Skip to main content

0800 917 1000   Open weekdays 9am-5pm

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

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

C.3: Sexual abuse (1970s to 2000s)

David Pearce

10. David Pearce was born in 1941 and attended St Benedict’s as a child. He joined Ealing Abbey in 1969 and was ordained as a priest in 1975.[1] Pearce taught at St Benedict’s from 1976 to 1992. Between 1984 and 1992, he was the headmaster of the junior school. He was then appointed Bursar of Ealing Abbey, St Benedict’s and Ealing Abbey Parish, remaining in that post until 1999. From 1999 until 2004 or possibly 2006,[2] Pearce was Novice Master, in charge of the education and training of junior monks.[3] He was also a trustee of the Trust of St Benedict’s Abbey Ealing (described in Part B) until 2004.[4]

11. Following his conviction in 2009 for sexually abusing a number of pupils, and while he was in prison, Pearce requested a dispensation from his monastic vows and the obligations of the priesthood, including celibacy. This request was granted by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in July 2011, at which point Pearce ceased to be a priest.[5]

Allegations of sexual abuse against Pearce

12. It was well known amongst teachers and pupils that the children at St Benedict’s called Pearce ‘Gay Dave’. We heard that this was understood by some members of the community[6] to be a reference to Pearce’s general manner and sexuality,[7] but used by the pupils also to refer to his sexual interest in boys.[8]

13. At least 14 pupils have complained of being sexually abused by Pearce, either to the police or statutory authorities. The alleged abuse spans a 32-year period from 1976 to 2008.

13.1. In August 2009, Pearce pleaded guilty to indecent assault and gross indecency against five of these pupils: RC-A596, RC-A6, RC-A621, RC-A597 and RC-A594.[9] In October 2009 he was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment;[10] this was reduced to five years on appeal in May 2010.[11]

13.2. In July 2011, Pearce faced a further trial in respect of allegations of indecent assault against RC-A599.[12] RC-A599 said that Pearce had beaten him on his bare buttocks in the late 1970s after he reported Maestri’s abuse to Pearce.[13] On other occasions, RC-A599 said that Pearce made him undress, touched his thighs and pulled down his underwear to see if the boy had any pubic hair.[14] Pearce was acquitted.[15] (RC-A599 also made allegations of sexual abuse against John Maestri, who was a lay teacher at St Benedict’s at that time,[16] dealt with below.)

13.3. Of the eight remaining allegations of abuse made during this period, there was either no police complaint (RC-A631, RC-A419, RC-A592, RC-A593) or the police or the Crown Prosecution Service made the decision not to proceed with the allegations (RC-A11, RC-A418, RC-A632, RC-A595).

14. The nature of the sexual abuse perpetrated by Pearce took a number of different forms, including exposing himself, filming the boys in the showers and sexually assaulting them over and under clothing. It was also alleged that he masturbated in front of them.

RC-A594

15. RC-A594 joined St Benedict’s in the early 1970s, aged only seven or eight. He said that he would be summoned to Pearce’s office, made to take off his clothes, beaten on his bare buttocks, and struck on his knuckles with a cane. Pearce would laugh and smile as he caned him, then make RC-A594 sit on his knee afterwards.[17]

16. RC-A594 told his parents about the abuse. They complained to St Benedict’s but no action was taken.[18] RC-A594 contacted the school in 2007[19] and his details were passed to the Metropolitan Police.[20] In August 2009, Pearce was convicted of indecently assaulting RC-A594.[21] Subsequently, in April 2011, RC-A594 received £35,000 in damages in civil proceedings.[22]

RC-A595

17. RC-A595 was a pupil at St Benedict’s during the 1990s. His allegations appear to be the first to have been investigated by the police, in the early 1990s.

18. According to RC-A595, in June 1992, when he was 11 years old, Pearce called him into his study, locked the door and made him remove his shorts and underwear.[23] Pearce then rubbed RC-A595’s buttocks and inserted a finger into his anus.

His finger went into my bottom about 1 cm. This went on for about three minutes. I then walked away and pulled my shorts and pants up. He then told me ‘It’s best if we keep this our secret for now’. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. I felt really strange.[24]

19. RC-A595 told his family what had taken place and the matter was reported to the Metropolitan Police.[25] RC-A595 made a statement within two weeks of the incident occurring.[26] The police took the view that RC-A595 was an honest witness[27] and pursued the investigation. Matters were complicated however by suggestions that the allegation might have been fabricated by RC-A595’s family[28] in retaliation for Pearce having reported RC-A595’s father to social services for child abuse.[29] The Crown Prosecution Service took this into account, as well as the absence of corroboration and of medical evidence, and in 1992 declined to prosecute Pearce.[30]

20. In November 2010, RC-A595 (whose case had been considered in the civil case of RC-A6 against Pearce and Ealing Abbey, dealt with below) made a formal complaint to the trustees of St Benedict’s Ealing Abbey about Pearce’s abuse. The claim was handled by the charity’s insurers and was settled out of court for £24,400.[31] In March 2011, RC-A595’s mother also wrote to Abbot Martin Shipperlee. She said that her son had endured an unhappy life and asked for a return of his school fees.[32] Abbot Shipperlee arranged for an ex-gratia payment of £10,000 to be made to RC-A595’s mother, without an admission of liability.[33]

RC-A418, RC-A632, RC-A631

21. In 1997, another boy came forward with allegations. RC-A418, a pupil at St Benedict’s between the early 1980s and the late 1990s, said that he had attended swimming lessons supervised by Pearce. He said that Pearce liked to check if the boys were “dry[34] after swimming lessons by touching their backs, buttocks and genitals. If a boy lost his swimming pool locker key, Pearce would put his hands down his swimming trunks on the pretext of checking if the key was there.[35] We also heard that Pearce watched and filmed the boys when they were in the shower.[36] A number of other former pupils have made similar allegations.[37]

