Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Why didn't they have to report?

In a comment on the Who knew? Everyone! article, Elly has made a very pertinent and important point.
What I genuinely don't understand is why, when it is clear that various adults knew abuse was going on and chose not to go to the police, those adults are not being prosecuted. Isn't there already a law about being an accessory during and/or after the fact?
That's a very good question and deserves a full answer.

As a general principle of English law, it's not a crime to fail to report a crime. The exceptions are few and narrowly drawn. One exception is that under the Proceeds Of Crime Act 2002, financial institutions and their lawyers have a statutory obligation to report suspicions of money laundering or bribery to the authorities.

But there is no equivalent legal duty to report child abuse. That means that you could be the headmaster of a school, actually witness one of your staff raping one of your pupils in the school changing rooms, but you will have no legal duty to report anything about it to anyone.

To be an accessory, you need to do more than just not report it. You would need to do something more active, such as giving misleading answers to the police if they ask. But if the police don't ask, you have no obligation to tell them that there are questions they ought to be asking.

Elly goes on to say:
The numerous cases at St benedict's, plus the numerous cases in many other Catholic schools and institutions, makes one thing abundantly clear: many Catholics are willing to stand by while children are abused. Prosecution is probably the only language such morally devoid people are going to understand.
And I agree entirely. About 80% of countries worldwide have a "mandatory reporting" law applicable to child abuse. Britain is unusual in not having such a law. These last few years I have spent a fair bit of time campaigning for mandatory reporting in support of the organisation Mandate Now. They have produced detailed proposals for such a law in England and Wales and have provided those proposals to IICSA for their consideration.

Elly, I hope you (and others) will lend your vocal support to the introduction of mandatory reporting of reasonable suspicions of child abuse in Britain.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Who knew? Everyone!

Yesterday's Sunday Times carried a powerful piece by Stephen Bleach.

Who knew about the abuse at St Benedict’s? The entire Catholic Church

(The article is behind a paywall but you can register for free and view a couple of articles a week.)

A key point of the article is that the cover-up was widespread and not restricted to Ealing, and continues to the present. As the article describes:
2011, with accusations against him mounting, Soper — the rapist who groped me and abused so many other boys — skipped police bail and went into hiding. Scotland Yard launched a hunt and asked the church for help.

The Archdiocese of Westminster (which was responsible for safeguarding at the abbey) provided a file on Soper in which, police said, there was “extensive, some might say excessive, redaction . . . one page was completely blanked out”.

Police also asked the Vatican if it knew where Soper was. The Vatican did not reply. In fact the Vatican — or at least some people within it — had a very good idea where he was. As was revealed at the IICSA, Soper had more than €400,000 stashed away in the Vatican bank, and during the five years he was in hiding he periodically contacted the Vatican, requesting transfers to an account he had set up with a bank in Kosovo. Despite repeated requests, the Vatican did not pass this information on to the police.
Stephen Bleach contacted the school, the Abbey and the Papal Nuncio's office requesting an interview. All refused. This is what happened when he tried to contact the Nuncio.
The man who picked up the phone at his official residence in Wimbledon actually laughed at me. When he’d recovered, he said: “No, no, no, absolutely not. The nuncio does not give interviews to anyone.”
The school refused an interview request, providing only a statement concerning all the changes that have been made. Key among them was that “There is now no physical access between the monastery and the school.”. This very much struck Bleach. As he says:
That sentence is the most telling. It could well be that St Benedict’s has, finally, changed. I hope so. But if it has, it has done it not by embracing the church, but by escaping from it: by reducing the influence of the clergy, and indeed physically keeping them out. It says something when, in evidence designed to reassure a judicial inquiry it can keep children safe, a Catholic school solemnly assures the hearing that it has put up a fence to ward off monks.
More than 100 senior Roman Catholic bishops from around the world will gather in Rome this week for a summit Pope Francis has called to address clerical sexual abuse. The Guardian headline reads Credibility of Catholic church at stake in sexual abuse summit. Quite frankly, I wonder what credibility the author of that headline imagines the Catholic Church might still have. There's very little of it that I can perceive.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Cleugh's inquiry evidence about me

Cleugh, in giving evidence to the inquiry, was asked at one point "Did you consider that Mr West's interventions were malicious?"

I'm not going to repeat his reply here, but you can read it in the transcript. (Each page of the PDF is divided into 4 separate numbered pages. Cleugh's reply starts at line 3 of page 12 of these numbered pages. The specific point I want to address is on lines 16-20, his description of a blog comment he claims was made here.

