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.

Child Abuse Images

Peter Allott, Deputy Headmaster at St. Benedict's School, has been arrested and charged with possession of child abuse images. the story is in the Times (behind paywall) and in Ealing Today. He will appear before Ealing Magistrates sometime today (9 December).

The arrest was made by the National Crime Agency who apparently searched his computer. The specific charges are "offences of possessing, showing and making indecent images of children of category A and 2 offences of possession of extreme pornography".

I decided to look up what all this means.

The wording of the charge mentions "making" images. According to the CPS "The downloading and/or printing of indecent images of children from the internet, is capable of amounting to an offence of 'making' the image contrary to section 1 (1) (a) of the PCA 1978."

"Category A" indecent images of children are the most serious kind. According to CPS Legal Guidance, Category A covers "penetrative sexual activity and sexual activity with an animal or sadism".

"Extreme pornography" (again according to CPS Legal guidance) is images of:
a) An act which threatens a person's life; this is not defined in the Act and therefore should be given its ordinary dictionary meaning. The Ministry of Justice note of " Further information on the new offence of Possession of Extreme Pornographic Images" at paragraph 11 gives examples of life threatening acts.

b) An act which results in or is likely to result in serious injury to a person's anus, breast or genitals; this could include the insertion of sharp objects (although in some circumstances this can be done in a way that is not likely to result in serious injury) or the mutilation of breasts or genitals. It is likely to be difficult to prove that cases of 'fisting' involve images that show activity that is likely to result in serious injury so these cases need to be handled with particular care. Serious injury is not defined in the Act and should be given its ordinary dictionary meaning, being a question of fact for the District Judge or jury.

c) The Ministry of Justice note of " Further information on the new offence of Possession of Extreme Pornographic Images" specifically states that the reference to "serious injury" was not intended to expressly link into existing case law with regards to 'grievous bodily harm' contrary to sections 18 and 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (which has been interpreted as being capable of including psychiatric harm).
The NCA has stated that it is "working in partnership with local child protection agencies to ensure wider child safeguarding" and also "It is not believed at this stage that any of the charges involve any former or current pupil at the school". Since Mr. Allott is in a position of trust and authority within a school, there must now of course be an investigation to find out whether there has been any harm to children with whom he has had contact. That investigation will presumably involve multiple agencies, including the police, the local authority children's services and the Independent Schools' Inspectorate.

The school no doubt will have to be inspected again by the ISI. The sorts of questions they will need to be asking include.
  • Was any indication seen by other staff that Mr Allott had an unhealthy interest in children?
  • If so, how was the matter handled, and was a report made to the authorities in the way now prescribed by the school's safeguarding policy?
  • Does this incident reveal any weaknesses in the school's safeguarding arrangements which need to be corrected?
Peter Allott has been at the school for quite some time. He was Head of Theology, Head of Politics and Deputy Director of Sixth Form from 2004 to 2010, and then after time out as a research associate at the Von Hugel Institute, returned as Deputy Headmaster in September 2012.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Benedictine Schools in the first round of cases to be studied by the IICSA

Justice Lowell Goddard of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has announced that Benedictine schools will be included in the first round of institutions to be examined by the IICSA.

Here are the relevant tweets from @IICSA_media

If you have information that you think is relevant to the inquiry, please contact them without delay.

I'll be blogging more about this when I have more details.

UPDATE: The IISCA's full statement has now been published on its website here.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

A judge-led inquiry?

Fortunately, the consensus in favour of the child abuse inquiry being statutory with powers to compel the production of documents and the attendance of witnesses and the power to take evidence under oath appears to have spread to Theresa May. She has indicated before the Home Affairs Select Committee that she now favours a statutory inquiry, and the weekend before Christmas wrote to the panel giving them notice of imminent changes to the inquiry.

But this still leaves open the question of who should run the inquiry. There's been a lot of discussion on this point and some of it has got a bit heated. The first thing we need to get past is the issue of whether "establishment" membership is of itself a bar to running the inquiry.

There are those who say that anybody in the "establishment" is by definition unacceptable, because this would mean the establishment is investigating itself. Depending on how widely you define the establishment, this would rule out every judge in the land, probably just about every lawyer (on the basis that they have all met judges) and possibly everybody who has ever visited Parliament for any reason. I can understand the distrust of those who feel that way, but I think that there is danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater here.

