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

D.3: 2000 to 2010

21. Martin Shipperlee was elected Abbot of Ealing Abbey in March 2000, following the resignation of Soper. As Abbot Shipperlee has now acknowledged, there were serious shortcomings in his response to allegations and handling of child protection concerns.

22. It is important to note the wider context at this time. Following the Nolan report in 2001, Dom Richard Yeo, then Abbot President of the EBC, had set up a working party “to propose a common framework of procedures for Child Protection in the houses of the Congregation in the light of [its] recommendations.[1] Abbot Shipperlee was a member of this working party, which went on to recommend that the EBC “take advantage of the Diocesan structures and especially the Diocesan CPC [Child Protection Coordinators]”.[2] It also recommended that “all disclosures, allegations and suspicions, including historic ones be immediately referred to the relevant Diocesan CPC”.[3]

23. Ealing Abbey did align itself with the Diocese of Westminster child protection team. Abbot Shipperlee consulted the team, and in particular Peter Turner, the Child Protection Officer (later entitled Safeguarding Advisor), extensively during this period, and brought allegations to his attention. However, there were weaknesses in the advice provided by the Diocese of Westminster child protection team (discussed in Part E), which compounded deficiencies in Abbot Shipperlee’s leadership.

Response of Abbot Shipperlee to Pearce

24. When Martin Shipperlee became Abbot in 2000, at least one monk, Father Nunn, considered that he would be “a new broom” who would support taking concerns about Pearce to the police.[4] He and another monk, Father Stapleford, encouraged staff to come forward.[5] It proved a false dawn. Based upon the evidence we heard, Abbot Shipperlee’s responses were frequently inadequate, ineffective and ill-judged.

25. In December 2000, Father Burns told Abbot Shipperlee that Pearce was hearing confessions in St Benedict’s junior school at the invitation of Father Gorham. Abbot Shipperlee agreed that Pearce should not have been asked to hear confessions,[6] but Father Burns was not satisfied with the response. He took his concern to the then Abbot President, Francis Rossiter. Abbot Shipperlee told us that he had a conversation with Father Gorham; “If I remember rightly, we talked and decided it would not be wise to involve him in hearing confessions.[7] That was the extent of his action.

26. Father Nunn also spoke to Abbot Shipperlee about Pearce, and remembered that Abbot Shipperlee’s response was “What can I do? He is my friend.[8] While not remembering whether he did say this, Abbot Shipperlee told us:

in that situation … I felt it was difficult to act. You might think that was a rather strange conclusion to come to, but that was my honest reaction at the time … it was wrong.”[9]

27. Father Nunn and Ms Ravenscroft, hopeful that Abbot Shipperlee’s appointment would bring about change, contacted RC-A418 and invited him to come forward with his complaints against Pearce.[10] In 2001, he did so. The allegations included putting his hands down boys’ swimming trunks and filming them in the showers. Abbot Shipperlee referred the matter to the Diocese of Westminster child protection coordinator (then Father Sean Carroll[11]), who referred it to the police. Abbot Shipperlee subsequently told the police that Pearce was in no position to have any contact with children[12] but he did not consider putting him under any restrictions.

“I wasn’t looking – I admit this, I was not looking at what he might choose to do or want to do.”[13]

“It looks like perhaps there is ample evidence that should be persuading me to do something more. But I have, at this point, taken the matter to the police, which is quite a step against … someone you live with. I understand perfectly well that that’s not a very, perhaps, creditable way of considering things.

Q. As abbot, who exactly were you waiting for advice from?

A. Well, the police or the diocese. Never having been in this situation before – and I admit that this is not a strong answer and not a very good defence of what I did at the time … well, in retrospect, something much more did need to be done and I wasn’t doing it.”[14]

28. Abbot Shipperlee also allowed Pearce to remain a trustee of the Trust of St Benedict’s Abbey Ealing, which oversaw both the school and the abbey. Abbot Shipperlee admitted to us that “In retrospect, I should have acted earlier.[15] He evidently found it difficult to take action against another monk.[16] Abbot Shipperlee was not proactive. He failed to take further steps of his own volition, choosing instead to wait for guidance from others.