Now, when I saw this, I was very surprised. I didn't remember any such comment. But I thought OK, there are a quarter of a million words in the blog and it has been running for nearly 10 years. I might have forgotten it. So I did a websearch of the blog, using a variety of search terms to see if I could find it. No sign of it.

I keep a separate record of all the comments, whether or not they are published. As those of you who have commented here know, I have a moderation system here for comments, they don't appear on the blog immediately. When a comment is made, I get an email notification containing the comment and I then decide if it can be published. Maybe it might have been briefly published and then deleted? So I searched through the comments. Nothing there either. No comment even remotely resembling the one Cleugh describes has ever been submitted to the blog, much less published.

It might be that the comment was made elsewhere (perhaps on Facebook?) on a part of the web over which I have no control rather than on the blog and Cleugh has got it mixed up in his memory. But then I'd expect a wider websearch to find it. But I still come up with nothing.

Had such a comment been published it would have been ample justification to take a screenshot, pass it to the school solicitors and get a stiffly-worded solicitor's letter to me. But interestingly Cleugh has made no reference to upsetting comments on my blog in his written statement to the Inquiry, and he hasn't provided a screenshot of the comment in any of the exhibits to his statement. In fact his statement makes no reference to me at all.

If I had received an email requesting that a comment of that kind be taken down, then I would have readily agreed to do so. In fact when an issue arose about comments about Mrs Gumley Mason at St Augustine's Priory School, I wrote to the chair of Trustees offering to remove on request any offensive comment that was brought to my attention. No such request was ever made.

Anyway, I provided the Inquiry last year with a complete copy of all the blog articles about St Benedict's (including comments) as an exhibit to my own statement. They can easily conduct their own searches on it and decide the truth of the matter.

(Note: if you read the comment on the IICSA website and then quote the words of it in a comment here, I won't publish it. The comment has not appeared here and that's how it is going to stay.)

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Abbot Martin Shipperlee resigns

It was bound to happen. Once the inquiry's lawyers had dug through the documentation they demanded from the school, the abbey, the police, the DfE, ISI and Charity Commission, the cover-up could no longer be maintained and the extent of it could no longer be denied.

I have no means of knowing what was on Abbot Martin's mind when he wrote his letter of resignation, but the two failings that struck me the most were his admission that he had failed to pass to the police in 2001 a serious allegation about his predecessor Abbot Laurence Soper, and that the Abbey lawyers had in effect threatened another complainant against Soper into silence in 2004.

Anyway, whatever the detailed reasons, he's done the right thing and resigned. I have some degree of respect for him for that. However the respect would be greater if he had done the right thing without exhausting every other possible option first. For almost his entire time in office he has been engaged  in what looks from the outside to be an increasingly desperate search for measures to prevent this all coming to light.

There was the Wright/Nixson report commissioned in 2009. This was commissioned by the Abbot, it had a very narrow remit covering the abbey and monastery but not the school. Wright and Nixson spent a total of 2 days in the monastery, and did not undertake a detailed document review. Nonetheless a summary of the report was published on the school website as fulfillment of Shipperlee's promise to parents of a review of school safeguarding.

Then there was Lord Carlile's report. Ruth Henke, the barrister representing Ealing Abbey and St Benedict's School at the inquiry made a valiant effort in her closing remarks to suggest that a major turning point had been made by commissioning and accepting the Carlile report. She said:
As I said in opening, we have learnt from our past mistakes as institutions, and the institutions I represent today in my closing address before you are the institutions as they are today. We say that you can learn not simply from the mistakes, but it is also good practice to learn from the positives and from good practice itself. What was the significant positive? We say it was the commissioning of the Carlile Report in July 2010 when, when you look at the evidence, you may think we were between a rock and a hard place, but when we did the right thing. And that should be acknowledged. Because that results in a report that brings about fundamental and significant change.

On behalf of those I represent, I know that the independence of the report is put into question. So, in closing, may I say this: firstly, the report is by an expert. It is commissioned by the abbey. But I ask: how is that different from any singly instructed expert in any family or civil court throughout this land? We say no different whatsoever. Where does the integrity of the expert come from? From their professionalism, from their independence and from how they exercise it without fear and favour.
I would expect from somebody in her position to emphasise such positives as can be found from what I'm sure she will have been saying in private was a right car-crash of a case. And she said it very well. All credit.

