Thursday, 24 February 2011

Father Stanislaus Hobbs

Since my last post, the Ealing Abbey website has been updated. Father Stanislaus Hobbs is now listed among the "monks resident elsewhere". His current address is not given and he can apparently be contacted c/o the Abbey.

Father Gregory Chillman is still listed as resident at the Abbey.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Headmaster's Newsletter

Well, the Febuary Newsletter has now been published. And now down in the corner of page 10 is a single paragraph about the Carlile Report.
The School has now fully implemented all the recommendations made in the follow-up Inspection report and we now await the report from the Independent Review on safeguarding commissioned by Fr Abbot. Lord Carlile has amassed a great volume of evidence and is now collating it before writing the report. It now seems unlikely that his report will be presented to Fr Abbot until the end of this term. You will be kept fully informed of any developments. We hope to have more news by the time of the Parental Forum in March.
This is remarkable, not so much as for what it says, but for what it doesn't say. Allow me to use my imagination to fill in some of the gaps.

The School has now fully implemented all the recommendations made in the follow-up Inspection report (but we aren't going to tell you what we have actually done to implement it, lest you try and compare it with the original recommendations and decide that we haven't done enough) and we now await the report from the Independent Review on safeguarding commissioned by Fr Abbot. Lord Carlile has amassed a great volume of evidence (despite our great efforts to ensure that publicity for the inquiry was absolutely minimal) and is now collating it before writing the report. It now seems unlikely that his report will be presented to Fr Abbot until the end of this term (but don't imagine that you will be allowed to see it then. We have no intention of publishing the report for a long time after that). You will be kept fully informed of any developments (but perhaps not by us). We hope to have more news by the time of the Parental Forum in March (actually, we hope to have no more news at all by then since every new bit of news on this subject seems to be bad).

In particular, the first statement seems very unlikely to be true. If you recall, the ISI recommendations were as follows
1. 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.
Father Stanislaus Hobbs and Father Gregory Chillman are both still listed on the Abbey website as monks resident at the Abbey. Both have been placed on "restricted ministry", though I understand that "most of" the restrictions on Chillman have been lifted. So at best, it seems unlikely that this recommendation has yet been implemented in full.
2. Follow the advice given to render the safeguarding policy a model of excellence in its wording, implementation and review.
As parents you are in the position of trying to compare the school's actions (which have not been disclosed) against the ISI's detailed recommendations (which have also not been disclosed). Feeling confident that all is well? This the the safety of your sons and daughters we are talking about.

One thing is certain. The school's current child protection policy as published on the school website is still the one issued on 22 September 2010, which is decidedly not a model of excellence, as I have previously described. So, it is pretty clear that this action is not complete, if indeed they have even made a start on it.
3. Ensure that referrals are always made to the Independent Safeguarding Authority when appropriate. For historical cases, ensure that all relevant information is passed to the Independent Safeguarding Authority.
The one decently written clause of the school's current child protection policy is a requirement to notify the ISA if a teacher leaves or is sacked in circumstances where his or her fitness to supervise children is in question. But this recommendation makes it clear that this clause of the policy was ignored in practice. Now you are being given a general assurance that all is now well, and yet the policy has not been changed, you are given no information at all as to changes in practice that will ensure that the ISA is notified in future, and you have been given no information at all about how many historical notifications have now been made retrospectively.

Still feeling confident?
4. Give greater emphasis to safeguarding in the school personal, social, health and citizenship (PSHCE) programme and reflect this in the school improvement plan.
Have you seen the school improvement plan? It appears not to be a published document. So how can you tell whether this has been done? Does the improvement here achieve what you would regard as a reasonable degree of emphasis? How can you tell? Have you seen the new PSHCE curriculum?

Still confident?
5. Emphasise awareness raising and training in safeguarding across the whole community of school, Abbey and parish, with formal contact between the child protection officers.
Do you realise that the Ealing Abbey website still does not have a safeguarding policy for the Abbey and Parish? The Safeguarding information page contains the following procedure-free statement.
The Parish of St Benedict, Ealing Abbey, is committed to the Safeguarding policies of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, to take all reasonable steps to protect children, young people and vulnerable adults from any form of abuse or maltreatment and to promote a safe environment for them. This commitment flows from the fact that we are all made in the image of God and the Church's common belief in the dignity and uniqueness of every human life. We start from the principle that each person has a right to expect the highest level of care and protection, love, encouragement and respect that we can give. We will liaise closely and openly with statutory agencies to ensure that any concerns or allegations of abuse that are raised are promptly reported and properly responded to, victims supported and perpetrators held to account.
But a pious statement of intent does not make a policy. There are no procedures. Admittedly that page does include a link to the website of the CSAS procedures, but there is no undertaking to ensure that they are followed, and even if there were, there is no means of ensuring this, since the CSAS procedures are general rather than specific to the individual setting, do not allocate responsibility to named individuals (they can't, being general) and clearly state that they are regularly updated, so nobody is in a position to know what their responsibilities are supposed to be, unless they review every page of  the procedures on a weekly basis. And the procedures are split across literally dozens of pages. It is one of the most user-unfriendly websites it has ever been my misfortune to have to navigate.

