Sunday, 31 December 2017

IICSA Benedictine hearings day 3 part 3

In between the testimony given by the various abuse survivors at Ampleforth, excerpts were read from the witness statement of retired Detective Sergeant Nicholas Mark Hartnett of North Yorkshire Police. They concerned his investigation into an offence committed by Fr Bernard Green in 1995. Here he describes his first contact with Fr Leo Chamberlain, headmaster of Ampleforth at the time.
My first contact with the headmaster, Father Chamberlain, will have been on Tuesday, 28 November 1995.  It was during a joint visit to Ampleforth School with Social Services, following a strategy meeting.  As soon as I walked into Ampleforth for the first time in my life, I felt that I was within a powerful institution.

Although Father Chamberlain appeared to be cooperating and assisting the investigation, in my personal view, I felt he wanted the investigation dealt with swiftly and on his terms.  Once I explained what the investigation would entail, I felt Father Chamberlain changed and he was trying to exert his authority over me, for example, he mentioned that he was on good terms with the then Chief Constable.

As part of the investigation, I wished to speak to all the pupils in the dormitory under the control of Green to establish if there were other witnesses or victims perhaps.  There had been an anonymous call into  the Schools Inspectorate, 1 pm on 28 November, stating that others had been involved with Green and wanted it stopped.  My recollection is that when I notified the headmaster of my intention, he was adamant that a member of staff from Ampleforth needed to be present when the pupils were spoken to.  Again, I felt he was trying to exert control over my investigation.
He went on to describe other difficulties in the investigation, which arose as he was about to interview Green.
I arranged to interview Green on Wednesday, 29 November 2005. The victim had left Ampleforth and gone to stay with family in London for a few days, consequently arrangements were made for him to be interviewed upon his return on Thursday, 30 November.  As a result, I was unusually interviewing the suspect ahead of interviewing the victim.  I was utilising the notes made by the victim and his school friend (a witness) the following morning at the school.

Prior to the suspect arriving at Malton Police Station, I recall Superintendent Bowskill informing me of a phone call he had had from Father Leo Chamberlain.  Father Chamberlain informed Mr Bowskill that the victim in my investigation no longer wished to be interviewed by the police and that because of this  Father Chamberlain had took it upon himself to contact the witness's father, who was also now saying that his son did not want to be spoken to by the police.

Mr Bowskill suggested to me that I could no longer interview Green and the investigation was over, to which I promptly replied that I would be continuing the investigation to its conclusion.

Father Green was interviewed under caution later that day and admitted the assault.

I visited Ampleforth School the following day and informed Father Chamberlain that I wished to speak to the victim's father.  I wanted to understand why there had been a change of mind and reassure the victim's father that the investigation was continuing.

I recall Father Chamberlain said that he would contact the victim's father who was working abroad and he telephoned him from his office.  Initially, I was asked to step outside and then invited back into the headmaster's office where I spoke to the victim's father, who reiterated his decision.
The net result was described by DS Hartnett.
At no time did I ever get the opportunity to speak to the victim or the witness in the dormitory.  My conversations were with the victim's father over the phone and likewise by telephone with the other boy's father.

This was probably the first case I had ever submitted to the CPS for a charging decision where I did not have a complainant's statement.  It was so rare.

The CPS authorised the charging of Green and he subsequently pleaded guilty to indecent assault in May 1996.  He was sentenced to two years' probation and 50 hours' community service.
DS Hartnett's tenacity should be commended.

This trick of getting parents to refuse to co-operate with the police & social services is a very old one I've seen before. It's also very easy to do. A headmaster is usually older than the victim's parents, he is by definition in a position of authority and practiced in expressing that authority. He can use that authority (in this case bolstered by the fact that he is a priest and the victim and his parents are presumably Catholics) to suggest that the last thing the victim needs is to have lots of strangers asking him difficult questions about the incident and possibly asking him whether he himself did anything wrong. The whole business will take months to resolve and may interfere with the boy's education. Once the police are involved the matter can hardly be kept secret and so the boy may be subject to bullying from his peers. The boy would be much better off if the matter were quietly dropped, and the school will make sure that no repetition of the incident occurs.

By this means, the victim and his family are detached from the support of those most qualified to help, and left in the hands of the institution which allowed the abuse occur in the first place.

No witness statement from the victim's father was read, so we have no means of knowing whether this actually happened in this case. But it would be entirely consistent with the rest of Fr Leo Chamberlain's behaviour as described by DS Hartnett.

This statement also sheds a light on Leo Chamberlain's comments to RC-A30. Had Chamberlain's concern only been that it's impossible to stop all abuse, then he would hardly have acted in a way as to discourage the the authorities from investigating of abuse that was already known to him.

IICSA Benedictine hearings day 3 part 2

RC-A30 went on to describe her opinion and experience of Ampleforth's approach to safeguarding.
Q.  What are your views now about the child protection that was exercised during your time at Ampleforth?
A.  I think that it was very poor.  The focus seemed to be almost entirely on box ticking, filling out forms, getting the paperwork done, the bureaucracy.  Therefore, everything on the surface looked fine if everything was written down and properly presented.  But it meant that nobody ever looked beneath the surface, nobody saw properly what was going on, and it also meant that people could ignore much more easily any inkling that they had that something suspicious might be happening because if they had the form, then, "No, we have the form, it's all fine". 

It was very much -- it was very paperwork based, but nothing underneath, and Dara used that very much to his advantage.  He could recite the child protection policy verbatim, and he knew what to write down, when to write it, who to send it to, and he would talk about this quite openly.  With me, he was quite boastful, and even other members of staff commented on the excessive amount of paperwork that was required for not just child protection, but anything to do with health and safety or safeguarding.  And the general consensus amongst other members of staff was that senior management who were in charge of this would issue these rules, but they didn't really know what the running of the school was really like, what was really going on.

I think it's very sad that something like this could have happened, because there was so much focus on bureaucracy the real issues were really missed and they shouldn't have been missed so easily.  You can have a cunning perpetrator, but you should -- and places do have policies in place to stop this from happening.  But because people knew where we were approximately, they knew we were in the building late at night together. Well, they knew where we were, he's filled out a risk assessment, it should all be good, but nobody checked.

About the email thread, he listed these five steps that he'd taken if I said an allegation that wasn't true, but nobody had actually raised it with me when I was 13.  It may have led to an awkward conversation at the time, but if somebody had said something, then it's perfectly possible that it would have prevented the serious abuse that happened following it.  It was, as long as everything was in order and as long as everything looked like it should, then things weren't questioned, things weren't followed through as they should have been followed through.
Q.  One of the things you say in your statement --  I'm looking at paragraph 3 at the top of page 2 -- is that because of the history of recent scandal at Ampleforth and in the wider Catholic Church, the college wanted the outside world to believe it had a strong culture of child protection?
A.  Yes, I think that was correct.  I think there was very much a sense of, because of the past failings, they wanted to be seen that they were doing what they could to correct this.  In their mind, that seemed to be having everything written down.  There was an obsessive emphasis on the completion of safeguarding paperwork, but commonsense and actually looking at what was in front of their faces, that sort of went by the wayside.
The overwhelming impression I get from this testimony is that following the earlier Ampleforth scandals, the aim of the safeguarding arrangements was not to protect children, but rather to protect Ampleforth in the event of a future problem, to protect staff against "unfounded allegations" or if the allegations turned out (as they often do) to be all too well-founded, to be able to say "look, we tried, it's not our fault". The aim was to prevent scandal rather than to prevent abuse. The church's reputation was still uppermost, and it engendered an understandable degree of cynicism amongst staff.

RC-A30 also took aim at the effectiveness of school inspections carried out by the Independent Schools Inspectorate.
Q.  Were there ever any independent schools inspections?
A.  Yes, frequently.
Q.  Would the ISI give warning of instructions coming?
A.  They would, yes.
Q.  Is there an issue that you would like to highlight around that?
A.  I think the way in which the ISI -- how they were run in general at Ampleforth is indicative of the wider problem of, again, making sure that everything looks fine and everybody -- you know, of course, when there are independent inspections everybody wants to look good, everything wants to look okay, but, again, it was all about what was on the surface, what could people see. So, for instance, the school inspections, I remember one occasion, I think it was my GCSE year, the inspectors were meant to be talking to students that the teachers had chosen at random, for instance, just about the subjects and, you know, the way in which things were done at school.  I was chosen along with another boy in my class, and they told us that, "Obviously, you weren't chosen at random.  You were both chosen because you were the best at the subject" -- this happened to be English.