29. In 2003, when Abbot President Yeo conducted his first visitation on Ealing Abbey, several monks told him of their concern about Pearce. They complained that he was “not being reined in as he should have been[17] and gave examples of how Pearce would pass through the school “in order to reach some offices”.[18] The concern presumably being that Pearce could engineer access to children under this pretext.

30. In 2004, further complainants came forward. For example, RC-A6 alleged abuse by Pearce while in the school infirmary and elsewhere, and RC-A419 alleged an incident of abuse while Pearce was visiting his home. In response, Pearce was placed on “administrative leave” in April 2004[19] while the police investigated. Following a decision not to prosecute in October 2004, and in keeping with Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (COPCA) guidance and Mr Turner’s advice, Abbot Shipperlee instructed an expert, David Tregaskis, to prepare a child protection risk assessment report on Pearce. Mr Tregaskis was a clinical criminologist with extensive experience in providing risk assessments in respect of sex offenders for criminal and civil courts, and for other bodies including the NSPCC, dioceses and religious orders.[20] In his letter of instruction, Mr Tregaskis was informed of the allegations of RC-A419 and RC-A6 as well as RC-A595 and RC-A418. He was not however told of the allegation of RC-A631 (despite Abbot Shipperlee being aware of it[21]). In any event, Mr Tregaskis concluded that there was “a major concern” in respect of Pearce and that “clear boundaries” (ie restrictions) should be placed on him.[22]

31. On 19 April 2005, Mr Turner, having discussed Mr Tregaskis’ report with his manager Monsignor Harry Turner (the Diocese of Westminster Child Protection Coordinator), wrote to Abbot Shipperlee recommending that five restrictions be placed upon Pearce.[23]

“1. That Fr. David has no public ministry with the Parish setting.

2. That Fr. David is only allowed to say mass in private or within the monastery, and with no members of the public present.

3. That Fr. David is allowed to continue in a non-executive role within the Monastery as long as that does not bring him into contact with Children and Young Persons;

4. That Fr. David continues to serve as Chaplain to other Religious Communities as long as this does not bring him into contact with Children and Young Persons, and provided that the person in charge of such Communities is made aware of these conditions;

5. That if Fr. David visits families within the Parish, he does so only on condition that he does not wear clerical dress and that the families are bonafide families/friends.”

Mr Turner concluded his letter by asking that “the recommendations be formally recognised in a formal letter to me”, but this was never done.

32. Abbot Shipperlee accepted that he failed to do this, and had also failed to keep any record over and above Mr Turner’s letter.[24] This inaction and lack of record-keeping contributed to subsequent confusion about the details of the restrictions (for example, the subsequent Charity Commission report only referred to three restrictions, so they may not have been made aware of all five).[25]

33. Mr Turner’s letter was insufficient. It did not give any guidance to Abbot Shipperlee as to how compliance with these restrictions should be enforced and monitored. We address this further in Part E.

34. Abbot Shipperlee also failed to ensure that action was taken. Instead of putting a formal safeguarding mechanism in place, he appears to have relied upon three factors.

  • Pearce living alongside him: Abbot Shipperlee told us that “I’m living with him a lot of the time”,[26] the suggestion being that he was therefore able to monitor Pearce’s activities. He should have recognised that this had been the case since the 1980s and had not prevented Pearce abusing children in the care of St Benedict’s.
  • Compliance by Pearce:[27] Abbot Shipperlee said that Pearce “now knows how he is meant to be the scope of his activity. His work is in the monastery and nowhere else.[28] This repeats the mistaken assumption that because Pearce should not have contact, he would not have contact. It ignored Mr Tregaskis’ clear advice that Pearce’s denial of any inappropriate behaviour was itself a risk factor.[29] It was not appropriate to deal with a significant risk to children by relying on the word of the person accused of abusing them.
  • Other monks would tell the abbot if there were breaches:[30] There is no documentary evidence of what monks at Ealing Abbey were told about Pearce’s restrictions. The later review carried out by Philip Wright and John Nixson observed that the extent of knowledge within the community was unclear.[31] If the monks did not know what the restrictions were, they could not help to police them. When Abbot Shipperlee was questioned about this, he initially seemed to lay blame at the door of his community, saying “monks are very good at not knowing what you think you’ve told them”, although he accepted that he:

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.[32]

35. The failings in respect of restrictions upon Pearce went further. Abbot Shipperlee said of his failure to act that he was:

plainly not thinking the right way around … I was looking at what he [Pearce] couldn’t do. I really wasn’t concentrating anywhere near enough on what he might do, and, in that sense, clearly, I’m not thinking first about the safety of children, and that’s a mistake … [33]

36. In 2006, the sexual abuse committed by Pearce was established in a civil trial brought by RC-A6 against both Peace and the trust. The judge, Mr Justice Field, said he found Pearce and the account that he gave in court “extremely unconvincing” and not having “the ring of truth”.[34] In contrast, he found RC-A6 “an entirely convincing, reliable and credible witness”.[35] The allegations RC-A6 made against Pearce were found proven, as was similar abuse of two other boys, X (RC-A418) and Z (RC-A419).[36]

37. During the proceedings, Pearce left the monastery and lived with a family member. After the trial, minutes of the Abbot’s Council meeting of July 2006 noted there had been a “comment from a parishioner which indicated that there might well be disquiet at his returning to the monastery so soon”.[37] Despite this and the judgment, no change was made to the restrictions upon Pearce.[38] Abbot Shipperlee told us that he went back to Mr Turner about the risk following the ruling.[39] When asked about this, Mr Turner said that there was no reconsideration although “thinking about it now, perhaps we should have reconsidered it”.[40]

38. Following the civil judgment against Pearce, the Diocese child protection team should have advised strongly that Pearce be required to leave Ealing Abbey. Abbot Shipperlee should have insisted that Pearce live elsewhere, rather than remain at Ealing Abbey, where he could and did use his position to abuse another child.[41] While there may have been countervailing considerations as Shipperlee noted,[42] such as difficulties in finding a suitable and safe place for Pearce to live, it should not have been insurmountable because it had previously been possible to make arrangements for him to leave the monastery during the civil trial.

39. After his return, Pearce went on to abuse RC-A621. He was a 16-year-old pupil at St Benedict’s who in December 2006 had started working in the monastery at weekends. In January 2008, RC-A621 disclosed that he had been sexually abused by Pearce for over a year, having met him while working in the kitchens. Pearce was arrested, prosecuted and later that year pleaded guilty to sexual offences in respect of RC-A621 and four other boys. Abbot Shipperlee had known that RC-A621 was working in the monastery, and that Pearce had access to the areas where he was stationed. He also became aware that Pearce, despite the restrictions upon him, had come to know RC-A621, as Pearce himself told the abbot around April 2007 that the boy had spoken to him about becoming a monk.[43] Abbot Shipperlee did nothing to advise against or stop that contact. He told us that he simply did not see RC-A621, at the age of 16, as a child.[44] That was wrong.

40. Abbot Shipperlee failed adequately to consider the risk of the abuse of children by Pearce, both generally and specifically in RC-A621’s case. Following the civil judgment against Pearce, the Diocese of Westminster child protection team should have advised strongly that Pearce be required to leave Ealing Abbey. As a result of their failures and inadequate action, children were left at risk of abuse by Pearce, who did indeed go on to abuse RC-A621. This could have been prevented.

Response of Abbot Shipperlee to Soper

RC-A420

41. In October 2001, RC-A420 brought a civil claim against Soper for sexual abuse that he alleged had occurred in the 1990s when he was 19 years old and serving a sentence of detention at Feltham Young Offender Institution, where Soper had been a chaplain.[45] RC-A420 subsequently told the Metropolitan Police in 2018 that Soper had sexually assaulted him on many occasions, and that the abuse had escalated to rape. He estimated that he had been raped by Soper on at least 10 occasions.[46]

42. In December 2001, the Diocesan child protection coordinator, James Curry, advised Abbot Shipperlee that RC-A420’s claim should be reported to the police. Abbot Shipperlee “undertook” to Mr Curry that he would act on this[47] but it seems that he in fact decided not to do so, favouring his own judgment of the facts over an independent review of the evidence.

