality through it scrapes by National Minimum Standards. (You can compare it with the new St Augustine's Priory School policy, which is very much improved and is now clearly and obviously designed to ensure that the authorities are promptly informed of all concerns.) The parish website simply makes a blanket reference to NCSC procedures, which is not at all the same as actually having a safeguarding policy.

I also wouldn't mind an apology for this astonishing outburst from Mr Cleugh, in his September 2010 prizegiving day speech, given in the presence of the Abbot, parents, children and assorted dignitaries.
I absolutely refute that anyone associated with St Benedict’s School has misled the Inspectors or protected offenders - such allegations are at best misguided and at worst deliberately malicious. Recent media and blog coverage seem hell-bent on trying to discredit the School and, at the same time, destroy the excellent relationship between School and Monastery. Is this part of an anti-Catholic movement linked to the papal visit? I do not know, but it feels very much as if we are being targeted.
Cleugh has never publicly retracted those words.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Petition for Mandatory Reporting of child sex abuse in schools

Regular readers of this blog will by now be familiar with a fact which seems unbelievable to most members of the public. There is no statutory requirement for the management of a school or any other institution caring for children to inform the authorities of allegations or even known incidents of child sex abuse that come to their attention.

A head teacher can know that one of his staff has sexually assaulted or even raped one of his pupils on school premises, and he has no legal obligation to report anything to anybody.

I made this point on the Guardian website a while ago, at the height of the Jimmy Savile scandal, I got various disbelieving comments in response. For instance one said.
Utter rubbish, failing to report a serious offence such as rape to the police is in itself a very serious offence, where the hell did you get that from?
Another said essentially the same thing, but rather more politely
Isn't there already a law that says that not reporting knowledge of a crime is aiding and abetting that crime and therefore punishable?
I responded by quoting  from page 3 of the NSPCC factsheet An introduction to child protection legislation in the UK, which states the following.
Whilst local authorities have a mandatory duty to investigate if they are informed a child may be at risk, there are no specific mandatory child abuse reporting laws in the UK that require professionals to report their suspicions to the authorities.
This has to change. Just in the last year or two, there have been trials resulting in convictions for child sex crime of former teachers at St Benedict's School, Downside School, Wellington College, Chetham's School, King's School Rochester and Hillside First School. There are probably others which I've not been made aware of or can't name off the top of my head.

There is a very strong similarity between all the cases I've named. In all the cases, the teacher abused, the knowledge came to the attention of management but was not passed on to the authorities. The teacher went on to abuse again. The police became aware when informed by a route not involving the school. The abuser was subsequently convicted, often many years after the events had occurred.

I wonder how many cases have not yet come to the attention of the police? In order to get a feel for that I did a survey of the child protection policies of 60 randomly chosen secondary schools. The results were horrifying. 24 schools did not publish their policies online. Of the 36 schools which did publish their policies, only 16 made an undertaking to inform the LADO of all allegations of abuse, and only 8 promised to follow up an initial approach with a written confirmation.

If those proportions are in any way representative of school policies across the country, there could be a huge amount of abuse going unreported.

So, we need mandatory reporting. To that effect a petition has been started calling on the Department for Education to implement mandatory reporting in schools. If you care for the safety of your or other people's children, please sign the petition as soon as possible.

Mandatory reporting is needed because all too often voluntary reporting doesn't happen.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

St Augustine's Priory School

Last month I wrote to the new headteacher at St Augustine's Priory School, Mrs Raffray. I asked if I could meet her to discuss safeguarding at the school. She replied promptly and invited me to visit the school to meet her.

The school does seem to have recovered considerably from the car crash of an inspection they suffered when the ISI visited in 2010. They had another inspection at the end of 2012, and the report was much better, and found that the school does now meet all its statutory obligations.

I don't normally put a great deal of weight on ISI reports. I have seen too many cases where the ISI have missed serious safeguarding shortcomings, but I had alreasdy warned the ISI I was looking carefully at them for their next inspection of St Augustine's, so I felt it likely that they would be looking carefully at both safeguarding and governance this time round, especially since these areas had been the subject of such adverse comment last time.

