09 August 2018
Damning catalogue of sex abuse at top Catholic schools
Neither school has established a comprehensive redress scheme and other than in the context of the inquiry, no public apology has been made
Appalling sexual abuse was inflicted over decades on children as young as seven at Ampleforth and as young as 11 at Downside schools, according to the latest report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
The report follows the Ampleforth and Downside hearings, as part of the inquiry's investigation into the Roman Catholic Church.
The inquiry has found that that there was a culture of acceptance of abusive behaviour and the prioritisation of monks and their reputations over the protection of children.
The true scale of sexual abuse of children in the schools over more than 40 years is likely to be considerably higher than is reflected in the number of perpetrators convicted, it says.
Ten individuals, mostly monks, connected to these two institutions have been convicted or cautioned in relation to offences involving sexual activity with a large number of children, or pornography.
The inquiry found that many perpetrators did not hide their sexual interests from the boys. At Ampleforth, this included communal activities, both outdoors and indoors, involving fondling of children, mutual and group masturbation.
And while some steps have been taken, neither Ampleforth nor Downside has formally established a comprehensive redress scheme, financial or otherwise, and other than in the context of this inquiry, no public apology has been made. The report says: "It is clear to us from all the evidence we have heard during this inquiry that several systemic and child protection challenges remain at Ampleforth to this day."
Monks in both institutions were very often secretive, evasive and suspicious of anyone outside the English Benedictine Congregation. For decades, they tried to avoid giving information to the statutory authorities, other than that specifically requested, which might have helped investigations into the abuse of children in their care.
Both Ampleforth and Downside prioritised the monks' and their own reputations over the protection of children, manoeuvring monks away from the schools in order to avoid scandal. Those who received them would sometimes not be adequately informed of the risk, the report says.
Downside in particular tried to pave the way for the return of abusive monks after the boys who might have known them had left.
The Nolan Report, in 2001, was a turning point in Catholic Church safeguarding policy and practice but the inquiry heard no evidence that Downside and Ampleforth did any more than pay lip service to it. "There was hostility to Nolan in both institutions for some years after its adoption. They seemed to take a view that its implementation was neither obligatory nor desirable. and this view seemed to go unchallenged by the wider Catholic Church," the inquiry said in a summary of the report released today.
In both institutions, abbots designated people from within the order to carry out a form of "risk-assessment" of known or alleged abusers despite them having no expertise or relevant experience. The results of these assessments were often biased, tolerating abusers and indulging behaviours as "one-off" slips with no foundations for reaching such conclusions.
The report concludes that a strict separation between the governance of these two abbeys and schools is needed if safeguarding arrangements are to be free from the often-conflicting priorities of the abbeys.
"This took too long to achieve at Ampleforth. And more than eight years after Downside’s governing body began considering the issue, it is still working towards the school becoming both legally and financially separate and independent of the monastery," says the inquiry in its report.
Professor Alexis Jay, Chair of the Inquiry, said: “For decades Ampleforth and Downside tried to avoid giving any information about child sexual abuse to police and social services. Instead, monks in both institutions were very often secretive, evasive and suspicious of anyone outside the English Benedictine Congregation. Safeguarding children was less important than the reputation of the Church and the wellbeing of the abusive monks. Even after new procedures were introduced in 2001, when monks gave the appearance of co-operation and trust, their approach could be summarised as a ‘tell them nothing’ attitude.”
Christopher Jamison, Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation, said: “I welcome the publication of IICSA’s report into Ampleforth and Downside and I will continue to work with the Inquiry as it progresses its vital work. Once again I apologise unequivocally to all those who were abused by any person connected with our abbeys and schools. The report highlights how flawed many of our past responses have been. We continue to work conscientiously to ensure our communities are safe environments for young people both now and in the future.
"I am not in a position to comment further at this time as there is still a further hearing to be held by the Inquiry in February next year as part of the EBC case study. I will once again attend every day of those hearings in order to understand what responses the Congregation needs to make. In the meantime, all EBC monasteries will examine and reflect on IICSA’s Report.
"Whilst the inquiry hearings will continue to hear from a number of victims and survivors, there may be others whose voices have not been heard and to whom we should listen. If they have not yet contacted the authorities or us I would urge them to do so."
