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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

H.1: Conclusions in relation to Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School

1. Until its formal separation in 2012, St Benedict’s School, Ealing was governed by the Abbot and monks of Ealing Abbey. The St Benedict’s of the 1960s to 1980s was described to us as a place where “even in the junior school one grew up acclimatising oneself to the eccentricities of a series of frankly terrifying men”.[1]

2. The child sexual abuse perpetrated against pupils was extensive. Two monks and two lay teachers have been convicted of multiple offences involving the sexual abuse of over 20 children between at least the 1970s and 2008. Another teacher was also convicted of offences relating to the possession of indecent images of children in 2016. The total scale of the abuse can never be known, but is likely to be much greater. Children also suffered severe corporal punishment, which was often used as a means to initiate sexual abuse and for sexual gratification.

3. This abuse was facilitated for decades because of a culture of cover-up and denial at Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s.

4. David Pearce and Laurence Soper, the most prolific convicted abusers at Ealing, were very senior figures at the school and Abbey. Pearce was a senior member of the monastic community, the head of the junior school and then bursar. Soper was head of the middle school, bursar and then Abbot. Their seniority created particular problems for any who wanted to report abuse or concerns of abuse. Staff members have described the atmosphere as feeling “like the mafia[2] and chose not to risk their jobs.

5. Abbot Martin Shipperlee’s efforts to improve matters after he took up the abbacy in 2000 were flawed. There were serious shortcomings in his response to allegations and handling of child protection concerns. He failed to pass on information to the police and those undertaking reviews of safeguarding procedures. The action he did take was frequently inadequate and badly judged. Abbot Shipperlee’s control and management of safeguarding issues fell well below what is required of someone trusted with the care of children, as he admitted: “my administration of safeguarding is of insufficient standard”.[3] He has now resigned from his position.

6. The deficiencies in the leadership of Abbot Shipperlee were compounded by failures of others around him.

7. Christopher Cleugh, headmaster of the school between January 2002 and August 2016, repeatedly minimised questions of child sexual abuse to the point of materially misrepresenting significant facts. He did not address safeguarding issues openly and proactively, and when questioned by external bodies was defensive.

8. Peter Turner and the Diocese of Westminster child protection team played an important role in giving advice on safeguarding to Abbot Shipperlee. That advice was, however, often flawed. For example, Mr Turner’s advice as to the restrictions upon Pearce was seriously deficient because no guidance was given as to how compliance with those restrictions should be enforced and monitored.

9. Between 2001 and 2017, Dom Richard Yeo, who was then the Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation (EBC), failed to treat allegations of child sexual abuse made against monks still resident next to the school with the necessary urgency and care. At his 2007 visitation of Ealing Abbey, he did not inquire into the restrictions upon Pearce, nor give due importance to the fact that a judge in the civil proceedings in 2006 had found Pearce to have abused RC-A6 and others.

10. It was not until 2010 that concerns with the institutional response of Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s came to a head, with scrutiny from the Charity Commission, the Independent Schools Inspectorate, the Department for Education, the media and members of the general public, including the campaigner Jonathan West.

11. In response, Abbot Shipperlee instructed Lord Carlile of Berriew QC to undertake a review of safeguarding and child protection arrangements at the school. Lord Carlile’s report was published in November 2011. Its core recommendation was that there was an “overwhelming imperative[4] for the formal separation of Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s, to ensure that the school had independence and a governing body capable of addressing concerns over safeguarding. Abbot Shipperlee enacted this recommendation, and St Benedict’s was formally separated from Ealing Abbey soon afterwards in 2012.

12. External institutions outside of the EBC have a vital role to play in protecting children. They need to appreciate the particular issues in respect of monastic institutions such as these. They must avoid any false deference to the monks, and appraise carefully and critically any evidence given on safeguarding concerns.

13. The responses of external institutions to the events at Ealing were defective in significant respects, resulting in children being left at risk of abuse or further abuse, a risk realised in the case of Pearce’s abuse of RC-A621 in 2006 to 2008.

14. The Metropolitan Police made mistakes in how some of the early allegations against Pearce and Soper were investigated. The police decision not to proceed with the case of RC-A418 in 2002 was unreasonable. There were also failures in respect of the investigation into the allegations of RC-A6 in 2004, including a failure to provide all relevant information to the Crown Prosecution Service when a charging decision was sought.

15. The Crown Prosecution Service bears some responsibility for the fact that neither Pearce nor Soper were prosecuted earlier. In 2004, serious allegations were made by RC-A6 and RC-A622 against them. Despite the law having changed, and corroboration no longer being a requirement, in 2004 Crown Prosecution Service lawyers adopted it as a reason not to prosecute either case, rather than looking at ways in which the complainants’ accounts could be supported.

16. The Charity Commission’s undertaking of their first statutory inquiry into Ealing Abbey’s handling of Pearce between 2006 and 2008 was deficient. Its review was undertaken during the period when Pearce was abusing RC-A621, but the Charity Commission concluded that Pearce was being managed appropriately. This was based on assurances given by Ealing Abbey, which the Commission failed to scrutinise or test.

17. The Independent School Inspectorate’s inspection of St Benedict’s in 2009 concluded that its child protection policy was compliant with statutory guidance, and that an independent review into Pearce’s offending had been conducted and its advice fully implemented. Both conclusions were wrong. It took members of the public to point out the errors before the 2009 report was withdrawn in April 2010.

18. In 2010, the Department for Education did not have the statutory power to enforce a recommendation made by the Independent Schools Inspectorate that monks who had been the subject of allegations should not reside at Ealing Abbey. Since January 2015, changes to the statutory standards by which independent schools are judged have rectified this gap in the Department for Education’s powers.

19. Abbot Shipperlee resigned from the abbacy on the final day of the hearing of evidence by the Inquiry. Father Dominic Taylor has since been elected Abbot in July 2019. It remains to be seen whether Ealing Abbey proves itself capable in the future of ensuring proper safeguarding of children at risk.

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