Sunday, 31 December 2017

IICSA Benedictine hearings day 3 part 2

RC-A30 went on to describe her opinion and experience of Ampleforth's approach to safeguarding.
Q.  What are your views now about the child protection that was exercised during your time at Ampleforth?
A.  I think that it was very poor.  The focus seemed to be almost entirely on box ticking, filling out forms, getting the paperwork done, the bureaucracy.  Therefore, everything on the surface looked fine if everything was written down and properly presented.  But it meant that nobody ever looked beneath the surface, nobody saw properly what was going on, and it also meant that people could ignore much more easily any inkling that they had that something suspicious might be happening because if they had the form, then, "No, we have the form, it's all fine". 

It was very much -- it was very paperwork based, but nothing underneath, and Dara used that very much to his advantage.  He could recite the child protection policy verbatim, and he knew what to write down, when to write it, who to send it to, and he would talk about this quite openly.  With me, he was quite boastful, and even other members of staff commented on the excessive amount of paperwork that was required for not just child protection, but anything to do with health and safety or safeguarding.  And the general consensus amongst other members of staff was that senior management who were in charge of this would issue these rules, but they didn't really know what the running of the school was really like, what was really going on.

I think it's very sad that something like this could have happened, because there was so much focus on bureaucracy the real issues were really missed and they shouldn't have been missed so easily.  You can have a cunning perpetrator, but you should -- and places do have policies in place to stop this from happening.  But because people knew where we were approximately, they knew we were in the building late at night together. Well, they knew where we were, he's filled out a risk assessment, it should all be good, but nobody checked.

About the email thread, he listed these five steps that he'd taken if I said an allegation that wasn't true, but nobody had actually raised it with me when I was 13.  It may have led to an awkward conversation at the time, but if somebody had said something, then it's perfectly possible that it would have prevented the serious abuse that happened following it.  It was, as long as everything was in order and as long as everything looked like it should, then things weren't questioned, things weren't followed through as they should have been followed through.
Q.  One of the things you say in your statement --  I'm looking at paragraph 3 at the top of page 2 -- is that because of the history of recent scandal at Ampleforth and in the wider Catholic Church, the college wanted the outside world to believe it had a strong culture of child protection?
A.  Yes, I think that was correct.  I think there was very much a sense of, because of the past failings, they wanted to be seen that they were doing what they could to correct this.  In their mind, that seemed to be having everything written down.  There was an obsessive emphasis on the completion of safeguarding paperwork, but commonsense and actually looking at what was in front of their faces, that sort of went by the wayside.
The overwhelming impression I get from this testimony is that following the earlier Ampleforth scandals, the aim of the safeguarding arrangements was not to protect children, but rather to protect Ampleforth in the event of a future problem, to protect staff against "unfounded allegations" or if the allegations turned out (as they often do) to be all too well-founded, to be able to say "look, we tried, it's not our fault". The aim was to prevent scandal rather than to prevent abuse. The church's reputation was still uppermost, and it engendered an understandable degree of cynicism amongst staff.

RC-A30 also took aim at the effectiveness of school inspections carried out by the Independent Schools Inspectorate.
Q.  Were there ever any independent schools inspections?
A.  Yes, frequently.
Q.  Would the ISI give warning of instructions coming?
A.  They would, yes.
Q.  Is there an issue that you would like to highlight around that?
A.  I think the way in which the ISI -- how they were run in general at Ampleforth is indicative of the wider problem of, again, making sure that everything looks fine and everybody -- you know, of course, when there are independent inspections everybody wants to look good, everything wants to look okay, but, again, it was all about what was on the surface, what could people see. So, for instance, the school inspections, I remember one occasion, I think it was my GCSE year, the inspectors were meant to be talking to students that the teachers had chosen at random, for instance, just about the subjects and, you know, the way in which things were done at school.  I was chosen along with another boy in my class, and they told us that, "Obviously, you weren't chosen at random.  You were both chosen because you were the best at the subject" -- this happened to be English.