22. RC-A418 also said that, in the early 1990s when he was around 10 years old, he was sent to Pearce’s office because he had a rash on his upper body. Pearce insisted on examining his genital area, despite RC-A418 telling him that the rash did not go below his waist.[38] RC-A418 said that Pearce’s behaviour made him feel uncomfortable and he eventually told his mother that he did not want to attend any more swimming lessons, so she wrote to St Benedict’s and he stopped attending.[39]

23. In 1997, during his final year at St Benedict’s, RC-A418 spoke to Katherine Ravenscroft, a lay teacher at the school, about Pearce. Ms Ravenscroft told us that she felt unable to take any action at the time as St Benedict’s “felt a bit like a mafia”.[40] It was only in 2000, once Soper had resigned as Abbot, that Ms Ravenscroft felt able to act.[41] In October 2001,[42] she contacted RC-A418 and a meeting was arranged between him and the new abbot, Martin Shipperlee.[43] Abbot Shipperlee referred RC-A418’s complaint to Father Sean Carroll, the Diocese of Westminster’s child protection coordinator at that time, who in turn contacted the Metropolitan Police.[44]

24. Between November 2001 and July 2002, the Metropolitan Police investigated the allegations. RC-A418 was interviewed. Other ex-pupils and their parents were contacted and gave corroborative evidence of his account.[45] In particular, RC-A632, who was a contemporary and friend of RC-A418, said that when he was eight or nine years old, Pearce had put his hand down his swimming trunks after a swimming lesson to “check if the boy’s lost locker key was there.[46]

25. During the course of their 2001/2002 investigation, the Metropolitan Police identified another potential victim, RC-A631. The police learned that the parents of RC-A631, who was a pupil at St Benedict’s in the 1990s, had written in 1998 to the then headmaster, Dr Anthony Dachs, to raise concerns about Pearce. Shortly after, Soper, then abbot, met with RC-A631’s parents. They wanted assurances that Pearce would no longer have any contact with the junior school.[47] Soper informed them that the school would deal with the matter.[48] In 2017, both Ms Ravenscroft and Father Alban Nunn told the police (as part of the investigation into Soper) that Soper had promised RC-A631’s family that Pearce would no longer have any contact with the children.[49]

26. We have seen no evidence to suggest that Pearce was ever challenged by Soper, who was also later revealed to have abused pupils. Instead, Pearce was allowed to remain in his post. No disclosure was made to the statutory authorities, nor does it appear that RC-A631’s parents contacted the police directly.[50]

RC-A6

27. In January 2004, another former St Benedict’s pupil, RC-A6, told Abbot Shipperlee[51] and then the Metropolitan Police[52] that Pearce regularly abused pupils when he took them to the local baths for swimming lessons. RC-A6 attended St Benedict’s in the 1980s and 1990s.[53] He said that after swimming lessons, Pearce would insist that he needed to check if the boys were dry” and would use this as an excuse to fondle and rub their buttocks and genitals.[54] According to RC-A6:

The days when he took us swimming were known as ‘gay days’ … We all used to rush to change at the end of the swimming lessons as quickly as possible because we all felt uncomfortable being stared at by Pearce and we did not want to be selected to be dried by him … One of the occasions when Pearce ‘dried me’ he touched my genitals with his bare hands under the towel … I felt very uncomfortable … but obviously I had no choice but to obey him as he was both a priest and the headmaster.[55]

28. Pearce also abused RC-A6 on two separate occasions in 1990 or 1991, when RC-A6 was ill in the infirmary. On the first occasion, Pearce removed RC-A6’s underwear and stared at his genitals for a few minutes. On the second occasion, he fondled the boy’s penis, rubbing the foreskin backwards and forwards.[56] RC-A6 found these incidents deeply distressing and he tried to commit suicide when he was just 10 years old.[57]

29. RC-A6’s allegations were investigated by the Metropolitan Police in 2004. On the advice of the Crown Prosecution Service reviewing lawyer, Senior Crown Prosecutor Azra Khan,[58] no charges were brought.

30. RC-A6 subsequently filed a civil claim against Pearce and the trustees of Ealing Abbey, in October 2004. During the course of the hearing in January 2006, RC-A6 relied upon the allegations of sexual abuse previously made by X (RC-A418, above), Y (RC-A595, above) and Z (RC-A419, below) as similar fact evidence.[59] The judge, Mr Justice Field, decided to exclude RC-A595’s account. We do not know what or how much evidence was placed before him, but it seems that he considered it likely that the boy had been induced by his family into making a false claim against Pearce. He did however accept the allegations involving RC-A418 and RC-A419 (Pearce having admitted the latter allegation) and considered that both were probative of the facts alleged by RC-A6 as they showed that Pearce had a sexual interest in boys. Mr Justice Field accordingly found in favour of RC-A6 and awarded him £43,000 in damages in January 2006.[60]

31. The Metropolitan Police were not aware of this judgment in 2006. It was not until 2008 that a series of events led them to seek advice from the Crown Prosecution Service about whether to reopen RC-A6’s case.[61] First, in January 2008, Pearce was arrested at Ealing Abbey over a complaint made by another boy, RC-A621.[62] Second, during the course of this arrest, the Metropolitan Police searched Pearce’s room and found correspondence from another pupil, RC-A597, that gave rise to concern.[63] Third, following Pearce’s arrest, three further victims (RC-A11, RC-A594 and RC-A596) came forward between February and November 2008.[64] In light of these mounting allegations, in November 2008 the Crown Prosecution Service advised that it was appropriate to charge Pearce in relation to RC-A6, as well as to the other new complainants.[65] Pearce was eventually convicted in August 2009 for abusing RC-A6.[66]

RC-A419

32. In summer 2004, a few months after RC-A6 had come forward with his allegation, another complaint against Pearce was made by RC-A419. He attended St Benedict’s in the 1970s.[67] RC-A419 said that, when he was a pupil in the late 1970s, Pearce had befriended his mother and visited their home. He took advantage of this friendship to abuse RC-A419 upstairs in his bedroom by touching his penis on the pretext of “naming body parts.[68] (RC-A419 also said that he was abused by Maestri during this period, as discussed below.)

