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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Ampleforth and Downside (English Benedictine Congregation case study) Investigation Report

The institutional response

251. In this section we will address the evolution of child protection policies and safeguarding at Downside. We will also consider Downside’s relationship with, and responses to, the statutory authorities, such as the police and other safeguarding agencies, during this period. While Downside’s responses in individual cases have been dealt with above, this section provides an overview of safeguarding procedures and Downside’s response to the allegations set out above, and then deals with investigations from 2010 onwards.

Response before the Nolan Report (1960–2001)

252. A number of witnesses from this period are now deceased, including Wilfrid Passmore and John Roberts, abbots in the late 1960s–1980s. Dom Leo Maidlow Davis, currently the prior administrator, has been unable to point us to any policies that may have been created as a result of the developments in safeguarding made outside the Church in the early 1970s.[1] As we have seen, the institutional responses to Anselm Hurt in the late 1960s and to Nicholas White in the late 1980s were very different. The involvement of the external agencies in Anselm Hurt’s case contrasts with the approach taken to Nicholas White, and subsequent cases, when there were blatant attempts to exclude outside authorities.

253. When Charles Fitzgerald-Lombard became abbot in December 1990,[2] the Children’s Act 1989 had recently been enacted, coming into force in 1991. Dom Charles Fitzgerald-Lombard told us that he was aware of the act but would have expected it to have been of more interest to those in the school who, in his view, had the direct responsibility for safeguarding. He also did not recall the 1994 Catholic Bishops’ Conference working party report entitled ‘Child Abuse: Pastoral and Procedural Guidelines’ in any significant detail. He added he was not given any training around either this document or the act until ‘quite a bit later’.[3]

254. In contrast to this, Dom Aidan Bellenger, who was headmaster of the school between 1991 and 1995, told us that while responsibility for running the school was delegated to him by the abbot, ultimately responsibility for child protection matters during his time rested with Abbot Charles.[4] These two conflicting answers make it plain that there was a lack of clarity as to where responsibility lay, yet no enquiry was made, and no clarification sought. Nobody took the responsibility for safeguarding or made it a priority. This was a pattern that was repeated over time.

255. Dom Charles explained that during his abbacy (1990–1998) the abbot was ultimately responsible for making all senior appointments, including that of headmaster.[5] He told us that before the formation of a governing body in 1998/1999 there was no formal interview process for the appointment of headmaster. Rather, the abbot would consider candidates he felt appropriate, and would call an extraordinary meeting of the abbot’s council. In terms of teaching staff, the headmaster would simply select the individuals that he wanted.[6]

256. Dom Aidan Bellenger told us that prior to his appointment as headmaster, because of the act, there was ‘the beginning of an understanding of the importance of safeguarding’ but that formal procedures were ‘pretty rudimentary’.[7] He described the school and monastery as ‘very much a single entity’ with the ‘gradual independence’ of the school beginning to emerge later, during his time as headmaster, and increasingly so during Richard Yeo’s Abbacy, followed by his own.

257. When asked what the general approach to child protection and safeguarding was in the 1990s, Dom Charles replied: ‘Quite a bit less than would be the case these days.’ They had a senior safeguarding officer, Martin Fisher, who was deputy headmaster from 1995 and child protection officer from 1998. There were no formal processes or guidance in place as to how to respond to allegations of inappropriate behaviour or child sexual abuse, and such complaints would not necessarily have been reported to the abbot, even if the teacher was one of the monks, although more serious cases would be.[8] Dom Charles Fitzgerald-Lombard accepted that safeguarding was a fast-developing issue in the 1990s, and that Downside had lagged behind and been slow to produce its own written policies.[9] The lack of formal processes and guidance is illustrated by the cases of RC-F65 in 1996 and Dunstan O’Keeffe in 1997.

258. In relation to his time as headmaster, Aidan Bellenger has told us that while he believed that the school was compliant with legislation (for example, notices for pupils on how to report abuse were displayed), he now recognises that child protection policies and procedures were rather thin, albeit that they did exist. He said that the evolution of the school’s approach to child protection and safeguarding was probably not assisted by the lack of a formal management structure, and the lack of a governing body beyond the abbot, until Abbot Richard’s period of office.[10]

259. As noted above, in 1992 Somerset County Council carried out an inspection of Downside School and identified an issue relating to the use of corporal punishment at house level. However, the report concluded that overall the school had taken a ‘proactive approach to implementing the main thrust of the Children Act for which we commend those involved’.[11] It appears that a further inspection was carried out by ‘the independent inspectorates’ in 1995. However, no report is available.[12]

260. Richard Yeo became abbot in 1998. It is worth noting that, prior to the Nolan Report, the revised ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ guidance for inter-agency working was published by the Department of Health, Home Office, Department for Education and Employment on 30 December 1999.[13] Dom Leo Maidlow Davis told us that this demonstrated the growing external focus on child safeguarding.[14]

261. Dom Richard Yeo told us that after his election as abbot, he ‘became conscious that safeguarding had become an important element in the administration of the school, under the leadership of Mr Martin Fisher (child protection officer)’. For example, he recalled an ‘abuse policy’ being drawn up by the school into which he had some input. He said that: ‘It was these proactive measures to ensure a structure was in place for dealing with safeguarding matters which led me to believe that the school was on the correct path to ensuring it had the right policies and procedures in place.’[15]

262. The school was inspected by ISI in 2000. The report stated that ‘Downside is a very good school’ and identified one of the school’s main strengths as the ‘high quality of individual care, greatly influenced by Benedictine, monastic traditions and values’. It also said that ‘the school has no serious weaknesses’. Child protection procedures were found to be in place.[16]

263. As we have already seen, prior to the Nolan Report, Richard Yeo failed to respond sufficiently to safeguarding concerns in the cases of Nicholas White and Dunstan O’Keeffe and, like his predecessor Abbot Charles, failed to engage the external authorities when appropriate. Dom Richard contrasted safeguarding within the school with the position of the monastery, about which he said:

Safeguarding at that stage was little more than ensuring that children were kept safe from any possible abuse by Richard White, [Nicholas White’s legal name] who was due to return to Downside about six months after I became Abbot, and that Desmond O’Keeffe did not access pornography on the internet. At this time my impression was that safeguarding was a reactive rather than proactive obligation. A more proactive approach was taken after the 2001 Nolan Report.

