Saturday, 8 May 2010

Father David Pearce's appeal against sentence

Yesterday, there was a hearing of Father David Pearce's appeal against his 8-year sentence for sexual and indecent assaults against pupils of St. Benedict's School. On appeal, Sir Christopher Holland sitting with Mr Justice David Clarke has reduced Pearce's sentence from 8 years to 5 years in prison. Given that half the sentence is automatically suspended, that means Pearce will probably serve 2 1/2 years, and will therefore leave prison about 2 years from now.

I'm not overly surprised at the reduction in sentence - my own guess at the probable sentence after hearing the barristers' submissions at Pearce's sentencing hearing in October was 5 years, and so I was a little surprised when the judge came back with 8 years. But I figured that he knew more about the sentencing guidelines than I did.

But I am very concerned about Sir Christopher Holland's comments, as reported in The Times today. In particular, I'm incensed about his comment that the sentencing judge was wrong to elevate the breach of trust committed by Pearce because he was a teacher “to the level of a crime”.

The damage done to children by paedophile abusers is caused precisely by this breach of trust, and the damage done is far more dependent on the degree of the breach of trust than it is on the seriousness of the physical assault. Pearce had worked himself into a position where he was greatly trusted by the school and the community, through "the great deal of good work this man has done over a 30-year period" which Sir Christopher has referred to. Pearce was a priest, a teacher, a headmaster, a pillar of the local community, and he used and abused that trust in order to gain access to and assault his victims. It was only because he was trusted that he was able to get away with it for so long. The trust should not be regarded as a mitigating factor if it was this trust that was deliberately built up primarily for the purpose of being able to abuse children.

I've had an email today from one of the former pupils at the school. He expresses his disgust far more eloquently than I could.
"Evil Priest Abused Boys In Care Home" sells tabloids. "Saucy Monks Touched Up Posh Boys" doesn't. This view permeates British society from the bottom upwards, as Judge Holland's disturbing but all too predictable remarks show us. Sorry to be so blunt but my views are based on personal experience of the few occasions in the past when I have tried to talk about what happened to me before St Benedict's and what happened to me at St Benedict's.

The first man who groomed and abused me between the ages of eleven and fourteen (before I came to St. Benedict's) was into photography, which is how the police were able to establish that he had abused more than fifty boys in a four year period. I later heard that he got seven years, reduced on appeal and was out and off to Amsterdam in two years, plus time served on remand. He was a teacher and, like Pearce, a youthful, blond thirtysomething ex-army officer. He was at least more charming than Pearce.

I was not abused at St Benedict's because I refused to be. I also tried to protect two friends of mine from prep school who went there. I failed to protect them and, somewhere deep inside me, I carried that sense of guilt for a long time. Pearce and Soper completely ruined one of them and did the other some serious damage. Neither has been seen by any of our contemporaries to this day. We believed that one of them had killed himself but recent evidence has emerged to the contrary.

I tried to stand up against Pearce, Soper and the whole rotten shower of moral bankrupts in charge of that school in the 1970s. I found myself labelled as a troublemaker and, more seriously, a thief. I believe that Pearce and one of "his boys" set me up for this charge. The only man who defended me was Dom Edmund Flood, a terrifying-looking but deeply good man, who I heard was later exiled to some shithole in Africa for "rocking the boat" at the Abbey.

If anyone knows more about Flood's fate, I'd be grateful for information because I remember him with gratitude for his efforts. But they were futile because I was ultimately expelled or, to be more precise, my parents were informed that I needn't come back for the Lower Sixth in the autumn of 1977.

That was my education down the toilet. I drifted into some fairly heavy duty delinquency before the Parachute Regiment instilled some self-discipline in me. I tried to pick the education up as a mature student at London University, having lied about O and A levels to get in, but only lasted two years because I still had such a problem with educational the head of the course was a defrocked Spanish priest. Still, I learned to read and write again, which was more useful than a degree.

I have a very good life now but it has taken a long time to be able to confront some of the ghosts and the demons. Jonathan's website helped me more than he can possibly imagine and it has also helped others. What went on at St Benedict's under the auspices of Ealing Abbey for decades turns out to have been far, far worse than I think even those of us who encountered it first hand could have imagined.

It is truly, abjectly appalling. However, I have learned that there is nothing shameful about having been a victim. I have also learned to be very angry with the men who did this to me, as opposed to tending to protect them or minimise what they did when I was younger. I am going to write an article, which will be very hard to write, in the hope that The Times, as a first choice, given their support in this case, might run it and that it might help others to free themselves from the past and come forward.

Hopefully, it might also show up the grim absurdity of the sort of views expressed by Judge Holland. It is hard not to be bitter but very important to fight such sentiments because if you let them take over, then you are allowing the Pearces of this world their sordid victories. After all, it was never about sex, as dangerous fools like Holland seem to think, but about power, the power wielded by inadequate men over those least able to defend themselves.
I have just two things to add. First, if the article mentioned just above isn't taken up by the Times or any other paper or magazine, I would consider it an honour to host it here.