There are at least some MPs who have been pressing for an inquiry. I think it certain that a considerable proportion of the members of the establishment (no matter how you choose to define it) are as disgusted as ordinary members of the public about what is being discovered about child sex abuse. They are just as disgusted as you and I are for instance at the words of Tim Fortescue about how the whips might help MPs with problems about "small boys".

Also, its not actually the job of the inquiry to look into who did what to whom at Elm Guest House or Dolphin Square. That's the job of the police, and they are working at it. How those two scandals were covered up will be part of the inquiry, but only a very small part. Organised and institutional abuse has been going on in far more places than those two, so Elm Guest House and Dolphin Square will form only a very small part of the overall inquiry. There are lots more failures in lots of other places which the inquiry will have to look into.

The point I'm making is that while undoubtedly there are abusers within the establishment (just as there are abusers in all walks of life) not all the establishment should be assumed to be complicit. There are honest people among them if we are prepared to find them, and they will have far more to do than talk to Leon Brittan about lost dossiers.

Baroness Butler Sloss has been on air today talking about the inquiry. She is still confident she could have done a good job. The problem is that with her brother having been Attorney General at the time key events occurred, the probability is that she would have to investigate his actions for incompetence or even wrongdoing. If she had continued and gone on to criticise him in her report, then all would have been well in terms of perceptions of her impartiality. But suppose that she investigated and concluded he had done nothing wrong, and had acted competently and correctly in all ways? Would the public be prepared to believe that was really true, or would they suspect that she had covered up for her brother? That suspicion would be sufficiently widespread as to damage confidence in the report as a whole

So let's look through the existing options.

One option is to convert the inquiry to a statutory inquiry with the existing panel, select a chair from among them, and let them get on with it. There is undoubtedly useful experience within the panel and I believe they have much they can contribute. There are a few problems with this approach.

The first problem is that the existing panel was selected by the non-transparent process which led to the fiascos of the Butler-Sloss and Woolf resignations. It is clear that due diligence wasn't done on either of those two candidates, and it follows that due diligence probably also wasn't done on the rest of the panel. So there is going to be a confidence and credibility gap in the minds of a substantial minority of the survivors.

The second problem is that one or two of the panel members have got themselves into unseemly public spats with survivors. No matter who is principally to blame for these, the fact is that we need the panel members to be sufficiently disciplined not to rise to any kind of provocation and to get on with the job. Hopefully everybody has learned their lesson and it won't get repeated, but if there is any doubt about it, some people will have to go.

The third problem is to question whether any of the existing panel members has sufficient stature to stare down unco-operative witnesses and extract useful evidence from them, and whether the panel has enough stature to have its recommendations accepted by government, and indeed whether a panel approach, needing consensus or at least majority support, would be able to be sufficiently decisive to make the kinds of radical recommendations that may be needed.

The second option is to dismiss the panel and appoint a new person to run the inquiry. That would have certain advantages. The person would not be limited to only putting forward recommendations which had the support of a majority of colleagues. The disadvantage is that there is useful experience in the panel and it would be a pity to throw it all away.

A third option would be to appoint a single person, but to re-appoint most of the panel as "Assessors", i.e. as advisors to the chair. An advisory board of this kind would be able to assist the chair, but would not have the disadvantage of requiring majority support for recommendations. This is the option I favour.

The question then is who the new chair should be. There are a number of separate criteria that need to be considered here.
  1. Needs to have the respect of all but the most anti-establishment survivors. 
  2. Needs to know enough about how inquiries work to be able to effectively wield the powers of a statutory inquiry, and so get the evidence needed for informed recommendations.
  3. Needs to have experience of abuse, its effects on victims, and on administrative arrangements designed to minimise it.
  4. Needs to have sufficient stature that radical recommendations will get taken seriously by government and other bodies when the report is issued.
I think a bit of expansion is needed in respect of point 3. In my view, it is not enough to have prosecuted, defended or acted as a judge in criminal cases where the defendant was charged with child abuse crimes. We already know that abusers ought not to abuse, this is trivially true. The inquiry will be looking into why non-abusers didn't take evidence of abuse seriously, and so let abusers get away with it. In doing so, these non-abusers have mostly not committed any crime.