They didn't tell us what to say, nobody fed us words, but I think the point was, they didn't need to, we enjoyed the subject and they knew we would speak highly of it and articulately and, chances are, would not talk about any particular flaws. I think, just in -- if that were the only problem, if everything else was -- if there wasn't the issues with safeguarding and child protection, as I have voiced, you might say that's -- you know, everybody tries to put their best foot forward on inspections, but I think, as I said, it is indicative of the wider problem, which is that, as long as everything looked good, everything has an outstanding rating -- I mean,  they got an outstanding rating from the ISI when I was being abused at Ampleforth. It shows it wasn't very difficult to coordinate those events to make sure that everything looks fine and ignore what was happening in the next building, you know.
This is consistent with my own knowledge of the quality of safeguarding aspects of inspections by both ISI and Ofsted. They only find a problem if they have already been told there is a problem they should find.

RC-A30 described a conversation she had with Fr Leo Chamberlain (Ampleforth's former headmaster and at one time RC-A30's parish priest).
Q.  Did he speak to you about the problems in the school?
A.  He did.  He was clearly -- he was genuinely concerned and very sorry, but he did make a rather revealing comment, which was that the problem is that a school can take measures on child protection but if you have a cunning perpetrator, they will always find a way, and I think that's -- again, that's indicative of the wider attitude to child protection in general at Ampleforth.

I think Father Leo -- it is clear that he's caring  and genuine and very sorry about what's happened, but it's the idea that, well, if Dara wanted to do it, he would do it anyway; if you have a cunning perpetrator, it will happen anyway.  But that is not the case.  There are so many big institutions that work and operate without child sexual abuse going on.  I think this idea that, "There is only so much we can do" or, there is only -- I don't buy that.  I'm sorry, there were things that were missed when I was there.  Just, you know, things like the email thread but then letting us be alone in the building at night and not questioning any of that, that really shouldn't have been missed. I think the idea that if you always have a cunning perpetrator -- I don't believe that: I think, in my experience, perpetrators work out of -- Dara certainly made a lot of effort to cover his own back and they like having power and being able to show that power.

I think if Ampleforth took its policies -- like, worked on them on a deep level, rather than what was at  the surface, I don't think that there's any reason to say that a cunning perpetrator will always find a way. That's almost admitting defeat or admitting -- like saying failure is inevitable.
This is a perfect example of the Nirvana fallacy and its flaw. Leo Chamberlain was essentially saying that since child abuse can't be stamped out altogether, it's nobody's fault when it happens and it's not worth bothering trying to make improvements. But the flaw, correctly described by RC-A30, is that while child abuse can't be stamped out altogether, measures can be taken to deter and reduce abuse, that those measures could and should have worked in her instance, and much avoidable harm resulted from a failure to act effectively.

Dara De Cogan was quite brazen. He acted towards RC-A30 in front of staff and other students in ways that absolutely should have given rise to suspicions. As a teacher, you do not ping a pupil's bra strap in front of other staff. He did so knowing that Ampleforth's safeguarding procedures and culture were wholly inadequate. Acting this way in front of staff was an exercise in power, to convince RC-A30 that she was not able to complain because nobody would take any notice, nobody throught anything wrong was going on.

There was ample evidence available to staff at the time that there was a safeguarding issue here, that there was something that needed to be investigated, even though without an investigation the extent of the abuse was not then known. But there was easily enough to trigger a concern sufficient to ask RC-A30 what was going on and if she was all right, and to trigger a reference to children's services so that RC-A30 could be interviewed, reassured and supported by people trained to do precisely that.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

IICSA Benedictine hearings day 3

Day 3 started to get down to something a bit more substantial. Proceedings started with evidence from a former pupil of Ampleforth and Gilling Castle (Ampleforth's primary school), starting at the senior school in 1978. The witness, who is legally entitled to anonymity, was referred to as RC-A2.

RC-A2 described a culture of fear and violence, and a culture where both in the junior and senior schools some monks and teachers would swim naked with pupils shower with pupils and touch pupils inappropriately. He also described how the sixth-form boys would regard the first-formers as "pretty boys".
Well, you could get a young lad -- he might be walking up to dinner and someone might slap him on the bum or put their arm around him and say, "You're a pretty boy, aren't you?", you know.  I never encountered anything -- serious sexual abuse or anything, but there was this feeling that there was -- sort of pertaining to "Tom Brown's Schooldays", sort of thing, the upper sixth were in charge.
RC-A2 said he didn't suffer as much as others because he was big and played rugby a lot. At the end of his evidence, RC-A2 was invited to say why he had come forward to the inquiry.
Well, I feel that those at the school that were seriously sexually abused, or whatever comes up from the hearing, will, rightly so, have compensation, apologies or whatever, whatever happens to them, but the thing that I feel is that, in that era, there was a lot of allowed sexism on telly, all over the place in the '70s and '80s, and I think a lot of allowed -- sexism and abuse at that school that was allowed, ie, people swimming with you naked is wrong.  I think that the people -- a lot of people probably haven't come to terms with that. 

For me, my biggest problem has been having a shutdown of emotions for most of my life and that was caused because I had to at school, otherwise I wouldn't have got on and been able to deal with the school, and I believe that that deserves an apology to other people that weren't seriously abused, because I think in a way we were all abused to an extent.  I think that the atmosphere we were brought up in -- I realise our parents put us down for it.  I realise it was the choice of our families.  I also realise my father thought he was doing the best he could for me.  It wasn't his fault.  But in that school, I was 6 or 7 years old, and it was bloody terrifying some of the time, and I think that that needn't have been like that.

I think if you run an institution like that, your very best person possible should be looking after the smallest children, the very best, the cream of the crop.
The next witness was RC-A61. He started as a pupil at Gilling Castle in 1965 aged 7 and went on to Ampleforth 4 years later. RC-A61 also described physical violence, regular beatings, including beatings by Fr Piers Grant-Ferris in the confessional and in bathrooms where RC-A61 was required to be naked. RC-A61 was asked when he first spoke to other monks about Fr Piers Grant-Ferris
Q.  Did you ever speak to any of the monks about Father Piers Grant Ferris?
A.  On having almost finished school -- I believe I'm able to mention the name of Father Justin Price?
Q.  Yes.
A.  We annually did something called a retreat, which was usually in the summer term, where boys would be divided in groups and discuss theological or religious issues, and during one of -- at the end of one of those sessions with Father Justin Price, there was a small group of us left behind and, emboldened by age, the conversation turned to Father Piers and his beatings, at which point Father Justin Price told us that when Father Piers was sent to Gilling Castle, it was known that he had a problem with boys' bottoms, or words to that effect, which came as a stunning shock to me. It is the same Justin Price that years later denied that any abuse had ever taken -- he became abbot some years -- not abbot, I do beg your pardon, he became Prior of Ampleforth some years later, but by that stage he denied and told me himself that I was the first person who had ever suggested wrongdoing by Piers Grant Ferris.
Q.  Just taking that in stages, it came as a shock to you?
A.  Yes.
Q.  What was particularly shocking to you when you were on that retreat with Father Justin?
A.  Yes.
Q.  What was particularly shocking?
A.  Because he'd told me that it was known, and there were other priests who I am not going to name, who -- by that stage, I was nearly 18, and spoke to about abuses that had taken place, and it seemed generally understood that that's what happened.
Q.  In your statement, you say that it was unbelievable to you, having heard that, that he had been sent to become a year head at a boys' school when there was prior knowledge?
A.  Just absolutely staggering how, you know -- you know, even in the days when, you know, these things weren't considered so seriously, just the idea that you could send somebody with a known -- it just blows me away, sorry.  It is absolutely extraordinary.  I wouldn't know where to start.  I mean, you know, child protection on its most basic level, you wouldn't let anybody near other children, particularly as head of year.  That means guardian.  That means -- you know, that means you're standing in for this child's parents.
Later  RC-A61 made it clear he believed Abbot (later Cardinal) Basil Hume knew all about it.
Q.  Why have you got no doubt that he knew?
A.  My father told me that he knew.  My father was also of  the belief that the reputation of the Catholic Church was of utmost importance.
Q.  More important than what happened to you?
A.  Indeed.  He was a -- he went to church every day.
So, we have a situation where the authority of the church was such that parents believed the protection of its reputation came even before the safety of their own children. Incredible.

After RC-A61 had given evidence, extracts were read from statements from two more survivors, both pupils in the 1950s & 70s. I shan't go into them in detail, they describe similar abuses by Fr Piers Grant-Ferris and others.