In a lengthy statement this afternoon, Downside included an apology and commitment to ongoing change: "We would like to reiterate our sincere and unreserved apology to all victims and survivors of sexual abuse suffered as a result of the actions of some within the Downside community. The Abbey and School fully acknowledges the serious failings and mistakes made in both protecting those within our care and responding to safeguarding concerns. We have reflected deeply and will continue to listen with the ear of the heart going forward to ensure that the mistakes of the past are never repeated.
"Downside recognises and appreciates the enormous task undertaken by the Inquiry and the efforts of those involved. The Abbey and School are very grateful to all those involved in the Inquiry and in particular the victims and survivors who demonstrated such bravery in coming forward and providing their evidence. We remain committed to ensuring that, now and going forward, Downside is recognised as an example to other schools as an early adopter of best practice in safeguarding. The Inquiry process has provided an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past and to look forward with safeguarding as the foundation of everything we do. Since Downside representatives gave evidence to the Inquiry in November 2017, there have been a number of developments in relation to safeguarding at Downside. Significant changes have been implemented to date, such as monks no longer holding key positions in the School, and work continues to ensure we attain the highest standards in safeguarding."
Ampleforth College said in a statement: “We are committed to providing the highest possible standards when it comes to looking after those entrusted to our care and have welcomed the opportunity to work with IICSA on this wide-ranging inquiry into the best ways to protect children. We have publicly accepted responsibility for past failings on many occasions, and the Ampleforth of today has never been afraid to learn difficult lessons. We would like to thank Professor Jay and her team for the hard work that has gone into this comprehensive and extensive report and we will review it to identify anything that could inform our constant drive for
"In the meantime, we remain completely focused on the safety and wellbeing of those entrusted to our care and our commitment to implement meaningful change. We are in the process of developing our first ever Safeguarding Charter with Emma Moody of Womble, Bond and Dickinson, a nationally renowned specialist in charity law, education and expert in safeguarding. It is our goal that this charter is shared with other organisations and becomes recognised as best practice for safeguarding in education. We would also like to once again offer our heartfelt apology to anyone who suffered abuse while in the care of our schools, parishes or other ministries."
A spokesman for the Catholic Church of England and Wales said: "The Catholic Council for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse notes the conclusions of the report of the IICSA into the English Benedictine Congregation focusing on Ampleforth and Downside Abbeys. The Catholic Council looks forward to continuing to work with and assist the Inquiry in its deliberations.
"As stated at the opening of this part of the Inquiry, the Catholic Council, and the organisations it represents, stand wholeheartedly by the expressions of regret and the apologies that have already been made on behalf of the Catholic Church in England and Wales to the victims and survivors of sexual abuse. All sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults is both criminal and harmful. The Church condemns without reservation any such crimes and the perpetrators of these crimes must be brought to justice.
"The Church is fully committed to the safeguarding of all children and adults at risk. Following the Nolan and Cumberlege Reports, all Dioceses and Religious Orders are committed to following nationally agreed guidelines and robust policies to promote safeguarding. These policies, which commit Dioceses and Religious Orders to reporting to and working with the police on all abuse allegations, are recognised as good practice by the statutory authorities. The Catholic Church looks forward to continuing to assist the Inquiry."
Extracts from the report
From the executive summary:
It is difficult to describe the appalling sexual abuse inflicted over decades on children aged as young as seven at Ampleforth School, and 11 at Downside School.
Ten individuals, mostly monks, connected to these two institutions have been convicted or cautioned in relation to offences involving sexual activity with a large number of children, or offences concerning pornography. The true scale of the abuse however is likely to be considerably higher. Some examples of the abuse are set out below.
Piers Grant-Ferris was convicted of 20 counts of indecent assault against 15 boys who attended the junior school at Ampleforth. A victim of Piers Grant-Ferris described how he had made him remove his clothes in the confessional of the chapel, then beat his bare bottom. Another incident took place in a bathroom when he was forced to strip naked and to place his hands and feet on each side of a bathtub, so he was straddling the bath, with his genitals hanging down. He was then beaten on his bare bottom, an event he found ‘absolutely terrifying’. During these repeated beatings, Grant-Ferris would masturbate.
One man, whose alleged victims appear to have been aged between eight and 12 years, would give and receive oral sex, both privately and in front of other pupils in the Ampleforth school workshop. He was said to have abused at least 11 children over a sustained period of time but died before the police investigated. Statements given to the police indicate that the alleged abuse consisted of mutual masturbation, digital penetration of the anus, oral sex and forcing children to perform sex acts on each other.