But the claim that Carlile was a turning point really doesn't stand up to any kind of scrutiny. First, the culture of coverup was the primary problem. And it looks very much as if things were covered up from Carlile as much as from everybody else. In his position as a barrister and QC, I find it very hard to believe that had the 2001 and 2004 allegations been known to him that he would not have included them in the report. It follows that he was lied to, even if the lie was one of omission. The only alternative explanation is to suppose that Carlile and Shipperlee conspired to produce a misleading report. I really don't believe Carlile to have been unwise enough to embark on such a course. I do believe Shipperlee capable of not informing Carlile, just as he didn't inform the police of the 2001 allegation.

And this is not the only thing that Carlile was not told. When Abbot President Richard Yeo conducted his Extraordinary Visitation in 2010, he conducted interviews with all the monks. Several of them disclosed that they had known something about Pearce's activities for decades. One monk is recorded as saying "mid '70s, knew David engaged in dubious activities". Another "Knew since I was junior school head that there was something wrong. Graffiti: Father David is bent." Another monk spoke of rumours existing when he arrived 25 years ago and expressed disbelief that a previous Abbot claimed that he "never knew anything about it".

So it is clear that knowledge of Pearce's abuses at least were commonplace among the monks for 30 years or so before he was convicted. In the light of this, Shipperlee's own professions of ignorance when giving evidence aren't all that credible. Knowledge of wrongdoing doesn't magically evaporate when you reach high office. Shipperlee's serial inactions were put to him, and in giving evidence about them, individually and collectively they had no explanation he could offer. That was a very careful formulation. That doesn't mean they have no explanation, or even that he doesn't himself have an explanation. It is just that he can't offer it. The explanation could simply be that he was covering things up, and this is what I believe to be the case. I've believed it ever since my one and only meeting with him in September 2009. That impression was put to him by counsel to the inquiry.

Carlile's recommendations were solely to do with reform of governance, definitely a subject that needed attention, but no governance reform will of itself prevent abuse. Secular schools have safeguarding scandals as well, and to guard against that you need an excellent and unambiguous safeguarding policy, and Shipperlee and Cleugh just couldn't bring themselves to implement that at the time. The version of the safeguarding policy published with Carlile's report still had gaping holes in the reporting arrangements, suggesting that making reports depended to a degree on the permission of the complainant or his/her parents. Where the safety of other children may be at risk from an abuser this is irresponsible. Carlile was not as expert as all that, since he didn't realise this and warmly endorsed the policy.

At the same time as Carlile was conducting his inquiry, a documentation review was carried out by Kevin McCoy. This in fact uncovered much more than Carlile's report about allegations against various monks and other staff, but was not published.

If the culture of coverup had been dispelled at the time of Carlile, then it would not have taken a public inquiry wielding statutory powers enabling it to force the disclosure of documents from the abbey and school and enabling it to compel witnesses to give evidence under oath to uncover all that has seen the light in the past week.

So I don't accept the suggestion that the Carlile report represents an attempt at fundamental change, that in commissioning it Shipperlee "did the right thing".

There also seems to be an element of "taking one for the team" in Shipperlee's resignation statement. He has apologised for his personal failures, but on the other hand has said he has "confidence in the present structures and procedures". I don't see how his confidence can be justified. Either those procedures are in place as a result of his actions in which case (given his admitted failings) nobody should have any confidence in them at all, or they have been implemented without and despite his views, in which case he ought to have resigned long ago.

However, there is plenty of blame to spread around and not all of it should be dumped on the shoulders of a hapless ex-Abbot. Earlier I described knowledge among the monks going back decades concerning the abuses. From the evidence given to the inquiry, it appears that few attempted to do anything with their knowledge.

Fr Alban Nunn made an attempt to bring abuse allegations to the notice of the police. Fr Peter Burns complained about Pearce taking confession in the Junior school when he was supposed to be under some kind of informal restriction, and Fr Edmund Flood came to the defence of "RC-A8" (the cipher given to a former pupil who gave evidence at the hearing) when Pearce and Soper were holding a kangaroo court over the supposed theft of a raincoat. With these honourable exceptions, I have to say that it seems that almost the entire monastic community appears to have had some degree of knowledge of the abuse, and chose to put the welfare of the abusers and the reputation of the community ahead of safety of the children in their care.

I suspect that those who had knowledge and did nothing are functionally atheists. At least, it would appear that they do not believe in the existence of divine justice. They knowingly and over an extended period allowed serious harm to come to a large number of children when it was in their power to act to prevent it. How do they expect to account to God for this?