The inquiry is going to have to look at institution procedures, organisational cultures, how and why people don't feel able to come forward with concerns, and what needs to be done to change this. So we will need somebody who has been involved in this aspect of child protection.

A small-scale example of how not to do such an inquiry is Lord Carlile's inquiry into Ealing Abbey and St Benedict's School. Lord Carlile had previosuly prosecuted and defended child abuse cases. His report included some very sonorous phrases about who was to blame, but didn't do much more that was any use. The only recommendations on child protection that he included in his report were ones that had already been made by other bodies. His only new recommendation was a reform of governance arrangements. While was a good idea in general terms, it didn't get to the root of why abuse had gone unreported for decades. He included in his report a new version of the school's safeguarding policy, which he said was as good as anywhere else in the country, but which still allowed the school the means to avoid reporting abuse in a wide range of circumstances. In other words, Carlile didn't achieve much. For the national inquiry we need far more.

So who would fit the bill? Well, any reasonably experienced judge would meet requirement 2 above. I think a judge is needed rather than a QC, because judges have been trained to judge things, whereas QCs are trained to be advocates. Most judges were QCs before they became judges, so if QC skills are also needed, then any likely judge candidate will have them.

Requirement 3 narrows the field somewhat. To meet this requirement, we need a judge with experience of Family Division, where decisions concerning the welfare of abused children get made.

Requirement 4 basically requires that the judge be sufficiently senior that he or she will be taken seriously be government, whichever party is in power by the time the inquiry issues its report. I suggest that means an Appeal Court or Supreme Court judge.

That leaves Requirement 1, the confidence of the survivors. For that to be achieved, whoever is appointed has not got to have close links to those whose actions are inevitably going to be closely scrutinised, and in addition the judge's record would need to include a significant number of decisions which went against the "establishment", so that there is evidence that he or she is prepared to act against the establishment when the facts require it.

Who would meet all these criteria? I don't follow judicial appointments, so I'm not in a position to suggest names. Others should be in a position to know whether any particular person meets all these criteria described. I accept that the field is fairly narrow, there are not that many people in the entire country who have the necessary knowledge and experience. But I think that the number of possible candidates who meet all these requirements is greater than zero, and we can therefore move on and finally set this inquiry in motion.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Child sex abuse inquiry Terms of Reference

I thought it might be worthwhile to have a look at the Terms of Reference of the Child Sex Abuse Inquiry and see what it actually says.

It starts with a paragraph titled "Purpose", as follows.
To consider the extent to which State and non-State institutions have failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation; to consider the extent to which those failings have since been addressed; to identify further action needed to address any failings identified; and to publish a report with recommendations.

I'm concerned about the term "duty of care". Are we talking of a legal duty here, or a moral one? If a legal duty, then does this mean the inquiry should not comment on cases where the absence of a legal duty meant (for instance) that abuse went unreported? Does it mean that the inquiry should not make recommendations regarding changes in the law? Inclusion of the phrase makes these things very unclear.

I would remove "in their duty of care" from the first part of the sentence. It stands perfectly well without it, and is in fact clearer as a result. "To consider the extent to which State and non-State institutions have failed to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation".

It is unfortunate that only sexual abuse is being considered. Other forms of abuse often also accompany sexual abuse, and we have found (for instance in the case of the death of Daniel Pelka) that institutions can thoroughly fail to detect and respond to cases of abuses of other kinds. It seems to me that the institutional responses necessary to detect and act on evidence of abuse are much the same irrespective of the kinds of abuse involved. If we are having trouble tackling sexual abuse, I suspect the issues of neglect might be even worse.

If we want to address the limitation to only sexual abuse, then we could alter the first part of the sentence further, as follows: "To consider the extent to which State and non-State institutions have failed to protect children from abuse and exploitation".

The first paragraph is actually the primary part of it. Everything else looks to be supplementary descriptive material on how the inquiry will go about its business.