One monk, Nicholas White, sexually abused a number of boys over several years, while he was a geography teacher in Downside’s junior school.
In addition, there have been allegations of a wide spectrum of physical abuse, much of which had sadistic and sexual overtones. One victim, from the 1960s, described his abuser at Ampleforth as ‘an out-and-out sadist’ who would regularly beat boys in front of each other and would ‘beat me for no reason at all’.
Many perpetrators did not hide their sexual interests from the children. At Ampleforth, this included communal activities both outdoors and indoors where there was fondling of children, mutual masturbation and group masturbation. Participation was encouraged and sometimes demanded. The blatant openness of these activities demonstrates there was a culture of acceptance of abusive behaviour
The accounts that we have heard have encompassed a wide spectrum of behaviour, including excessive physical chastisement, sometimes for sexual gratification and sometimes as a precursor to further sexual abuse, grooming, fondling of genitalia, oral, anal and vaginal penetration, buggery and rape...10 individuals have been convicted or cautioned for offences involving sexual acts against children, including some involving highly publicised criminal proceedings. These include, at Ampleforth, Fr Bernard Green (1995), Fr Gregory Carroll (2005), Fr Piers Grant-Ferris (2006), David Lowe (2015) and Dara De Cogan (2016); at Downside, Fr Nicholas White (2012) and Dunstan O’Keeffe (2003 and 2004).
We begin with what we heard about physical and emotional abuse at Ampleforth in the early years (1960–1980), which on numerous occasions paved the way for sexual abuse....The evidence about the school between 1960 and 1980 has revealed several accounts of both physical and emotional abuse towards pupils, often intertwined. Children as young as six or seven were sent to board at the school, where they were placed into the care of individuals, some of whom went on to mistreat them. The environment as described to us by the witnesses was not conducive to pupils making disclosures of sexual or other abuse; the person who was supposed to be their first port of call was often unsympathetic and even frightening.
RC-A61 went to Gilling Castle in 1965 at the age of seven and remained there for four years, before going on to study at Ampleforth College until the age of 18. His form master was RC-F4, who he described as ‘physically violent from the outset’ and ‘a nasty, cruel, physically violent man’.51 RC-A61 told us that he had been both physically and psychologically abused while at Ampleforth. He recalled how RC-F4 would place him on the long tables and then beat him on his backside ‘so that my whole body would be moved by the force of the beatings along a shined table top’,52 and how he often didn’t know what he was being beaten for.
RC-A61’s form master in his second and third years at Gilling Castle was Fr Piers Grant-Ferris, who was also physically abusive, beating boys for the slightest transgression such as climbing a tree above the height of their head or reading a Marvel comic. Sometimes he would simply walk around the tables at meal times and tap a boy on the shoulder for no apparent reason, choosing him to be his next victim. RC-A61 told us:
'If he stopped behind you, then you knew it was you, and if he stopped behind someone else and tapped them – one thing that disturbs me to this day was the feeling of relief that it wasn’t going to be me, but I knew what was going to happen to those boys as well.'
- RC-A61 also described how another form tutor, RC-F10, appeared to be complicit in what Fr Piers was doing, as he would pass boys on to him for punishment. RC-A61 said he was ‘absolutely sure, absolutely no doubt in my mind’55 that RC-F10 was aware of the way such punishments were delivered. The boys thought that RC-F10 was creepy, and RC-A61 gave RC-F10 the nickname ‘Feeder Priest’.
RC-A154 also attended Gilling Castle [the prep] in the mid-1960s when he was seven years old, and progressed to Ampleforth College, where he remained until he was 16.57 He describes another monastic teacher as ‘an out-and-out sadist’ who ‘would regularly beat boys in front of each other’ and ‘would beat me … for no reason at all’ and was ‘known for his sadistic wrath’.58
- RC-A2 was a pupil at Gilling Castle from 1972 to 1978. He was put down for Ampleforth at birth and joined the school as a boarder at the age of six. He recalls leaving his mother at the train station on the first day. When he and the other boys, many of whom had been crying or sick on the train, arrived at Gilling:
'It was dark, it was cold ... and it was quite imposing … we went into the refectory and had milk and biscuits. Again, it was a heavily-panelled, dark-wood refectory, with wooden tables, and, being totally unfamiliar to us it was quite – it was just quite big and difficult … . It felt like Colditz, what I saw as a kid.'