The next witness, RC-A30, was a female pupil at Ampleforth from 2005 to 2010 on a scholarship. An important aspect of her evidence is how recently she was abused. 2005 was after the Nolan Commission reported and 2010 was after the Cumberlege commission reported, in other words at a time when the Catholic Church was loudly proclaiming that it had got its act together. RC-A30 was abused by music teacher Dara De Cogan. Earlier this year De Cogan was jailed for 28 months after pleading guilty to 10 charges of abuse. I'm not going to describe the details of the abuse and the grooming process, there's no need and I don't want to compound RC-A30's distress if she happens to read this. So, I'm just going to concentrate on the aspects of when De Cogan's behaviour should have been triggering alarm bells in the school. Here's an excerpt from the testimony.
Q.  Would he say anything to you about how you looked?
A.  Yes.  He would comment frequently that I looked gorgeous or extremely beautiful.  He would refer to my breasts constantly.  He would say things like, "You've got great tits" or "You have fabulous knockers", and he would say those things in front of other students as well.
Q.  He would say that in front of other students?
A.  He would, yes.
Q.  What about other teachers?
A.  Other teachers, I remember kind of vividly he had started to ping back my -- snap back my bra strap under my top, which he did in front of other members of staff and students.  He seemed to like the idea, I think, that he could do it publicly and nobody was saying anything. People clearly noticed, because they might smile or, you know, give the odd look, but nobody actually said anything.  So that was something he did quite frequently in front of staff and he would compliment me on my looks in front of other staff as well.
Later she said this
Q.  Were other teachers or members of the school, the college, aware of the meetings that you were having at this point?
A.  Oh, yes.
Q.  And extra tutorials?
A.  Yes, people knew, for sure.  I mean, apart from anything else, we had -- every boarding student had a curfew that they were supposed to be in the boarding house by a certain time.  Typically, our meetings would take place quite late in the evenings so I missed curfew.  My housemistress had to know where I was so that nobody would go out looking.  I believe, also, because they were one-on-one meetings, risk assessments were meant to be filled out.  I'm sure that he did at least some of those risk assessments.
And later, after describing how the abuse had escalated.
Q.  Were the rules at that stage the same?  Was your housemistress --
A.  Of course, they were the same.  Everybody knew where I was.  We were in the music department by myself -- by ourselves.  I had actually been given a key to the music block.  It's a separate building.  And the head of music would see both of us off so we could -- we would come and go separately.  It was very easy to be in the locked building ourselves without anybody else there.
Q.  Were you aware of whether anyone had any thoughts about what was going on or not?
A.  Yes, lots of people did.
Q.  When you say "lots of people"?
A.  Students would talk about it frequently.  There were rumours flying around amongst students that things were going on between us.
Q.  What about the staff?
A.  Excuse me?
Q.  What about the staff?
A.  What about the staff?  There were certain members of staff as well, because Dara's behaviour, as I have mentioned, because it became -- he became more tactile publicly and things like snapping my bra strap in front of other members of staff, as no-one said anything, they clearly saw what was going on, it gave him more power. He obviously liked it and he grew in confidence in that area.  He could get away with a lot more in public because -- well, because he was getting away with more in public.  Nobody was doing anything.
RC-A30 described emails she had seen from De Cogan to other staff members.
Q.  Were the emails from Dara De Cogan to the head of music, Ian Little?
A.  Yes.
Q.  And also to Brenda Green, your housemistress?
A.  Yes.
Q.  Both of whom had known over the years that you had been spending a considerable amount of time with Dara De Cogan?
A.  Yes.
Q.  What was the content of the email?
A.  Dara voiced his concern that I had inappropriate feelings for him.  He said this was based on a caricature drawing of him I did.  It was just -- it was an innocent caricature, and I had -- I used to do them when I first arrived at Ampleforth because I found it hard to communicate with other children socially. Sometimes I would draw pictures, funny, exaggerated cartoons, and people would laugh. I did one of Dara once, and --
Q.  Was this just after you'd joined Ampleforth?
A.  This was just after I'd joined.  I'd been there for maybe two weeks at the time.  And Dara saw the one I did of him and, at the time, he had said to me that it was a very good drawing, he encouraged me to do more of them, and he took a snapshot of it with his phone and uploaded it to his computer because he said that he wanted to keep it there for posterity.  I had only drawn it on the whiteboard, so it was quite easy to rub it out. In the emails that he sent to Ian and Brenda, however, the -- he'd included the image of the cartoon, and he said that he was concerned that I had feelings for him based on this drawing.  He also said that he had told me to stop doing the drawings, but I continued anyway, which wasn't true, and then he continued to list five steps that he'd taken in case I made allegations of inappropriate behaviour against him, one of which was taking down the curtains in his classroom that we spoke about earlier on.

The replies from the other members of staff were very much in agreement: "Yes, you have taken the right steps.  This is exactly the sort of thing that you should be doing", but nobody ever spoke to me about the emails.  Nobody actually asked me or questioned anything.  If they had, then I would have told them what had actually happened, because that wasn't true at all.
Now, all of this was happening after Ampleforth had been hauled over the coals because of previous abuses for which Fr Piers Grant-Farris had been convicted, so you might reasonably expect that the school would be hyper-alert to the issue.

I'll cover the last part of RC-A30's testimony in the next article, where she describes what she saw concerning the school's safeguarding arrangements.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

IICSA Benedictine hearings day 2

Unfortunately, Day 2 did not achieve very much in terms of questioning and holding people to account.

The day's proceedings started at 10:30 with the counsel to the inquiry reading excerpts from several statements, those of Fr Luke Beckett (Ampleforth's canon lawyer), Rev Christopher Thomas (secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales), Fr Paul Smyth (president of the Congegation of Religious), Mr Christopher Pearson (lay chair of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission), Ms. Colette Limbrick (director of the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service). This took until they broke for lunch at 1pm.

It was mostly pretty dry stuff, details of how the Catholic church is organised - details of canon law, the organisation of its safeguarding bodies and so on.

There was something gruesomely inefficient about the way the inquiry went about its business. The panel and about 30 lawyers (most paid for by IICSA) spent a morning listening to one lawyer read excerpts from written statements they had all read already. There must be (and in fact is) a cheaper and more efficient way of declaring these statements to be in the public domain and taken into account by the panel. This was wasted time that should be being devoted to questioning witnesses. The inquiry had only 3 weeks of hearings in this round. The trial of a single child abuse offender often takes longer than that, and the trial of Abbot Laurence Soper took 10 weeks. This would become critical later in the hearings.

The  most important part of the read statements was a part of Colette Limbrick's statement describing the role of CSAS.
The primary role of CSAS is one of coordination, advice and support to the Catholic Church in England and Wales in respect of safeguarding children, young people and adults at risk.  The role and tasks in CSAS include, but are not limited to:
  • providing advice to members of the church about safeguarding issues;
  • providing advice to lay people about safeguarding issues;
  • developing and supporting the delivery of safeguarding training within the church;
  • ensuring that the national safeguarding policies and procedures are contemporary, relevant, comply with best practice and are published for implementation across the church in England and Wales.
  • undertaking a role in quality assurance of safeguarding activity within dioceses and religious congregations;
  • identifying and disseminating good safeguarding practice within the church;
  • being the national safeguarding point of contact for national stakeholders, by example, other churches and secular organisations;
  • being the registered body for the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)
As one might surmise from its name, the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service in fact can only advise. As far as being able to "ensure" anything, all it can do is ensure that its own policies are "published for implementation", which is a telling form of words. As we later found in evidence, CSAS (and its predecessor COPCA) lacks any power to ensure that its policies are actually implemented.

The afternoon was spent taking evidence from Abbot Richard Yeo, specifically in the organisation of the English Benedictine Congregation and his role until recently as Abbot President thereof. (He gave evidence again later in the hearings on his role and actions as Abbot of Downside).

Yeo described how each monastery or convent (there are 10 in England an Wales) is largely autonomous under its own Abbot. Formal and permanent transfers of monks between monasteries are rare, through for one monk to visit another monastery for a period is not that rare. The Abbot President has more or less no powers to direct an abbot to do something, he can only advise. The Abbot President's primary role is to carry out a Visitation of each house every four years to ensure that the monastery is still following the Rule of St Benedict as interpreted in modern times in each monastery's "customary" or constution. There are no central safeguarding records and the role of the Abbot President in safeguarding matters is very limited.

They spent the afternoon meandering round the Rule of St Benedict and the rules of the EBC without anything of any great note being uncovered.

And that was the end of Day 2. I was beginning to wonder whether the hearings would ever get down to anything important.

IICSA - next round of Benedictine hearings

The purpose of the IICSA is not at all the same as the purpose of a criminal trial, of Soper, Pearce or anyone else. The idea behind the IICSA is to find out in what way institutions failed to protect children, and to make recommendations as to what can be done to prevent such failures in future.

To fail adequately to protect children isn't necessarily to break the law. There's no legal obligation to report any suspicions you might have that a child is being abused. One of the things the IICSA will have to consider is whether that should change, and if so, who should be covered by a legal obligation to report suspicions

In due course, the IICSA will get round to holding hearings about Ealing Abbey in much the same fashion as they have recently done with respect to Downside and Ampleforth.

There will probably be a lot of documents to read through so that we can ensure that the right questions are asked. There have been over 62,000 pages of documents associated with the Downside and Ampleforth hearings, much of it provided very late.

Ealing is provisionally scheduled for February 2019. That's some considerable time away. In some ways that is bad, it would be better to hold hearings soon before we know of any other criminal trials that might get in the way. On the other hand, a long delay will give us more time to go through all the documents in detail to make sure Ealing Abbey is properly held to account.