33. RC-A419 first disclosed this incident to the Diocese of Westminster’s child protection team.[69] The Inquiry understands that RC-A419 did not wish to make a formal police complaint.[70] However, Pearce admitted the allegation during RC-A6’s 2006 civil trial.[71]

34. It was at this stage in 2005 that, in light of the allegations made by RC-A419, RC-A6, RC-A595 and RC-A418, Abbot Shipperlee instructed a clinical criminologist to conduct a risk assessment of Pearce.[72] Later he decided to place Pearce under restrictions[73] on the basis of this assessment[74] and the recommendations of the Diocese of Westminster.[75]

RC-A621, RC-A597

35. While under restrictions, Pearce groomed and abused another child, RC-A621. He was a 16-year-old pupil at St Benedict’s who, in 2006, worked at Ealing Abbey on weekends.[76] Although complaints had by this point been made against Pearce and the civil court had awarded damages to RC-A6, Abbot Shipperlee had allowed him to remain in the monastery.

36. During our hearing Abbot Shipperlee was asked what he told the community and staff about Pearce and the restrictions he was under.

A. I talked to the council about it. And I talked to at least some members of the community about it.

Q. Some? Not all?

A. They know he’s under restriction.

Q. Did they know what they were?

A. They know he can have no public ministry. They know that he cannot minister directly regarding children.

Q. There are five restrictions listed in the letter. Did they know all the restrictions?

A. It is possible they didn’t, although monks are very good at not knowing what you think you’ve told them. But it’s a serious matter and

Q. ‘Monks are very good at not knowing … ’?

A. All the things you have told them. You make an announcement and someone will say, ‘You didn’t tell me that. I didn’t hear that’. I didn’t give them a piece of paper telling them all that, for sure. Clearly, I could have been I should have been clearer about what I was saying.[77]

It is therefore unclear whether monks and staff in the monastery and associated areas knew of the restrictions on Pearce or the reasons for them. Whether or not they were aware, Pearce was able to visit the kitchens and form a relationship with RC-A621.

37. RC-A621 was, at that time, interested in becoming a monk, and was seeking spiritual guidance. Pearce befriended him, giving RC-A621 his mobile telephone number and arranging private meetings, during which he touched RC-A621 on his buttocks and upper thigh, and tried to kiss him. He asked RC-A621 to send him nude photographs and, although reluctant, RC-A621 did eventually send a picture of himself naked from the waist up. Pearce also heard RC-A621’s confession – which was in breach of the restrictions on his ministry. While he did so, Pearce pulled RC-A621 onto his own body, an act that was plainly sexual in nature. He also arranged to meet secretly with RC-A621, away from the abbey, in 2007 when RC-A621 was attending a church-run retreat in Ireland.[78]

38. Although RC-A621 was uncomfortable with Pearce’s behaviour, he felt unable to stop it until January 2008 when, aged 17, he complained to St Benedict’s.[79] RC-A621 was subsequently interviewed by the Metropolitan Police.[80] In late January 2008, Pearce was arrested. The police searched his room at Ealing Abbey, during the course of which some correspondence from another ex-pupil (RC-A597), who had also been groomed for several years by Pearce, was found.[81]

39. RC-A597 was spoken to by the Metropolitan Police in April 2008.[82] He explained that he joined St Benedict’s in the mid 1980s, aged nine. Pearce took an immediate interest in him. He treated him differently from the other boys, letting RC-A597 know that he was “special[83] and regularly calling him to his office for private meetings.[84] Pearce kissed him on the lips when they met in private. He gave RC-A597 money, letters, notes, sweets and chocolate, which he would place in RC-A597’s underwear, touching the boy’s genitals with his hands both over and under his clothing as he did so. He called this “posting”.[85] Pearce also wrote him letters in which he said that he was sexually aroused by RC-A597, but he asked him to destroy the letters after he read them.[86] Pearce asked RC-A597 to join him in the bath on several occasions, and also filmed him whilst he was bathing. RC-A597 said that when Pearce referred to these encounters he would call them their “special meetings.[87]

40. As RC-A597 moved up in the school, Pearce gained the trust of his parents, frequently visiting them at home, where he would film RC-A597 in the bath and touch his genitals.[88] In 1989, RC-A597’s father found one of Pearce’s letters to RC-A597, in which he referred to filming RC-A597 while he was naked in the bath and to seeing all of the boy.[89] His father asked RC-A597 about the letter but his son became very distraught and did not answer.[90] He was unable to tell him the truth about what was happening. Pearce’s infatuation with RC-A597 continued for 13 years, even after he left school for university in 1995. Pearce would write to him, sending money and visited him at university approximately once a term. When they met he would kiss RC-A597 on the lips. Things only came to an end in 1999, when RC-A597 graduated from university and was finally able to put a stop to it.[91]

41. In 2009, Pearce was convicted of sexually assaulting RC-A621 and indecently assaulting RC-A597.

42. RC-A597 also took civil action in respect of these matters. The Abbey paid £70,000 in damages in November 2012 and RC-A597’s court costs.[92]

RC-A11, RC-A596

43. The publicity generated by Pearce’s arrest in January 2008 led other victims to come forward,[93] including RC-A11 and RC-A596.