- He described his first impressions of seeing monks in habits, saying:
'It’s just quite an unusual sight, really, isn’t it, for a monk in black robes, you’ve never seen ... in a castle, you’re six and you’re away from home, and you don’t want to be there, you want to be with your mum … it made me feel quite nervous, to be honest. … The monks used to walk through the dormitories, but they appeared to be floating in a way because they were very quiet and they were in robes ... you’d sort of see them, so you just had shadows. It was quite unnerving, really.'
- He described his form master, again RC-F4, as having a very bad temper who he remembered as:
'A picture of a man shouting at six-year-old boys … a big bloke, screaming at a young lad, going red … He was a scary bloke, really scary … [but] he was like our mum and dad. He was the last person you saw at night who put the lights out, he came and woke us up every morning and if we had any problems we had to – he was our reference point ... he was the person who was basically everything to us. He was the person who we had to see if we had any problems.'
- RC-A2 remembered how one night he was crying with his head under the blanket and RC-F4 came in and pulled back his covers, but rather than asking if he was all right, said: ‘Are you trying to keep the rest of the dormitory awake?’ RC-A2 added: ‘I think that is the last time I ever cried. I don’t think I ever cried again.'
RC-F3 was a monk in a senior position at Gilling Castle from 1953 to 1964. RC-A154, one of the three pupils mentioned above, has said that he was abused over two years, starting in 1967 or 1968:
'At nights in the dorm after lights out, RC-F3 would come and sit on my bed and comfort me. After about two weeks, he asked me if I wanted some cocoa ... I followed him to his study ... RC-F3 asked if he could wash me, which meant me undoing my pyjamas and placing my penis into his mouth. I would do the same to him. I can remember his striped pyjamas and having to untie the white drawstring. It eventually landed up with me in RC-F3’s bed where he would also join me, and I remember him putting his penis into my backside.'
- RC-A154 was only seven or eight years old. He made no complaint at the time. He told us that he was also physically abused by RC-F4 during this period (see above) and that he was later sexually abused by RC-F168 and then by Fr Piers Grant-Ferris.69 RC-A154 moved up to Ampleforth College at the age of 14, in the mid-1970s, where he was abused again, by a senior pupil RC-F164.70 RC-A154 made a statement to the police on 29 December 2004 for the purpose of the police investigation Operation Ellipse, and this was used in the prosecution of Fr Piers Grant-Ferris in 2006.
Fr Piers Grant-Ferris joined the teaching staff at Gilling Castle in 1966.
In 1975, the then Abbot Basil Hume received a complaint from the parents of a pupil, RC-A152, that Fr Piers had inappropriately touched their son. The abbot, together with Fr Justin Caldwell and Fr Patrick Barry (then headmasters of Gilling Castle and Ampleforth College respectively), launched an internal investigation.
RC-A152 and his parents were spoken to, as were eight other pupils. RC-A170 stated that Fr Piers had repeatedly fondled his genitals while he was sleeping at night in his dormitory and taken his temperature rectally. Fr Piers admitted going to RC-A170’s dormitory at night but said he merely wanted to teach him how to pull back his foreskin when urinating to avoid dribbling. He denied any sexual gratification.
RC-A177 claimed that in 1973 he was made to lie naked across Fr Piers’ lap with his buttocks spread apart. His anus was then ‘examined’. RC-A177 also said that he saw Fr Piers abusing RC-A170.
The others, RC-A235, RC-A233, RC-A230, RC-A234, RC-A232 and RC-A213 said that they had never been abused by Fr Piers, nor seen him abuse others.
The school did not accept RC-A152’s account. Nonetheless, Abbot Basil Hume did, with reluctance, recognise that because of his admission in respect of RC-A170, Fr Piers was unsuited to working with children. The school did not refer any of the complaints to the statutory authorities. Instead, the abbot had Fr Piers assessed by a consultant psychiatrist, Dr Seymour Spencer. Dr Spencer’s opinion was that:
'As a result of [Fr Piers’] personality factors, his lack of exact judgment in terms of his intimate relations with boys and his admitted "use" of boys in the past for sexual stimulation in spanking and in the recent past of RC-A152 for sexual stimulation during anal inspection, [Fr Piers] is not a suitable person to continue as master at Gilling.
