Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Spectator on Mandatory Reporting

The Spectator has weighed into the debate on mandatory reporting saying that ‘Mandatory reporting’ of suspected child abuse is a mad, bad idea. I saw the article and commented "below the line" on the Spectator website.

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Oh dear! What an ill-informed and misleading article.

1. Cameron hasn't spoken in favour of mandatory reporting with a penalty of 5 years for non-reporting, he spoke in favour of a law on "wilful neglect" which is something quite different and almost impossible to prove which won't change child protection culture in any way at all. It was just Cameron deciding to have a pop at another group of public sector staff, in this case social workers.

2. Mandatory reporting in countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia hasn't resulted in thousands of ill-founded or-unverifiable reports. The most recent research from Australia confirms that the introduction of mandatory reporting there has significantly increased the number of substantiated reports from mandated reporters. The conclusion of author Ben Mathews of Queensland University of Technology was “The results of this research suggest a mandatory reporting law for CSA is associated with a substantial and sustained increase in identification of cases of CSA. Societies which are considering the introduction of a mandatory reporting law for CSA should find support for this policy intervention from these findings, while recognizing the associated needs for reporter education, investment in agency capacity and service provision, and the need to implement responses to reports with sensitivity.”

3. Without proper support it is really hard to summon the courage to report. The natural thing to do is ask "What if I'm wrong?" So people tend to be on the side of the alleged abuser rather than the vulnerable child. The author has piled on the pressure in that direction with her talk of "the harm done to families and-professionals by thousands of unfounded accusations". It is a pity that no mention is made of the devastating and often lifelong harm to children that results from abuse going unreported and undetected. Non-reporting is far more common that you might think, and results in prolific serial abusers such as William Vahey getting away with their crimes for decades, or of Nigel Leat, where other staff noticed concerning behaviour on over 30 occasions and none of those concerns were forwarded to children's services

3. Actually Michael Gove is on record as having had a change of heart in favour of mandatory reporting.

4. It isn't a myth that there is an epidemic of hidden abuse. Research by the Children's Commissioner for England concludes that only 1 in 8 cases of child sex abuse comes to the attention of the authorities. That's a awful lot of unreported abuse. Yes, I'd call it an epidemic.

5. The tight, closed institutions that carried out the abuse-cover-ups of the past do still exist. As an example one school, knowing that a member of staff had abused, instead of reporting it consulted the school's solicitors to see if they had to report. The lawyers said no.

6. The Rochdale scandal had very little to do with the mandatory reporting question. Although under-reporting probably happened, the key problem was that local authority social services and the police simply didn't believe the children when they came forward with horrific takes of abuse. Professor Jay didn't conclude that the primary problem was fear of pointing fingers at the Pakistani community, but rather that the children, often from troubled backgrounds, were thought not worth trying to help.

So, an error of fact in almost every paragraph. Apart from that, the article is wonderful.

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The editors of the Spectator can't take criticism. The comment was moderated and not published.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The Goddard Inquiry

The Goddard Inquiry (also known as the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse) has issued a call for applications for "core participant" status in its investigation into abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. The inquiry website states:
"The first case study will examine the English Benedictine Congregation which has been the subject of numerous allegations of child sexual abuse, including at schools run by the Congregation. The Inquiry will examine the relationship between Orders such as the Benedictines and the Catholic Church in England and Wales and consider how that relationship impacts on child protection. In this way the Inquiry will evaluate whether any failings identified within the English Benedictine Congregation, and within any other case studies identified as part of the investigation, are representative of wider failings within the Catholic Church."
It is important that as many survivors of abuse as possible come forward to participate. This is a chance not merely to hold to account abusers within the church, but also to hold to account those people in the church who were complicit, in that they had knowledge or suspicions of abuse but didn't take effective steps either to prevent it from continuing or to ensure that it was reported to the civil authorities.

So if you are a survivor or abuse at Ealing Abbey or St Benedict's School, or of abuse at any of the other Benedictine monasteries or their schools, or for that matter anywhere else in the Catholic Church, I urge you to come forward without delay. If you're not sure what to do or how to go about it, feel free to email me and I will help as far as I can. We can maybe put together a group of Ealing Survivors who could have common representation.