44. RC-A11 was a pupil at St Benedict’s from the mid 1970s until the early 1980s, approximately from the ages of six to 13.[94] He contacted the Metropolitan Police in February 2008 and said that Pearce would masturbate under his cassock in front of pupils during lessons. (RC-A11 also made allegations against Soper and Maestri.) Pearce would also force RC-A11 and other boys to sit on his lap while they were in class, so that he could touch their legs and genital area over their shorts.[95]

45. RC-A11 said that Pearce used his position as head of the Cadet Force to meet with pupils in the sheds by the school playground. More than once, he saw Pearce go inside the sheds with a boy who would come out 45 minutes to an hour later, crying and pulling up his trousers. He also said that he knew that Pearce was having sex with two pupils at St Benedict’s.[96]

46. Pearce was charged with indecent assault and gross indecency against RC-A11[97] but it appears that ultimately the charges did not proceed.

47. RC-A11 subsequently pursued a civil claim against Ealing Abbey[98] which was resolved without a court hearing. In a letter of apology to RC-A11 dated March 2012, Abbot Martin Shipperlee said “I am deeply sorry that you suffered abuse when you were a pupil”.[99] The Abbey paid RC-A11’s court costs and £15,000 in damages in January 2013.[100]

48. RC-A596 was a pupil at St Benedict’s in the mid 1970s to the early 1980s. He was abused by Pearce for approximately three years, between the ages of 10 and 14. Pearce touched his bottom and genitals, and is alleged to have exposed himself and forced RC-A596 to masturbate him. He told RC-A596 that this was “okay” and “normal”.[101]

49. RC-A596 was interviewed at Northwood police station in September 2008 and disclosed Pearce’s abuse.[102] (He also alleged that he had been abused by Maestri during the same period.[103]) Pearce pleaded guilty to abusing RC-A596 in August 2009.

50. RC-A596 pursued a civil claim against Ealing Abbey. In 2010, he received £30,000 in compensation and payment of his legal costs.[104]

RC-A593, RC-A592

51. Following Pearce’s conviction in August 2009, two other victims came forward, RC-A593 and RC-A592.

52. RC-A593 attended St Benedict’s in the late 1970s. In December 2010, he wrote to Abbot Shipperlee, alleging inappropriate behaviour and sexual assaults by Pearce, though he did not provide further details of the alleged abuse. RC-A593 demanded that St Benedict’s reimburse his school fees, in light of the abuse he had suffered as a pupil. He also asked whether any legal claims were being pursued by Pearce’s other victims. The abbot responded to this letter in March 2011, stating that St Benedict’s could not return his school fees. He did, however, confirm that some former pupils were pursuing claims and gave him the names of the law firms involved.[105] No further action was taken by RC-A593 after receiving this letter.[106]

53. RC-A592 attended St Benedict’s between the early 1980s and the early 1990s. He claimed that he was indecently assaulted by Pearce during a school trip to the Lake District. The incident is alleged to have taken place in the summer of 1984, when RC-A592 was 10 years old. In 2011, RC-A592 sought compensation from Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s but subsequently abandoned his claim.[107]

Laurence Soper

54. Laurence Soper was born in September 1943.[108] Like Pearce, he attended St Benedict’s as a child. They were almost direct contemporaries; Soper is two years younger than Pearce, but their time at school and later as novice monks would have overlapped.

55. Following a short career in banking, Soper entered Ealing Abbey in 1964 and was ordained in 1970. Between 1972 and 1984, he taught at St Benedict’s. During this time, he held a number of significant positions, both at the school and the abbey, including as head of the middle school (1978–1984), bursar (1975–1991) and prior (1984–1991).[109] While at the middle school, Soper was also the master in charge of discipline (from 1979 to 1983) and, by his own admission, used corporal punishment.[110] In 1991, he was elected Abbot of Ealing Abbey.[111]

56. Soper also held roles outside of Ealing Abbey that brought him into contact with children. He served as Catholic Chaplain at Feltham Young Offender Institution (from 1989 to 1991)[112] and also for a period at Harrow School.[113] After resigning as Abbot of Ealing in 2000, he took up a position as Chaplain at an army base in Cambridgeshire for approximately one year.[114] In 2002, he was appointed general treasurer for the International Benedictine Conference in Rome. He resided at the Benedictine headquarters in Sant’Anselmo until his disappearance in 2011.[115]

57. Soper is known or alleged to have sexually abused at least nine children at St Benedict’s between 1972 and 1983. Like Pearce, many of the sexual assaults were committed under the pretext of corporal punishment. The abuse included sexual touching, sexual assault and rape.