264. Dom Charles Lombard-Fitzgerald reflected on what had happened at Downside and told us:

Looking back over the 20th century, I would say that local agencies such as the police and district or even county councils seem generally content to leave the abbey and school to manage their own affairs. This deferential attitude was complemented by the abbey and school’s rather conservative, paternalistic ‘we know best’ approach to deal with matters which would now be reported. The school was a renowned institution widely considered to provide a good education and proper environment for pupils. Downside was run on convention, precedent and tradition.[17]

Response after the Nolan Report (2001)

265. The Nolan Committee met for the first time on 25 September 2000. The first report, which made 50 recommendations, was presented in April 2001 for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Richard Yeo was elected abbot president in July 2001. He told us that the General Chapter also met that July and asked him, as the newly elected abbot president, to appoint a working group to examine the recommendations of the Nolan Report and their implications for the EBC (including consideration of a common EBC framework of procedures), and to report at a meeting of the abbots by the end of January 2002.[18]

266. Richard Yeo combined this with his role as abbot of Downside, but when issues arose at Downside that needed to be referred to the abbot president, Abbot Richard Yeo could not deal with them himself. He delegated them to a senior member of the abbot president’s council, called the first assistant, who took his place in fulfilling the abbot president’s functions in respect of Downside, including the conduct of visitations. Abbot Stephen Ortiger, then abbot of Worth, was first assistant until July 2002, after which Abbot Thomas Frerking, the abbot of St Louis Abbey in the United States, became first assistant for the remainder of Richard Yeo’s time as abbot president, until 2017.[19]

267. As a result of his appointment as abbot president, Abbot Richard Yeo was away from the abbey a good deal. Dom Aidan Bellenger, who had been appointed as his prior (also in 2001), dealt with all monastic matters in his absence, although Dom Aidan has said they had frequent meetings during this time. He had already been aware of the cases of Richard White and RC-F66, RC-F77 and RC-F84, but Abbot Richard kept him informed of developments, and Dom Aidan told us that ‘he kept nothing from me … he would not have wanted me to be caught in an embarrassing situation if he happened to be away’.[20] This however, was not correct, for as we have seen, Abbot Richard did not tell Dom Aidan about the situation with respect to RC-F65.

268. Lord Nolan’s Final Report, entitled ‘A Framework for Action’, was published in September 2001. This refined the earlier draft, adding a further 33 recommendations. Dom Leo Maidlow Davis said that Lord Nolan’s Review was instrumental in beginning to promote good safeguarding practice at Downside, and that from about 2000 onward, the safeguarding profile had been rising, policies had begun to emerge and members of staff were being specifically appointed to be responsible for safeguarding.[21]

269. As with Ampleforth, of particular significance to the historic allegations of child sexual abuse at Downside were recommendations 69 and 70, which made it clear that ‘historical allegations’ of child sexual abuse should be treated exactly the same as current allegations. They also said any cases known of in the past but not acted on satisfactorily should be reviewed and reported to the statutory authorities wherever appropriate. When asked if any alarm bells were triggered by the Nolan Report in relation to individuals Downside were aware of on site, Dom Leo responded: ‘I would say that there must have been, or there was some slight growing sense of unease about these situations and whether, in fact, we were doing the right thing, but it didn’t result in any significant change in what we were doing.’[22]

270. Dom Richard told us that recommendations 69 and 70 had not caused him to reflect on the position of White, RC-F65, Hurt or O’Keeffe. Nor did he think of reporting any of them to the statutory authorities in 2002, once the association between Clifton diocese and Downside was underway.[23] Downside accept that they fell below the standard required by recommendation 70 in respect of RC-F65 and White. They state that while the same may be said in respect of Hurt, it was unclear that the initial obligation arose because (a) Hurt was absent from the monastery at the time and (b) there was no suggestion that it had been dealt with unsatisfactorily when it had come to light in the 1970s.[24]

271. Following the Nolan Report, in 2002 Downside began the process of aligning itself with Clifton diocese.[25]

272. Dom Leo Maidlow Davis was appointed headmaster of Downside School in 2003. He told us that the Nolan Review had encouraged Downside to ‘think about safeguarding in a slightly more unified way’, and that by 2003 they were beginning to have contact with Clifton diocese. This, however, was done in a ‘piecemeal way’, and he described the relationship between Clifton diocese and Downside as more ‘ad hoc’ at that stage. In his view they were not ‘really far along the route of a coherent safeguarding culture’.[26]

273. Martin Fisher, who was already the school’s deputy headmaster and child protection officer, was also appointed child protection representative/supervisor for the monastery. The evidence is not clear, but he believes this appointment was in 2002.[27] Michael Barber succeeded him as deputy headmaster in 2003, and then as child protection officer in 2004[28] (and also, it appears, as child protection representative/supervisor). Dom Richard told us that it was helpful to have this coordination between the monastery and the school,[29] but it is not clear how this coordination worked.

274. Dom Richard Yeo’s view was that Downside’s engagement with the Clifton diocese worked well. He told us that from 2003, he would approach the relevant Diocesan child protection commission as and when allegations were made. He said that this happened three times during his abbacy, including RC-F66 and RC-F77, who he appears to have considered together, O’Keeffe further to the 1997 incident, and RC-F84. Details of these cases are set out above. In respect of all, Dom Richard said he relied on the child protection coordinators to ensure that Downside followed the proper procedures. He thought they did, except perhaps for the delay in informing the Clifton coordinator, Jane Dziadulewicz, about the allegations against O’Keeffe.[30] Downside should have taken responsibility for making sure that the matter was properly reported to the diocesan safeguarding office.

275. Jane Dziadulewicz, who was appointed safeguarding coordinator for Clifton diocese in March 2003, told us that Clifton diocese did not then have any formal safeguarding role in respect of Downside, and the support they provided was on a ‘goodwill basis’.[31] It was not for another 10 years that Clifton diocese’s role in relation to Downside was properly established, in 2013.[32]

276. Ms Dziadulewicz told us that in her dealings with him Abbot Richard was ‘pleasant’ but that he ‘struggled with matching safeguarding with the requirements of canon law and those of the Nolan Report’. In her opinion, he also struggled with the Paramountcy Principle and she felt that ‘his emphasis was more on protecting the clergy than it was [on] victims’.[33] This is borne out by some of his communications in the cases of RC-F66 and RC-F77.