“Q. Did you bring the A420 matter to the police’s attention?

A. I did not.

Q. Why not?

A. Because I simply did not believe that this was possible. In fact, I was outraged that such an accusation could be made against someone of whom I – well, it did not occur to me that it was possible that this sort of thing could happen.

Q. Do you agree that that decision was wrong?

A. Oh, yes, absolutely wrong.”[48]

43. Abbot Shipperlee told us that he was “convinced in my own mind that this must be a spurious claim.[49] As a result of his failure to report this allegation to the police, when they and the Crown Prosecution Service came to consider RC-A622’s allegations against Soper in 2004, they did so without any knowledge of the similar and serious allegations made by RC-A420. Solicitors instructed by the Abbey’s insurers wrote to RC-A420, threatening him with legal costs if he pursued his civil claim. RC-A420 described his response to police as follows:

I received a letter back from a solicitor, either [Soper’s] personal one or one from the Abbey basically telling me to drop the claim or they would take me to court for costs which ran in £1000 pound from what they said I could not afford this and I couldn’t afford a solicitor so I contacted one solicitor by ‘phone’ and told them I was dropping the claim. They then sent me paperwork to discontinue this which I completed and sent back. On top of not having enough money I was scared as all I wanted to do was have Laurence SOPER pay for what he had done and on getting a letter from powerful solicitors scared me I guess.[50]

44. Shortly after this, in 2002, Soper went to Rome to become the general treasurer to the International Benedictine Confederation at Sant’Anselmo. Abbot Shipperlee did not inform the Abbot Primate, Notker Wolf, of the allegation of RC-A420 against Soper.[51] As a result, the Abbot Primate was unaware of the potential risk Soper represented.

RC-A622

45. In 2004, RC-A622 told the Metropolitan Police that he had been abused and repeatedly raped by Soper in the 1970s when he was a pupil. Abbot Shipperlee heard that RC-A622 had made an allegation (whether from the police or from Mr Turner he was not sure)[52] but he again failed to act and did not seek the details, nor did he commission any risk assessment. He said:

“I didn’t know particularly the details of the case. I did learn them subsequently, and horrifying details they are too.”

Q. It is not long after this that you are instructing David Tregaskis in relation to Father Pearce, and you also instructed him in relation to RC-F41.

A. Yes.

Q. Yet here you had received two allegations in respect of Laurence Soper, and you didn’t think it necessary to seek a risk assessment as far as he was concerned?

A. Well, I didn’t not think it necessary; otherwise, I would have. Both these accusations, as they have come to me, come from slightly odd directions. This is not an excuse, this is an explanation of how I was perceiving it, in that, one, the first one, in 2001, is a civil claim without any other seeming process; and the second – again, something has happened but nothing is happening. Now, in retrospect, you are quite right, it would have been a very good thing to do, but I did not.”[53]

Further allegations

46. In 2008, further complaints of sexual abuse were made against Soper by RC-A11.[54] However, it was not until May 2010, after another allegation from RC-A591,[55] that Abbot Shipperlee finally travelled to Rome to place him under formal restrictions.[56]

Response of Abbot Shipperlee to RC-F41

47. In April 2005, RC-A421 disclosed to Mr Turner that he had been abused by RC-F41 while on a school trip to Italy in 1984. RC-F41 admitted to Mr Turner that he had inserted his finger into the anus of the boy, supposedly to relieve his constipation, although “he realised immediately what he had done was wrong and sinful, and he has worried about it ever since”.[57]

48. At Mr Turner’s recommendation, RC-F41 was removed from public ministry and assessed by Mr Tregaskis. RC-F41 told Mr Tregaskis that “the fact I felt guilty means perhaps there was (sexual desire)”.[58] He also disclosed other abusive behaviour, such as “kissing now and then” and feeling an inappropriate attraction towards some boys (which resulted in his request to give up his position within the school in 1989). He said that his attraction to boys was current, and that sexual images had come into his mind the previous Sunday when he observed an altar boy.[59] Restrictions were imposed upon him.