But the blame doesn't stop there. Abbot President Richard Yeo, on learning in 2010 of the extent and duration of the knowledge the monks had, sought to support the community and not to disclose this knowledge to the statutory authorities. He doesn't even have the excuse of the knowledge having come to him during Confession, his notes were not taken during confession. Yeo was a member of the Cumberlege Commission, he is supposedly therefore one of the Catholic Church's foremost experts on safeguarding. If Yeo cannot be trusted to follow Cumberlege recommendations on reporting knoweldge or suspicions of abuse, then public confidence that anybody else in the church will do so will inevitably be close to non-existent.

Then there is the grubby situation of Soper's flight to Kosovo. He had opened an account at the Vatican Bank and and placed into it the money he inherited on the death of his parents. By Benedictine rules this money should have been handed over to the order, but Shipperlee did not demand it. The inheritance was of the order of €400,000. The Vatican Bank knew of Soper's address in Kosovo. He made repeated requests for transfers of funds and wrote to them with his address. The Bank ignored all requests from the British police for information as to Soper's whereabouts.

And if that wasn't enough, we have the repeated refusal of the Papal Nuncio to cooperate with the inquiry in providing a voluntary statement. Apparently the Nuncio (who is of course an accredited diplomat of a foreign power) is awaiting instructions from the Holy See, and in the meantime is relying on his diplomatic immunity to refuse to provide any kind of statement. An explanation from the Nuncio as to the reasons for the Vatican Bank's uncooperativeness would be welcome, but I don't ever expect to see it.

A few staff at St Benedict's School also deserve honourable mention for their part in trying to bring matters to light. Among those, there is Kate Ravenscroft who made a report to the police about Pearce. Then there is Harsha Mortemore, a former member of the non-teaching staff who made an attempt to raise concerns, only to be told "If you know what's good for you, keep your head down and do your job." Mr Halsall also attempted to raise concerns about Pearce with Cleugh on the latter's arrival, but this went nowhere. And Dr Carlo Ferrario, the deputy head and designated safeguarding lead at the time immediately passed on the concerns brought to him in 2008 that resulted in Pearce's arrest. I have great respect for all of them. All of them made statements to the police and/or the inquiry. They actually did something, no small feat in what has been described during the hearing as a "mafia-like" and intimidatory culture.

As for the future of the monastic community at Ealing, I have no idea what will happen. Fortunately it's not my problem. They will need to elect a new Abbot, but it is hard to imagine who that might be. Nobody who participated in the cover up would be a fit person for the job, but would anyone not tainted by the cover-up actually want the job?

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

IICSA Ealing hearing day 3

The transcript for today's hearing is here.

Today, the inquiry heard from former diocesan safeguarding adviser Peter Turner and from Abbot Martin Shipperlee.

The inquiry is already running seriously behind time, Shipperlee's evidence should have been completed this morning and evidence from former Abbot President Richard Yeo should have been heard this afternoon.

The delay is no surprise, the inquiry was warned months ago that a week would be insufficient for this hearing. It is not yet clear how all the necessary evidence will be fitted in.

If you want just a brief sense of what was covered today, have a look at the inquiry's Twitter feed for the day.

Shipperlee's evidence continues tomorrow.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

IICSA Ealing hearing day 2

Here the day 2 transcript. They are already falling behind schedule, Peter Turner's evidence will need to be completed tomorrow.

Monday, 4 February 2019

IICSA Ealing hearing day 1

The transcript for the first day of the IICSA hearing into Ealing Abbey & St Benedict's School is available on the inquiry website.

Special thanks to RC-A8, the survivor who very bravely gave evidence in person today.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

IICSA - Inadequate Inquiry into Child Sex abuse

This is a copy of a tweet stream I've just published.

IICSA last Friday published the schedule for the hearing into Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School next week. I’m going to explain why they deserve the name “Inadequate Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse”.

First, the hearing is only a week long. Lawyers for survivors argued months ago that a week would not be long enough for this hearing. Now you’re going to see why.

This is the second hearing of the inquiry’s case study into abuse at Benedictine monasteries and their attached schools. The first hearing was in November & December 2017, looking into abuse at Ampleforth and Downside. It lasted 3 weeks.

Despite the length, the hearing ran out of time before they could hear witnesses for the organisations responsible for inspecting and regulating the schools: respectively the Independent Schools’ Inspectorate and the Department for Education.

So one would reasonably expect that they would schedule a later hearing to hear these missing witnesses. They didn’t.  Given that, one might expect that they would find time to address the issues of inspection and regulation this week. They haven’t.

They have somewhat belatedly discovered what we knew all along, that a week isn’t enough, so witnesses from ISI and DfE aren’t even scheduled to be heard at all this week.

For one hearing to run out of time is understandable (if careless), but for them to give up altogether on the subject for the second is unbelievable.