Despite this clear acknowledgment of risk, Dr Spencer’s preliminary assessment was that there were enough ‘protective factors’ in place to justify allowing Fr Piers to stay in post until the end of the academic year. These included, in his view, the fact that few allegations had been made in the 10 years that he had been at Gilling and Fr Piers’ ‘natural obedience’ which would make him highly likely to comply with an instruction ‘not to touch boys during this present term’. These factors made ‘his unsuitability “wearable” during the rest of this term’. Dr Spencer also referred to the potential for ‘special talk or scandal’ if Fr Piers was removed from the school.
Ultimately, however, Dr Spencer did agree with the abbot that the best course of action was for Fr Piers to be withdrawn from his post at once. It appears that this was less based on the current risk he posed to children and more because, as Dr Spencer told the abbot: 'I feel that there is already a large amount of potential smoke round a quite definite fire of ‘hard’ evidence. I think that this smoke could increase enormously under any sparking during the course of term and produce a conflagration quite impossible to control. I think that if this did happen [Fr Piers] could himself be sorely affected. He is already at the present time willing to depart ... the argument for retaining him would be very unconvincing to pressing parents and that such pressure could increase as term went on and put you into an impossible position.'
Fr Piers was moved from Ampleforth and given parish assignments in Garforth (May–August 1975), St Mary’s Warrington (1975–1977) and Workington, Cumbria (1977–1989).89 (Workington was the same parish to which Fr Gregory Carroll and RC-F29 were later sent in 1995 and 1997 respectively.) He was also sent to Leyland (1989–1993), Brindle (1993–1998) and Osmotherley (1998)...In material disclosed to the Inquiry relating to his eventual prosecution in 2006 he said: ‘I continued to work with children in our parishes’93 and ‘Abbot Barry put no restrictions on me when I went out to do the pastoral work in the parishes.’
RC-A61 told us that he joined Gilling in 1965, when he was seven years old and that Fr Piers Grant-Ferris arrived at school when he was in his second year, which would have been 1966. Shortly after his arrival, Fr Piers Grant-Ferris began to abuse the boys. This often took the form of beatings, ostensibly to punish, but which were for his own sexual gratification. It escalated to what would today amount to serious offences of assault of a child under the age of 13 by penetration, for which the maximum sentence is now life imprisonment.
RC-A61 gave a vivid account of the abuse he suffered at the hands of Fr Piers. He said that, on one occasion, Fr Piers made him remove his clothes and beat his bare bottom with his hands. This happened in the confessional of the chapel. Another incident took place in a bathroom. RC-A61 was forced to strip naked and to place his hands and feet on each side of the bathtub, so that he was in effect over the top of the bath ‘like a crab … with [his] genitals hanging down’. Fr Piers then beat his bottom with his hands. RC-A61 told us that this event was ‘absolutely terrifying’. He explained that whenever Fr Piers administered such beatings, his hands would always linger on his bottom. It also appears that Fr Piers would masturbate during the beatings. A third instance of abuse took place in Fr Piers’ private room. Fr Piers asked RC-A61 if he had wet himself and put his hands down his trousers, into his underwear. He told him to get undressed and made him lie face down on his bed before proceeding to take his temperature rectally. RC-A61 had never had his temperature taken this way before. He begged him to stop, but Fr Piers continued.
RC-A61 disclosed the abuse to his parents at the time but they did nothing about it. He told us that ‘there wasn’t any reaction’. It seems that his father took the view that ‘these things happened in boys’ schools and that we were probably exaggerating’. It may be that this was because his father was of ‘the belief that the reputation of the Catholic Church was of utmost importance ... he went to church every day’.
Following RC-A61’s disclosure, Fr Piers was interviewed by Abbot Patrick Barry on 12 October 1995. He denied the allegations. Ampleforth’s view at the time was that RC-A61’s complaint was unfounded and possibly malicious. This can be seen from Abbot Barry’s report on the interview, where he wrote:
'It appears to me to be entirely possible that the current complainant (who is curiously anxious to keep his name secret) is founded not on personal experience but … on ... gossip and rumour. If that is so, then the motive might well be to provide scandalous copy for a newspaper, for which payment would be made to the complainant. If at this moment the complaint had already been handed over to the police (as some guidelines seem to require) then the necessary trigger for that copy would already have been provided to the newspapers by the police, and it would be quite impossible to undo the harm which would have been done to an innocent party and to the whole of Ampleforth and all involved in it. The danger still exists and I think we must proceed with great caution.'