The civil action successfully brought by C occurred in January 2006. It is now five years on, and still it seems that the response of the trustees remains characterised by foot-dragging allied to the hope that the problem will all somehow just go away.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Holding breath at St. Augustine's

The ISI report for St. Augustine's Priory School still hasn't been published. I was discussing this extraordinary state of affairs with friends, and about the only thing we can think of that would cause such a delay is if the school has taken legal action against the ISI to prevent or at least delay publication. There's no reason to think that the DfE has lost confidence in the ISI, since they are intending adding to ISI's responsibilities, by transferring the responsibility for inspections for welfare of boarding school pupils at ISC member schools from OFSTED to ISI.

So I phoned Durell Barnes at the ISI to ask him about the current situation. The conversation was brief, but in its own way most illuminating. This isn't a verbatim transcript, but it went something like this.

JW: I notice that the St Augustine's report has not yet been published?
DB: No it hasn't.
JW: Do you know when it will be?
DB: No.
JW: Do you know why it hasn't been published yet?
DB: All I can say is that it will be published as soon as possible.
JW: It has been suggested to me that the reason for the delay is that the school took legal action against the ISI to prevent or delay publication. Can you tell me whether that is true?
DB: I can't add to what I have already said.
JW: I'll take that as a "yes" then.
DB: (silence)

Quite clearly, the publication date is not under the control of the ISI. If there were no court action, I'm sure that Durell Barnes would have had no difficulty in saying that there was no action. For one reason or another, it seems that Durell Barnes is unable to confirm the action, but to deny it would put him and the ISI in an impossible situation. His only option therefore was to remain silent.

The only situation that I can think of that fits the facts available at the moment is that the report is so devastatingly bad that the school (despite the headteacher suggesting in July that she was urgently looking forward to publication) has decided to take the ISI to court to suppress the report. If this is the case, then the judgement will be published in due course and a copy will undoubtedly be made publicly available.

If this has happened, then the school must already be in possession of an advance copy of the report, otherwise they wouldn't have known that they would want to take action.

If the school thinks that the ISI report is unfair, then they could and should have told the parents what they thought. After all, it is charitable funds, ultimately coming from school fees, that would be paying for this legal action.

Let's have a think about the timing. The inspection took place in April. Under normal circumstances the report is made available about 3 months after the inspection, so that would be sometime in July. Two weeks notice of publication. That would be sufficient to get a quick temporary injunction against publication, with a date set for a hearing as to whether the report was so unfair that publication should have been prevented. Maybe three months provided for both sides to prepare their cases, which would mean a High Court hearing in October, perhaps November. It usually takes three months or so for the judgement to be published - this wouldn't be an unduly complex case. So we may be expecting publication any day now. I shall be keeping a close eye on the publication of judgements from the relevant division of the High Court.

But all this is theorising. I don't have any certain knowledge of any legal action. But any parent could reasonably phone the school and ask what is the cause of the delay, whether the school has received an advance copy of the ISI report yet, and whether the school has taken any action that will have contributed to the delay in publication. If you ask, I would be fascinated to learn what the answer is. So I suspect would the other parents.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Don't hold your breath

Don't hold your breath waiting for the publication of the report of the Carlile inquiry. I have learned that it will not be published for the next several months.

The reason is the ongoing prosecution of Pearce and Maestri. The argument apparently is that the report addresses matters that are sub judice, and so the report cannot be published until such time as the trial is over.

The trial is scheduled to start on 4th July and last 4 days. If either or both is convicted, then there will be a further adjournment for sentencing, probably of 3 months or so.

But that might not be the end of the delay. Abbot Lawrence Soper has been required to return to the UK to answer police questions, and one can speculate that he may yet be charged. If he is, then his trial would probably not start until towards the end of the year.

So, if you are a parent of a pupil at the school, and were hoping to see the Carlile report and use it as guidance as to whether you should move your child for the next academic year, you are not going to be able to. It won't arrive in time.

And also, since the report is not being published (or at least not yet), then you will remain in the dark about what recommendations Carlile is making for changes at the school and Abbey. And you will also remain in the dark about what (if any) of the recommended measures the school is actually taking.

Remember that the Carlile inquiry was commissioned by Tony Nelson, the school solicitor. He is also the solicitor representing Pearce in the current prosecution. Pearce and Maestri were arrested in August last year, and charged in November. And at the same time, it was known that the police wanted to question Soper. So by the time the Carlile inquiry was announced to the parents at the safeguarding meeting on 14th September, he must have been well aware of the possibility that charges would be laid before Carlile could report. But no mention was made at the time of the possibility that the report would be delayed should any further criminal prosecution be undertaken.