277. In terms of the school, a policy entitled ‘Protection of Pupils from Sexual Abuse’, dated 2002, was in place[34] and there were several external inspections. Somerset County Council’s inspection report in January 2002 identified two areas of concern: the standard of the boarding accommodation and the quality and quantity of food provided at the school. No safeguarding concerns were identified.[35] The Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI) Report of Downside Boarding School in 2005 made a number of recommendations including that all staff, including ancillary staff, should be given training in child protection; the school’s child protection policy should be revisited and discussed with the local social services; the boarding staff should be provided with more detailed up-to-date written guidance on the school’s boarding practice and the school’s recruitment procedure should include all elements of the recommended checks with verifiable evidence on file. The school was requested to provide an action plan setting out how the recommended actions were to be addressed.[36] The school’s action plan was stamped 13 June 2005.[37]

278. Fr Aidan Bellenger succeeded Dom Richard Yeo as abbot in 2006. Dom Leo Maidlow Davis had been headmaster of the school since 2003 and remained in that position until the end of Aidan Bellenger’s abbacy in August 2014, at which point Dom Leo was elected as prior administrator.[38]

279. Dom Leo told us that in 2006–2007 Downside continued to engage with safeguarding issues. A new complaints policy and a pupils’ complaints procedure were produced in May 2006 by Mike Barber, deputy head and child protection officer.[39] Dr James Whitehead, who was later to become headmaster, taught at Downside between 2004 and 2007. Dr Whitehead told us that his impression was that Mr Barber was conscientious in his roles as deputy head and child protection officer, and that there had been a child protection policy at that time. He thought that although child protection was not as developed as it is now, there was a sense that the lay staff in particular were trying to move the agenda forward in terms of safeguarding.[40]

280. ISI produced its second report on Downside in November 2006. This found that appropriate procedures existed for child protection, and that all staff had undertaken the required training.[41] An Ofsted (replacing CSCI) inspection in November 2007 noted improvements since the last inspection in 2005. The overall quality rating was ‘good’ and ‘protecting children from harm or neglect and helping them stay safe’ was rated as ‘good’. The report also stated that the school had no ongoing child protection issues.[42]

281. In September 2007, the Cumberlege Commission published its report ‘Safeguarding with Confidence: Keeping Children and Vulnerable Adults Safe in the Catholic Church’.

282. Andrew Hobbs was appointed deputy headmaster in 2008.[43] He told us that the school’s child protection policy was up to date and ‘probably in line with other schools’ child protection policies at that time’, but that it needed a great deal more detail. However, he was not aware of any safeguarding protocols setting out the relationship between the school and the monastery.[44]

283. Despite the apparent increased focus on safeguarding in the school, it appears that during the initial period of Abbot Aidan’s abbacy from 2006 until early 2010 there was relative inactivity in the abbey, and little development in respect of the positions of Nicholas White, RC-F65, RC-F66 and RC-F77. As we have seen, it was the allegations against RC-F80 that led to the multi-agency strategy meetings in 2010.

The 2010–2012 investigations

284. To provide an overview of the investigations between 2010 and 2012, we have set out summaries of the relevant actions and decisions made in respect of individual cases at strategy meetings.

285. As a result of the allegation made by RC-A117 against RC-F80 in June 2010, a series of multi-agency strategy meetings were held and a police operation began.[45] The first formal strategy meeting would have been called by Claire Winter, LADO at Somerset County Council, in conjunction with Ms Dziadulewicz.[46]

286. Claire Winter explained that in general terms a strategy discussion under section 47 of the Children Act 1989[47] would involve all the parties who were statutory or had a link critical to the situation. Everybody would be involved in the discussions about what action should be taken and how children should be protected. Ms Winter’s role was to coordinate the meetings and to ensure that there were representatives from the relevant parties, including the local authority, police and the school.[48]

287. The first meeting took place on 24 June 2010.[49] It was attended by Liz Bidmead (local safeguarding children’s board (LSCB)), Claire Winter, Jane Dziadulewicz, Eugene Gallagher (safeguarding officer at Clifton diocese), Lindsay Shearlock (acting detective inspector) and Dom Leo. There were discussions about RC-F84, RC-F80 and several recommendations made, as we have already seen. They had also been informed about the allegations against Nicholas White and planned to investigate them further.

288. It was also agreed during this meeting that Ms Dziadulewicz would tell Abbot Aidan Bellenger that all previous historic cases (before 2003) would need to be reviewed by the diocesan safeguarding team or an independent person, in line with national procedures.[50]

289. On 15 July 2010, Abbot Aidan Bellenger commissioned Anthony Domaille to conduct past case reviews for Downside Abbey in accordance with recommendation 70 of the Nolan Report. It was agreed that he would review the cases of RC-F84, RC-F66 and RC-F77, Dunstan O’Keeffe and Nicholas White. Anthony Domaille told us he did not know what criteria the abbot used to select those files and that he subsequently learnt they were not the only past cases in existence. He told us that in hindsight he could have made Abbot Aidan Bellenger sign a declaration of full disclosure to ensure he saw all the files.[51]

290. The minutes were circulated to all attendees.[52] Claire Winter told us she would have been very clear at the beginning of the meeting that the information discussed was confidential and could only be shared with others outside the meeting with the permission of the chair. It was proposed that certain cases would be discussed with Abbot Aidan Bellenger, but in Ms Winter’s view this would not have led to confusion about what was permissible to tell him.[53]

291. A second strategy meeting took place on 25 August 2010. On this occasion Dom Leo Maidlow Davis arrived accompanied by Abbot Aidan Bellenger. The minutes of the meeting record that before the meeting began it was agreed that Abbot Aidan should not be present, as he was a potential witness in the criminal matters, and that Dom Leo was also asked to leave the meeting with the abbot. It was agreed that neither would receive copies of the minutes. Before leaving the meeting, Abbot Aidan asked for a clarification of confidentiality. It was made clear that information discussed in strategy meetings was only to be shared between the participants and that the previous strategy document had been shared with the abbot by Dom Leo in error. It was agreed that David Byrne, a school governor, would represent the school at future meetings and Abbot Aidan would not be informed or involved in decisions relating to actions taken by the school.[54]

292. A note of a conversation on 24 November 2010, between Durrell Barnes of ISI and Claire Winter, records things slightly differently. The note shows that when Dom Leo arrived with Abbot Aidan it was evident he had told the abbot everything that had been discussed at the first meeting. According to the note, when asked why he had done so, Dom Leo replied that he was ‘obliged’ to do so as the abbot was his superior, and Abbot Aidan had confirmed this. Ms Claire Winter has said they were very unhappy about this, due to concerns about the abbot, and both were asked to leave the meeting and not given any further information about deliberations.[55]

293. Ms Winter told us that she had been surprised when Abbot Aidan arrived with Dom Leo and she explained that it was not appropriate for him to be present. She told us that there had been an implication in one case that he had not taken appropriate action. Her evidence was that Abbot Aidan was insistent that if the headmaster attended the meetings, he would have to report back to him and therefore the decision was taken that it was inappropriate for either of them to be present. It was agreed that they would be provided with a summary of any relevant information. Ms Winter also told us that Dom Leo should not have shared the minutes of the meeting with Abbot Aidan. She thought the phrase ‘in error’ in the minutes was used to reflect that that had happened.[56]