On 14 January 2004, a solicitor acting on behalf of RC-A123, a former Ampleforth pupil, contacted NYP and said that RC-A123 had been sexually abused by RC-F18 over a three-year period,233 between 1990 and 1993. RC-A123 said that the abuse had started within his first week at the junior house one night when he was in bed. RC-F18 would come into the dormitory and tickle him under his bedclothes, leading up to touching his genitals both over and under his pyjamas. RC-F18 would suck on RC-A123’s index finger when abusing him in this way. On other occasions, RC-F18 gave him alcohol and anally raped him. He was also sent on ‘punishment’ runs at night to the T-junction outside the Ampleforth grounds. He would be punished if RC-F18 arrived at the junction before him in his car. The punishment consisted of being anally raped while bent over the bonnet of the car. RC-A123 referred to five or six other boys being called to RC-F18’s office, given alcohol and forced to kneel and administer oral sex to him in turn. The final allegation made by RC-A123 was that, when he was in year 3, RC-F18 inserted what he believes to have been cutlery into his anus.
At the time these allegations were made in 2004, RC-F18 was still a senior member of the Ampleforth community. He was arrested in February 2004 for several offences including buggery, indecent assault and incitement to commit gross indecency offences. His computer was also seized and searched as part of the police enquiry; pornographic material was found, as well as evidence that he had posed as a 19-year-old girl in order to engage in sexually explicit online chats with males. DSU Honeysett told us that while this material ‘clearly indicated an interest in adolescent boys, there was no evidence to show that those boys were [in fact] under age’.
RC-F18 was interviewed multiple times but denied all allegations of abusing any children. In June 2004, the CPS reviewed the file and advised that there was no realistic prospect of conviction.
It is clear to us from all the evidence we have heard during this inquiry that several systemic and child protection challenges remain at Ampleforth to this day.
On 12 February 1969, Fr Aelred Watkin, headmaster of Downside School, wrote to Fr Anselm Hurt, who was at that time based in Liverpool, to reprimand him for taking four Downside pupils to the pub (the Bell Inn).29 Anselm Hurt sought to justify the incident, but on 24 February 1969 Fr Aelred Watkin wrote to him:
'You know as well as I do, it is not simply a question of a visit to the Bell. Surely you cannot imagine that I am unaware of such things as your drinking whisky with the school prefects until the early hours of the morning, and to your room on the first floor of the King’s Arms – though I have no wish to go back into the past, even the recent past.'
- Later that year Anselm Hurt returned to Downside and was appointed to the position of teacher and assistant housemaster during the autumn term of 1969. Shortly after the end of the autumn term, Fr Aelred became aware of an incident between Anselm Hurt and a 16-year-old pupil, RC-A216. Having been alone drinking beer together in Hurt’s room in the school, Hurt had invited RC-A216 to his room in the monastery where mutual masturbation had taken place. Hurt admitted the incident to Abbot Wilfrid and was sent away from Downside immediately. Fr Aelred also discovered that another pupil had said that he and Hurt had slept in the same bed in a private house during the half-term holiday in November 1969. The details are not clear, but Hurt’s behaviour was such that this latter boy, who was 17 at the time, had left the bed and chosen to sleep on the floor instead. We do not know whether Hurt made any admissions about this.
[Anselm Hurt was temporarily banned from teaching]
In 1994, around 20 years after the ban had been lifted, Hurt went to Glenstal Abbey. Glenstal Abbey is in Ireland and, although it is a Benedictine Monastery, it is not a member of the English Benedictine Congregation. By this stage the abbot of Downside was Charles Fitzgerald-Lombard, who told us that he understood that Anselm Hurt had applied to go there as a ‘lay brother’, having unsuccessfully made the same request of Downside in 1992. Dom Charles Fitzgerald-Lombard told us that when the abbot of Glenstal, Abbot Christopher Dillon, asked him for information about Hurt, he had sent him a copy of Dom Aelred’s letter from January 1970, which reported Hurt to the DES. He also sent some more recent notes dated 14 March 1994, which referred to the ban on employment imposed by the Ministry of Education, although stated he could not find a copy of the ban itself.