After the initial paragraph of the purpose is the phrase "In doing so to:" and then a list of bullet points. Let's go through them one by one.
  • consider all the information which is available from the various published and unpublished reviews, court cases, investigations etc. (hereinafter “the reports”) which have so far concluded;
They have a lot of paper to look through. There's a long history here.
  • consider whether such institutions failed to identify such abuse and/or whether there was otherwise an inappropriate institutional response to allegations of child abuse and/or whether there were ineffective child protection procedures in place;
This is very important and very good. This doesn't just deal with active cover-ups (though it certainly includes them) but also addresses cases where through lack of training and awareness or just because of plain disbelief, available evidence was either not recognised for what it was or not properly acted on.
  • advise on any further action needed to address any institutional gaps or failings within our current child protection systems on the basis of the findings and lessons learnt from these reports;
Oh dear. In context, the previous bullet doesn't now look nearly so good. They are only to advise on action needed in the context of "the reports". This is the only source of information that has been mentioned. Very specifically, the terms of reference make no mention at all of the inquiry being permitted to seek out any other sources of information, such as testimony from survivors of abuse. It very much looks as if this is a "paper-only" inquiry, and given the single source of information listed this is in fact a "review of reviews". The inquiry is not going to get anywhere at all with such a narrow remit. It is also going to be a sore disappointment to the survivors if the inquiry does in fact stick to its terms of reference and exclude survivor testimony. This is not the "once in a lifetime opportunity" (to use Theresa May's words) to get to the bottom of this problem.
  • disclose, where appropriate and in line with security and data protection protocols, any documents which were considered as part of the inquiry; and
Notice again that we are talking only of documents, not of testimony or any other forms of evidence.
  • publish a report with recommendations.
Repeats the first sentence of the Terms of Reference. The document has clearly not been drafted by the Home Office but rather by the Department of Redundancy Department.

Then we come to the Scope, The first part of the scope is an illustrative (but not exhaustive) list of "State and non-State institutions" the inquiry may wish to look into.

  • Government departments, Parliament and Ministers;
  • Police, prosecuting authorities, schools including private and state-funded boarding and day schools, Local Authorities including care homes and children’s services, health services, prisons/secure estates;
  • Churches and other religious denominations and organisations;
  • Political Parties;
  • The Armed Services.
That's not bad, that's a fairly comprehensive list, and it is clear from the context that the inquiry can look elsewhere as well if it wants.

The next item in the scope is as follows:
The Inquiry Panel will cover England and Wales. Should the Inquiry Panel identify any material relating to the devolved administrations, it will be passed to the relevant authorities;
This I know has already caused concerns. There are major scandals in Scotland (e.g. Fort Augustus Abbey) and Northern Ireland (e.g. Kincora) which are therefore excluded from the scope of the inquiry. Survivors from Scotland and Northern Ireland are understandably going to feel very left out and betrayed by this limitation.

It is also a fact that abusers don't observe administrative or even national boundaries when abusing, and so it is entirely possible that there are links between locations inside and outside England and Wales. With this geographical limitation, it may be hard to follow these up.
The Inquiry Panel will consider these matters from 1970 to the present. However, the Inquiry Panel may be presented with evidence that will lead it to conclude that this timeframe should be extended further;
Many survivors are unhappy with this temporal limitation. There are whose who were abused in the 1960s or even earlier who want the opportunity to give evidence. If evidence of earlier abuse comes to light, it is not clear from the terms of reference whether the panel can extend the temporal limit unilaterally or whether they would have to go back to the Home Secretary for permission. I rather suspect that they will have to ask the Home Secretary, since if they could extend the limit unilaterally, there would be no point in mentioning a limit in the first place.

This, along with Theresa May's suggestion that the inquiry could later be converted into a statutory inquiry if the chair requests gives the impression of the whole thing not having been fully thought through. There's no point in putting limits on what the inquiry can look into if you already anticipate that the limits may be inappropriate.
The Inquiry will not address allegations relating to events in the Overseas Territories or Crown Dependencies. However, any such allegations received by the Panel will be referred to the relevant law enforcement bodies in those jurisdictions;
And there goes another major scandal that can't be looked into by the inquiry, the alleged abuses at Haut de la Garenne children's home in Jersey. That's three major scandals that the inquiry can't look into. No wonder some people are thinking that the inquiry is being designed carefully to find out as little as possible.
For the purposes of this Inquiry “child” means anyone under the age of 18. However, the panel will consider abuse of individuals over the age of 18, if that abuse started when the individual was a minor.
That's a fairly obvious statement.