49. RC-F41 could not be prosecuted in respect of RC-A421’s allegation, as the incident had occurred in Italy and so could not at that time (prior to the Sex Offenders Act 1997) be prosecuted in the UK. RC-A421 later made further allegations, for which RC-F41 stood trial in 2007 but was acquitted.

50. Despite RC-F41’s admissions in respect of the incident in Italy, Abbot Shipperlee’s response to his acquittal in June 2007 was to question the restrictions upon him. He wrote to Mr Turner that:

Parishioners do not understand why he continues to be under restrictions and, to be honest, I’m not sure I do either … At the moment, it is far from obvious that RC-F41 has ever posed a risk to children.[60]

Mr Turner replied that the restrictions had to continue.

51. In 2008, Mr Turner received a call from a child protection coordinator in Middlesbrough because RC-F41 had made a request to say mass in a local church. RC-F41 had said that he had been found innocent of all matters and that the diocese “had been slow in revoking our recommendations”. Mr Turner informed his counterpart of the true position and RC-F41 was not permitted to perform any public ministry in Middlesbrough.[61]

The Wright–Nixson report of 2009

52. As a result of Pearce’s conviction in August 2009, Abbot Shipperlee proposed an independent review to the Abbot’s Council and said that he would seek the recommendations of CSAS before proceeding.[62] Shortly afterwards he met with an interested member of the public, Jonathan West, who urged him to undertake “a review of the past to discover as far as possible the scope of the abuse and take “tangible actions to try as far as possible to prevent any repetition of such crimes”.[63]

53. In October 2009, Philip Wright, the Safeguarding Coordinator for the diocese of Arundel and Brighton, and John Nixson, an independent child protection specialist, were instructed to undertake the task. Despite child protection concerns at the Abbey extending beyond Pearce to allegations against both Soper and RC-F41, the review was limited to the offending of Pearce[64] and to two days’ work.[65]

54. The authors met Abbot Shipperlee but did not hold any interviews with school staff or others. A copy of the school child protection policy was provided to the authors but they did not check that this complied with Department for Children, Schools and Families guidance as asserted.[66] The main basis of the report was a document produced by Abbot Shipperlee giving the background to allegations against Pearce. However, this omitted a number of allegations, mentioning just RC-A418, RC-A6 and RC-A621.[67] There was no consideration of the underlying documentary material. Mr Nixson, in his written evidence to the Inquiry, stated:

With the benefit of further reflection, it is now evident to me that Abbot Martin presented the existing concerns and findings about individual members of the religious community in a minimal manner. At the time this was one aspect of the situation that led me to feel that the review was, to some extent, a mechanical exercise intended to enable Ealing Abbey to satisfy CSAS that it was procedurally compliant rather than fully embracing safeguarding as an essential element of the abbey’s culture for the future.[68]

Abbot Shipperlee accepted that the scope of the instructions given to Mr Nixson and Mr Wright could have been broader, but did not agree that he had minimised concerns or that material was withheld. He told us that he had told Mr Nixson and Mr Wright that they could look at anything they wanted, but that they had “decided that they had wanted to concentrate on present matters. That was their decision on what they wanted to do”.[69]

55. The authors should have made clear their reservations, and the limitations of their review, within the body of their report. As a means of addressing what had gone wrong at Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s, and what improvements were required, their review was inadequate.

56. In August 2010, Ealing Abbey instructed Lord Carlile to conduct another independent review, and Kevin McCoy (a “child care and social care specialist[70]) to undertake a thorough review of files so as to identify matters giving rise to child protection concerns. These reviews were precipitated by the concerns raised in 2010 by external agencies, in particular the Department for Education (DfE) and the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), as well as scrutiny in the media and in Jonathan West’s blog.

The response of Christopher Cleugh as headmaster of St Benedict’s

57. In 2002, Dr Dachs was replaced as the lay headmaster of St Benedict’s senior school by Christopher Cleugh. As headmaster, he set the tone for staff, pupils and parents in terms of how child protection concerns were dealt with. Mr Cleugh also had a principal role in addressing, from the school’s perspective, the danger posed by monks identified as risks and placed under restrictions. He was responsible for the school’s interaction with external institutions and its child protection policy. Mr Cleugh’s leadership in all of these areas was inadequate.