58. While he was living in Sant’Anselmo, Rome, Soper returned to the UK on three occasions (in 2004, 2009 and 2010) to be interviewed by the Metropolitan Police in relation to allegations that had been made against him by former St Benedict’s pupils (RC-A622, RC-A11, RC-A601, RC-A600). On each occasion the police released him without charge, bailing him to return at a later date. Soper was due to return for a further interview in March 2011, and left Sant’Anselmo saying that he was on his way to London. He failed to surrender to his bail. He was reported missing by the Prior of Sant’Anselmo[116] and in November 2011 a European Arrest Warrant was issued for him.[117] On 9 January 2012 Soper was dismissed from the order of the English Benedictine Congregation.[118]

59. Soper was on the run for over five years and was eventually located in Kosovo in May 2016. He was extradited and arrested on his arrival in the UK in August 2016. He was charged with a number of offences against nine victims (RC-A622, RC-A11, RC-A8, RC-A610, RC-A611, RC-A609, RC-A591, RC-A601, RC-A600) and was convicted in December 2017. He was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment.[119] On 6 June 2019 he was dispensed from the clerical state.[120]

RC-A622

60. RC-A622 attended St Benedict’s in the 1960s and 1970s, between the ages of eight and 15. As described in Part A, Soper began to abuse RC-A622 when he was only 12 or 13, initially by using physical chastisement as a pretext for fondling and stroking the child’s penis and testicles.[121] The abuse did not stop there. Soper made RC-A622 watch him while he masturbated, and he forcibly masturbated RC-A622. On multiple occasions, Soper caned and then anally raped RC-A622, usually over his desk.[122]

61. During a school trip when RC-A622 was 14 or 15 years old, Soper came into the hostel room where RC-A622 and other boys were sleeping on bunk beds. Soper went to RC-A622’s bed and fondled the boy’s genitals through the opening in his pyjamas. He then put RC-A622’s penis into his mouth and tried to kiss him.

62. He also anally raped RC-A622 on “3 to 4 occasions”.[123] Soper told RC-A622 to keep these incidents a secret, and threatened severe punishments, or expulsion, if he spoke of them.[124]

63. RC-A622 did not report the abuse at the time. He said that he didn’t feel able to tell his parents about what was happening to him because their faith was so strong, they never would have believed it from a priest”.[125]

64. In January 2004, RC-A622 formally reported the abuse to Peter Turner, the Diocese of Westminster child protection officer. At the time of this disclosure, RC-A622 was receiving psychiatric treatment.[126] Mr Turner contacted the Metropolitan Police and RC-A622 was interviewed in February 2004. In July 2004, Soper voluntarily returned to the UK from Rome. He was arrested and interviewed by the police. He admitted to having caned pupils in the 1970s but denied the rape and sexual assault allegations. He was released without charge and bailed to return in October 2004. Thereafter, the police referred the matter to the Crown Prosecution Service which advised that there was insufficient evidence to charge and prosecute Soper.

65. In 2007, RC-A622 contacted the police again with a view to having the allegations re-investigated but the police once more told him that they could not proceed with the matter.[127]

66. RC-A622 has said that the decisions taken in 2004 and 2007 not to prosecute Soper had a “detrimental effect on his health” and led him to have a “mental breakdown.[128]

I felt completely devastated. I felt let down and thought no-one believes me, I had always been brought up to tell the truth and I don’t tell lies … I continued to mentally suffer as a result”.[129]

67. In June 2012, RC-A622 brought a civil claim against the Trust of St Benedict’s Abbey, Ealing.[130] An out-of-court settlement was reached and RC-A622 was paid £135,000 in compensation by the Trust, as well as his legal costs. In addition, RC-A622 received a written letter of apology from the trustees.[131]

68. In December 2017, Soper was convicted of multiple counts of buggery, indecency with a child and indecent assault relating to his abuse of RC-A622.[132]

RC-A11

69. As outlined above, RC-A11 was interviewed by the Metropolitan Police in February 2008 in relation to Pearce.[133] He also made allegations against Maestri (detailed below) and Soper, who he described as a “sexual sadist”.[134]

70. RC-A11 said that Soper caned him every week during a two-year period, for no good reason. He told police that Soper would often make him remove his trousers and underwear on the pretext of searching for a hidden book, after which he would rub and fondle his buttocks.[135] Like some of the other accounts, RC-A11 said that if he did not remove his lower clothing Soper would threaten him with six strikes of the cane rather than three.[136]

71. On one particularly brutal occasion, RC-A11 had just returned to school following the summer holidays, during which his mother had died. He would have been especially vulnerable at that time, but Soper had him come to his office on his first day back at school, where he caned him for no reason.[137]

72. In light of these allegations, Soper returned to the UK from Rome, for the second time, in June 2009. On this occasion, he was not placed under arrest but was interviewed under caution by the Metropolitan Police. He denied the allegations and was allowed to return to Rome.[138]

73. Soper was convicted of multiple counts of indecent assault against RC-A11 in December 2017.[139]

RC-A601, RC-A600, RC-A591

74. In June 2010, RC-A601 and RC-A600 contacted Northwood police station to make allegations against Soper.[140]

75. RC-A601 attended St Benedict’s in the early 1980s, when he was between 11 and 15 years old. He described one incident in Soper’s study when he was made to lie across Soper’s lap while Soper spanked him over his clothing. RC-A601 said that Soper’s breathing changed as he was spanking him and that he seemed to become excited. Afterwards, Soper ordered him to pull down his trousers and touched his backside. RC-A601 told his parents about the abuse at the time, but they did not report it.[141]

76. RC-A600 attended St Benedict’s for two years, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, between the ages of 11 and 13. He was caned by Soper approximately once a fortnight for matters that seemed insignificant. The first time, Soper insisted that he remove his trousers and underwear, supposedly so that he could check for padding. Soper then stroked and rubbed the boy’s bare bottom. After this he told RC-A600 to pull up his trousers and bend over the desk. He then caned him with such force that black and blue welts were left on his skin. Following the beating Soper stroked the boy’s buttocks to “comfort” him. Soper did not check for padding on any subsequent occasions, but the routine was otherwise the same.[142] RC-A600 told his sister about the beatings at the time, but did not mention that there was a sexual element to them. He said that he could not bring himself to reveal the full truth to his family because they were devout Catholics.[143]

