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.