The tone of his leadership

58. Mr Cleugh repeatedly minimised questions of child sexual abuse to teachers and to external institutions and parents, to the point of materially misrepresenting significant facts. For example, in a draft letter he wrote to parents in late August 2010 to respond to the publication of the ISI’s follow-up inspection that month,[71] he emphasised that the school had been deemed fully compliant by the ISI in its earlier November 2009 report. This was despite the fact that the ISI’s latest report found it not to be so.[72] He also wrote that the ISI had advised him that the child protection policy was “an exemplar of excellence when it had not.[73]

59. The Inquiry heard evidence that Mr Cleugh did not address safeguarding issues openly and proactively. He was defensive.

59.1. Mr Halsall said that “When Cleugh became head, I attempted to make him aware of past issues with Pearce and others. He did not welcome this.”[74]

59.2. Ms Ravenscroft said that after she had raised the allegation of abuse of RC-A418, “the new headmaster, Mr Cleugh, was obviously unhappy and said he treated her like a traitor.[75]

59.3. Ms Mortemore said that when Pearce was being investigated, Mr Cleugh “called a meeting and told us not to talk to anybody outside the school”.[76] Mr Cleugh admitted this, although suggested that it was “advice”.[77]

60. The same defensive approach, painting Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s as the victim, was apparent in a prize-giving address Mr Cleugh gave in 2010. He disparaged media coverage and a blog run by the campaigner Jonathan West:

Recent media and blog coverage seem hell-bent on trying to discredit the School and, at the same time, destroy the excellent relationship between School and Monastery. Is this part of an anti-Catholic movement linked to the papal visit? I do not know, but it feels very much as if we are being targeted.[78]

Consideration of risks

61. Mr Cleugh also did not give due thought to the risks posed by Pearce and RC-F41, despite knowing of the allegations made in respect of them and that they resided next to the school. He raised no concerns about their proximity internally or externally, including to the Charity Commission.

62. Pearce remained a trustee of the school until 2004. As Mr Cleugh said:

“A. All I can say is, I clearly got that wrong, for which I very, very much regret, but at the time, there wasn’t a mandatory duty to report, and I regret that I did not do it.

Q. Did you think it was appropriate or raise any concerns? Did you just not think about it, that he was a Trustee?

A. I clearly did not think about it and clearly I should have reported it, but there wasn’t – it wasn’t an automatic thing that I thought about at that time, which I most certainly would have done four or five years later.”[79]

63. Mr Cleugh showed a lack of concern in respect of RC-F41 when allegations were made in 2005 and restrictions were imposed. He said he had never seen the Tregaskis report and was not aware that RC-F41 had accepted that there might be a sexual motivation to his having inserted his finger into RC-A421’s anus. He told us:

“Q: Do you feel at all that you were kept in the dark about some salient information [about RC-F41] that you should have known?

A: Well, I think – I’ve admitted that I actually knew the information. I hadn’t properly thought about it in that particular sense.”[80]

64. In 2006, Mr Cleugh had no concerns about Pearce continuing to reside adjacent to the school:

“Q. Did you feel it was satisfactory having someone accused of child sexual abuse against whom, once we got to 2006, there had been a civil judgment, did you think it was satisfactory that he should be living adjacent to the school?

A. I think the answer is, in hindsight, I definitely know that that wasn’t the case, but I never flagged it up as an issue. And I realise that that’s something that I might well – I should have done; not might well have done, should have done.”[81]

65. However, Mr Cleugh knew that RC-A621 was working in the monastery, was interested in training for the priesthood and was “close friends with some of the monastic community”.[82] Even after the civil judgment against Pearce in 2006, Mr Cleugh did not consider the possibility that Pearce might pose a further risk:

I have already unreservedly apologised for what was a very bad judgment on my part in that particular case, yes, absolutely.[83]

The belated acceptance to this Inquiry of some responsibility for the abuse of RC-A621 was in contrast to the presentation of the case to the ISI in 2009, when the school “accepted no responsibility for the failure of the restrictive conditions imposed on Father David Pearce”.[84] This seems to be an example of what Mr Halsall described as a culture of cover-up and denial at the school having been “followed recently by passing the buck”.[85]