On 18 March 1994, Abbot Dillon wrote to Abbot Charles and thanked him for ‘digging in the past’. He said ‘[i]t makes painful reading and I shall destroy what is specifically damaging to Anselm, as some recent document from Rome recommends’. Neither Dom Charles nor Dom Richard could remember seeing such a document from Rome, but Dom Charles told us that he presumed it was advice from the Congregation of Religious in Rome. Dom Charles told us that in his view this was appropriate because the document he had sent to Abbot Dillon was a copy. He accepted that by today’s standards, particularly in relation to an original document, such advice would seem unacceptable. Similarly, Dom Richard Yeo told us that it would not be appropriate to recommend the destruction of documents.
The case of Fr Nicholas White, born Richard White, spans approximately 20 years. During the mid to late 1980s he committed several child sexual abuse offences. In the 1990s he lived away from Downside, until he returned in the later 1990s.
RC-A221 was 11 years old when he arrived at Downside in 1986. He was placed there following a series of family traumas which left him a particularly vulnerable child. He told us that he had been ‘desperately looking forward’ to school until the moment when he walked through the door. He said that then he had ‘cried and cried and cried. It was an utterly horrible experience … I was very much a fish out of water.’
White was his geography teacher, and RC-A221 had been warned that he was very strict, so he kept his head down. One afternoon however, White came and was very kind to him. He asked him if he were all right, which RC-A221 told us felt ‘wonderful’, and they went for a walk together. After that they frequently went for walks together. White took him to the monastery gardens, which were out of bounds to pupils, ‘so it felt very special’. White also asked him to pose for some photographs in the garden.
One day White took him to the monastery library, also out of bounds to pupils, on the pretext of showing him some maps. While there, as RC-A221 stood looking at a book, White put his hand down RC-A221’s trousers and fondled his penis. RC-A221 could hear rustling going on behind him, which he now realises must have been masturbation, though he did not understand this at the time. He told us:
'I remember knowing something profoundly wrong had just happened, and I was quite certain that ‘I am going to go into that monastery building and I am going to tell someone, because these are good, holy people’, and then very quickly I had this sudden wave of terror that I was making a tremendous mistake because it’s possible that I had been given an utterly sacred gift, only given to the special few, and if I went in there, these men would be desperately disappointed and angry with me because I had revealed this secret. That was the logic of my 11-year-old mind, and I think – so I held it in.'
- RC-A221 told us that the abuse continued over a period of time until eventually on a visit to his grandmother he told her about it. She was mortified and told him that he had to tell his father, which he did. The next day RC-A221’s father reported what had happened to the then abbot, John Roberts, who told him: ‘I will sort it out.’ When RC-A221 returned to school, White was no longer his geography teacher. He remembers this as being around 1987 and does not recall having any further significant contact with White while he was in the lower school.73 RC-A221 was never asked to tell anyone at the school what White had done, but one day he was taken out for lunch by Abbot John Roberts. He described this as an awkward experience. Nothing was spoken about what White had done until the journey home, when Abbot John simply said something like: ‘I’m terribly sorry for what happened, and it won’t happen again.’ Unfortunately, this would not turn out to be true.
RC-A221 moved up to the senior school in September 1988. As he and his father walked in on his first day, they saw Nicholas White there, greeting the new pupils. RC-A221 has described to us how his father has since said that he was completely shocked to see that this man was to his custodian and that of roughly 80 boys aged 12 and 13. Then they discovered that White was to be his housemaster:
'He was my Housemaster. He was responsible for everything, the day-to-day, right from making sure everyone was getting up in the morning to morning assembly, evening ... he was directly and, to a certain extent, solely responsible for the entire year of 80-odd boys ... [My father] shook his hand, which was puzzling to me. I think I took from that that it’s been sorted out, it won’t happen again. But I think that there was an enormous blindness at play. My father then became part of brushing it under the carpet.'
- The sexual abuse started again a few weeks into the term, eventually becoming a weekly occurrence, with White becoming so reckless that RC-A221 questioned how no one knew what was happening.
