Thursday, 24 October 2019

The IICSA Report

Well, it has been published at last.

And it is utterly damning of Ealing Abbey, St Benedict's School, the English Benedictine Congregation, the Diocese of Westminster and the Holy See. It is easy to conclude that they should be considered damned in the classical meaning of the word "condemned by God to suffer eternal punishment in hell".

The report is not much kinder to the police, Ealing Children's Services, the Charities Commission, the Independent Schools Inspectorate, or the Department for Education.

The report is 123 pages of exceedingly grim reading. With the exception of a small number of heroic but mostly ineffectual (through no fault of their own) whistleblowing teachers, nobody with a professional duty of care towards the children of St Benedict's School comes out of this well.

The inquiry sets out the overall culture of the place early on. Concerning Pearce the report says:
It appears that many in the school and Abbey – teachers and monks alike – were aware of Pearce’s behaviour but were seemingly powerless to do anything about it. Gossip amongst the boys and staff was rife and complaints, including from parents, failed to trigger any action by the school or, in the rare event that information was communicated externally, by the statutory authorities. Staff were afraid that by speaking up they would lose their jobs. Pearce may well have been emboldened by this inertia as his abuse became less secretive, filming the boys at the swimming pool, lining them up naked and committing sexual assaults with apparent impunity. Unsurprisingly, Pearce was protected by Soper, but other Abbots and headmasters throughout this period also failed to act to protect children under their care.
And about Soper it says
Soper is known to have abused at least 10 children at St Benedict’s between 1972 and 1983, including multiple rapes. Many of the assaults were committed during acts of corporal punishment apparently inflicted on the slightest of pretexts. Soper’s predilection for caning boys was well known amongst the boys and staff at the school. He was told to stop by a previous headmaster at some point in the late 1970s or early 1980s. This had no effect, and he continued to cane and sexually assault boys on many occasions.
His campaign of sexual abuse was allowed to continue because of the inaction of those who had the power to do something to stop it or bring him to justice.
The report is in a number of parts. it starts with an Executive summary (from which the quotes above are drawn). It then has
  • some pen portraits of survivors, 
  • an introduction describing who the investigation was conducted, 
  • a description of the school and abbey and their history,
  • a description of the nature and extent of the abuse
These occupy the first 44 pages of the report. they set the scene as it were. Next we have "Response of Ealing Abbey and St. Benedict's School to allegations of abuse. This is where we get into the core of the Inquiry's task, to examine the response of individuals and organisations to abuse. I'm going to start with what is said about Abbot Martin Shipperlee.

Abbot Martin Shipperlee

The report first makes it clear that abuses by Pearce were common knowledge among staff, pupils and monks. For instance Father Timothy Gorham, a monk who taught at the school, recalled pupils talking in 1995 about Pearce saying things like “Sit on my lap little boy”. Gorham said “these things were already mentioned amongst the monks at the abbey. I think everybody knew about it.”

Of Shipperlee's inaction concerning Pearce, the report goes on to say
Father Shipperlee replaced Pearce as headmaster of the junior school in 1992 and was a member of the Abbot’s Council, before becoming Abbot. He admitted that he had been aware of ongoing concerns in respect of Pearce, including the fact that as bursar Pearce continued to have contact with children at the school, but he did nothing. He gave us two answers to why he did not complain. First he said “Now, obviously, I can/could have complained. But at this stage, I’m aware of a lot of stories about him … ”, the suggestion being that “stories” were not enough. Later in his evidence to us, Abbot Shipperlee said that he did not raise concerns when he was head of the junior school “Because by that stage [Pearce] is now out of – well, he is out of the school.
Once he was elected Abbot, Shipperlee had the opportunity to place restrictions on Pearce. Complaints from other monks about Pearce's behaviour came almost immediately and at regular intervals over the years. After a complaint was referred to the police in 2001 Shipperlee "told the police that Pearce was in no position to have any contact with children but he did not consider putting him under any restrictions". Shipperlee also allowed pearce to remain a trustee of th Trust of St Benedict’s Abbey Ealing, which oversaw both the school and the abbey.