294. Dom Leo, however, said he did not remember being given advice about confidentiality between himself and Abbot Aidan, and since he was invited to the subsequent meeting, he presumed it was all right for him to tell the abbot what had been going on.[57] Dom Aidan told us that when Dom Leo informed him about school matters, he was ‘wearing [his] hat’ as chairman of governors.[58] Dom Aidan said that he could not recall why it had been agreed that he would not be involved or informed in decisions relating to actions taken by the school but referred to trying to avoid any potential conflict of interest by having the delegated governor (David Byrne) deal with the matter rather than a monk.[59]

295. After Abbot Aidan Bellenger and Dom Leo Maidlow Davis left the meeting, an update was provided in relation to RC-F84, RC-F80 and Nicholas White. The minutes set out the information that could be provided to the school in relation to RC-F84 and RC-F80 only.[60]

296. As we have seen, DC White had several concerns in relation to Abbot Aidan’s cooperation and the case of RC-F80. Both DC White and Jane Dziadulewicz told us that they did not feel Abbot Aidan Bellenger was fully cooperative more generally.[61] Ms Dziadulewicz said that she and the police were of the view that they were perhaps being ‘drip-fed’ information. When files were requested, although they might be provided with something, they were not always provided with all relevant files from the outset. She spoke of additional information being found separated and in brown envelopes. Ms Dziadulewicz said that things improved as time went on, but she could not trust that she had all the relevant information, which is why ultimately she interviewed all of the monks.[62]

297. DC White also referred to the brown envelopes, which he said were not initially provided to him, were kept separately from the personnel files in a safe and were found to contain records of safeguarding issues. He told us that initially he found Abbot Aidan very difficult and spoke of unreturned phone calls and difficulty in obtaining all the relevant files. He added that he did not feel that Abbot Aidan was doing his best to assist the investigation, although he agreed that things improved later.[63]

298. In contrast, Dom Aidan told us he thought that his relationship with Ms Dziadulewicz was very good. In relation to her evidence on disclosure of the files, he said that on the contrary, he had ‘wholeheartedly’ given them everything that he had, though perhaps it had been difficult to locate the files.[64] Similarly, Dom Aidan evidence was that nothing was kept back from the police. He said all the records were kept in brown envelopes, or manila files, and any piecemeal disclosure was because the police and safeguarding authorities only asked for files on certain individual monks, then a larger group of monks and then eventually they looked at the entirety. He told us that he thought the authorities were always given the complete file on each monk,[65] and said that he was not aware of concerns about his level of cooperation and found it extraordinary that had been suggested. He believed his working relationship with DC Mark White had been good, despite it starting off ‘stickily’ due to ‘cultural differences’. He said that he did not encourage other members of the community not to have contact with DC White and it had to be borne in mind that there was a rule of silence in the monastery that could appear rather off-putting and unfriendly.[66] He also said he did not have an ordinary office and was moving around the place all the time, hence short delays in returning calls. His evidence was that it had also been virtually impossible to contact either DC White or the safeguarding officers at other times.[67]

299. In terms of the wider community, DC White told us he spoke to a number of individuals, some of whom were very welcoming and very positive towards safeguarding, while others were the ‘opposite’.[68] It was made known to him that some of the people he was interviewing were well known within the Roman Catholic Church and had high-ranking connections to people outside the Church.[69] In one email dated 10 January 2012, DC White said he had always described his investigation as ‘trying to drag the monastery out of the past and up to modern-day standards. There are many at Downside who welcome the changes but like everywhere there are others who don’t like change.’ He told us: ‘It really was as if they were lagging behind in the current legislation and current routines and policies of protecting children.’[70]

300. A further strategy meeting was held on 22 September 2010, where a decision was taken that, due to the ‘possible institutional nature’ of the concerns in addition to the confidentiality issue, Downside Abbey representatives, whether school or abbey, should not be invited to further strategy meetings and updates to them would be limited to ‘investigations are ongoing’.[71]

301. On 23 and 24 November 2010, Ofsted and ISI conducted a joint inspection of the school. The inspection was suspended when the inspectors were informed by Ms Winter that a police investigation was underway.[72] Following this, the Department for Education became aware of the investigation, and in turn informed the Minister of State and Permanent Secretary.[73]

302. The ISI interim report from the 23/24 November 2010 inspection found that overall governance of the school was inadequate ‘because it has not been rigorous enough in its oversight of policies and practice in relation to staff recruitment and the safeguarding of pupils’. It found the child protection policy was detailed and wide in scope but did not meet all requirements. It was dated July 2009, which indicated that it had not been reviewed after a year, as required. The report concluded that the school as a whole fell short of all of the requirements of the Independent School Standards and identified the action that was necessary.[74]

303. On 26 November 2010, Ms Penny Jones, deputy director of the independent education and school governance division for the Department for Education (retired May 2013),[75] chaired an official strategy meeting which was conducted by telephone conference. This included representatives from the local authority, police, Catholic Church safeguarding authority, Ofsted, ISI and the Charity Commission.[76]

304. Claire Winter outlined the allegations under investigation, which had been covered in a briefing note previously circulated, and which included RC-F84, RC-F80, White, RC-F65, RC-F77 and O’Keeffe.[77] (The document also appears to mention RC-F60, but from the context we believe this is an error and should read RC-F66). She explained that Dom Leo Maidlow Davis and Abbot Aidan Bellenger were only aware of those in relation to RC-F84 and RC-F80.[78]

305. The role of the trustees was then discussed. Amy Spiller (Charity Commission compliance and investigations) explained that she would need to gather evidence and that action would only normally be taken where there was evidence that the trustees had been given the opportunity to improve and failed to do so.[79]

306. Claire Winter stated that there was one trustee who appeared to be ‘trustworthy and a positive force’ but in respect of the other trustees there were either allegations against them or worries about complicity. Amy Spiller said that the Charity Commission would want to contact trustees about whom there were no concerns and give them the chance to take ‘positive action’. Claire Winter expressed concern that those trustees would report back to Abbot Aidan Bellenger, given the issues there had been in respect of his response to the investigations. It was acknowledged that there were difficulties because of the religious duty to report to the abbot, who was ultimately in control of the trust. It was agreed that Amy Spiller would discuss the matter with the local authority, the police and Clifton diocese and then decide what action to take.[80]

307. Louise Goll, director of Somerset children’s services, commented that there was ‘no one in a position of leadership in the school who appear[ed] able to address safeguarding concerns’. They discussed the need to ‘change the culture of the school and abbey in relation to safeguarding’. Penny Jones suggested that the inspectorates should return to the school to look specifically at the issue of safeguarding.[81]