And it is with that in mind that I would like to put out a call to the complainants in the Soper trial. If you haven't already, please consider getting involved in the IICSA and applying for "core participant" status. This will give you the right to have legal representation at the inquiry, to make written statements and submissions, and possibly to give evidence in person. Giving evidence to the public inquiry will not be nearly as tough as giving evidence in the trial, there is no hostile cross-examination.

By the way, legal representation is most unlikely to cost you anything. Unless you have substantial private resources, legal representation for core participants is paid for by the inquiry itself.

But the main thing is that you will have the right to see the documents IICSA has extracted from Ealing Abbey and St Benedict's School when IICSA gets round to disclosing them to core participants. I'll look at as many documents as I can, and so will the lawyers representing me and various  survivors. But we could do with additional pairs of eyes, particularly from people who have knowledge of the school and who may as a result be able to notice the significance of items which might otherwise be missed.

I know some of the complainants in the Soper trial want to try and put the whole matter behind them and try and get on with their lives. If you feel that way and don't want to get into the inquiry, I totally understand and respect that point of view. If you do nothing else, by complaining and testifying at trial you have done your fair share for child protection.

But if after catching your breath, you feel ready to do more and want to help address how Ealing Abbey enabled abuse to flourish, then please get in touch with me by email. There's a link to my email address on the panel on the right-hand side of this page.

Your anonymity will continue to be protected. All the complainants in the Ampleforth and Downside hearings have been given ciphers, and all mentions of names of complainants in the documents and in the hearings themselves have been replaced with the ciphers.

It is for the chair of the inquiry to decide who is given core participant status. If you are interested, I can help put you in touch with lawyers who will help draft your application.

Friday, 22 December 2017

IICSA Benedictine hearings day 1

The morning of day 1 was taken up with initial submissions from Counsel to the inquiry and the legal representatives of the various core participants. An important issue raised was the amount of documentation which had been disclosed very late.

At the hearing back in June, the inquiry had indicated the all the necessary documents would be disclosed by the end of October. This has proved hopelessly optimistic. By 31 October, 2,036 documents totalling 28,184 pages had been provided by the inquiry to the legal representatives of the core participants. However, after 31 October, a further 3,178 documents have been provided, another 34,282 pages.

It has been quite impossible to read all of this and so ensure that all the right questions are asked during the hearing. I spent every spare evening and weekend for about 2 months before the start of the hearings going through documents and identifying questions that needed to be asked in the inquiry, but I wasn't by any means reading everything. I went through the indexes provided, looking at the description of a document as shown in the index to see what might be interesting, and then read those documents only. Even so, I haven't had a chance to go through all the indexes, and I have no idea what I might have missed because of misleading descriptions in the index.

If the inquiry is to be able to ask the right questions, the core participants themselves - especially the survivors - need the opportunity to go through all of this. They have been involved in the events the documents describe and will often be able to spot the significance of a document in a way that the lawyers might not recognise by themselves.

(By the way, apart from the documents that have been listed on the website and brought up in evidence during the hearings, I can't disclose anything I've seen. I had to sign a confidentiality undertaking as a condition of getting to see the documents at all.)

Prior to the hearings, a number of lawyers complained about the impossibility of going through all of this, and the IICSA conceded two important points.
  • That the normal 4 days' notice they required for any question somebody wanted to have asked could be cut to 2 days
  • In the event that something important in the document is discovered in the documents which was is covered in this round of hearings, the IICSA would leave open the possibility that a witness could be recalled to address the matter at the next hearing within the Benedictine case study.
The latter point of course remains entirely at the chair's discretion.

Even this left a very unsatisfactory position. Mr Sam Stein (who represents 13 complainant core participants) spoke expressing the frustration that many felt.
During the lead-up to this investigation, we have had disclosure on a daily basis. I will give you a synopsis in a moment of quite what that disclosure has been like. There has been no time to consider or even properly consider these documents. This relates to an inquiry or investigation date that's been set up long ago.
I have listened and spoken to Ms Karmy-Jones before this afternoon, I have spoken to her about the
19 disclosure problem, and we have tried to come to, if you like, a united view.

The difficulty from the core participant survivor perspective is that we don't, as yet, have a coherent explanation for this difficulty with disclosure. What we do have is a partial explanation for a large part of these failures in disclosure that's been referred to in the note for disclosure for the part 1 EBC case study hearing, a note dated 2 November 2017.

I am going to read the two relevant paragraphs. This is a note from counsel to the inquiry. It is dated 2 November. In that sense, it is a product of its time, because we have had disclosure problems after that date.

"Late disclosure", page 3, paragraph 10: "The inquiry has received late disclosure of large tranches of material from the English Benedictine Congregation, including Downside Abbey and School and CSAS. In relation to the EBC, including Downside Abbey and School, since September we have received over 10,000 pages of material, predominantly from Downside Abbey and School, and that was in response to the inquiry's rule 9 request sent on 15 January 2016."

May I repeat that date: 15 January 2016. The note goes on to say: "The inquiry is working through this material as quickly as possible but has inevitably been unable to review and prepare it for disclosure to core participants by 31 October."

Paragraph 11: "We were notified in late October of yet further material that has been identified as falling within the scope of the inquiry's rule 9 request in January 2016. We do not yet have a page count for this material, but will endeavour to review it and disclose any relevant material to core participants as quickly as possible. The inquiry has asked Downside Abbey and School to prepare a witness statement explaining the manner in which they have conducted searches to identify material relevant to the inquiry's disclosure requests and the reasons for this late discovery and disclosure of
9 relevant material. It is anticipated that this statement will be disclosed to core participants by 17 November 2017."

So that was as matters stood on 2 November of this year. We then do have, indeed, on 17 November, a statement from Dom Leo Davis dated 17 November of this year where there is set out within that particular document the response, if you like, regarding this late disclosure. If I read from that document, paragraphs 35 and 36:

"In April 2017, it was agreed with the inquiry that a further tranche of additional newly generated material will be provided on 1 July 2017. As before, newly generated material was identified by the school. A list was sent on 23 June 2017. Further newly generated material was disclosed on 1 August 2017 following the receipt of a section 21 notice on 28 July 2017 consisting of material including child protection, the Plenary Governor's meeting minutes and Safeguarding Subcommittee meeting minutes created during the course of 2017 and the resubmission of the 2016 versions of the same. Counsel to the inquiry proposed Downside as a selected institution by way of written submissions on 3 May 2017. Further rule 9 requests were issued to another EBC institution. No further request was made to Downside.

"On 28 July 2017, the chair to the inquiry confirmed her decision that Downside be selected for the EBC case study hearing in November/December 2017."

Now, the rest of this particular document sets out a history of the way that apparently material has been looked for, discovered within the grounds of the abbey, essentially in cupboards, in long rooms, as it is described, mixed up with catering supplies and mixed up with documents that relate to other matters clearly not relevant to this inquiry. So it is a long list and long justification of why there have been problems, it seems. But the heart of this document appears to be at those two paragraphs, 35 and 36, blame being placed by the author of this document onto this inquiry, becauseit seems that the way it is being presented is, "Well, we were chosen rather late as a case study and, therefore, being chosen rather late as a case study, what has happened is that we have only just been therefore confronted with the reality that this is actually going to be something we need to take seriously and therefore it has all been a bit of a problem".

Now, none of that copes with the fact that the initial request for documentation goes back to January 2016. What has happened since that time, if we just look at last week, on 23 November 2017, 111 documents relating to Ampleforth and Downside were put on the CP, the core participants' database, Relativity, which is the machinery that's used for the finding of documents by core participants. This material related to the EBC, Downside Abbey, various individuals, North Yorkshire City Council, North Yorkshire Police and Ofsted. That's the 23rd.

26 November 2017, 68 documents relating to Ampleforth and Downside. A third witness statement on behalf of Downside from Abbot Madden and, indeed, another document from Dom Davis. On Saturday, we had documents provided by counsel to the inquiry setting out, if you like, schedules and items that were going to be useful for this inquiry.

So, in reality, taking last week, going through to this weekend, as just a snapshot, because it would take too long to go through all of the other late disclosures, core participants have had no chance whatsoever to deal with this material. Their representatives have been going through the material as fast as we possibly can. We have learnt, and I think I have got this right, from Ms Karmy-Jones that there may be further material to come. We are left in a position whereby we can only, it seems, try to do our best in an awkward situation.
Later, he described the impossibility of managing this snowdrift of paper.
What is a core participant? Under rule 5 of the inquiry rules, it relates to a person who has played or may have played a direct and significant role in relation to the matters to which the inquiry relates. Those designated as core participants will be provided with electronic disclosure of evidence relevant to the particular subject matter of the inquiry. They have the right to make opening and closing statements. They have the right to suggest lines of questioning. They have the right to apply to the inquiry panel to ask questions of witnesses during a hearing.