They didn't tell us what to say, nobody fed us words, but I think the point was, they didn't need to, we enjoyed the subject and they knew we would speak highly of it and articulately and, chances are, would not talk about any particular flaws. I think, just in -- if that were the only problem, if everything else was -- if there wasn't the issues with safeguarding and child protection, as I have voiced, you might say that's -- you know, everybody tries to put their best foot forward on inspections, but I think, as I said, it is indicative of the wider problem, which is that, as long as everything looked good, everything has an outstanding rating -- I mean,  they got an outstanding rating from the ISI when I was being abused at Ampleforth. It shows it wasn't very difficult to coordinate those events to make sure that everything looks fine and ignore what was happening in the next building, you know.
This is consistent with my own knowledge of the quality of safeguarding aspects of inspections by both ISI and Ofsted. They only find a problem if they have already been told there is a problem they should find.

RC-A30 described a conversation she had with Fr Leo Chamberlain (Ampleforth's former headmaster and at one time RC-A30's parish priest).
Q.  Did he speak to you about the problems in the school?
A.  He did.  He was clearly -- he was genuinely concerned and very sorry, but he did make a rather revealing comment, which was that the problem is that a school can take measures on child protection but if you have a cunning perpetrator, they will always find a way, and I think that's -- again, that's indicative of the wider attitude to child protection in general at Ampleforth.

I think Father Leo -- it is clear that he's caring  and genuine and very sorry about what's happened, but it's the idea that, well, if Dara wanted to do it, he would do it anyway; if you have a cunning perpetrator, it will happen anyway.  But that is not the case.  There are so many big institutions that work and operate without child sexual abuse going on.  I think this idea that, "There is only so much we can do" or, there is only -- I don't buy that.  I'm sorry, there were things that were missed when I was there.  Just, you know, things like the email thread but then letting us be alone in the building at night and not questioning any of that, that really shouldn't have been missed. I think the idea that if you always have a cunning perpetrator -- I don't believe that: I think, in my experience, perpetrators work out of -- Dara certainly made a lot of effort to cover his own back and they like having power and being able to show that power.

I think if Ampleforth took its policies -- like, worked on them on a deep level, rather than what was at  the surface, I don't think that there's any reason to say that a cunning perpetrator will always find a way. That's almost admitting defeat or admitting -- like saying failure is inevitable.
This is a perfect example of the Nirvana fallacy and its flaw. Leo Chamberlain was essentially saying that since child abuse can't be stamped out altogether, it's nobody's fault when it happens and it's not worth bothering trying to make improvements. But the flaw, correctly described by RC-A30, is that while child abuse can't be stamped out altogether, measures can be taken to deter and reduce abuse, that those measures could and should have worked in her instance, and much avoidable harm resulted from a failure to act effectively.

Dara De Cogan was quite brazen. He acted towards RC-A30 in front of staff and other students in ways that absolutely should have given rise to suspicions. As a teacher, you do not ping a pupil's bra strap in front of other staff. He did so knowing that Ampleforth's safeguarding procedures and culture were wholly inadequate. Acting this way in front of staff was an exercise in power, to convince RC-A30 that she was not able to complain because nobody would take any notice, nobody throught anything wrong was going on.

There was ample evidence available to staff at the time that there was a safeguarding issue here, that there was something that needed to be investigated, even though without an investigation the extent of the abuse was not then known. But there was easily enough to trigger a concern sufficient to ask RC-A30 what was going on and if she was all right, and to trigger a reference to children's services so that RC-A30 could be interviewed, reassured and supported by people trained to do precisely that.

1 comment:

  1. RC-A30's testimony really stands out to me. She is so, so brave and if she reads this then I hope that she knows that she's given hope to so many other survivors and victims of sexual abuse. I have nothing but admiration for her courage and zeal.