Because I’m a core participant in the inquiry, I have lawyers for this (shared with a number of survivors). They have complained bitterly to the inquiry about this. But we’ve had no assurances from the inquiry as to when (if ever) we will get ISI and DfE giving evidence.

Also, Ealing Abbey commissioned a number of its own inquiries into abuse, most notably from Lord Carlile. His investigation is actually mentioned by name in the scope of this case study! But he’s not being called and neither are any of authors of the other reviews.

Why is this important and unacceptable? In describing this I have to tread carefully. I’m not allowed to disclose ahead of time any documents that will be used in evidence next week, so what I’m going to say next is all based on stuff already in the public domain.

In a hearing last year about abuse in the Church of England, the inquiry got very irate when someone leaked a letter from Prince Charles about Bishop Peter Ball, a letter that IICSA themselves where going to publish a few days later.

I’ve discussed the inquiry’s excessive secrecy over documents with senior officials. They claim its like a trial, you mustn’t influence the jury ahead of time with a public debate about the evidence. But this doesn’t wash for two reasons.

First, the panel members are professionals. If they were susceptible to that kind of influence, they shouldn’t be in the job.

Second, the inquiry doesn’t publish its report until months after a hearing, but they publish the papers disclosed in evidence immediately. So there’s ample time for public debate to apply undue influence to the panel if they were susceptible to it.

Anyway, going back to the missing witnesses. Let’s start with Lord Carlile. His report was loudly proclaimed at the time as being an expert review that meant Ealing Abbey was doing the right thing in following his recommendations.

But Carlile’s report dealt primarily with governance not safeguarding. His one new recommendation was a proposal for governance reform. He made no new recommendations about safeguarding, although 2 monks and 2 other teachers there have been convicted of abuse of pupils.

What’s more, Carlile warmly endorsed the school’s safeguarding policy, even though it still contained gaping holes in its commitment to report all safeguarding concerns to the authorities, as good safeguarding practice recommends.

So why didn’t Carlile notice this? Or did he notice and mistakenly believe this wasn’t important? We don’t know, and because he’s not being called as a witness we won’t find out.

Now let’s look at the Independent Schools Inspectorate. They inspected St Benedict’s School in November 2009 and gave the school a clean bill of health about safeguarding.

But the wording of the report makes it clear that they were not aware of the extent of the crimes Pearce was convicted of 3 months earlier, nor that the Charities Commission was running an investigation.

Nonetheless, they could see the school’s safeguarding policy at the time, which I have previously analysed in detail, and which can best be described as one long excuse never to have to report anything to anybody. But they noticed nothing wrong with it.

After I tipped them off, DfE ordered ISI to have another look the following April. This time, knowing exactly what to look for, ISI found numerous safeguarding shortcomings and issued an absolute stinker of a report.

Why did ISI miss the bad safeguarding policy first time around? We don’t know, and we won’t find out, because nobody from ISI is being called as a witness.

ISI inspects most independent schools, so if they are incompetent at inspecting for safeguarding, this has a significance far greater than just one school.

Now for DfE. DfE is the regulator of the entire educational sector. It is very unclear what (if any) powers DfE has to regulate independent schools, and what (if any) sanctions it has if an independent school has inadequate safeguarding

I know in principle DfE can deregister a school and thereby force its closure but it is not clear the circumstances under which it can do that, nor is it clear what the DfE’s policy is for applying that sanction.

Closing an independent school is something of a nuclear option. And it’s expensive. St Benedict’s has just over 1,000 pupils. It costs about £5k p.a. to educate a child in the state sector, so closing St Benedict’s would increase education spending by about £5m.

You can’t rely on local independent schools to take up the slack – they have to run at capacity or they can’t cover their costs. So the vast majority of the 1,000 pupils would have to be tipped into the state system.

But maybe some lesser sanction might be applied. Thing is, to the best of my knowledge there is no other sanction. There’s no sign that DfE ever took any action against St B. That’s odd, because we know from Carlile’s report that ministers took a personal interest in St. B.

So how much worse would the school have to get before DfE got off its backside and did something? We don’t know, and we won’t find out because nobody from DfE is being called as a witness.

There are similar questions that need to be asked of ISI and DfE about Ampleforth and Downside as well as Ealing. We know all about Ampleforth and Downside’s failings from IICSA’s report. But we don’t know how they were allowed to get so bad.

But a slavish adherence to its timetable is preventing IICSA from taking the time necessary to find out the truth.

In IICSA, the first “I” stands for Inadequate.