Do you mind if I ask a rhetorical question -- I don't expect an answer -- to say this: how exactly is that going to be done with such late disclosure? How is a core participant meant to exercise those rights? How are the legal representatives meant to advise their core participant clients as to the different aspects and ways that we can potentially deal with matters on their behalf? Have you considered when core participants actually get this material? Because we note, of course, that the inquiry, understandably, is saying, "Well, hang on, there is a problem here with disclosure to us", but let's look at, in fact, the knock-on effect of the disclosure to the core participant. The core participant doesn't get it, nor their representative, does not get this material when the inquiry gets it. So the inquiry gets this somewhat in advance. They have to do their job, understandably, and we accept it must be done, of redaction and filter in relation to this material.

So the core participant is very much at the end of the list in terms of disclosure. Not only that, the core participant has, through their legal representatives, to comply with timetables in making submissions, in making requests to question witnesses. All of these are timetables that compress the ability of core participants and their representatives to deal with, take on board, and actually consider the material, let alone make such requests, and we can see the effect of it that has happened so far in relation to this investigation, in that the four days which was originally set as being the period of time in order to make such submissions has now been narrowed down to two days, but it is the core participants who are given the least amount of time to handle the material, the least amount of time to
 actually look at it and the least amount of time to act on it. Guess what: it is the core participant survivors who have in the past been ignored, let down by judicial tribunals, let down sometimes by lawyers, let down and abused by the institutions in which they placed their trust in this case and went to their schools.

It is quite hard, from the core participant survivor perspective, to learn, as it seems we are being told by counsel to the inquiry, that this in fact relates to late disclosure from those very institutions that are under examination within this part of the investigation.

What's the practical end result? Well, it seems that we are left with nothing else other than being able to just say to this inquiry that what we will do is battle on regardless. We could of course apply for an adjournment. We could ask for this investigation to be taken out of this time slot and be put into whatever time would be available next year. But there are core participants that have made plans to give evidence before this inquiry during this period of time. They have made personal plans. They have discussed matters with their employers, with their families and they have made travel arrangements, and they are facing coming along to this investigation and this inquiry to talk about what happened to them in the past. It would, we submit, be directly unfair to those core participants to apply for an adjournment to take this matter out, yet it is also those core participants, some of them witnesses before this part of the investigation, that have got the problem of coping with the failures of disclosure.
Ms Gallafent representing Downside and the EBC made some points to the effect that it wasn't Downside's fault. Ms Karmy-Jones for the inquiry also made some points in response, and then after a short adjournement Professor Jay made the following statement from the chair.
The panel and I have had the opportunity for a short discussion on the matters just raised, and of course we entirely agree that the matter of disclosure is extremely important, as so many people have already stated.

If it comes late to the inquiry, it therefore goes late to core participants, and that's a matter of very great regret. We have heard from Ms Gallafent an explanation, but it doesn't alter the fact that it is a significant inconvenience to all of us preparing for the inquiry's hearings.

Whether any blame can be attributed to an individual or an institution may be a matter of evidence, and no doubt we will consider that if it arises in the course of these hearings.

Finally on this point, I want to say that we do wish to make the point that we do not want to preclude or deter people bringing forward relevant material outwith the agreed framework.

As to the issue of questions, we will of course be as flexible as possible in considering any applications for questions outwith the usual time period.
So in summary, we are keeping to the predefined timetable and everybody will just have to make the best of it.

A criminal trial run this way would collapse. In fact, it has been in the news these last few days about how criminal trials have collapsed because of late disclosure of documentation to the defense. But apparently this is an acceptable way to run a public inquiry - the evidence has to be squeezed into the timetable, rather than the timetable being adjusted to accommodate the evidence.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

18 Years

That is the sentence handed down to Fr Laurence Soper today at the Old Bailey. The judge had absolutely nothing good to say to or about him.

Soper's defence barrister had almost nothing she could say in mitigation. She could not say that he was remorseful - he isn't. Instead she had to say that Soper still proclaims his innocence and that he considers himself the victim of a miscarriage of justice. All she could do was to ask the judge to be careful not to double-count the aggravating factors in Soper's crimes when determining sentence. For instance, the crimes involved a gross abuse of trust as he was a priest and a teacher. That's a serious aggravating factor. The crimes also took place in a school, which is also an aggravating factor, but she said that this shouldn't be taken into account because the crimes essentially couldn't take place anywhere else if they were to involve an abuse of trust because of his position as a teacher.

In its way, it was a heroic performance. There is almost nothing good you can say about someone who has been convicted of child rape and who is unrepentant and still claiming his innocence.

The judge didn't even try to find anything good to say. He pointed out that Soper was intelligent and accomplished, but that none of that would count for anything in terms of how the world would now view him. He said that he could not take into account any suggestions as to Soper's good character since his very respectability was used to enable his abusing. The judge said "Your disgrace is now complete."

Ealing Abbey responded to the sentencing with a weird tweet.

I mean, what on earth has the winter solstice got to do with anything at all about this?

A short time ago, I emailed a few friends (former pupils of St Benedict's) a short note saying "I know some of you at least know already, but Soper was given 18 years at the Old Bailey today. The judge had absolutely nothing nice to say about him." I got this reply back from one of them.
That'll be Father Soper if you don't mind. A chap may have been committing sexual assault and rape of children for decades, gone on the run from the police and is a proven forger/fraudster. But, dammit, he's still a priest.

I can't quite get my head around WHY I care, but as if my blood was not boiling enough based on what he was convicted of (and the vast numbers of things he will never be convicted of) but the fact that, today, right now, he is still a priest in the Catholic Church does my head in. It just sums up how utterly unreformed and fucked up the Church still is.

Will they expedite his expulsion? Why wasn't his expulsion order sitting on a desk waiting to be signed the very day he was finally convicted? Answer: because, as we all know, the Catholic Church is still the very same corrupt, paedo-protecting mafia it ever was.

Sorry for the rant. I hope the 18 year sentence brings some satisfaction to people. Soper is now gone.  Excellent. But the institution that created him is as alive and kicking as it ever was.
That seems to me to be a perfectly appropriate expression of rage at the situation, and it deserves to be seen publicly.

Last week, Ealing Abbey published a letter on their website in response to Soper's conviction. In included the following.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his victims.  We admire them for their courage in coming forward as witnesses in order to secure his conviction.

We apologise to everyone who is affected by the crimes Soper committed while he was a monk of Ealing and a teacher at St Benedict’s School in the 1970s and 1980s.
Another former pupil, one of the complainants, has sent me this,
To be congratulated by the school for our courage in coming forward about former Abbot-Headmaster Soper is grotesque in view of the school’s record in not only facilitating and covering up for Pearce, Soper, Maestri et al but in slandering us. As for their unreserved apology, they can shove it. I will not forget what they did to the teachers and monks who did try to intervene. It seems that one must conform to very shady criteria to be part of the management and that this persists to this day after decades. 

Detective Superintendent Ang Scott, from Operation Winter Key, has said the following.
I would like to pay tribute to the victims in this case for the bravery they have showed in coming forward and reporting these offences and giving evidence at court. Although it can never make up for the emotional and psychological trauma caused by Soper's crimes, I hope the sentence handed to him today can give them some form of closure. This case demonstrates that perpetrators of sexual abuse, no matter how long ago it took place, can be prosecuted and subjected to a custodial sentence.
 To which I can only add my heartfelt agreement and support.

Monday, 18 December 2017

The IICSA Benedictine Hearings

I was hoping to write something once or twice a week at least during the recently-concluded hearings about Downside and Ampleforth. But I was so busy reading the documentation which came in snowdrifts that there was no time to write anything other than communications to my lawyers.

An awful lot of documents were disclosed to the IICSA very late, and before they could be forwarded to core participants and their lawyers, they had to be processed. Much material had to be redacted, material irrelevant to the inquiry, personal details such as email addresses, phone numbers and signatures, names and any other identifying details of victims, and names of alleged abusers where they have not been convicted.

At the preliminary hearing on 6 June, the inquiry stated that all disclosure to core participants would be completed by 31st October, giving everybody a 4 weeks to read everything and forward questions to the inquiry that they wanted to see asked. Even then, it was anticipated that the documentation would run to more than 10,000 pages. In the end it was much much more than that, and tens of thousands of pages arrived after the deadline.

Even in the preliminary hearing back in June, lawyers for various of the core participants were indicating that just 4 weeks was not going to be enough to go through all the documentation.

So I've been spending just about every spare minute of the last 3 months reading stuff to try and make sure that relevant question got asked. I got through quite a decent proportion of it, but by no means all.

Now the hearings are over for the time being (Ealing will be dealt with sometime in the future) the pressure is off and I'll have time to write up my impressions.

In the meantime, if you want to read the entire transcript of the last 3 weeks of hearings, you can. They will make your hair stand on end.

Operation Winter Key

Operation Winter Key is the name given to the Metropolitan Police's overarching investigation into child sexual abuse. Soper was arrested and charged by officers working for Winter Key. A description provided by the Met themselves is here.