So either it hadn't occurred to Tony Nelson that a delay might be necessary, or Shipperlee and Cleugh chose not to mention it to parents. I doubt that Tony Nelson is so incompetent a lawyer, which means that (again) parents have been deliberately left in the dark about an important matter.

So what could be done about it?

One possibility is nothing - the Abbot just sits on the report until such time as there are no pending prosecutions. We don't know how many people have come forward as a result of recent publicity, or how many monks or teachers are being investigated. We know of three, but there could be more. So we could end up waiting a very long time.

A second possibility is that Carlile's recommendations are published alone, but without the rest of the report for the time being. This would be better than nothing, since we would at least see the recommendations, and could presumably ask Carlile whether the recommendations as published are in fact complete. But without the rest of the report, this is highly unsatisfactory, since we would have no means of knowing whether the recommendations are appropriate in the light of the evidence. All we would have is an authority-statement from Carlile. The school could claim that this or that recommendation is impractical or unreasonable or unjustified, and we would have no means of assessing the truth of the matter.

A third possibility is for an interim report to be published, containing Carlile's full recommendations plus as much of the evidence as possible, temporarily omitting or rewording those items which might impinge on the current prosecution. This is the route that ought to be followed.

But the best information I have so far is that no interim publication is intended, and the report is just going to remain unpublished for an unknown duration. What measures, if any, the school will take in the meantime to improve safeguarding is currently unknown.

I'm getting excessively cynical about the school and its management, and I can't help noticing that the ISI Supplementary Report was issued at the end of July 2010, but not provided to the parents until early September. In the meantime all the cheques for the next term's school fees had to be provided to the school and safely deposited in the school's bank account. Coincidence? I think not.

If the ISI report had been provided to parents promptly and the inquiry set up immediately, it might have been possible for Carlile to have reported before Pearce and Maestri were formally charged, and you would have the report already. But they have dragged their heels over it, again. I originally called for an inquiry back in August 2009. If the headmaster and trustees were serious about action being taken to bring an end to child sex abuse at the school, they should have acted immediately then.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

There's a new lawyer in town!

I normally wouldn't bother writing about a new law firm setting up in London, but this particular firm, Anderson Olivarius I think might be of relevant interest.The Independent has an article on it. Here's a the first two paragraphs
For much of the past 25 years, Jeff Anderson has been the American Catholic Church's bĂȘte noire. Working out of a small office in St Paul, Minnesota, the 63-year-old US attorney has spearheaded more than 1,500 lawsuits against the Church, winning millions of dollars for his clients and forcing open the doors of one of the world's most secretive institutions.

Now the tough-talking lawyer with a taste for Zen Buddhism has co-founded a London-based law firm to bring sex abuse cases against churches in Britain. The new firm, Jeff Anderson Ann Olivarius Law, is a first attempt to create a cross-Atlantic practice dedicated to launching legal actions on multiple continents using aggressive litigation tactics honed for more than two decades in the US.
Things could start getting interesting!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Intimidation in the comments

Over the last week or two, the comments here have taken a decidedly nastier turn.

Personal attacks on me don't bother me in the slightest. However, after consulting with others, I have concluded that some at least of the comments are deliberately trying to intimidate survivors of abuse at St. Benedict's (or elsewhere) and discourage them from coming forward to report the abuse they have suffered.

Since all those comments are anonymous I have no idea who is making them, and I won't speculate because I don't particularly care. As of today, any comment which in my opinion contributes to an atmosphere of intimidation of abuse survivors will not be published.

This is in addition to the other reasons I have previously mentioned for refusing to publish comments, i.e. any comment which might possibly be prejudicial to the trial of Pearce and Maestri, and any comment which seeks to promote paedophilia and its legalisation.

I will give more latitude in marginal cases if the commenter is prepared to identify himself or herself in the comment.

If you make a comment and it is not published, you are welcome to email me to ask why. If you have a complaint to make about an article, again you are welcome to email me about it.

And don't bother wittering on about restrictions on free speech. If you want to attack me or this blog, you are perfectly welcome to set up your own blog and write your own stuff there. You have free speech, but I have no obligation to provide you with a platform.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Pre-trial hearing

Yesterday Father David Pearce and John Maestri appeared in Isleworth Crown Court for a pre-trial hearing.

Each defendant was charged with 3 counts of indecent assault against a boy aged under 16. All the charges related to incidents over a period of some years up to 1979. All 6 charges involved the same alleged victim (who can't be named for legal reasons, though I would have no intention of naming him anyway). They both pleaded not guilty to all changes.

The trial has been set to start on 4th July, and is expected to run for 4 days.