Those who are central to the inquiry's subject are designated by the inquiry as "core participants". The rules for core participant status are described here. Those who are given core participant status will fall into one of these categories.
a. The person played, or may have played, a direct and significant role in relation to the matters to which the inquiry relates;
b. the person has a significant interest in an important aspect of the matters to which the inquiry relates; or
c. the person may be subject to explicit or significant criticism during the inquiry proceedings or in the report, or in any interim report.
The inquiry has already started a number of other investigations, including into the Anglican Church, into Rochdale and other places, and abuse survivors have been made core participants in each of these investigations.

If you're made a core participant, then in addition to giving evidence, you have certain additional rights.
Those designated as core participants will:
a. be provided with electronic disclosure of evidence relevant to the particular subject matter of the Inquiry in respect of which they are so designated, subject to any restrictions made under section 19 of the Inquiries Act 2005;
b. have the right to make opening and closing statements at any hearing;
c. have the right to suggest lines of questioning to be pursued by Counsel;
d. have the right to apply to the Inquiry Panel to ask questions of witnesses during a hearing.
If you want a lawyer to represent you and ask questions on your behalf, the inquiry can provide funds for that purpose. I know several of the lawyers who have been representing survivors in the other investigations, and I have no doubt that they will also be acting for survivors in the Roman Catholic Church investigation.

I can't stress how important it is for survivors to come forward. This is a once-in-a-generation chance to expose the wrongdoings of those institutions which enabled abuse, and to make an effective call for changes that would prevent abuse from happening again on this scale.

If you are a victim of abuse you are entitled to remain anonymous. Even if you give evidence in public hearings, your name and other identifying details will not be published. As a victim of sexual abuse (whether proved or not) you have a legal right to lifelong anonymity in respect of those crimes. You can see how this is handled if you look at transcripts of the public hearings into the abuse inquiry going on in Australia at present. Australia provides very similar protections for abuse victims.

It doesn't matter whether your abuse has resulted in a conviction or not. Any details of alleged abusers will get passed to the police, but you aren't then obliged to cooperate with the police if you don't want to.

Some abuse survivors quite understandably feel that public hearings are too much for them to cope with. If you feel that way but nonetheless want to make some sort of contribution to the inquiry, you can contact the Truth Project, which is a part of the inquiry where you share your experience in private without been cross-questioned by anybody. If you feel up to it, your evidence will be more powerful in the public hearings, but it is entirely up to you which route you decide is best for you.

If you want to apply for core participant status, you need to get a move on. The closing date for applications is June 24th, less than 3 weeks away.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Abbot Laurence Soper

The Metropolitan Police have their man. Laurence Soper was arrested last Wednesday in the town of Peja (or Peć in Serbian) in western Kosovo. I have little doubt that he will be extradited to Britain to stand trial on one or more charges of child abuse. While I was out last night my phone went crazy with all the people phoning me and texting me with the news.

It has made it as a news item in most of the media including the Daily Mail, the Guardian, the Daily Express, the Telegraph, Sky, the Sun, ITV, and the BBC.

Just about all the articles have some minor inaccuracies in them, so here are the background facts as far as I know them and as far as they can be stated in public without prejudicing any future trial.

Soper, now aged 72, was a pupil at St Benedict's School, run by the monks of Ealing Abbey. His original name is Andrew Charles Kingsdon Soper. Several former pupils who have since spoken to me remember him. After a short career in banking with Barclays he entered the monastery in 1964 and was ordained as a priest in 1970. He taught at St Benedict's School from 1973-84. When he retired from teaching he was Master of the Middle School (years 7-9). In 1984 he was appointed Prior and in 1991 was elected Abbot. He retired as Abbot in 2000 and immediately moved to the Benedictine headquarters at Collegio Sant'Anselmo in Rome where he became general treasurer of the International Benedictine Confederation in 2002 until his disappearance in 2011. His successor as Abbot of Ealing is the present Abbot, Martin Shipperlee.

In June 2010 a man, by now in his 40s, made a complaint to the police concerning alleged abuse by Soper during his time as a teacher, and in September Soper returned from Rome at the police's request to answer questions. He was arrested, released on police bail and allowed to return to Rome. He left Rome in March 2011 supposedly to attend a police bail appointment in London but instead disappeared. A European Arrest Warrant was issued for him in 2012.

