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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Roman Catholic Church (EBC) Case Study: Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School Investigation Report

B.2: Governance

6. Before 1 September 2012, St Benedict’s was wholly owned by the Abbey.[1] Both the school and the Abbey were governed by the Trust of St Benedict’s Abbey Ealing (the trust).[2] The trust was chaired by the Abbot of Ealing. Its trustees were Ealing Abbey monks.[3]

7. St Benedict’s first lay headmaster, Dr Anthony Dachs, was appointed in 1986. In the same year, a lay advisory board (the Board of School Advisers) was created to assist the trust with the governance and management of the school.[4] Abbot Shipperlee and Christopher Cleugh, the headmaster between 2002 and 2016,[5] told us that, in practice, the trust generally accepted and followed the advice of this advisory board. However, control and governance of St Benedict’s remained in the hands of the monks of Ealing Abbey.[6] The advisory board had no executive powers, so any recommendations made were subject to ratification by the trust.[7] The chair of the board of advisers has not always been a lay member; Abbot Shipperlee, for example, served as chair between 2007[8] and 2012.

8. In August 2009, David Pearce, a monk of Ealing Abbey, pleaded guilty to the sexual abuse of five St Benedict’s pupils. One of the pupils had been abused while Pearce was under restricted ministry.

9. As a result,[9] in September 2009, Abbot Shipperlee approached the Catholic Advisory Safeguarding Service (CSAS) for help in improving the Abbey’s safeguarding policies and procedures. In turn, CSAS asked John Nixson, a social worker and independent consultant, and Philip Wright, the safeguarding coordinator for the Diocese of Arundel, to liaise with Abbot Shipperlee to conduct a review of safeguarding at Ealing Abbey. This review, which was provided to the Abbot in November 2009, was limited, however, as it was conducted over just two days and considered only the Abbey’s management of the risk posed by Pearce.[10] It did not include detailed consideration of the safeguarding arrangements at St Benedict’s.[11]

10. In August 2010, Dr Kevin McCoy CBE, a child and social care consultant, was instructed by Abbot Shipperlee to carry out an audit of the Abbey’s records and archives in order to identify any matter giving rise to a child protection concern, to report any previously unidentified child protection issues to the abbot, and to make recommendations.[12]

11. Thereafter, there was significant criticism from statutory agencies (including the Charity Commission, Independent Schools Inspectorate and the Department for Education[13]) and other individuals over Ealing Abbey’s and St Benedict’s handling of child sexual abuse allegations. As a result, Abbot Shipperlee asked Lord Carlile of Berriew QC to conduct an independent review into safeguarding and child protection arrangements at St Benedict’s.[14] One of those who complained was Mr Jonathan West, a member of the public who had become interested in events at St Benedict’s as a result of his son having been a pupil there, though not himself a victim of abuse.[15]

12. Lord Carlile published his report in November 2011. In relation to governance, he said:

“I have come to the firm conclusion … that the form of governance of St Benedict’s School is wholly outdated and demonstrably unacceptable. The Abbot himself has accepted that it is ‘opaque to outsiders’. It does not have the appearance of allowing for independent scrutiny of the ongoing relationship between the Abbey and School … In a school where there has been abuse, mostly (but not exclusively) as a result of the activities of members of the monastic community, any semblance of a conflict of interest or lack of independent scrutiny must be removed.”[16]

13. Lord Carlile made a number of recommendations, the most significant of which was that a separate educational charity should be established to govern St Benedict’s independently from Ealing Abbey.[17] This recommendation was accepted and, in September 2012, ownership of St Benedict’s and responsibility for it was transferred to a newly created charitable trust, St Benedict’s School Ealing.[18] This trust is governed by a memorandum and articles of association, which stipulate that St Benedict’s governing body must always have a lay majority and that 75 percent of the governors, out of a maximum of 20, must be of the Catholic faith.[19]

14. There are currently 15 governors, of whom 12 (including the chair) are lay. The other three governors are the abbot and two members of the monastic community selected by him. The current headmaster, Andrew Johnson (who has been in that post since 2016), reports directly to the chair of governors.[20]

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