If you have information relating to child abuse (either of yourself or anyone else) at St Benedict's or any other Benedictine school, or by any monk past or present from Ealing Abbey or any other Benedictine monastery (whether the abuse took place at Ealing or elsewhere) then I would very much prefer that you contact the police and tell them about it rather than provide any details here.

In the early days of this blog, it was helpful for survivors to know they they weren't alone and that others had had similar experiences. But now, after the conviction of two monks and three other teachers at St Benedict's there can be no doubt of how widespread the abuse was, so this aspect of the blog's purpose is no longer required. I've decided therefore that I will only publish comments containing accounts of sexual abuse at Ealing in exceptional circumstances from now on.

If you call the police non-emergency number (101) and ask for Operation Winter Key, then I expect that you will be put through. Alternatively, I have contact details which I can provide on request. There is a link to my email address on the right-hand panel of this blog.

Operation Winter Key is continuing and the police will take seriously any information you may want to provide.

I realise that if you are a survivor, coming forward to the police may be very frightening. However, those who I have spoken to who have come forward have mostly described their relief at no longer having to keep the secret any more. It is not for me to say you should or should not come forward. That is an individual decision to be made if and when you feel ready for it. I would never criticise a survivor who decides that he (or she) doesn't have the strength to come forward for now.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Laurence Soper sentencing

Laurence Soper will be sentenced at the old Bailey at 9:30am on Thursday 21st December. I intend to be there.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

"The monks stole my childhood"

Today's Sunday Times contains an extremely powerful article by the Sunday Times travel editor Steve Bleach, who happens also to have been a pupil of St Benedict's. He has written in reaction to the conviction of Laurence Soper.

The monks stole my childhood
Forty years ago, I was just one of the pupils beaten and molested by a teacher at a top Catholic school. Last week I saw him convicted of a litany of abuse — and I wept

Although the article is behind the Times' paywall, you can access it for free - you can see two articles a week for free if you register.

The article goes beyond Soper's abuses, it describes the terror of the regular beatings there, of the sexual assaults by other monks and teachers. He names a number of other abusive monks and he has accounts from a number of former pupils (none of them complainants at the Soper trial).

Here's an important point from the article
How did it happen? How did an institution nominally dedicated to Christian values end up as a haven for abusers?

On a practical level, that’s simple. The religious life had obvious attractions for men with paedophile leanings.

Many were struggling to control their sexuality and were sincere when taking their vow of chastity. Others, presumably knowingly, sought communities of like-minded men with — in religious schools — large numbers of defenceless children at their mercy.

Those in denial — and I think there were many at St Benedict’s — could get their thrills from beating children and still convince themselves they were doing the Lord’s work.

Take a wider view, though, and the answer is more disturbing. They did it because they were allowed to: by the school, by the church, by society at large.
Later he goes on to describe this in more depth.
I asked St Benedict’s to help me trace teachers from that time. The school declined. Eventually I tracked down a retired lay teacher whom I recall as a strict master but a decent man.

“I’m not going to criticise the school,” he wrote in response to my request for an interview. “The actions of a couple of monks have done enough to damage its reputation without anyone else contributing.”

Damage to the school’s reputation. No mention of damage to the children in his care. I have no reason to think this teacher, who has now asked not to be named, was aware of the abuse while it was going on. But he certainly knows of it now and still his priorities are clear.
For as long as the reputation of the school is given a higher priority than the welfare of the victims abused there, anger towards the abbey and school will persist and people will wonder whether the place has changed all that much.

The school of course now claims to be a different place. Bleach mentions the review conducted by Lord Carlile and then later points out:
And when the Soper verdict came in, that same Lord Carlile who had conducted that review popped up to issue a statement on the school’s behalf. “The tough lessons of the past have been learnt,” he said. Tough lessons: a turn of phrase worthy of the very teachers who so enjoyed caning me and my mates.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Laurence Soper found guilty of abuse

After two months of hearing evidence, the jury in the trial of Abbot Laurence Soper (real name Andrew Soper) returned its verdicts today.

Soper was convicted of two counts of buggery, two counts of indecency with a child and 15 counts of indecent assault. The charges of buggery were contrary to section 12(1) of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, since the offences took place when that act was in force. The name of the offence was changed from buggery to rape by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. So in modern terms, he's a rapist.

I shan't rehearse the details of his crimes, they have already been described by the Guardian, the BBC, the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail among others.

I want to express the greatest of respect and admiration to the ten complainants who had the courage to come forward and give evidence in the face of what I've heard was a fierce cross-examination by the defence barrister. I have no doubt that it was an extremely unpleasant and possibly traumatic experience. I hope that the verdict helps to give you some measure of peace. The conviction could not have been won without you. You should be proud of what you achieved today.

This now brings the total number of monks and teachers associated with Ealing Abbey and St Benedict's School convicted of crimes associated with child sex abuse to five - two monks and three lay teachers.

John Maestri (a former maths teacher) was convicted on 3 separate occasions in 2003, 2005 and 2008 of offences against pupils committed in the 1970s and 80s. He received a custodial sentence for the first of these.

Father David Pearce (real name Maurice Pearce) was convicted in 2009 of eleven charges of abuse involving five different boys, all pupils of the school. These abuses occurred over a 36 year period. He was sentenced to five years for his crimes.

Stephen Skelton was convicted in 2011 of two counts of child abuse, 10 years apart, one at St Benedict's in 1983 and one later in Hampshire. When the pupil's mother complained, Skelton (who had taught at the school for only a term or so) was given a good reference and quietly sent on his way. He went on to abuse elsewhere. He was sentenced to six months suspended for two years.

Peter Allott (at the time the Deputy Headmaster) was arrested in 2015 on suspicion of possessing child abuse images. He pleaded guilty in 2016 to number of charges of making and possessing child abuse images and was sentenced to 33 months.

And now Soper. He will be sentenced on 19th December. I am not going to speculate as to what his sentence might or should be, that is for the judge to decide. (Nor will I allow publication of comments which speculate about it, so please don't bother to make any comments on that topic.)

Five convicted child sex offenders at one school. That is too many for it to be a coincidence. In time, those in charge of the abbey and the school will have to account for their failure to protect the children in their care. They will have to do so in public under oath, questioned by lawyers at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA). They have been required to provide copies of all relevant documents to the public inquiry. It wouldn't surprise me if they have already started rehearsing their answers.

One thing that the monks of Ealing will have to explain is how they not only harboured several criminal paedophiles within their ranks, but actually managed to elect a prolific child abuser as their leader. Laurence Soper was of course Abbot of Ealing from 1991 to 2000.

Lord Carlile, representing the school, has issued an apology, claiming that the school is now an entirely different place. The school would have to say that. We shall see how true it is in due course.

Monday, 27 November 2017

IICSA Benedictine Hearings started today

One of the investigations being carried out by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) concerns abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.

And within the Roman Catholic investigation, one of the case studies concerns abuse within the monasteries and schools of the English Benedictine Congregation, including Ealing, Ampleforth, Downside and Worth.

The hearings into the EBC started today with opening submissions from interested parties. The current set of hearings is concentrating on Downside and Ampleforth. Ealing will be heard about at a later hearing.

You should read Richard Scorer's opening submission.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Soper trial started

According to getwestlondon, a jury was sworn on 3rd October, and the prosecution will open its case on 10th October.

(Please note, while the trial continues, I will offer no opinion on the subject, will publish no comments offering opinions, and will restrict myself to signposting reports that have appeared in the press.)

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Soper pleads not guilty

There's been a plea and case management hearing. Soper has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of sexual assault against boys aged under 16. His trial at the Old Bailey will start on October 2.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Ealing WILL be kept in the Inquiry

Following the hearing on 6th June, Alexis Jay, chair of the inquiry, has announced a decision as follows.
Having considered all of the submissions, my decision is that the EBC [English Benedictine Congregation] hearing should take place as planned in November and December 2017 and that evidence in relation to Ealing Abbey/St Benedict's will be heard but not before the relevant criminal proceedings have concluded. Reasons for this decision and my decisions in respect of any other matters will follow.
What this means is that the IICSA hearing in November/December will cover Ampleforth, Downside and Worth. But they have made a definite commitment to hold a further hearing on Ealing at a later date once the forthcoming criminal trial is over. This is different from the original proposal which was to wait until after the trial and them make a decision as to whether any hearings on Ealing were necessary at all.

This at least does provide some reassurance to the Ealing survivors that Ealing Abbey will be looked into, rather than them being left in a limbo for at least a year and a half since they were designated as core participants waiting to know whether they will have anything to participate in. We don't know when the Ealing hearings will take place - it depends on how long the criminal trial takes.