77. Following these two police complaints, Soper was contacted in Rome and returned, once again, to the UK in September 2010.[144] He was arrested on arrival. He denied the allegations and was bailed until March 2011.[145]

78. In January 2011, while Soper was still in Rome, RC-A591 made a complaint of sexual abuse against him to the Metropolitan Police.[146] RC-A591 attended St Benedict’s from the mid 1970s until the mid 1980s, between the ages of eight and 16. When RC-A591 was around 11, he went to Soper’s office to report another boy who had kneed him in the thigh. Soper made RC-A591 remove his trousers and began to stroke the boy’s leg. He then pushed his fingers into his underwear and touched his genitals, while at the same time cupping and squeezing his buttocks.[147]

79. Soper was eventually prosecuted and convicted of indecent assault against RC-A600, RC-A601 and RC-A591 in 2017.[148]

80. RC-A591 also brought civil proceedings against Ealing Abbey in 2011. His claim was settled out of court and he was paid £5,900 in compensation, as well as his legal costs.[149]

RC-A610, RC-A609, RC-A8

81. After Soper’s disappearance from Sant’Anselmo, Rome, complainants continued to come forward between 2011 and 2016, including RC-A610, RC-A609 and RC-A8. RC-A610 and RC-A609 also made allegations about Soper using caning as a pretext to touch, rub and fondle their buttocks.[150]

82. RC-A610 was a pupil at St Benedict’s in the 1970s. In November 2011, he told the Metropolitan Police that when he was around 13 or 14 years old, he was in the school grounds and took a short cut along a route that was out of bounds. He was encountered by Soper who confronted him and chastised him for being out of bounds. Soper told him to report to his office later that day, which he did. Once in his office, Soper told RC-A610 that he would have to beat him for what he had done. He made the boy lie across his lap, put his hand inside the top of the waistband of his trousers and touched the top middle part of his buttocks.[151] RC-A610 said that Soper’s hands “were moving all over the place”.[152] Soper then hit RC-A610 and asked him “Did that hurt?” and when RC-A610 replied that it did, Soper said “Okay, I’ll do it harder” and then hit him another four times with a cane.[153]

83. RC-A609 attended St Benedict’s in the 1980s. In October 2014, he told the Metropolitan Police about how he had been sent to Soper’s office for a minor infraction. Once in his office, Soper pulled open a large desk drawer inside of which were canes, a cat-o-nine-tails whip and a leather strap. Soper instructed RC-A609 to pull down his trousers, which he did. He kept on his underwear. Soper then made him lean across his lap. At this point, RC-A609’s penis was touching Soper’s thigh. Soper then tapped RC-A609 on his backside, leaving his hand resting on his bottom in between pats. He did this a couple of times. RC-A609 said that he felt no pain but thought that the incident was odd. Soper told him that the next time, he would use the cane.[154] Over the course of the year, RC-A609 was beaten a number of times by Soper. He told police that these incidents were different, in that Soper did not ask him to lie across his lap and used a cane instead of his hand.[155]

84. RC-A8 was a pupil at St Benedict’s in the mid 1970s. In May 2016, he contacted the Metropolitan Police and said that he had been physically and sexually abused by Soper during his time at the school.[156] RC-A8 was sexually abused on at least two occasions. The first occasion was in 1975, when RC-A8 was around 14 years old. He got into trouble with a group of other boys for “horsing” around. All were sent to Soper’s office for punishment. Once there, Soper told RC-A8 to bend over, for caning, which RC-A8 did. Soper rubbed his hands up and down RC-A8’s buttocks and down to the beginning of his crotch, over his clothes. RC-A8 formed the impression that Soper was trying to probe his anus. After this, Soper proceeded to cane him.[157] A second similar incident took place just over a year later, during RC-A8’s final year of school. Soper touched his buttocks and then pushed his fingers towards his anus. Soper used more force on this occasion, causing RC-A8 to stumble forwards. He was then violently beaten.[158] In addition to the sexual abuse, Soper subjected RC-A8 to violent physical abuse. On one occasion, when RC-A8 was 16 years old, he caned him so forcefully that he drew blood. RC-A8 attempted to defend himself and punched Soper. He was later expelled.[159]

85. In 2017, Soper was convicted of indecently assaulting RC-A8.[160]

RC-A608, RC-A611, RC-A24

86. In June 2016, shortly before Soper’s arrest (after being on the run for over five years), RC-A608 contacted the Metropolitan Police.[161] RC-A608 was a pupil between the mid 1970s and the early 1980s. He told the police that it was well known among the pupils that, when administering punishments, Soper would offer them a choice of being caned three times across their bare buttocks or six times over their clothing. This happened to RC-A608, who said that he always chose the first option and was caned across his buttocks at least half a dozen times.[162] On other occasions, Soper would stroke and rub his back and bottom, sometimes over his clothing and sometimes with his clothes off.[163]

87. RC-A24, who attended St Benedict’s between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, also described being offered this choice when he was 13 or 14 years old.[164]

I fully understood and given Soper’s behaviour, anyone in the school would have understood that Soper was giving me a choice of either six canings on the bottom or being sexually assaulted.[165]

RC-A24 told us that he was able to convince Soper that the punishment was unjustified and that he did not deserve a caning. In the end, Soper did not discipline him and the boy managed to leave his office, unharmed.[166]

88. In August 2016, the Metropolitan Police was contacted by RC-A611, who had learned of Soper’s arrest.[167] RC-A611 was a pupil at St Benedict’s from the mid 1970s until the mid 1980s.[168] He described Soper visiting him in the infirmary, when he was 11 or 12 years old, after he had sustained a minor injury while playing in the playground.[169] He rubbed his buttocks in an aggressive and sexual manner for several minutes, on the pretext of inspecting his injury.[170] RC-A611 said:

I felt confused and I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I remember staring at the wall and I was too scared to move.[171]

RC-A611 said that he did not report the abuse at the time because he did not want to upset his parents, who were devout Catholics.[172]

89. Soper was convicted of the indecent assaults of RC-A608 and RC-A611 in 2017.[173]

RC-A618, RC-A615

90. RC-A618 was a pupil at St Benedict’s in the 1980s. He said that, on one occasion, Soper summoned him to his office for punishment. Once there, Soper made RC-A618 remove his trousers and underwear, and stared at his exposed genitals. This continued for a few minutes, after which he told RC-A618 to leave his office and say nothing about what had happened.[174] RC-A618 disclosed the abuse to his father but he told RC-A618 that he did not believe that Soper had done anything wrong.[175]

91. RC-A618 wrote to St Benedict’s in August 2016, two days after Soper’s arrest, claiming that he had also been abused by Soper. (He had first complained to St Benedict’s in 2014 in relation to Maestri.) He was interviewed by police in December 2016.[176] Although he told the police that he had contacted a firm of solicitors in order to pursue a civil claim against St Benedict’s,[177] we have not seen any evidence of civil proceedings or their outcome.

92. RC-A615 said that Soper had punished him on one occasion in the early 1980s, by caning him. According to RC-A615, before using the cane, Soper had stroked his buttocks, over his clothing. RC-A615 was contacted by the Metropolitan Police in September 2016, and the matter was referred to the Crown Prosecution Service.

93. The police and Crown Prosecution Service ultimately considered that the allegations disclosed by RC-A618 and RC-A615 did not amount to a criminal offence, and no further action was taken.[178] They considered that the stroking of RC-A615’s backside was an isolated incident and there was no evidence that Soper’s actions were of a sexual nature.[179]

RC-F46

94. RC-F46 taught at St Benedict’s for almost 40 years, from the 1950s to the early 1990s.[180]

95. In April 2010, RC-A423 contacted the Metropolitan Police. He had been a pupil at St Benedict’s in the 1970s. A police report records that he complained of three matters involving RC-F46, two of which potentially involved sexual abuse. After an incident at school when RC-A423 was about 13 years old and had been kicked in the groin by pupils from another school, RC-F46 had “examined his private parts[181] but did not touch him. RC-A423 also said that on another occasion during a school trip abroad RC-F46 had insisted that he join him in his room, told him to remove his clothes and to get into RC-F46’s bed. RC-A423 however had refused and returned to his own room.[182] The police decided to take no further action. The crime report states:

the behaviour of the suspect is perhaps inappropriate and would breach safeguarding principles as they exist today, however in the absence of any physical contact between the 2 or any incitement … no crimes have been committed in this case”.[183]

John Maestri

96. John Maestri was born in November 1938,[184] and worked as a lay teacher at St Benedict’s from 1971 until 1984.[185]

97. He is known to have sexually abused at least four St Benedict’s pupils while he was employed at St Benedict’s: RC-A623, RC-A626, RC-A625 and RC-A11, the latter also having been abused by Soper and allegedly by Pearce. Further allegations were also made by RC-A624 and RC-A419 but never tried. RC-A599, who alleged abuse against Pearce, also made similar allegations against Maestri. In addition to these, we are aware that complaints were made by two others in 2000 and 2002, relating to events in the 1960s when they were children, before Maestri joined St Benedict’s.[186]

RC-A624, RC-A419, RC-A623, RC-A626

98. Three brothers – RC-A624, RC-A419 and RC-A623 – made allegations against Maestri. He had befriended their mother in the 1970s,[187] becoming “like a big brother[188] to the children.

99. RC-A624 said that on one occasion, when he was 11 or 12 years old, Maestri kissed him whilst they were sitting on the sofa in RC-A624’s home watching television.[189]

100. RC-A419 said that Maestri came into his bedroom and kissed him and touched his penis.[190]

101. The third brother, RC-A623, also described being abused by Maestri in the early 1980s. When RC-A623 was 11 years old, he attended Maestri’s flat on the weekends for extra tuition. Maestri would force him to the floor, kiss him and masturbate him.[191]

102. The Metropolitan Police first became aware of the allegations relating to RC-A623, RC-A624 and RC-A419 in early 2003, after being contacted by RC-A623.[192] Maestri was arrested and interviewed in April 2003. He admitted kissing RC-A623 and rubbing his thighs but denied masturbating him. He also denied all the allegations made by RC-A624 and RC-A419.[193]

103. Maestri did however admit that he had been asked to leave St Benedict’s for kissing another pupil, RC-A626.[194] The police were able to locate RC-A626 and in July 2003 he gave a statement in which he described how, in the mid 1980s, when he was around 12 years old, Maestri made him sit on his lap and kissed him on the mouth. He then took RC-A626 into a bedroom, undressed him down to his underwear and made him lie on the bed. He again kissed him on the mouth and touched his body. After a few minutes RC-A626 began to cry and Maestri stopped.[195]

104. Maestri was indicted with five counts of indecent assault. He pleaded guilty to the indecent assault offences against RC-A623 and RC-A626, and was sentenced in December 2003 to 30 months’ imprisonment, placed on the sex offenders’ register and banned for life from working with children.[196] The counts relating to RC-A419 and RC-A624 were ordered to lie on the file (ie the judge agreed with the prosecution that, while there was enough evidence for the matter to go to trial, a trial would not be in the public interest given that Maestri had pleaded guilty to the other substantial offences).[197]