It wasn't until 2005 that the then diocesan safeguarding advisor Peter Turner wrote to Shipperlee recommending that Pearce be placed under restrictions.
1. That Fr. David has no public ministry with the Parish setting.
2. That Fr. David is only allowed to say mass in private or within the monastery, and with no members of the public present.
3. That Fr. David is allowed to continue in a non-executive role within the Monastery as long as that does not bring him into contact with Children and Young Persons;
4. That Fr. David continues to serve as Chaplain to other Religious Communities as long as this does not bring him into contact with Children and Young Persons, and provided that the person in charge of such Communities is made aware of these conditions;
5. That if Fr. David visits families within the Parish, he does so only on condition that he does not wear clerical dress and that the families are bonafide families/friends.
According to the report "Abbot Shipperlee accepted that he failed to do this, and had also failed to keep any record over and above Mr Turner’s letter" and also "failed to ensure that action was taken". instead he relied on the fact that he was living alongside Pearce and believed he could therefore monitor his activities, he relied on Pearce's promises of compliance, and he relied on other monks telling him of breaches. The report states that Shipperlee was wrong in all three cases
Pearce living alongside him: "He should have recognised that this had been the case since the 1980s and had not prevented Pearce abusing children in the care of St Benedict’s."
Compliance by Pearce: "This repeats the mistaken assumption that because Pearce should not have contact, he would not have contact. ... It was not appropriate to deal with a significant risk to children by relying on the word of the person accused of abusing them."
Other monks would tell the abbot if there were breaches: "There is no documentary evidence of what monks at Ealing Abbey were told about Pearce’s restrictions. The later review carried out by Philip Wright and John Nixson observed that the extent of knowledge within the community was unclear. If the monks did not know what the restrictions were, they could not help to police them."
Shipperlee did no better in his response to allegations of abuse by Soper. The report states.
In December 2001, the Diocesan child protection coordinator, James Curry, advised Abbot Shipperlee that RC-A420’s claim should be reported to the police. Abbot Shipperlee “undertook” to Mr Curry that he would act on this but it seems that he in fact decided not to do so, favouring his own judgment of the facts over an independent review of the evidence.
“Q. Did you bring the A420 matter to the police’s attention?
A. I did not.
Q. Why not?
A. Because I simply did not believe that this was possible. In fact, I was outraged that such an accusation could be made against someone of whom I – well, it did not occur to me that it was possible that this sort of thing could happen.
Q. Do you agree that that decision was wrong?
A. Oh, yes, absolutely wrong."
The report goes on to say
Shortly after this, in 2002, Soper went to Rome to become the general treasurer to the International Benedictine Confederation at Sant’Anselmo. Abbot Shipperlee did not inform the Abbot Primate, Notker Wolf, of the allegation of RC-A420 against Soper. As a result, the Abbot Primate was unaware of the potential risk Soper represented.
There were further allegations against Soper in 2004 and 2008, but "it was not until May 2010, after another allegation from RC-A591, that Abbot Shipperlee finally travelled to Rome to place him under formal restrictions."

And Shipperlee also was on the wrong side of things with respect to the monk given the cipher RC-F41 in the report.
In April 2005, RC-A421 disclosed to Mr Turner that he had been abused by RC-F41 while on a school trip to Italy in 1984. RC-F41 admitted to Mr Turner that he had inserted his finger into the anus of the boy, supposedly to relieve his constipation, although “he realised immediately what he had done was wrong and sinful, and he has worried about it ever since”.
The report goes on to say
RC-F41 could not be prosecuted in respect of RC-A421’s allegation, as the incident had occurred in Italy and so could not at that time (prior to the Sex Offenders Act 1997) be prosecuted in the UK. RC-A421 later made further allegations, for which RC-F41 stood trial in 2007 but was acquitted.

Despite RC-F41’s admissions in respect of the incident in Italy, Abbot Shipperlee’s response to his acquittal in June 2007 was to question the restrictions upon him. He wrote to Mr Turner that:

“Parishioners do not understand why he continues to be under restrictions and, to be honest, I’m not sure I do either … At the moment, it is far from obvious that RC-F41 has ever posed a risk to children.”
Mr Turner replied that the restrictions had to continue.
Shipperlee commissioned the Wright-Nixson report in 2009.
"Despite child protection concerns at the Abbey extending beyond Pearce to allegations against both Soper and RC-F41, the review was limited to the offending of Pearce and to two days’ work. ... The main basis of the report was a document produced by Abbot Shipperlee giving the background to allegations against Pearce. However, this omitted a number of allegations, mentioning just RC-A418, RC-A6 and RC-A621. There was no consideration of the underlying documentary material. Mr Nixson, in his written evidence to the Inquiry, stated:

“With the benefit of further reflection, it is now evident to me that Abbot Martin presented the existing concerns and findings about individual members of the religious community in a minimal manner. At the time this was one aspect of the situation that led me to feel that the review was, to some extent, a mechanical exercise intended to enable Ealing Abbey to satisfy CSAS that it was procedurally compliant rather than fully embracing safeguarding as an essential element of the abbey’s culture for the future.”
In 2010, following increasing public criticism, Shipperlee commissioned Lord Carlile tp conduct a further review. Carlile's main recommendation was the separation of the school and abbey into two independent charitable trusts. However Carlile also endorsed an earlier recommendation made by the Independent Schools Inspectorate “Ensure that any staff or members of the religious community live away from the school, if they are subject to allegations of misconduct related to safeguarding or convicted of wrongdoing”.

According to the report
This recommendation plainly encompassed RC-F41, nonetheless Abbot Shipperlee did not immediately relocate RC-F41. ... On 12 October 2010, the Minister of State for Schools, Nick Gibb MP, wrote to the Charity Commission expressing concern that the DfE did not have the jurisdiction to enforce RC-F41 living away from the monastery. Shortly after, on 15 October 2010, Mr Nelson [the school solicitor] informed the DfE that Abbot Shipperlee would ensure that RC-F41 would move from Ealing Abbey by early January 2011. However, when RC-F41 was moved that month, Abbot Shipperlee failed to inform the Diocese of Brentwood (in breach of the CSAS cross-boundary placement policy). The Bishop of Brentwood subsequently asked that RC-F41 be moved because the diocesan safeguarding commission felt that the premises were unsuitable. Thereafter another location for him was found.
And Shipperlee did little better with the monk RC-F46.
There was insufficient monitoring of the restrictions upon RC-F46. The restrictions were first imposed following the allegations of RC-A423 in April 2010. These were subsequently found to be “unsubstantiated, but not unfounded”. Taken together with allegations made against him by RC-A422 at St Augustine’s Priory, a local girls’ school, the multi-agency strategy meeting determined that the restrictions were to be maintained. Yet members of the monastic community were not informed of the terms of the covenant of care. Further, for a significant period into 2011, RC-F46 not only refused to agree to his covenant but also sought to evade the restrictions, which came to include that he should “only access Ealing Abbey Church during the monastic office and with other members of the monastic community and at other times only with the explicit permission of the abbot”.
RC-F46’s restrictions were not reviewed annually, as they should have been.
 Let's summarise.
  • There was hardly a single occasion, either as Junior School headmaster or later as Abbot on which Shipperlee voluntarily took appropriate action.
  • He was extremely secretive, failing to give necessary information to the statutory authorities, the Wright-Nixson review, the diocoesan safeguarding team, the diocese of Brentwood and even his fellow monks.
  • He relied (so he claims) on his belief that Pearce would voluntarily comply with restrictions
  • He flatly disbelieved (so he claims) that the first allegations against Soper could possibly be true.
 This will be written into textbooks as a perfect case study on how not to handle an abuse crisis.

In further articles over the next day or two I will describe what the report says about others.


  1. Section D3 of the Report treats with events during Martin Shipperlees' tenure as Abbot of Ealing.
    I quote;

    "Abbot Shipperlee has now acknowledged, there were serious shortcomings in his response to allegations and handling of child protection concerns."

    "Abbot Shipperlee’s responses were frequently inadequate, ineffective and ill-judged."

    This part of the report continues in the same vein with respect to Shipperlee.

    What next? Are 'failures,'inadequacies' reflection of incompetence or simply a cover story for something more sinister?

    I knew Shipperlee from my days at Heythrop in London; I could tell you then- at that time he was a monastic novice- that he was not Abbot material. He was the perfect " front man' for the likes of Soper and Pearce. They quite probably engineered his election and ensured that it would 'business as usual'

    They knew there man.

    Will there be a criminal investigation into Shipperlee and his predecessor Rossiter?

    1. Short answer to your question is "No". Covering up abuse is perfectly legal and so there is no crime to investigate. I'll be writing more on this.

  2. I am little troubled by a teacher who had ample evidence of abuse continuing to work there for 40 years. First, why continue to work at such a despicable institution? Second, he seems to have done his bit to make those in charge aware, but if he knew, presumably other teachers did as well. United action from a group of teachers might have been less career-limiting than an individual voice speaking out.

    1. Really hard to coordinate that without being picked off as soon as early efforts at coordination are heard about. I think it's best to reserve the greatest criticism for those in senior positions who knowingly implemented the cover up.