308. Concern was also expressed that the school and/or abbey might try to conceal evidence should they discover that the local authority and police were investigating additional allegations. Jane Dziadulewicz agreed to visit the abbey to remove all the monks’ files.[82]

309. As a result of the issues raised, the Charity Commission opened a regulatory compliance case.[83] Ofsted conducted another inspection of the school on 9 December 2010. The report noted there had been improvements but still gave the school an overall rating of ‘inadequate’ and rated it ‘inadequate’ in its provision for ‘protecting children from harm or neglect and helping them stay safe’. It found that while there were some areas of good practice, procedures and practices were ‘not sufficiently robust’ to protect pupils. It referred by way of example to recruitment practices and risk assessments. Again, it listed the actions that Downside needed to take to meet national minimum standards.[84]

310. Following this, on 20 January 2011, the DfE sent a formal notice to the school, requiring it to devise and implement an action plan to address the failings.[85] In February 2011, the school sent an action plan and then a revised action plan to the DfE.[86]

311. There was a further strategy meeting on 27 January 2011, attended by representatives from the DfE, the local authority, police, Clifton diocese, Ofsted, ISI and the Charities Commission. Jane Dziadulewicz reported that on 24 January 2011 she had interviewed a further 16 monks at the abbey in relation to their understanding of safeguarding. She identified a ‘clear cultural divide between the more elderly monks, who d[id] not understand safeguarding and s[aw] no role for it, and the younger group, who d[id] understand and [we]re frustrated by the resistance of the older group’.[87] Jane Dziadulewicz also told us of a ‘bullying culture within the community’. One individual had told her it was difficult to ‘challenge monks within the community who had very strong personalities about whom they had concerns’. When asked if she encountered a view that things should be kept ‘in-house’, she replied ‘absolutely’.[88]

312. In the meeting, it was agreed that Claire Winter would write to the chair of governors requesting that a representative of the LSCB, Liz Bidmead, attend the school to read the files of all monks who, at that time, had a teaching, pastoral or voluntary role with the school.[89]

313. In April 2011, a safeguarding audit commissioned by the school took place. The report, dated 25 May 2011, was by David Moy and identified several issues in relation to safe recruitment practice, safeguarding policies and procedures, staff supervision and the school’s overarching management. It included an update of the progress made since the April 2011 audit. He noted that work was underway in respect of personnel files, child protection files, policies and procedures, and recorded that the governors had confirmed to him on 24 May 2011 that a review of governance would be instigated.[90]

314. The final multi-agency strategy meeting took place on 11 May 2011. Reference was made to Liz Bidmead’s work, David Moy’s report and a letter identified as being from a member of staff to the governors in March 2001. This expressed a lack of confidence in the headmaster’s response to safeguarding concerns about poor management in the boarding houses leading to the bullying of children. These issues did not appear to have been dealt with. It was noted that David Moy had raised this with the child protection lead at the school, Andrew Hobbs.[91]

315. The meeting also recorded that Jane Dziadulewicz was aware from the abbot that Ministers wanted to table questions in the House of Commons in support of the abbey and ‘the poor treatment they have received during recent investigations’. She said that the abbot had prevented these questions being asked by not providing the information ministers requested, but was likely to accede once the criminal investigations are concluded.[92]

316. In her evidence to the Inquiry, Ms Dziadulewicz spoke of what she perceived as a veiled threat from Abbot Aidan at the beginning stages of her enquiries. She told us that he referred to having a friend or friends who were MPs and who were going to raise a question in the House of Commons about the treatment of Downside.[93] Dom Bellenger told us that Ms Dziadulewicz’s interpretation of it was not correct. He told us that in passing he had told her that someone had asked him whether they should raise a question about the school inspection (see more below).

317. An update was also provided by the DfE and ISI. It was recorded that the DfE had received two versions of the school action plan and, having clarified which was the correct version, forwarded it to Ofsted for evaluation. Ofsted evaluated the plan as satisfactory. During the meeting the DfE realised that they had omitted to forward the plan to ISI, so Christine Ryan from ISI reviewed it briefly, giving an initial view that ISI would also find the plan to be satisfactory.[94]

318. An update in respect of the police investigation was provided. Only one police investigation remained live, that in respect of Anselm Hurt, who was then resident in Ireland. The group agreed that, as the criminal processes were drawing to a close, it was now appropriate for the Charity Commission to begin their tasks, and that no further strategy meetings were needed.[95]

319. We received evidence from several witnesses involved in the strategy meetings, including Jane Dziadulewicz, who had been dealing with Downside since 2003, DC Mark White and Claire Winter. They were all asked about the main safeguarding challenges they faced. Several issues were brought to our attention, which included:

  1. poor record keeping
  2. inadequate internal investigation
  3. governance
  4. the prevailing culture of respect for monks
  5. the proximity of the school and abbey
  6. the reluctance on the part of Downside and the community to engage with the external authorities[96]

320. In May 2011, Downside commenced regular safeguarding meetings to address safeguarding procedures and incidents. These were initially divided amongst three committees resulting in safeguarding committee meetings, safeguarding sub-committee meetings and child protection committee meetings.[97]

321. In spring 2011, Louise Goll, corporate director children and young people at Somerset County Council, visited Downside on two occasions following which she arranged an interagency telephone conference.[98] This took place on 17 June 2011 and was chaired by Ms Jones. It was attended by representatives of the council, ISI, Ofsted and the Charity Commission. Louise Goll expressed concern that there was ‘no capacity to improve under the current leadership’. She said that Andrew Hobbs appeared to be responsible for a lot of work, but without the time to do it. She said that she had pursued the issue with the Bishop of Clifton, but he had no authority over the monastery. He had agreed to visit the school with Louise Goll to try to use his influence to persuade the abbot of the need to change. Claire Winter confirmed that Rome was aware and was concerned about the situation but nevertheless was not exerting any pressure. There was a discussion about the ability of the Charity Commission and the DfE to remove trustees.[99]

322. Following this, on 21 June 2011, representatives of the Charity Commission met members of the Downside Abbey General Trust. The commission’s senior investigations manager, Amy Spiller, raised concerns about the length of time it had taken the trustees to start to address the failings which had been brought to their attention in David Moy’s earlier audit. The trustees explained that the delay was caused by the time it had taken for the DfE to approve their action plan. They stated that they were working on a number of things, including CRB checks, risk assessments and ensuring that the child protection policy had been read by all staff.[100]