My other point is that if you are a victim of abuse by Pearce, and have not yet come forward to the police, it is not too late to do so. I have been assured by the police that they will take seriously any further reports of abuse by Pearce or anybody else at St. Benedict's School, and if the evidence warrants it, they will pass the cases to the CPS for further prosecutions. John Maestri has been before the courts on three occasions relating to his abuses of children at St. Benedict's School, so the fact that Pearce has been convicted once does not mean that no further prosecutions can proceed. But unless you come forward, the police have no evidence to work with.

If you would like help getting in touch with the correct people at the police, email me at I will treat your email in strictest confidence for as long as you want it to be so.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Abbot's letter to parents

Abbot Martin Shipperlee has written a new letter to all parents about Father David Pearce and the recent press comment.
Dear Parents,

As I am sure you are aware, there has been considerable comment in the press about Fr David Pearce, a member of the monastic community who last October pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of children.

It will come as no surprise to you that a number of statements in the newspaper articles were incorrect;
I notice that the Abbot has been carefully unspecific about precisely which statements were incorrect. I would welcome enlightenment on what he thinks are the inaccurate bits. I suspect I might have to wait quite a while.
however, I would like to focus on one thing that was said. The question was asked, ‘Did they do enough?’ and the answer to that is clear. No, with the benefit of hindsight in respect of the Monastery we clearly didn’t do enough; and consequently Fr David was able to commit a further offence. All this is a matter of huge regret and shame and I constantly reiterate my apologies to all those hurt by this.
This is of a piece with all the rest of the Abbot's statements. He is relentlessly concentrating on Pearce's last victim, in the hope that we will not ask any questions about the time before Pearce was placed on restricted ministry.
No doubt you will be aware of the recent inspection report on St Benedict’s which judged Child Protection to be good and overall pastoral care to be outstanding.
I have indeed seen that report. It wasn't merely glowing, it was positively incandescent. It was so good that it could have been written by the school itself as advertising material. No wonder links to the two reports (for the junior and senior schools) are prominently displayed on the home page of the school website.

Given what has happened at the school in recent years, it was far too good as to be remotely believable. So I made some enquiries with the Independent Schools Inspectorate. The ISI has been investigating, and as a result of their investigations, the November 2009 report has been withdrawn from the ISI website. The only report remaining there is the report from the previous inspection in January 2004. The ISI investigations are ongoing. I expect that we will hear more from them in due course.
However as a result of issues relating to Fr David we have reviewed all our procedures and policies for Safeguarding of the Vulnerable, as has been noted by the Charity Commission.
This is not quite accurate. The Charity Commission conducted two Statutory Enquiries, which were combined into a single report published after Pearce was sentenced. In the section of the report describing the first enquiry, the Charity Commission stated:

17. The Commission obtained copies of the Charity’s child protection policies and procedures. The Charity was able to demonstrate that these policies had been reviewed by the appropriate authorities and that these were adequate.

So, this isn't a review carried out by the school, the Charity Commission is instead noting that the school's existing policies had been reviewed by "the appropriate authorities". Not quite the same thing. And clearly they weren't in fact adequate, because Pearce was continuing to abuse. The second Statutory Enquiry was started as a result of the Abbey making a Serious Incident Report on Pearce's arrest. In the part of the report concerned with the second enquiry, the Commission stated:

54. Following the arrest in January 2008 the trustees took positive steps to protect the reputation of the Charity and continue to do so – the trustees have confirmed publicly that an independent review will be carried out to ensure that this situation can not reoccur.

So, the Charity Commission has noted that a review has been promised, but not actually conducted. Now, the Commission published their report on 15 December 2009, and the Abbot publicly promised this review in a letter to parents on October 2nd, the day Pearce was sentenced.

The latest version of the School's Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy is dated 1st September 2009. So it cannot have been modified as a result of the review promised by the Abbot.

But look at the following paragraph from the report of the ISI's inspection carried out on 9-12 November 2009.

"4.4 The trustees and advisers are fully aware of, and diligent in discharging, their responsibilities for the welfare, health and safety of pupils, including taking proper steps to review and evaluate the effectiveness of their child protection policies and procedures. A serious recent incident involving a member of the monastic community caused the trustees to request an independent review of the measures taken to minimize risk. The advice received from the independent experts has been fully implemented." (my emphasis)

There are a number of problems with this statement. First of course is that Pearce's 36-year paedophile career has been compressed into "a serious recent incident", and that Maestri's convictions haven't been mentioned at all.

The school has a statutory obligation to Notify such incidents to the DCSF (Department for Children Schools and Families) when they come to light, irrespective of how long ago the event occurred. The following events all come within the category of Notifiable incidents.
  1. The trial and conviction in 2005 of John Maestri.
  2. The civil case brought by a "C" in 2006 against Pearce and the school.
  3. The trial in 2007 of Father Stanislaus Hobbs.
  4. During the trial of Fr Hobbs, evidence was given of a separate sexual assault on the same boy by Fr Hobbs during a school trip to Italy. Because the event occurred outside the UK, it cannot be prosecuted here, but during police questioning, a record of which was given in evidence at the trial, Fr Hobbs accepted that the incident had occurred as described.
  5. Another trial and conviction of John Maestri in 2008/9.
  6. The trial and conviction of Father David Pearce in 2009.
In addition, Maestri's first 2003 conviction should have been mentioned in the ISI's January 2004 report of St Benedict's School. I have been enquiring of the ISI and the DCSF as to whether these Notifications were in fact made by the school, and whether they were passed by DCSF to ISI.