RC-A11, RC-A625

105. Maestri also sexually abused RC-A625 and RC-A11 when giving them private lessons at his home address.

106. RC-A625 was a pupil at St Benedict’s in the 1980s. He had been given private tuition by Maestri in the summer of 1982, when he was around 11 years old. During the lessons, Maestri put his arms around him and sat him on his lap. On one occasion, he took RC-A625 to his bedroom, made him lie on the bed and fondled his genitalia.[198] In December 2003, RC-A625’s mother contacted the police to report the abuse against her son. Maestri was produced from prison and further charged with indecent assault. He pleaded guilty and, in June 2005, received a non-custodial sentence of a rehabilitation order for a period of two years.[199]

107. RC-A11, whose abuse by Soper and allegedly by Pearce is outlined above, said that in the early 1980s Maestri made him sit on his lap, kissed him on the mouth, forcibly masturbated him and tried to insert his finger into RC-A11’s anus.[200] RC-A11’s allegations came to light in February 2008.[201] Maestri was charged with indecent assault in September 2008 and pleaded guilty in January 2009. He received a two-year suspended sentence of imprisonment.[202]

RC-A599

108. In June 2010, Maestri faced further allegations of abuse made by RC-A599, who had joined St Benedict’s in the mid 1970s and said that he was abused over an eight-month period in 1976. Maestri caned him on his buttocks and then rubbed them with his hand to make him feel “better”, while masturbating himself. RC-A599 said that he told Pearce about the abuse[203] but, instead of taking any action, Pearce also began to abuse him. Maestri and Pearce were jointly tried. Both were acquitted in July 2011.

RC-A618 and RC-A641

109. In October 2014, further allegations were made by RC-A618, who attended St Benedict’s in the mid 1980s. He described one incident when Maestri touched his penis over his clothing while asking him if he wanted to play table tennis for the school. RC-A618 said that the incident did not last very long.[204]

110. RC-A618 told the Metropolitan Police that he believed another pupil, RC-A641, had also been abused by Maestri. Maestri was interviewed by the police in 2014 and, although he denied the allegations made by RC-A618, he admitted to sexually assaulting RC-A641.[205]

111. RC-A641 attended St Benedict’s in the early 1980s.[206] Maestri admitted to the police that, on one occasion, he had removed the boy’s tracksuit bottoms, cuddled him and touched his thigh while they were lying in bed together.[207]

112. In respect of RC-A618, the Metropolitan Police decided that there was insufficient evidence to charge Maestri with a criminal offence, and although RC-A641 confirmed that he had been sexually abused by Maestri, he said that he did not wish to provide a witness statement or to attend court.[208]

113. Maestri died in 2016.[209]

Stephen Skelton

114. Stephen Skelton was born in July 1948 and was employed as a lay maths teacher at St Benedict’s in the early 1980s. He gave private maths lessons at his home, and is known to have used these occasions to abuse at least one pupil, RC-A604. During the lessons, Skelton gave RC-A604 sweets, made him sit on his lap and played with his hair. In the third and final lesson, Skelton began rubbing RC-A604’s stomach under his shirt, before kneeling in front of him with his face close to RC-A604’s groin. RC-A604 was very scared and made an excuse to leave. Skelton initially refused to let him go, but eventually did.[210]

115. In December 2011, Skelton was convicted of two counts of indecent assault, in respect of RC-A604 and another child at a different school.[211] He was given a six-month prison sentence (suspended for two years), a lifelong sexual offences prevention order, placed on the sex offenders’ register and made subject to notification requirements for seven years.[212]

RC-F41

116. RC-F41 taught at St Benedict’s between the 1960s and late 1980s.

117. During a school trip to Italy in 1984, RC-A421, who was 11 years old at the time, had been suffering from constipation and stomach pains and had gone to RC-F41 for help. RC-F41 asked the boy to remove his trousers, put Vaseline on his finger and inserted it into RC-A421’s anus on the pretext of checking for a blockage. RC-F41 told the child not to tell anyone. In April 2005, RC-A421 made a complaint to Mr Turner, who in turn reported it to the police. Mr Turner also spoke to RC-F41, who admitted that he had “realised immediately what he had done was wrong and sinful”.[213] In a subsequent risk assessment, he said “the fact I felt guilty means perhaps there was (sexual desire)”.[214]

118. The police first became aware of this allegation in April 2005.[215] Although RC-F41 admitted to touching RC-A421,[216] the police could not charge him because the incident had taken place overseas and predated the changes in legislation[217] which would later allow for a prosecution in these circumstances (the Sex Offenders Act 1997).

119. In October 2005, RC-A421 made a further allegation against RC-F41. He said that, when he was 12 or 13 years old, after receiving his confession, RC-F41 forced him to perform oral sex on him. RC-A421 did not tell anyone about this incident at the time.[218] RC-F41 was charged with indecent assault but was acquitted in April 2007.[219]

Peter Allott

120. Peter Allott was born in March 1979.[220] He was the lay deputy headmaster of St Benedict’s between 2012 and 2015.[221]

121. In December 2015, Allott was arrested for downloading and distributing indecent images of children, found on his phone and a hard drive found in his office at St Benedict’s.[222] No images were found on the school computer itself.

122. Allott was found guilty in March 2016 of making and distributing indecent photographs of children. He was also found guilty of possession of extreme pornographic images involving animals and possession of Class A drugs. He received a sentence of 33 months’ imprisonment and a 10-year sexual harm prevention order. He was also placed on the sex offenders’ register for an unlimited term.[223]

123. Allott committed suicide in April 2018.[224]

References

Back to top