323. Ms Spiller stressed the seriousness of the forthcoming Ofsted and ISI inspection, and told the trustees that the consequences would be very serious if the reports showed that they were still failing safeguarding standards.[101] She explained that if they found serious failings the commission would conclude that the trustees were not managing the charity properly. This could amount to mismanagement and/or misconduct, with the potential consequence that the commission could escalate the case to a statutory inquiry, and a decision could then be made to remove the trustees. The representative from the commission’s specialist schools team explained that the school’s governing document was confusing and advised ‘a thorough root and branch governance review’.[102]

324. On 23 June 2011, Ofsted and ISI conducted a further inspection to monitor progress. The reports found that the school had now addressed some matters in the action plan, but progress was unsatisfactory in respect of safeguarding, recruitment and the child protection policy.[103]

325. On 5 July 2011, Ms Jones chaired a telephone conference attended by representatives from Somerset County Council, Ofsted, ISI, the LSCB and the Charity Commission. Serious concern was expressed about the lack of action taken at safeguarding meetings and the ability of the school’s leaders to implement the necessary changes. Penny Jones asked if the headmaster could be removed, but one of the representatives from the Charity Commission explained that all trustees were equally responsible for the management of the charity. It was agreed that the minister (Nick Gibb, Minister of State for Schools) would be written to, and the following options put to him: (a) allow the school more time; (b) serve a deletion order; (c) look at options for restricting the operation of the school.[104]

326. Following discussion with the Minister, Ms Jones sent a letter to Downside warning of the very real risk that the school would be de-registered. The letter was accompanied by a formal notice, requiring the school to submit an action plan by 31 August 2011. The school responded with such a plan on 26 August 2011 and, shortly afterwards, its child protection policy and sample of its single central register. The DfE forwarded these documents to Ofsted and ISI for evaluation. Ofsted approved the action plan, but ISI found that there were still failings in the policy and register.[105]

327. A further joint inspection took place on 24–25 November 2011, and the resulting Ofsted and ISI reports were published in February 2012. They confirmed that the school was by then meeting all national minimum standards.[106] The Charity Commission’s compliance case was then closed.[107]

328. ISI carried out an integrated inspection between 20 and 23 November 2012. The inspection found that Downside was continuing to meet national minimum standards. The inspectors described the arrangements for welfare, health and safety as excellent and noted: ‘The school’s safeguarding arrangements are much improved since the November 2010 inspection and, as in the advisory visit in November 2011, policies and practice meet the requirements in full.’ On receipt of this report, Downside was removed from the ‘follow up list’ and returned to the normal cycle of inspection.[108]

Safeguarding and developments in the school and the monastery (2010–present)

329. Although the school and abbey are not yet fully separated, the evidence suggests that developments in safeguarding have been different in each. It appears that improvements have been made in the school but the monastery is still some way behind. This section looks at each in turn following the 2010/2011 investigations, before looking at the ongoing challenges caused by the governance structure.

330. Mr Hobbs referred to the inspections of 2010/11 as a ‘watershed moment’,[109] and told us that, in hindsight, ‘everybody would probably recognise that … we didn’t move as quickly as we might have’. He said that it was a difficult environment and that they were ‘firefighting’ a lot of things. That term was also used by Dom Richard Yeo when he spoke about safeguarding before the Nolan Report.[110] Mr Hobbs told us that they probably underestimated the resources required and it was a very stressful time to try and achieve a cultural shift.[111]

331. Mr Hobbs said that ultimately he was very well supported by the local safeguarding children’s board, particularly by Liz Bidmead, Claire Winter and Jane Dziadulewicz, who scrutinised policies and measures. In addition, he said that Downside instituted regular safeguarding meetings, demarcated the abbey and school as separate, incorporated safeguarding as part of the appraisal system and issued guidance on reporting concerns.[112] However, we note the delays and difficulties that there were in 2011, as described above.

332. We have heard evidence about the access between the school and abbey. The ‘demarcation’ of the abbey and school involved signs being put up to identify school and monastery areas, rules being put in place that pupils are no longer allowed in the monastery areas without being accompanied by a member of staff and are not to engage with anyone not meant to be on the school grounds. Monks are not permitted to access the school grounds without appropriate authorisation, and all those working at the school are obliged to wear coloured lanyards so that they can be easily identified. We have been told that these provisions ‘rigidly demarcate’ the boundaries between school and monastery.[113]

333. Dr James Whitehead was appointed headmaster of Downside in March 2013 and took up the position in April 2014.[114] He was the first lay headmaster, and Dom Leo Maidlow Davis’s view was that, although he remained chair of the trustees, this appointment created ‘an important degree of separation between the two institutions’.[115]

334. Dr Whitehead told us that he found the appointment process ‘rather unusual’ in that the post was not advertised. He had previously taught at Downside, and he simply received a phone call from Abbot Aidan inviting him to apply. At the interviews there were two other candidates, both of whom were serving governors of the school.[116] When he subsequently raised his concern about the application process with Abbot Aidan, the abbot dismissed it. Dr Whitehead thought that Abbot Aidan saw it was ‘very much his prerogative as abbot to make that appointment in the way that he chose’.[117]

335. Dr Whitehead told us that he arrived when certain measures had been implemented following the ‘appalling’ school inspections of previous years. He inherited positive things, such as the review process created by the safeguarding committee and subcommittee. He felt he made a particular contribution to improving knowledge of compliance delivery and also made improvements in the human resources department and specifically to staff recruitment processes.[118] In addition, when he arrived work on improving the filing system was ongoing, which he made clear had to be taken forward as a priority. He made and still makes regular inspections of the single central register, which keeps a record of all necessary checks, and instituted monthly checking and sharing of relevant ISI updates.[119]

336. Ms Dziadulewicz told us that Dr Whitehead, who became headmaster towards the end of her time, was a ‘breath of fresh air’ and was very positive about safeguarding.[120] Liam Ring similarly told us that Dr Whitehead has been very forthright in his views about safeguarding and very clear that he wants the school to be a safe place.[121]

337. We understand that Dr Whitehead, currently on sabbatical, steps down on 31 August 2018. Andrew Hobbs, also not a member of the monastic community, has been acting headmaster since 16 December 2017 and becomes headmaster on 1 September 2018.

