Saturday, 30 December 2017

IICSA Benedictine hearings day 3

Day 3 started to get down to something a bit more substantial. Proceedings started with evidence from a former pupil of Ampleforth and Gilling Castle (Ampleforth's primary school), starting at the senior school in 1978. The witness, who is legally entitled to anonymity, was referred to as RC-A2.

RC-A2 described a culture of fear and violence, and a culture where both in the junior and senior schools some monks and teachers would swim naked with pupils shower with pupils and touch pupils inappropriately. He also described how the sixth-form boys would regard the first-formers as "pretty boys".
Well, you could get a young lad -- he might be walking up to dinner and someone might slap him on the bum or put their arm around him and say, "You're a pretty boy, aren't you?", you know.  I never encountered anything -- serious sexual abuse or anything, but there was this feeling that there was -- sort of pertaining to "Tom Brown's Schooldays", sort of thing, the upper sixth were in charge.
RC-A2 said he didn't suffer as much as others because he was big and played rugby a lot. At the end of his evidence, RC-A2 was invited to say why he had come forward to the inquiry.
Well, I feel that those at the school that were seriously sexually abused, or whatever comes up from the hearing, will, rightly so, have compensation, apologies or whatever, whatever happens to them, but the thing that I feel is that, in that era, there was a lot of allowed sexism on telly, all over the place in the '70s and '80s, and I think a lot of allowed -- sexism and abuse at that school that was allowed, ie, people swimming with you naked is wrong.  I think that the people -- a lot of people probably haven't come to terms with that. 

For me, my biggest problem has been having a shutdown of emotions for most of my life and that was caused because I had to at school, otherwise I wouldn't have got on and been able to deal with the school, and I believe that that deserves an apology to other people that weren't seriously abused, because I think in a way we were all abused to an extent.  I think that the atmosphere we were brought up in -- I realise our parents put us down for it.  I realise it was the choice of our families.  I also realise my father thought he was doing the best he could for me.  It wasn't his fault.  But in that school, I was 6 or 7 years old, and it was bloody terrifying some of the time, and I think that that needn't have been like that.

I think if you run an institution like that, your very best person possible should be looking after the smallest children, the very best, the cream of the crop.
The next witness was RC-A61. He started as a pupil at Gilling Castle in 1965 aged 7 and went on to Ampleforth 4 years later. RC-A61 also described physical violence, regular beatings, including beatings by Fr Piers Grant-Ferris in the confessional and in bathrooms where RC-A61 was required to be naked. RC-A61 was asked when he first spoke to other monks about Fr Piers Grant-Ferris
Q.  Did you ever speak to any of the monks about Father Piers Grant Ferris?
A.  On having almost finished school -- I believe I'm able to mention the name of Father Justin Price?
Q.  Yes.
A.  We annually did something called a retreat, which was usually in the summer term, where boys would be divided in groups and discuss theological or religious issues, and during one of -- at the end of one of those sessions with Father Justin Price, there was a small group of us left behind and, emboldened by age, the conversation turned to Father Piers and his beatings, at which point Father Justin Price told us that when Father Piers was sent to Gilling Castle, it was known that he had a problem with boys' bottoms, or words to that effect, which came as a stunning shock to me. It is the same Justin Price that years later denied that any abuse had ever taken -- he became abbot some years -- not abbot, I do beg your pardon, he became Prior of Ampleforth some years later, but by that stage he denied and told me himself that I was the first person who had ever suggested wrongdoing by Piers Grant Ferris.
Q.  Just taking that in stages, it came as a shock to you?
A.  Yes.
Q.  What was particularly shocking to you when you were on that retreat with Father Justin?
A.  Yes.
Q.  What was particularly shocking?
A.  Because he'd told me that it was known, and there were other priests who I am not going to name, who -- by that stage, I was nearly 18, and spoke to about abuses that had taken place, and it seemed generally understood that that's what happened.
Q.  In your statement, you say that it was unbelievable to you, having heard that, that he had been sent to become a year head at a boys' school when there was prior knowledge?
A.  Just absolutely staggering how, you know -- you know, even in the days when, you know, these things weren't considered so seriously, just the idea that you could send somebody with a known -- it just blows me away, sorry.  It is absolutely extraordinary.  I wouldn't know where to start.  I mean, you know, child protection on its most basic level, you wouldn't let anybody near other children, particularly as head of year.  That means guardian.  That means -- you know, that means you're standing in for this child's parents.
Later  RC-A61 made it clear he believed Abbot (later Cardinal) Basil Hume knew all about it.
Q.  Why have you got no doubt that he knew?
A.  My father told me that he knew.  My father was also of  the belief that the reputation of the Catholic Church was of utmost importance.
Q.  More important than what happened to you?
A.  Indeed.  He was a -- he went to church every day.
So, we have a situation where the authority of the church was such that parents believed the protection of its reputation came even before the safety of their own children. Incredible.

After RC-A61 had given evidence, extracts were read from statements from two more survivors, both pupils in the 1950s & 70s. I shan't go into them in detail, they describe similar abuses by Fr Piers Grant-Ferris and others.