In addition, I have been impressed with the new safeguarding policy that has been put in place since she arrived. I have recently done a bit of research for a BBC radio programme, conducting a survey of the safeguarding policies of 60 randomly chosen secondary schools, checking them against 10 basic safeguarding criteria. It so happened that St Augustine's had been one of the schools in the random sample, and was one of just two schools in the sample which had scored a perfect 10 against the set of criteria I checked the policies against. In reading through the policy, I was impressed with the the fact that it was obviously not written with the intention of keeping "wriggle-room" available to allow for excuses not to report allegations of abuse.

So, I wanted to meet Mrs Raffray and see what I could learn about how she was going about implementing safeguarding at the school. It is one thing to have a well-written policy, but quite another to be implementing it effectively. We met last week and chatted for about an hour. I was impressed by what she told me. She regards having passed the ISI inspection as simply a milestone on the journey towards implementing top-quality safeguarding.

We talked through various aspects of safeguarding. For instance, we discussed the issue of instrumental music lessons, in the light of the recent scandal at Chetham's School. Peripatetic music teachers usually teach at several schools, so they have different safeguarding arrangements to work with in the different schools they teach at. In addition, instrumental music lessons are one-on-one and music is an emotional subject and so the scope for and risks of abuse are greater.

I asked what was being done to address this point. I was told that the peripatetic teachers have been required to have and use a school email address for all electronic communications with St Augustine's pupils, that they have been required to ensure that they meet the St Augustine's safeguarding policy and teachers' code of conduct when they are teaching at the school, whatever requirements they meet elsewhere. In addition, the rooms they use for teaching have windows in the doors and that people do look through the windows from time to time just to check that all is well.

This seems to me to be a sensible set of arrangements. The primary aim is of course to protect the children, but it also helps ensure that the staff are not put into unsafe situations.

One of the areas of criticism in the ISI report concerned the current arrangements for governance. I wanted to know whether the governance issues - the separate boards of trustees and governors had in any way slowed down Mrs Raffray in implementing effective safeguarding. I was assured that they had not. She told me that everybody had recognised that following the bad ISI report and the article about the school in The Times, things had to change. Until the governance reform is carried through, there remains in principle the scope for deadlock between the trustees and governors, but she has had nothing of that sort in dealing with safeguarding. As I understand it, there has been no deadlock on any subject since she arrived at the school.

I asked Mrs Raffray what was going to be her next step in improving safeguarding. She said that the current policy meets regulatory requirements but she regards it is being less than ideal in terms of ease of use. She wants to make it easier to use so that safeguarding becomes automatically part of all the decision-making of the school.

We talked about the overall philosophy of safeguarding, how to ensure that attitudes are such that children are effectively protected. She talked of the need for well-written procedires, but also for treating the dignity of the child as paramount, that you can usually get to the truth of any situation by listening to the children.

I was very heartened by the discussion. Mrs Raffray struck me as being extremely dedicated to ensuring the safety of the pupils in her care. She seems determined to drive up standards in all aspects of the operations of the school, not just safeguarding.

This of course was a discussion, not an inspection. I'm not qualified to carry out an inspection, and to carry out an inspection would have required access to confidential records that it would have been entirely improper for Mrs Raffray to show me. I didn't ask for that access and she did not volunteer it.

But as far as I can ascertain, St Augustine's is now a safe school where safeguarding and child protection is given the priority it deserves. I am extremely happy both with the changes that have occurred so far and with Mrs Raffray's determination to improve things further.

I hope that parents and governors continue to take an active interest in safeguarding at the school. Lots of people keeping an eye on things is the best defence against any drop in standards in the future. You never finally win the war against abuse. It requires perpetual vigilance.

On the same day that I wrote to Mrs Raffray, I also wrote to Mr Patrick Murphy O'Connor, the new chair of governors at St Benedict's school. I have not yet received any reply from him.