338. Dr Whitehead told us that Mr Hobbs had been through a time where there had been a ‘steep learning curve’ due to the past failings at the school, but throughout the time he has worked with him, he had always found him ‘utterly conscientious and determined to get it right in terms of safeguarding’. Dr Whitehead described Mr Hobbs as ‘one of the linchpins’ of Downside.[122] Ms Dziadulewicz and Mr Ring both spoke about Mr Hobbs in similarly positive terms, with Mr Ring also saying that Downside is now ‘right up there’ in terms of their safeguarding policies and is ‘ahead of the game in some respects’.[123]

339. In November 2015, ISI carried out a boarding welfare intermediate inspection and found that the school continued to meet the national minimum standards.[124]

340. Mr Hobbs’ evidence was that action points from the meetings are now acted upon as quickly as possible. The plan at the time of the hearings was for an audit to take place in February 2018 and Mr Hobbs thought this would take account of how swiftly actions are being taken and review the effectiveness of the safeguarding committees.[125]

341. Mr Hobbs' concluding comments were as follows:

I think that my feeling is that there has been a cultural shift, and my aim is to keep that going, keep that momentum going. I think that we can always get better. We are going to have the review done by the Social Care Institute for Excellence, and that’s going to look at all aspects of safeguarding.

I think that we can refine and develop our systems further, and what I’d like to see is that we put safeguarding right at the centre of everything we do so that it underpins everything we do. I see no conflict there between Benedictine values and the foundation of the school and safeguarding. Those two things, for my money, go hand in hand.

I think we have come a long way, but that’s not to be complacent at all. I think we need to always remain vigilant and to make sure that we are making it the highest priority.[126]

342. Although it does appear that following the inspections in 2010 and 2011 improvements have been made in the school, the evidence suggests the abbey has made less progress in safeguarding.

343. Dom Leo Maidlow Davis became prior administrator in August 2014. Dr Whitehead told us that he has had a difficult working relationship with Dom Leo and has felt unsupported by him. Dr Whitehead stated there have been issues in relation to safeguarding where they have had differences of view. He felt that Dom Leo had found it challenging to have a first lay head give firm views on how things should be done when he is his predecessor.[127]

344. Ms Dziadulewicz told us she found Dom Leo ‘very positive’ about safeguarding but thought that he struggled with managing the strong personalities within the community and trying to balance competing interests.[128] Similarly Mr Ring told us that Dom Leo, while responsive, struggled with safeguarding.[129] He said that actions agreed in safeguarding meetings with the abbey do not materialise in the way that one would hope.[130] He also spoke of people being ‘in something of a bubble’ about the reality of abuse and there being:

a sort of hope it might go away rather than an effort to actually make it a better place … Dom Leo suffers slightly from that situation. I think he’s a lot better than he was, because he’s got much more understanding. But I think all the monks – I think there’s a deference to the monastery that isn’t helpful, and, you know, when you throw faith and religion into the mix in this context, it is quite a toxic mix in relation to trying to deal with safeguarding issues.

Burning files (~2012) and Bellenger letters (2016–2017)

345. Two clear examples of Dom Leo’s struggle with safeguarding issues can be seen in his decision to burn files and in his response to the letters sent by Aidan Bellenger in 2016/17.

346. In relation to the files, Dom Leo told us that he burnt several staff files. He could not recall the year in which this occurred but guessed that it was 2012. He told us that he loaded up a wheelbarrow and took the files into a distant part of the gardens to burn. It took him several trips. He said that he just took a rather casual look at these files, and that ‘they were staff files going back, I think, into the early ’80s, and I felt that it would be reasonable just to destroy them. There were quite a quantity of them in the filing cabinet, and I didn’t read through every single file.’ He told us that he had no idea what he had destroyed and accepted that he could have destroyed documents relating to allegations. He was sure, however, that he was not trying to conceal anything. His evidence was he ‘simply didn’t think of it in safeguarding terms’ but was ‘simply thinking of getting rid of what seemed … to be unnecessary old material’.[131]

347. As for the letters, Dom Aidan Bellenger told us that he has left the abbey and is seeking a dispensation from being a priest and a monk.[132] After he left, Aidan Bellenger sent Dom Leo two letters, one in August 2016[133] and one in July 2017.[134] In these he raised concerns about the Downside community, child abuse and safeguarding. The relevant parts of the first letter read as follows:

Dear Leo,

Some thoughts to accompany my short letter.

  1. I read Richard’s letter prayerfully but with no ... joy. It was a sad and depressing piece ... It made me ask the question ‘what is it all about?’
  2. When I was abbot, Jane D, the erstwhile safeguarding official, said that what happened in opening up safeguarding was done at great personal cost to me.
  3. All those who led me to the Downside cloister – RC-F84, [name redacted] and RC-F80 in particular were revealed as deeply flawed. Their extramural sexual activities, as well as those of [name redacted] worried me ... the deep unhappiness of so many of the community shocked me.
  4. The continued presence of RC-F77 at Downside worries me. His profound personal problems are not suited to a community context.
  5. Gossip and half-information pervades Downside and is not helped by the homosexual network which is too close to the heart of the community.
  6. There are some good men at Downside and in the EBC (including, above all, yourself) but the whole structure dominated by a failing public school is not one fit for monastic purpose. This has been true for nearly all my four decades at Downside.
  7. At the heart of darkness in the community is the issue of child abuse which was ‘tolerated’ by all my predecessors as abbot. I am particularly concerned that Richard, who should have known better, attempted to protect Nicholas and Dunstan when he should have been protecting their victims. You have been exemplary in your efforts but there are still three members of the community who have weaknesses in that direction.
  8. I remain a convinced Catholic and have a romantic attachment to monasticism. But as I need to make my own position clear I thought I should share these thoughts with you.

With best wishes

Yours ever,


348. When Dom Aidan was asked to explain what he meant by para (vii), where he said that the ‘issue of child abuse’ was ‘tolerated’ by his predecessors, and his following comments about Richard Yeo’s approach, he told us that this was ‘one of the difficult ones’. He said Abbot John Roberts handled Nicholas White poorly and that cast a shadow on both Dom Charles and Dom Richard. He went on to say that Charles and Richard were both exceptionally kind, good men and excellent abbots, but thought that Richard should have reported White when he had received legal advice on this. He thought that Dunstan was treated too gently in his use of computers. Beyond that, Abbot Richard was a ‘pioneer in proper safeguarding’. Dom Aidan told us that at the time he wrote this letter, it contained his true and honest views.[135]

349. The relevant parts of the second letter read as follows:

Confidential to D. Leo

1 July 2017

In my absence from Downside I have been reflecting on the present community and its life.

(i) Personal

As prior and abbot I became increasingly aware of the long-term personal problems of the community and I would like to take this opportunity to share some thoughts with you. Some you have heard from me already.