The second point is the matter of the independent review. The school's Child Protection policy is dated 1st September 2009. When I had a meeting with the Abbot on 11th September, I suggested that an independent review should be carried out. From his response, it was perfectly clear that no such review had yet been conducted, and he was not prepared to make an immediate promise that he would hold one.

A review was promised in the Abbot's letter to parents of 2nd October, the day Father David Pearce was sentenced.

The Charity Commission Report published on 15th December 2009 notes that "the trustees have confirmed publicly that an independent review will be carried out" and that "The Commission has requested a copy of the independent review". So clearly, it wasn't available by then.

I have had an exchange of emails on this subject with Peter Turner, the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor, and on 15th February 2010 he wrote to me saying "A Review was commissioned by Abbot Martin, but this is still to report back with the findings. It is intended that within the bounds of confidentiality the report will be published."

A Summary Note of the Independent Review finally appeared on the Abbey website (with links from both the school and Abbey sites) on or around 18th March. It did not address the school's procedures at all, only those of the Abbey and Parish. It did not address Father David Pearce's activities in the school, merely in the monastery. It did not address the great majority of the time he was abusing children, but concentrated solely on the failure to properly supervise him once he had been placed on a restricted ministry.

The school's child protection policy is dated 1st September 2009, before the review was even promised, and yet the ISI's 9-12 November 2009 inspection report states that the review has been carried out and its recommendations have been acted on! The dates just don't fit.

I sent emails to both the Abbot and the Headmaster asking them to describe the evidence provided to the ISI on which this statement in the report was based. Neither has replied to me on this point. The ISI is investigating.
Will all this be good enough? Only if it is accompanied by honesty about the past and a rigorous questioning of the application of our policies and procedures in the present. We remain committed to offering to all our pupils a happy, purposeful and safe environment in which to learn. We will be constantly reviewing our safeguarding procedures to ensure that this is the case.
I have taken a detailed look at the the school's child protection policy, and I'm not impressed by it. I have brought this to the Abbot's attention, and he has not replied to me. I have brought it to the headmaster's attention and he has replied only that the policies will be reviewed again later in the academic year. They don't seem to be all that welcoming of the questions that I have raised.
I also need your support to help keep St Benedict’s a safe place for children. If you have any concerns about the safety of children, please inform the Dedicated Teacher for Child Protection. There are contact details for this teacher and relevant agencies within the Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy which can be found on the school website. No concern should go unreported.
As I said, I have reported my concerns. The Abbot doesn't seem to be in much of a hurry to do anything about them. This does not sound to me much like the "honesty about the past and a rigorous questioning of the application of our policies and procedures in the present" which the Abbot promised in his letter.

Pearce was convicted of a number of sexual and indecent assaults over a 36-year period, starting in 1972. There have been quite a few additional accounts of abuse by Pearce in comments here on this blog. It is likely that only a small proportion of the victims have come across this blog, and probably only a relatively small proportion of them will have felt able to post an account here. There are undoubtedly many more victims than we know of.

Pearce has to be described as an habitual paedophile abuser. I would be surprised if it turned out that he has abused fewer than three boys a year on average during his time at the Abbey. He first arrived at the Abbey as a Novice in 1969, and left on his arrest in January 2008 that means that a conservative estimate of the number of his victims is over a hundred.

In my meeting with the Abbot, I requested that he set up an independent review that went back 40 years and tried to uncover the full extent of the problem, so that comfort could be provided to as many victims as possible. Instead, he commissioned a review whose scope was restricted solely to the handling of the last 18 months or so of Pearce's residence in the Abbey, the management of his restricted ministry, and Pearce's abuse of just one victim.

And of course, Pearce was not the only abuser in the school. John Maestri was at the school for something like 12 years. Put him down for 3 a year as well. Allegations have been made against others as well.

We have a situation where two now-convicted paedophiles were able to operate over decades before being caught. Maestri went on to teach elsewhere, and Pearce was long retired from teaching duties before his abuses first came to light as a result of C's civil suit. So the school's policies failed entirely to put a stop to abuse by these two.

The school's child protection policy is a sorry mess, and in my view quite unfit for purpose. The Abbot and headmaster have ignored my concerns, the recent "independent review" did not address the school at all, and the Abbot is being at best somewhat misleading on the subject. Additional abuse could be going on at the school today, and the procedures cannot be relied on to detect this and put an end to it.

Allegations have been made against monks still resident at the Abbey, and Abbot Martin has shown that he is unable effectively to supervise monks who are a danger to children.

In the circumstances, I have severe concerns about the safety of children at the school.