Interaction with external institutions

66. Mr Cleugh failed to represent accurately the situation at St Benedict’s to external institutions. For example, he told ISI inspectors at a preliminary visit in July 2009 that one of the monks had been charged with an assault on a pupil doing work experience in the monastery, but omitted that this had occurred while Pearce was under restrictions. He also did not inform them that there had been a civil action in 2006 when substantial damages had been awarded to RC-A6 and abuse found proven in respect of two others, nor about the abuse of four other boys dating back to the 1970s which had resulted in Pearce being convicted.[86] In his evidence, Mr Cleugh referred repeatedly to the information being “all in the letter” to parents dated 2 October 2009, which was also provided to the ISI. He told us that the letter “actually cite[d] the number of cases that he was accused of going back 25/30 years”.[87] However, that letter, written by Abbot Shipperlee, does not provide the detail suggested; it merely refers to there being more than one victim:

Fr David Pearce, who taught at St Benedict’s from 1976–1992, pleaded guilty on 10th August to serious criminal offences against children and has now been sentenced to 8 years imprisonment.[88]

67. Mr Cleugh also failed to inform the ISI that the Charity Commission was undertaking two related statutory inquiries into Pearce’s abuse:

I didn’t think that was particularly relevant at the time … I mean, in retrospect, I should have done it, I accept that. But I obviously didn’t mention it at the time.[89]

St Benedict’s child protection policy

68. There were significant deficiencies in St Benedict’s child protection policy, in particular with regard to external reporting, which was largely a matter of discretion. These deficiencies are put in sharp focus in light of the above findings in respect of Mr Cleugh and his leadership in the period from 2002 to 2010, which was resistant to external involvement.

69. We have not seen any of St Benedict’s child protection policies prior to 2009. However, there are significant defects in the September 2009 version. Most seriously, paragraph 23 provided that allegations of child sexual abuse would not always be referred to the local authority designated officer (LADO) at Ealing social services, or the police, when they should have been:

“A referral to the [Ealing LADO] or police will not normally be made where:

– the complaint does not involve a serious criminal offence; and

– a referral would be contrary to the wishes of a pupil complainant who is of sufficient maturity and understanding and properly informed, and contrary also to the wishes of the complainant’s parents; and

– the case is one that can be satisfactorily investigated and dealt with under the School’s internal procedures, the parents being kept fully informed, as appropriate.”[90]

70. This 2009 policy claimed to be compliant with the statutory guidance, Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education. Mr Cleugh said that he had been satisfied that it was compliant.[91]

70.1. The statutory guidance, however, explicitly stated that the LADO must be informed whenever there is an allegation that a teacher or member of staff has “behaved in a way that has harmed a child, or may have harmed a child; possibly committed a criminal offence against or related to a child; or behaved towards a child, or children, in a way that indicates she or he is unsuitable to work with children”.[92]

70.2. There was no requirement that the allegation involve “a serious criminal offence” (which was itself undefined in St Benedict’s policy).[93]

70.3. The discretion afforded to St Benedict’s under its own policy not to report an allegation, and to conduct an internal investigation, contradicted the statutory guidance. As a result, the threshold for external reporting was too high and wrongly subject to discretion.

70.4. St Benedict’s definition of sexual abuse was also unsatisfactory in the light of statutory guidance.[94]

71. Mr Cleugh conceded that the policy “had flaws” and “was wrong”.[95] While as Mr Cleugh conceded he “had the overall responsibility”,[96] responsibility for the deficiencies in the policy does not rest with Mr Cleugh alone, or with his deputy who was the designated child protection lead at the time.[97] The policy had been drafted with the assistance of the school’s solicitors, Veale Wasborough LLP.[98] The ISI inspectors in 2009 found that the policy was compliant, which the ISI has now accepted was a failing on its part.[99] The Charity Commission as well as Mr Wright and Mr Nixson also asserted that the policy was adequate, without proper consideration.[100] It would have been obvious, simply from reading the statutory guidance, that the school’s policy was not compliant.

References

Back to top