  1. Dom Nicholas and Dom Dunstan were both imprisoned for pedophile offences. Neither were penitent. Both were protected (and implicitly) encouraged by their abbots (John, Charles and Richard) ...
  2. RC-F65 and RC-F77 avoided trial but their offences (more than allegations) remain on record. RC-F77’s activities are perverse and criminal and he should not be allowed to remain at Downside. His case parallels that of RC-F18 at Ampleforth.
  3. RC-F130 and RC-F123 are both open to allegations of ‘pedophillia’. Small fry perhaps but in outside perceptions (or those of hostile past pupils) they w/could be in trouble. [name redacted] too is vulnerable on account of his taking ‘minors’ to swimming pools ...
  4. ...
  5. RC-F80’s behaviour in the school viewed from outside was monstrous not to mention the [...] case. [in respect of RC-A117]
  6. David and Richard’s pontifications about the ‘safeguarding’ of an all too obviously worldly-wise novice show a lack of proportion and judgement. Richard’s high-handed manner has alienated many in the congregation.
  7. Christopher and especially Dominic, both lovely as they are, both advocate (or advocated) ’keeping things quiet’ about safeguarding cases. RC-F84’s obsession with homosexuality is unhealthy.
  8. More historic cases will emerge viz, e.g. ... [name redacted, name redacted, name redacted] RC-F98, [name redacted] … etc and ex-monk [name redacted]

(ii) Community

All this reflects a community undermined by individuality …

Survival needs a spiritual ...

Sorry to present such a bleak picture but I thought I should put my reflections in writing


(This page contains no new information. I have not hidden my safeguarding views).[136]

350. When asked about this letter, Dom Aidan told us that Dom Richard sometimes gave the impression of high-handedness but that he had the highest regard for him at professional level. He also told that ‘protection’ manifested itself in failing to report allegations to the authorities, but he did not believe there were any ‘active attempts’ to cover up abuse. He said that all the abbots acted from the ‘best of [intentions]’ and Dom Richard in particular was ‘a pioneer among church leaders in seeing the primacy of child protection in their actions’. His principal concern was that the White and O’Keeffe cases revealed the possible conflict of interest. Dom Aidan accepted there was a contrast between how he justified the letters now and how they appeared on the page.[137]

351. Both Dom Richard Yeo and Dom Charles Fitzgerald-Lombard were asked about these letters. Dom Charles hoped that ‘encouraged’ did not imply encouragement of the ‘misdemeanour’. He felt that ‘protected’ could mean ‘anything’ and referred to the abbot’s role in supporting members of the community, but said he ‘would want to quite firmly deny that we were trying to protect or maintain a situation in which re-offending or anything like that was likely to occur’.[138] Dom Richard accepted he had made mistakes but rejected any suggestion that he had protected White or O’Keeffe, referring to the actions he had taken in those cases.[139]

352. As to Downside’s response to these letters, they were brought to Dr Whitehead’s attention in August 2017, about a month after the second letter had been received.[140] On 17 August 2017, Dr Whitehead wrote to Dom Leo thanking him for coming over to his office on the previous day to discuss the issue of the correspondence received from Dom Aidan, which he had been given a copy of. He said it was not entirely clear whether the letters contained any new information about non-recent abuse or monks currently working in the school. Dr Whitehead told Dom Leo that he had asked Mr Hobbs to contact the designated officer at the local authority (previously referred to as the LADO) for advice on how to proceed. It was Dr Whitehead’s understanding that the designated officer had recommended that Dom Leo meet with Dom Aidan together with Liam Ring. Dr Whitehead asked Dom Leo that if he received any communication from anyone relating to safeguarding concerns or allegations that he inform him immediately so they could seek advice urgently, as required under the relevant safeguarding procedures.[141]

353. Dr Whitehead told us he felt the safeguarding procedures had not been followed appropriately and that there had been a delay. He told us that Dom Leo had apologised to him and Mr Hobbs for not bringing the letters to their attention sooner. Dr Whitehead thought that Dom Leo had felt they were confidential and there may not be any new information within them, but Dr Whitehead was clear they needed to be followed up.[142]

354. Mr Ring’s view was that the initial letter in 2016 did not specifically raise any safeguarding concerns. He told us that, as he understood it, in Dom Leo’s mind it was a private communication. But Mr Ring also told us the letter of 2017 was more worrying because there was a lot of detail about monks and opinions from Dom Aidan about how things had been managed. Mr Ring felt a meeting should be held with Dom Aidan but that did not happen as it was superseded by the letters being provided to solicitors and Dom Aidan being asked to submit a response to the Inquiry. Subject to having a meeting, Mr Ring did not believe that any new issues had been raised in the letters.[143]

355. Dom Leo’s evidence was that his own response to these letters was an example of him being conflicted. He told us they were strongly personal letters and he had thought that since there were no specific allegations he did not need to disclose them. However, as time went on his view changed. He apologised for their late disclosure.[144]

356. We understand that Dom Leo Maidlow Davis will step down as prior administrator sometime this year. A new prior administrator, who will be an EBC monk but not a member of the Downside community, will be appointed.

357. Leaving aside the contrasting positions of the school and abbey, it is clear that the critical issue of the relationship between the two remains. Dr Whitehead, in providing his view of the principal safeguarding challenges faced by Downside in recent years, talked of a ‘massive issue’ in respect of the structure and governance arrangements, and the potential conflict of interest in the position of the chair of governors and the monastic superior. At the time of writing, this remains unresolved, but we understand that Dom Leo Maidlow Davis has also stepped down from his role as chair of governors and Downside is now working towards the separation of school and monastery.

358. Dr Whitehead also referred to a range of other issues, such as:

  1. a culture of monastic superiority
  2. the ineffectiveness of governance due to a reduced number of governors
  3. a lack of transparency as to who is actually running the organisation
  4. the need to ‘wake up’ to the realities of modern compliance[145]

359. As already made clear, it was not until 2014 that Downside appointed a headmaster who was not a member of the monastic community. Dr Whitehead highlighted the problems that might arise where the headmaster was also a senior member of the monastic community. For example, he said: ‘If there was an allegation against either the headmaster, or another member of the monastic community involved in the school, the duty to protect children would potentially be in conflict with the imperative to demonstrate loyalty and pastoral support to monastic brethren.’

360. Until recently, the abbot or prior administrator was both chairman of the trustees and of the school governing body. Several witnesses from both the abbey and school spoke of a conflict of interest, actual or potential, in the abbot holding both roles, given that he has responsibility for both the welfare of the monks and the welfare of the pupils.[146] In January 2018, Dom Leo stepped down from his role as chair of the governors. Adrian Aylward has taken over and becomes the first lay chair of governors.[147]

361. However, at the time of our hearing, the abbey and school were still not separate. Dr Whitehead’s view was that the governance structure does not work well because in effect all important decisions in the school are referred up to the trustees. He told us that while most of the time this does not impact on safeguarding and child protection issues, it can do and there is always the risk of conflict of interest if issues arise involving a member of the monastic community.[148]


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