In addition to his roles at Ealing Abbey and St Benedict's School, he was a visiting chaplain at Feltham Young Offenders Institution from 1988 to 2000 and was Roman Catholic chaplain at Harrow School from 1981 to 1991. There have been complaints about abuse of inmates at Feltham, and Ealing Abbey subsequently confirmed that the police interviewed Soper at the time in connection with those complaints.

There was a great deal of publicity following the conviction in 2009 of Father David Pearce (also a monk and priest at Ealing Abbey and the former head of the junior school at St Benedict's) for a series of sexual crimes against pupils spanning 36 years. As a result, Lord Carlile was commissioned by Ealing Abbey to write a report into abuse at the abbey and St. Benedict's School. Published in 2011, the Carlile report mentioned two complaints made against Soper, both dating from the 1970s. In his report Lord Carlile was seriously critical of the monastic community, describing "its lengthy and culpable failure to deal with what at times must have been evident behaviour placing children at risk; and what at all times was a failure to recognise the sinful temptations that might attract some with monastic vocations."

According to news reports Soper was living under his own name of Andrew Soper at the time of his arrest. Laurence is the monastic name he took when he became a monk.

In addition to Father David Pearce, two former teachers at St. Benedict's (John Maestri and Stephen Skelton) have been convicted of sexual abuse of pupils, and the school's deputy headmaster Peter Allott was arrested in late 2015. He subsequently pleaded guilty to possessing, making and distributing child abuse images and was sentenced to 33 months in jail.

If you were a victim of or witness to abuses by Soper at St. Benedict's or anywhere else, I urge you to contact the police and tell them everything you know. Similarly, if you were a victim of abuses by anybody else at St. Benedict's, please also tell the police.

I have spoken to a number of victims of abuse at St. Benedict's and elsewhere. From speaking to them and from other learning about the subject, I have come to understand the huge amount of courage it takes for somebody who was abused as a child to come forward, even decades later. But the great majority who have done so say that the load has been lifted somewhat as a result of sharing. If you have been thinking that you might finally feel able to tell somebody, now is a good time.

Note: Although comments are open on this article, I will not publish anything which describes or speculates about what crimes Soper may or may not have committed. Please remember that there is an ongoing police investigation and it is important not to prejudice any trial that may occur if and when Soper is extradited from Kosovo to face justice in Britain.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Allott's sentence

I've just learned that today at Blackfriars Crown Court Peter Allott was sentenced to 33 months imprisonment. Will follow up with more details when I have them.

UPDATE.

The Evening Standard has an article on this, as does the Daily Telegraph.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Allott pleads guilty

The Daily Mail has reported yesterday's hearing at Blackfriars Crown Court. So has the Evening Standard and getwestlondon.  Key points are:
  • The police acted on intelligence that somebody had been using videoconference facilities to share child abuse images.
  • Allott pleaded guilty to three counts of making indecent images of children, one count of distributing indecent images of children, one count of pessessing extreme pornography, and one of possessing a controlled class A drug MDMA (Ecstacy).
  • Police have no evidence that he abused his position of trust at work.
  • He will be sentenced on May 5.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Allott and St. Benedict's

Let's just get a few things clear. I realise that the latest news about Peter Allott has shocked and upset a lot of people. I realise a lot of people are thinking that lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place.

Allott is charged with "making" and possessing child abuse images and possessing extreme porn. Within the meaning of the law "making" child abuse images includes downloading them from the internet. Where he allegedly got the images from is not known publicly at this time.

Allott will go through the court process. I'll report anything in the press that becomes available on what he has been charged with and when he will appear in court. While that process is ongoing, I will not speculate on what he may or may not have done, and I will not publish any comments that speculate.

There's no evidence I know of that St. Benedict's could or should have detected anything Allott has allegedly done. If evidence of wrongdoing or negligence by the school comes to light, then I will have no hesitation in saying so. But I'm not going to condemn the school in the absence of evidence. I have no doubt that all sorts of agencies are going to be investigating, and I intend letting them do their work.

It's inevitable that there's also going to be a certain amount of chatter on this topic on social media such as Twitter. I'm going to be just as careful on Twitter as I'm being here.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Peter Allott

According to the Evening Standard, Peter Allott has resigned his post as deputy headteacher at St. Benedict's School.

He appeared at Ealing Magistrates Court today and was remanded in custody until December 23rd.