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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

F.2: Metropolitan Police Service

2. There were deficiencies in the response of the Metropolitan Police both within individual investigations and more broadly. This was recognised by Commander Neil Jerome, Commander of the Specialist Crime Unit, in his evidence to us.[1] He told us that 66 complaints[2] had been made to the police in respect of Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s between 1992 and 2018. These resulted in 28 charges and convictions of five individuals: David Pearce, Laurence Soper, John Maestri, Stephen Skelton and Peter Allott.

3. Commander Jerome explained[3] that of the 32 allegations made before July 2011:

  • the police decided to take no further action in relation to eight;
  • the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute three;
  • not guilty verdicts were reached in three; and
  • the remaining 18 resulted in convictions.

Of the 33 allegations made after July 2011:

  • 22 resulted in police decisions to take no further action, for various reasons which included the alleged perpetrator being deceased, insufficient evidence or the complainant not wanting to proceed with the allegation;[4]
  • the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute in three;
  • the allegations were transferred to other forces in two; and
  • there were six convictions.

4. In 2001, RC-A418 told the police that Pearce had forcibly grabbed his trousers and pants and looked down into his pants, and that Pearce had put his hands down the swimming trunks of another boy, RC-A632, “for a couple of seconds having a feel around”.[5] Abbot Martin Shipperlee also informed the police of the earlier complaints of both RC-A595 in 1992 and RC-A631 in 1998.[6] Formal statements were taken from both RC-A418 and RC-A632. A third former pupil also told police in 2001 that he had witnessed Pearce unnecessarily forcing a child to get undressed in front of him.[7]

5. Despite this, the Metropolitan Police failed to investigate appropriately. In July 2002, Detective Sergeant (DS) Gareth Morgan decided to take RC-A418’s allegations no further, and did not even consider it necessary to interview Pearce in respect of them.[8]

I have been unable to find evidence of any criminal offences”.[9]

This was unreasonable because there was evidence of indecent assault, as Commander Jerome agreed.[10] DS Morgan also observed that RC-A418 and RC-A632 were “reluctant to give evidence in court”.[11] This was despite RC-A632 saying in December 2001 that he would be willing to attend court and there being nothing in the crime report to suggest a change in his mind.[12] While RC-A418 was initially uncertain about making a formal statement, he had subsequently done so on 19 November 2001.[13] Even if RC-A418 and RC-A632 were reluctant to give evidence in court, there is nothing to suggest that consideration was given to measures that could be used to support them.[14] There is no evidence that the 1992 case file relating to RC-A595 was properly considered.[15] There is nothing in the police records to indicate that the allegation of RC-A418 was referred to social services. This was particularly striking as Pearce was still working and living at the Abbey, adjacent to the school.[16] Given the concerted effort of a teacher, Katherine Ravenscroft, and a monk, Father Alban Nunn, to bring concerns about Pearce to the Metropolitan Police’s attention, it is regrettable that this investigation into RC-A418’s complaint should then have been handled and dismissed in such a manner.

6. The lack of care is likewise evident when another officer, Detective Constable (DC) Kevin Hudson, picked up the case again in 2004, after RC-A6’s complaint. DC Hudson appears to have made no effort to contact Ms Ravenscroft. There is no evidence of his having contacted St Benedict’s to enquire of her whereabouts. He recorded on the police record of the investigation that she was an “ex teacher” and “untraceable”, yet Ms Ravenscroft was still teaching at St Benedict’s.[17]

7. There were also several weaknesses in the police investigation in the case of RC-A6, who in 2004 made a number of allegations against Pearce, including being abused in the school infirmary.

8. RC-A6 felt unsupported by the police. On 18 May 2004, DC Hudson noted: “I have not been able to progress this investigation, due to other work commitments. I have update[d] the victim [RC-A6] to that effect”.[18] RC-A6 told us:

I rang Hudson to enquire about the investigation after a large period of silence and was told he was investigating a girl who had suffered more than me, so therefore my case was less important. I felt awful and ashamed about myself.[19]

When asked whether this was an appropriate thing to say, Commander Jerome said “Absolutely not”.[20]

9. Further, when DC Hudson presented the case of RC-A6 to the Crown Prosecution Service, there is no evidence that previous allegations – including those of RC-A595 in 1992, RC-A418 and RC-A632 in 2001/2 or RC-A631 in 1998 – were specifically mentioned or drawn to the attention of the reviewing lawyer, Azra Khan.[21] The crime report states that “The CPS reviewed the file containing the evidence obtained during the course of this investigation”;[22] however, the underlying evidence from the earlier investigations in respect of RC-A418 and RC-A632 does not appear to have been included or detailed.[23] This was a serious omission, especially since RC-A418 had been contacted again in 2004 and had confirmed his willingness to assist and attend court.[24] Any failure to provide a full picture would have inevitably impacted on the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision, which was that there was too little evidence to prosecute.[25]

10. Despite a High Court having found in RC-A6’s favour in a civil judgment in February 2006, it was not until after RC-A621’s allegations against Pearce in 2008 that the Metropolitan Police reopened the investigation into his abuse of RC-A6. The police did not learn of the civil judgment. This was a missed opportunity to reconsider RC-A6’s case earlier. Had this happened, Pearce’s later abuse of RC-A621 might have been prevented.

11. After Soper absconded in March 2011, the Metropolitan Police waited over four years before passing the task of reaching him to a specialist team with dedicated resources. Two officers who were then involved, DS Chris Sloan and DS Shaun Richardson, told us that:

In hindsight the ‘manhunt’ for SOPER should not have been left with the original investigating Child Abuse Investigating Team (CAIT) overseen by a single investigating Officer. This task should have been passed to those with specialisms in this area of work, who have a wide range of resources at their disposal. Once this was done, in and around December 2015 and primacy was passed to an MPS Major Investigation Team (MIT), SOPER was detained in Kosovo within six months (May 2016).[26]

12. There were also more systemic failures in the handling of complaints of child sexual abuse received by the Metropolitan Police. When a complaint was received, the usual procedure was that it would be allocated to an individual officer who would oversee the investigation. From 2015, this changed to there being a pool of detectives who worked together.[27] In respect of the early cases, there were failures in communication between officers investigating the allegations of child sexual abuse arising from within the same institution. These officers were part of a very small team. There was no excuse for the lack of communication about allegations of child sexual abuse, and especially about repeated instances within the same institution. For example, in 2004, there were investigations into both Pearce (RC-A6) and Soper (RC-A622), without links being drawn between them. Commander Jerome agreed that there had been a failure to draw the strands together:

when you look at the totality and you look through each of those allegations … and when they are made, being able to draw the links between those, I think we could have done much better … by way of an example, [in] 2004, there is an investigation that takes place … the investigating officer of that allegation goes back to the 1992 and also the 2001 allegations to try and draw those links and see if there is any supporting evidence that can be used. So I can see that that takes place. But when you look at the totality of it, then drawing those links, we could have been better … [28]

13. Efforts have been made to improve the capability of the Metropolitan Police, and the police in the UK generally, to see links between cases.

We have now got the police national database which now looks at allegations not just within an individual force but across the country. There is now, through the IT and also through vested practice and training, a much better understanding of what those links could be.[29]

References

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