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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

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

Recent reviews and inspections (2018)

Social Care Institute for Excellence audit (2018)

362. We have recently been provided with ‘A Safeguarding Audit of Downside Abbey & School February–March 2018’, which was carried out by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE). Dr Whitehead had expressed concerns to us about a decision that was made in August/September 2017 not to have an external safeguarding audit,[1] for which two reasons appear to have been given in two separate emails: (i) the external oversight to which the school was already subject, including by ISI, Ofsted and the diocese, rendered it unnecessary; (ii) there were no significant safeguarding issues to be addressed.[2]

363. Dom Leo Maidlow Davis told us the second email did make the possibility of an audit at a later date clear. He said he reconsidered the issue and, after a meeting on 17 October 2017, commissioned SCIE to undertake the audit. Dom Leo stated that by this stage there was insufficient time to prepare for and conduct the audit prior to the Inquiry’s hearings and so Downside agreed with SCIE that the audit would take place after the hearings, which would also provide them a useful opportunity to consider any safeguarding issues that might arise as a result.[3]

364. In respect of the school, the report states that safeguarding appears to be well understood, and well managed, and referred to the development of a ‘strong safeguarding culture’. The report explained that nearly everyone to whom the auditors spoke credited Andrew Hobbs as ‘the main ongoing force’ behind the school’s safeguarding improvement.[4] However, the point was also made that ‘[r]obust systems are of course more reliable than robust people who may move on, and this is a further reason to support the separation of school and monastery’.[5]

365. The report noted the child protection policy was comprehensive, and the bounds policy was generally clear and specific, although some weaknesses were identified in respect of the latter, including the question of monks’ permission to be on school premises.[6]

366. In respect of recent allegations, the auditors examined 14 files, all of which involved issues that had arisen, or been reported, within the last four years. Of those, a small number fell into the category of safeguarding. The records provided a reassuring picture of responses which were prompt and compliant with the need to engage statutory partners. Most cases, including cases of non-recent abuse, were found to have been well handled. However, four vulnerable areas were identified:

  1. the extent to which the wishes of parents may come into play when making safeguarding decisions
  2. concern relating to the school either being aware of possible issues, and not acting, or simply being unaware of possible triggers for responding (e.g. indications on one file of behaviour which could readily be interpreted as grooming, of which the school was apparently aware)
  3. there appeared to be an inclination to issue warnings to teachers, rather than institute formal safeguarding procedures in relation to conduct raising ‘low level’ concerns
  4. there was a response to a disclosure of non-recent abuse, which was of ‘mixed quality’. The survivor was satisfied with the response of the school but upset by the response of the monastery[7]

367. The provision of safeguarding training was found to be ‘thorough’ and ‘well regarded’. Safe recruitment was found to be extremely rigorous, and well-monitored.[8] Information-sharing was found to generally work well. The report found that ‘[c]ase files demonstrate that information is shared appropriately with the Clifton diocesan staff in individual cases. The files show too that matters are routinely referred to the Somerset LADO service, and the LADO to whom the auditors spoke.’ The report found that some improvements could be made to information-sharing in relation to the school counsellor and independent listener.[9]

368. In terms of the abbey, the report found the culture is perhaps less ‘well-embedded’. The report noted that, in part, this is because safeguarding will be less central to the functioning of a monastery as compared to a school.[10] However, the report also went on to say that ‘many people at Downside, and external professionals, spoke of the genuine efforts on the part of the prior administrator and others in the abbey to improve safeguarding, and of the serious consideration they are giving to the further improvements they need to make’.[11]

369. One auditor looked at monastic files concerning the ongoing management of four Downside monks, one resident and three now non-resident. The abuse was non-recent. The report stated of the four, one monk lives in the diocese, is elderly and unwell, and while there would appear to be no safeguarding risk there was no risk assessment, which was poor practice. Another monk, also very elderly, lived in another diocese which manages his case in conjunction with Clifton, but the preliminary enquiry protocol review was not on the monastery files and there is no indication that his situation is regularly reviewed jointly by all those with a concern for the case. A third non-resident monk described as a high-profile figure was currently barred from any active ministry and was difficult to manage. The auditor concluded that the final monk, RC-F77, is well managed. Despite acknowledging that there remains a reputational risk to the institution, as allowing RC-F77 to remain ‘seems to complicate the message that children’s welfare is always of paramount importance at Downside’, the report accepted that moving him elsewhere would mean fewer restrictions.[12]

370. On the question of the interrelationship between the school and Abbey, the report considered that there is a potential conflict of interest where the prior administrator has joint responsibility for the welfare of both the school pupils and the monastic community.[13] The report found that poor safeguarding decisions had been made by Dom Leo (for example, the burning of the files and the delay in passing on Aiden Bellenger’s letters), although its aim was not to place undue emphasis on one individual.[14]

371. The report said:

There remains within Downside a sense of deference, especially to the monastic community, but also to the whole history and culture of the organisation. Staff who felt comfortable asking anyone to make sure they were wearing their lanyards, as a key part of the mechanics of safeguarding around the site, said they could not bring themselves to challenge a monk in the same way. A sense of Downside belonging to the monks persists in the school, despite efforts to stress that the school site is there for the benefit of the children.

372. The report recommended that timely progress be made towards the corporate separation of the school and abbey.[15]

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