The next witness, RC-A30, was a female pupil at Ampleforth from 2005 to 2010 on a scholarship. An important aspect of her evidence is how recently she was abused. 2005 was after the Nolan Commission reported and 2010 was after the Cumberlege commission reported, in other words at a time when the Catholic Church was loudly proclaiming that it had got its act together. RC-A30 was abused by music teacher Dara De Cogan. Earlier this year De Cogan was jailed for 28 months after pleading guilty to 10 charges of abuse. I'm not going to describe the details of the abuse and the grooming process, there's no need and I don't want to compound RC-A30's distress if she happens to read this. So, I'm just going to concentrate on the aspects of when De Cogan's behaviour should have been triggering alarm bells in the school. Here's an excerpt from the testimony.
Q.  Would he say anything to you about how you looked?
A.  Yes.  He would comment frequently that I looked gorgeous or extremely beautiful.  He would refer to my breasts constantly.  He would say things like, "You've got great tits" or "You have fabulous knockers", and he would say those things in front of other students as well.
Q.  He would say that in front of other students?
A.  He would, yes.
Q.  What about other teachers?
A.  Other teachers, I remember kind of vividly he had started to ping back my -- snap back my bra strap under my top, which he did in front of other members of staff and students.  He seemed to like the idea, I think, that he could do it publicly and nobody was saying anything. People clearly noticed, because they might smile or, you know, give the odd look, but nobody actually said anything.  So that was something he did quite frequently in front of staff and he would compliment me on my looks in front of other staff as well.
Later she said this
Q.  Were other teachers or members of the school, the college, aware of the meetings that you were having at this point?
A.  Oh, yes.
Q.  And extra tutorials?
A.  Yes, people knew, for sure.  I mean, apart from anything else, we had -- every boarding student had a curfew that they were supposed to be in the boarding house by a certain time.  Typically, our meetings would take place quite late in the evenings so I missed curfew.  My housemistress had to know where I was so that nobody would go out looking.  I believe, also, because they were one-on-one meetings, risk assessments were meant to be filled out.  I'm sure that he did at least some of those risk assessments.
And later, after describing how the abuse had escalated.
Q.  Were the rules at that stage the same?  Was your housemistress --
A.  Of course, they were the same.  Everybody knew where I was.  We were in the music department by myself -- by ourselves.  I had actually been given a key to the music block.  It's a separate building.  And the head of music would see both of us off so we could -- we would come and go separately.  It was very easy to be in the locked building ourselves without anybody else there.
Q.  Were you aware of whether anyone had any thoughts about what was going on or not?
A.  Yes, lots of people did.
Q.  When you say "lots of people"?
A.  Students would talk about it frequently.  There were rumours flying around amongst students that things were going on between us.
Q.  What about the staff?
A.  Excuse me?
Q.  What about the staff?
A.  What about the staff?  There were certain members of staff as well, because Dara's behaviour, as I have mentioned, because it became -- he became more tactile publicly and things like snapping my bra strap in front of other members of staff, as no-one said anything, they clearly saw what was going on, it gave him more power. He obviously liked it and he grew in confidence in that area.  He could get away with a lot more in public because -- well, because he was getting away with more in public.  Nobody was doing anything.
RC-A30 described emails she had seen from De Cogan to other staff members.
Q.  Were the emails from Dara De Cogan to the head of music, Ian Little?
A.  Yes.
Q.  And also to Brenda Green, your housemistress?
A.  Yes.
Q.  Both of whom had known over the years that you had been spending a considerable amount of time with Dara De Cogan?
A.  Yes.
Q.  What was the content of the email?
A.  Dara voiced his concern that I had inappropriate feelings for him.  He said this was based on a caricature drawing of him I did.  It was just -- it was an innocent caricature, and I had -- I used to do them when I first arrived at Ampleforth because I found it hard to communicate with other children socially. Sometimes I would draw pictures, funny, exaggerated cartoons, and people would laugh. I did one of Dara once, and --
Q.  Was this just after you'd joined Ampleforth?
A.  This was just after I'd joined.  I'd been there for maybe two weeks at the time.  And Dara saw the one I did of him and, at the time, he had said to me that it was a very good drawing, he encouraged me to do more of them, and he took a snapshot of it with his phone and uploaded it to his computer because he said that he wanted to keep it there for posterity.  I had only drawn it on the whiteboard, so it was quite easy to rub it out. In the emails that he sent to Ian and Brenda, however, the -- he'd included the image of the cartoon, and he said that he was concerned that I had feelings for him based on this drawing.  He also said that he had told me to stop doing the drawings, but I continued anyway, which wasn't true, and then he continued to list five steps that he'd taken in case I made allegations of inappropriate behaviour against him, one of which was taking down the curtains in his classroom that we spoke about earlier on.

The replies from the other members of staff were very much in agreement: "Yes, you have taken the right steps.  This is exactly the sort of thing that you should be doing", but nobody ever spoke to me about the emails.  Nobody actually asked me or questioned anything.  If they had, then I would have told them what had actually happened, because that wasn't true at all.
Now, all of this was happening after Ampleforth had been hauled over the coals because of previous abuses for which Fr Piers Grant-Farris had been convicted, so you might reasonably expect that the school would be hyper-alert to the issue.

I'll cover the last part of RC-A30's testimony in the next article, where she describes what she saw concerning the school's safeguarding arrangements.

1 comment:

  1. As ever, thanks for the updates.

    The comments from the witness called RC-A2... hell that struck a chord with me.

    If I may quote part of what you quoted above:

    For me, my biggest problem has been having a shutdown of emotions for most of my life and that was caused because I had to at school, otherwise I wouldn't have got on and been able to deal with the school, and I believe that that deserves an apology to other people that weren't seriously abused, because I think in a way we were all abused to an extent. I think that the atmosphere we were brought up in -- I realise our parents put us down for it. I realise it was the choice of our families. I also realise my father thought he was doing the best he could for me. It wasn't his fault. But in that school, I was 6 or 7 years old, and it was bloody terrifying some of the time, and I think that that needn't have been like that.

    That's so right. That testimony reached a deep, and very very painful thing inside of me. I was not Ampleforth, but St B.

    The pervasive sexual abuse that lots of us experienced was one thing. (Unlike the most serious sexual abuse meted out to fewer victims) But oh my, the emotional and mental damage that place caused is probably incalculable.