The next part of the Terms of Reference is a list of "Principles". Here's the first.
The Inquiry Panel will have full access to all the material it seeks, unless there is a statutory impediment to it doing so;
This is a big problem. In fact there are several big problems with this.

First, if we look back the the Purpose section, it seems that the inquiry is supposed only to be looking at past reports that are already in the public domain, and no other sources of evidence are mentioned. If that is the case, then this point is somewhat redundant. There can't be a statutory impediment to looking at information that has already been made public.

But if the panel is able to look at other sources of information, then this sentence becomes a tautology. They can look at anything except the things legally they can't look at. Well, that's obvious, and to mention it here makes it seem that the panel and the public are having their noses rubbed in it concerning how limited this inquiry is supposed to be. No wonder there are people boycotting the discussions about the inquiry.

The "statutory impediment" will in fact keep an awful lot of information from the inquiry. A non-statutory panel inquiry has no powers to require the production of documents from any organisation (state or non-state) which chooses not to co-operate with the panel. We already know how difficult it is to get documents out of State organisations where failure or wrongdoing is suspected - just look at the trouble Alexis Jay had getting the documents she wanted out of Rotherham Council.

But it gets worse when you consider non-state institutions. It is vanishingly unlikely that any independent school where abuse has occurred will be willing to co-operate, for the same reason that persuaded them to cover up the abuse at the time - they don't want the damage to their reputation. An article by Andrew Norfolk of the Times earlier this year listed 130 independent schools where teachers had been implicated in sex crimes against children. That's just the schools where the abuse has been found out. There may well be others where the cover up has been successful until now. None of them will want to co-operate with the inquiry.

We've seen the attitude the Roman Catholic Church has had towards inquiries that have been held in Ireland. Without a statutory basis I can't see the church having the slightest inclination to co-operate with this inquiry.

So, it seems to me that the "statutory impediment" is enough to prevent the inquiry from holding anybody to account who doesn't want to co-operate.
Any allegation of child abuse received by the Inquiry Panel will be referred to the Police;
If the inquiry is a papers-only inquiry as suggested by the Purpose, then it's unlikely that it would ever receive an allegation of abuse from anybody, and this item in the Principles is accordingly redundant.

But this item must be there for a reason, and so notwithstanding the Purpose they must be expecting to receive allegations. So the Terms of reference are inherently self-contradictory. No chair worth his salt will be willing to take on the inquiry while the ToR remain in such a state.

Assuming that evidence from survivors is taken, this principle is in fact sensible, and the panel should provide an information pack to survivors describing how their evidence will be handled, in two parts along the following general lines:
  1. Information concerning abusers will be passed straight to the police and not otherwise be handled by the inquiry.
  2. Information concerning the failure of others (particularly within institutions) to protect the victim from abuse will be looked at by the inquiry itself.
It's important that this distinction be made, so as to avoid as far as possible confusion and disappointment among the survivors who may give evidence.
All personal and sensitive information will be appropriately protected; and will be made available only to those who need to see it;
This is in fact an important piece of reassurance. It enables survivors to retain their anonymity. Their names and other identifying details will not be published.
It is not part of the Inquiry’s function to determine civil or criminal liability of named individuals or organisations. This should not, however, inhibit the Inquiry from reaching findings of fact relevant to its terms of reference.
Like the point on passing allegations of abuse to the police, it's important that this is made clear - nobody is going to get compensation from the inquiry, though it may well be that the inquiry's findings will provide material that will assist subsequent claims for compensation. (This of course is a further reason why many organisations will not co-operate with the inquiry: they won't want the inquiry to have evidence that will result in "findings of fact" that will expose them to claims.)

There are one or two good points in the Terms of Reference, but the overall impression is that it is a half-thought through mess. It is self-contradictory concerning the range of information the inquiry can access, there are redundant phrases within it, there are phrases whose meaning is very unclear. It has the air of having been hurriedly scribbled on the back of an envelope in response to a 30-minute deadline. It is not the way to write the Terms of Reference for possibly the most important inquiry undertaking in the last 100 years.

The terms of reference are going to have to get rewritten from scratch. They are clearly unfit as they stand.