There's no news yet as to whether Fort Augustus will be kept in the inquiry. I wish I had something more positive to say other than that I think there is a strong case for keeping Fort Augustus in, and that must at one time have been accepted by the inquiry otherwise there could have been no justification for designating Fort Augustus survivors as core participants when this happened last year. I hope that reasoning is treated with due weight by the chair.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Fort Augustus, Truth and the IICSA

In his famous 1974 Caltech commencement address Cargo Cult Science, Nobel prizewinning physicist Richard Feynman mused on the standards of truth expected of scientists. It really is a wonderful speech and I recommend you follow the link above and read all of it. But here's the bit that is relevant to what I have to say.
It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty—a kind of leaning over backwards.  For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid—not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked—to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them.  You must do the best you can—if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong—to explain it.  If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it.  There is also a more subtle problem.  When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.

The easiest way to explain this idea is to contrast it, for example, with advertising.  Last night I heard that Wesson Oil doesn’t soak through food.  Well, that’s true.  It’s not dishonest; but the thing I’m talking about is not just a matter of not being dishonest, it’s a matter of scientific integrity, which is another level.  The fact that should be added to that advertising statement is that no oils soak through food, if operated at a certain temperature.  If operated at another temperature, they all will—including Wesson Oil.  So it’s the implication which has been conveyed, not the fact, which is true, and the difference is what we have to deal with.
The point he's making that scientists need to hold themselves to a higher standard of truth, they mustn't mislead with technically truthful statements. Advertisers do that all the time, but scientists shouldn't, they are the bearers of an important responsibility to tell the truth without misleading.

Lawyers are also supposed not to lie, they are "officers of the court" and have a duty to the court over and above their duty to their clients. But (in my layman's understanding) their duty can get a bit fuzzy round the edges when there is the opportunity to mislead with technically true statements and they have a client's interests to defend. But the lawyers acting for the IICSA in a very real way don't have a client to defend, they are servants of an inquiry supposedly dedicated to discovering the truth. There should be no need for those sorts of games, no matter how legal they are and how well they fall within the codes they adhere to. The lawyers for the inquiry should be able simply to tell the truth without shading it. We should be able to hold them to that higher standard.

So imagine my disappointment when Ms. Karmy-Jones, counsel to the inquiry for the Roman Catholic investigation, said the following in her initial remarks to the hearing on June 6th.
In relation to core participant status, it must be remembered that when individuals were granted core participant status, it was made plain in the notices of determinations that were sent out that the inquiry is obliged to take a proportionate approach to its investigation and will not be in a position to investigate fully the circumstances of each and every core participant's personal experience. It must be remembered that there is a difference between the status of a core participant and a witness. Individuals have been designated core participants because they have a significant interest in the matters under investigation within the Roman Catholic Church investigation. That allows them to take part in proceedings, to make submissions, to receive relevant disclosure and to be represented at inquiry hearings, but it does not necessarily mean that their evidence will always automatically fall to be adduced or that the inquiry will be in a position to investigate their specific experiences.
Now let me be clear, every single word of that paragraph is true. Ms. Karmy-Jones is absolutely not lying. But nonetheless, in offering true statements, she is seeking to justify a course of action (dropping Ealing and Fort Augustus from the inquiry) with a description of the situation which is incomplete and thereby inaccurate.

Let's talk first about the distinction between a witness and a core participant. Ms. Karmy-Jones is perfectly correct in her description of the difference. It is quite possible for instance that if a large number of survivors from one location all describe similar experiences in their written statements, they might not all get called to give evidence in person in public hearings. The inquiry could with perfect justification decide that a representative sample was sufficient to establish the existence of a pattern and therefore evidence of institutional failure, which after all is what it is supposed to be finding out about.

Let's look next at the "proportionate approach". Yes the statement about a proportionate approach is in every published determination on core participant status. Core participant status can only be justified for people if "they have a significant interest in the matters under investigation". But this is where Ms. Karmy-Jones' point begins to look a bit more shaky. In the context of survivors, awarding CP status can only possibly mean that the inquiry has a definite intention to investigate the institution in which the survivor was abused, or which otherwise failed to prevent the abuse. There is no earthly point in defining survivors as core participants when they are associated with an institution the inquiry has no intention to investigate. This would be disproportionate and and the legal representation for them out of the inquiry budget would be a waste of taxpayers' money.

The inquiry has made determinations awarding core participant status to survivors from both Ealing Abbey/St Benedict's School and Fort Augustus Abbey and school. Ealing is mentioned by name in the scope of the Roman Catholic investigation, while Fort Augustus is not. However, this makes no significant difference, the inquiry's clear intent to investigate both was signalled by the awarding of CP status to both groups of survivors.

Ms Karmy-Jones later said this specifically in the context of Fort Augustus.
It is important to remember two things, and I deal with this in some detail because of the news reports. Firstly, the inquiry's jurisdiction is restricted to England and Wales. And secondly, rather than the specific allegations of abuse, the inquiry's remit is to investigate possible or alleged institutional failings in safeguarding.
The matter that seems to have given rise to concern is an interpretation of a passage from Mr Emmerson's opening at the preliminary hearing in July 2016, set out in Mr Khan's document. But just to remind the parties of what he said, he said:
"The inquiry's scope is limited to England and Wales, but because clergy involved in the Benedictine schools have been moved between Scotland, England and Wales, and because, despite being in Scotland, Fort Augustus Abbey and its schools were affiliated with the English Benedictine Congregation, we will investigate failures in relation to that school as well."
It appears that the last sentence of that passage has been interpreted as meaning that this inquiry will investigate Fort Augustus as a whole, including the nature and extent of allegations of abuse there, and Fort Augustus as an institution's response to it. But we suggest that is incorrect. Mr Emmerson was plainly speaking with the caveat that the scope of the inquiry was limited to England and Wales, and specifically references the issue being the movement of individuals.
If that were so, and if the chair had interpreted the scope of the inquiry in this way, and if as a result there was never any intention to investigate Fort Augustus in general, it would not have been proportionate to designate survivors claiming to have been abused at Fort Augustus as core participants. But they were so designated.

The chair, designated the Fort Augustus survivors some time after Mr. Emmerson's speech which Ms. Karmy-Jones quoted. So she clearly thought she had the right to conduct a general investigation of Fort Augustus and has held that view for some time. It would definitely have been disproportionate to make designations of survivors of abuse at in institution outside the scope of the inquiry. So this proposal not to investigate Fort Augustus in general can't possibly be down merely to a clarification of the intentions the inquiry had all along. This is a definite proposal to change the scope of the investigation.

And the question has to be asked why the decision to propose this change? An obvious answer is that the inquiry is under-resourced and behind schedule, and needs to jettison as many investigations as it can get away with. But if that were true, they wouldn't be able to say so because Professor Jay has promised that the inquiry scope wouldn't be reduced. So they have tried to reduce the scope while kidding everyone (including themselves) that they are doing nothing of the sort. It won't do.

IICSA and publicity

At the hearing on Tuesday, about the only time Professor Jay said anything at all was to condemn the press coverage of the proposal to drop Ealing and Fort Augustus.

When the issue of press coverage was first raised by Ms. Karmy-Jones, Counsel to the inquiry,  Professor Jay. had the following to say, as recorded in the transcript
I want to comment here. We were indeed concerned to see the press coverage. It seemed to suggest that I had made a decision to exclude Fort Augustus and Ealing Abbey. I would like to make it clear that I have not made any such decision.
The only problem is that this isn't what the articles said. The Sunday Post said "Last week, Fort Augustus Abbey was left off the list of schools to be examined by the IICSA later this year." which is strictly correct. The CTI submission did have a list of schools to be examined later this year, and Fort Augustus was not on it. However the end of the article did make it clear no final decision had been made. The last word was given to an IICSA spokeswoman, as follows.
A spokeswoman for the IICSA said the institutions to be examined were still not set in stone – despite the new proposals. She said: “No decisions of any sort have been made about the matters to be considered at the hearing.”
Can't be much clearer than that.

The Times was even more careful in its coverage, saying:
Next week lawyers for Alexis Jay, chairwoman of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), will propose that no evidence be called about decades of abuse of pupils at Ealing Abbey and its adjoining independent school, St Benedict’s.
See that word "propose"? That's not an indication that a decision has already been made. And the Times also carried a response from the IICSA, as follows.
A spokesman for the IICSA said: “No decisions have yet been made about the matters to be considered at the Benedictine hearing that is due to start later this year. Submissions will be heard from inquiry counsel and core participants about this at the preliminary hearing.”
So it's a bit rich for Professor Jay in the hearing itself to complain that it had been suggested that a decision had already been made when both papers went to the trouble of making it clear that a decision hadn't been made. I don't think that Professor Jay deliberately lied in her role as chair, especially in a formal hearing, so I'm going to assume that Professor Jay, in her annoyance that the matter had been made public, was careless in her reading of the articles or careless in her characterisation of them. More care really is needed.

Ms. Karmy-Jones also went on at greater length about this, and part of what she said concerned the effect of the news articles on survivors.
... they are unfortunate, not least because of the very real distress that they will have caused a number of individuals, including core participants and potential witnesses to these matters.
I notice some vary careful wording here, about the distress "they will have caused". Not "they have caused", but "they will have caused". I rather suspect she doesn't have evidence that survivors have been caused distress by the newspaper articles, and of course she mustn't lie . What caused the distress was her own submission to the inquiry (accurately reported) proposing that Ealing and Fort Augustus be dropped. It was in all probability leaked to the press by survivors in their anger at the proposals, and I know for a fact that survivors of my acquaintance were very pleased to see the matter aired in public. One survivor has written to me as follows.
It is not stretching the truth to say that the grotesque proposal to drop Ealing because a trial might be prejudiced by testimony to the IICSA from victims of Benedictine abuse over at least six decades is what caused us all no small distress. Contrary to the IICSA’s opinion that the newspaper articles upset us, we welcomed the media exposés of this monumentally stupid proposal on the IICSA’s part. I spent a few days back in very dark places in my mind as PTSD and the urge to react with extreme violence — as I so often did as a young man — took a brief hold of me. I am afraid that I now see some of the individuals staffing the IICSA more as unwitting allies of pedophiles than of the core participants they should be treating with some modicum of respect.
That is an indication of the extent to which the proposals have caused very real anger among survivors. The Shirley Oaks Survivors Association has already withdrawn co-operation with the inquiry. The high-handed approach of the inquiry is alienating survivors and it's going to have to stop while they still have any survivors willing to participate in the public hearings.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Statement following June 6th IICSA Hearing

Today, the inquiry has been discussing a proposal from its own senior lawyers that events at two monasteries and their attached schools should be excluded from the Roman Catholic investigation.
The reason given for dropping Ealing Abbey is a scheduling clash with the forthcoming criminal trial on child abuse charges of a former senior Benedictine monk. The date of this trial has been known to the inquiry for almost six months. The reason given for dropping Fort Augustus is that it is in Scotland, even though it was run by the English Benedictine Congregation and therefore the institutional failure is that of an organisation based in England.

If Professor Jay adopts this recommendation from her senior legal team, she will break a public promise not to reduce the scope of the inquiry’s investigations, made when she was first appointed chair.

There are two troubling aspects to this proposal. The first is that the inquiry’s lawyers thought that a reduction in the scope of the inquiry was an appropriate response to a date conflict for a hearing not due to start for a further five months. It gives the impression that the inquiry is more interested in its own convenience than in a determination to seek the full truth about abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.

Second, the proposal was made a month ago and the inquiry intended that it would remain secret until today's hearing. They expected that abuse survivors from both Ealing and Fort Augustus would co-operate in keeping quiet about a proposal which jeopardises their right to give their evidence in open hearings. The inquiry had no moral right to ask this of them, and inevitably there have been some stories in the press.

The inquiry’s response to these stories has been to demand that, as a condition for receiving further documents, survivors sign a confidentiality undertaking that bars them from speaking in public about any document on any subject that they receive from the inquiry. This is a ludicrous over-reaction, and contrary to the Home Secretary’s explicit instruction to conduct the inquiry with the maximum possible degree of transparency.

In some cases, child sex abuse has not been discovered promptly in part because institutions have used onerous confidentiality obligations to prevent whistleblowers from disclosing concerns which would cause unwelcome publicity. It is ironic to see the inquiry displaying precisely the habits it will have to investigate and expose in others.

This inquiry is extremely important and I want to see it succeed. To do so, it must retain the confidence of the survivors whose evidence will be central. This sorry sequence of events could hardly have been better at undermining their confidence had the inquiry been acting with that deliberate aim in mind.

IICSA and Confidentiality

As, you'll have seen from the previous blog article, I have serious issues over the IICSA's atitude to secrecy. Here are some questions I put to Martin Smith, Chief Solicitor to the IICSA, via my solicitor.

1. What is the legal ground for the Inquiry's demand that I provide a confidentiality undertaking?
(Note: I wholly accept the need to maintain the statutory right of victims to anonymity under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 and I have no intention of breaching that right. That right however exists independently of the Inquiry and is not affected by the presence or absence of a confidentiality undertaking. The Act is however irrelevant to any information that might be provided by the Inquiry that does not disclose the identity of victims, and so the requirement for a general confidentiality undertaking is disproportionate to the aim of assuring victims' anonymity where this has not already been waived.)

2. What legal grounds does the Inquiry have for refusing to provide documentation to a core participant in the absence of such an undertaking?

3. The terms of reference to the inquiry require you to "Conduct the work of the Inquiry in as transparent a manner as possible, consistent with the effective investigation of the matters falling within the terms of reference, and having regard to all the relevant duties of confidentiality". Given this instruction from the Home Secretary, and subsequent emphasis by the Home Affairs Select Committee and others on the importance of transparency in this inquiry, what practical justification is there for imposing on core participants a blanket duty of confidentiality over "all documentation provided ... by the Panel, their secretariat or legal team"?

4. The previous chair of the Inquiry, Justice Lowell Goddard, said in her opening statement on 9 July 2015: "When I accepted my appointment, I said that I was committed to ensuring the Inquiry’s work would be conducted as transparently as possible, and that I would make public statements at regular intervals so that it does not become remote from the public it exists to serve. The principle of transparency is reflected in the terms of reference for the Inquiry and I intend to ensure that this is faithfully implemented. Some aspects of the Inquiry’s work are of course confidential for good reason. However, I am determined to put as much information into the public domain as I properly can, as soon as I can." Has there been any change from this position by the current Panel, and if not, in what way is the demand for a blanket confidentiality undertaking by the Inquiry consistent with this publicly stated approach?

5. In the example of the submission from CTI to the chair about Ealing Abbey etc which will be discussed at the hearing on 6 June, in what way is a requirement to keep this document confidential justified given the Terms of Reference and the promise made by the previous Chair? In other words, what harm is done to "the effective investigation of the matters falling within the terms of reference"?

6. In an article in the Guardian in November 2014, before the inquiry was made statutory (, I emphasised the need for transparency, stating "Child abuse survivors, particularly those abused in institutional settings, are often highly mistrustful and obsessively motivated. It’s hard for those not abused in childhood to understand how devastating it is to be so thoroughly betrayed by the very adults and authorities on whom you depend for your care, and how profoundly that affects your ability to trust anybody in later life." Given the very real and justified reasons for abuse survivors to mistrust those in authority (including the Inquiry itself), have you considered the psychological effect on survivors of requiring them to sign what will be interpreted by them as a gagging order?

7. You should note that from their point of view this requirement will almost certainly be regarded as a hostile act which will undermine their trust in the inquiry.  Their interpretation of this hostility (which exists whether or not you consider it to be rationally based) will hardly be lessened if the documents they are required to keep confidential include proposals that adversely affect their right to be heard in public hearings. In light of the need to maintain the trust of the survivors, have you considered the extent to which such confidentially requirements are likely to be profoundly counterproductive to the work of the Inquiry?

8. Whatever the legal justification (or lack thereof) I can see a practical need to ensure that evidence to be put before the inquiry is not raked over in the press prior to the Panel hearing it. As a practical measure I would have no objection to giving a confidentiality undertaking with regard to evidence not yet in the public domain that will be put before the inquiry in public hearings, until such time as documents containing this evidence are referred to in hearings and are thereby made public. In your view, would such a modified declaration for core participants be a reasonable approach to this matter, and if not, why not?

9. Given both the importance of the subject matter of this Inquiry and the very large sums of public money being spent on it, there is a strong public interest in ensuring that the Inquiry can be held to account by the public in its conduct, notwithstanding its independence from government. Therefore there is a strong justification for making public documents that relate to the Panel's conduct of the inquiry, such as (in the current case) proposals to reduce the previously publicly stated scope of the Inquiry's investigations. What countervailing justification can you offer for requiring that such documents be kept confidential even for a limited time?

10. Have you consulted with the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel regarding this aspect of the Inquiry's engagement with survivors, and did you follow any advice they gave? If not, why not?

11. Please ensure that the VSCP's advice is sought prior to giving your response to the issues raised above, since this issue falls squarely within the VSCP's terms of reference in providing advice to the Inquiry on how to relate to survivors.

12. Please note that I as a core participant will not accept a response from the Inquiry on these points that is marked "Private and Confidential". These points are not confidential and are part of a conversation in which there is an entirely justified public interest, and I will not correspond on a private footing on public interest matters. There is and can be no question of my approaching you for some kind of consent to publish your reply or any future correspondence on this topic.

Martin Smith sent a reply. It was addressed to my solicitor and marked "Strictly Private and Confidential".

Because I'm barred from receiving documents from the inquiry unless and until I sign the confidentiality undertaking, he had to check with Smith whether I was in fact permitted to see his reply at all. Eventually it was confirmed that I could see it. I'll publish and comment on it as soon as possible. It's pure Sir Humphrey Appleby.