'I remember very clearly walking down corridors with him on the way to the monastery library and passing monks and other teachers, and just thinking, ‘Does nobody know? Is nobody looking at me and this man and worrying about … does nobody have any idea what’s going on?’
- RC-A221 explained that he did not report the abuse again because he had done so before, and he felt that to do so again would be ‘completely pointless’. He had become ‘part of the kind of systemic sense of “This can’t be talked about. This isn’t something you speak about”.’
- RC-A221 told us that suddenly it became public knowledge in the school that White had abused another boy. This had happened in circumstances that were very similar to RC-A221’s experience one year before, but the abuse of this second boy had included anal penetration. RC-A221 told his father about this and also that White had continued to abuse him. RC-A221’s father has since told RC-A221 that he telephoned the headmaster Dom Philip Jebb, who was apparently outraged, and RC-A221’s father’s impression was that Philip Jebb had not known anything of the earlier abuse of RC-A221.77 Dom Leo told us that as far as he is aware Philip Jebb had been unaware.
- 75 RC-A221 7 December 2017 10/12-11/11Dom Richard told us that he thought Philip Jebb had ‘felt betrayed’ by Abbot John Roberts.
- 76 RC-A221 7 December 2017 10/12-13/15
- RC-A221 told us that he understood his own father ‘to be very conflicted. He had to take a choice between his beloved – the beloved framework of the Catholic Church and his son.’ Reflecting back on what had happened to him, RC-A221 said:
'I don’t think Father Nicholas was a bad man. I think this was a man desperately struggling with demons, to use a sort of Catholic terminology. I think there was tremendous naivety on the behalf of the authorities, the belief in the power of redemption. I suspect Father Nicholas confessed, was absolved.
'If you have an organisation that neatly partitions good and evil, then, you know, you go in as a young child and you believe that stuff; these guys are the representatives of God. But of course, to put it melodramatically, unexpressed sexual tension stalked the corridors of Downside. Some people are able to contain it and find, I guess, a spiritual vessel; other people probably go into those places to try to protect themselves from it. And at the right place – or the wrong place at the wrong time, two individuals meet, something is constellated, and abuse happens.'
- The parents of the boys obtained an injunction to prevent the children’s names being mentioned in the press. RC-A221 told us that his father wanted to protect his son and the family name, in addition to being ‘mindful of protecting the Catholic Church’.
- The parents of the boys also did not want the matter to be reported to the police. However, it nonetheless became public. An article was published in the News of the World in the summer of 1989, followed by a front page report in the Bath evening paper. Dom Leo told us that it was at this point that Nicholas White was sent away from Downside. After he had left, RC-A221 was called to see Roger Smerdon, who may have been his deputy housemaster at the time. He was very kind and said ‘I’m so sorry that this has happened to you’, but then moved on to ask RC-A221 who he had told. As RC-A221 put it, ‘[t]his was now about damage-limitation’.
- At some point after the news coverage, the diary of the abbot of Douai, Geoffrey Scott, was stolen. This contained reference to the Nicholas White matter. In a letter that was dated 23 August 1994 to ‘Aidan’, Abbot Geoffrey Scott wrote:
'The abbot may have mentioned the story of the diary. I may have told you that I had it stolen about four years ago. When a friend of the thief tried to sell it to the News of the World some weeks ago for £5000(!), the paper tipped the police off, who arrested the young man. The NofW never therefore saw the diary, only three selected pages, which were pretty innocuous, and one of which made a comment about the Downside NW case (which I think I must have seen in the paper at the time) ... the NofW published a dreadful article, but covered itself by not mentioning my name (rather speaking of a middle-aged, unemployed ex-master!) and saying that it was the young man who had made allegations of gay sex between staff and pupils (I knew there was nothing like this in the diary). For once, the police were very helpful. They said immediately that they could find nothing to substantiate the allegations, that the fellow was just after a quick buck, that they would put him on a lengthy bail until September, when they expected the story to die, and then they would recommend caution rather than a court case.'
Dom Charles Fitzgerald-Lombard said, in relation to the stolen diary, ‘I remember hearing that the police later told [Abbot Geoffrey Scott] that the Bath police were aware but were taking no further action.’
Dom Charles Fitzgerald-Lombard recalled being assured that the Bath police knew about the allegations but took the view that Downside would deal with the matter appropriately and did not intend to interfere.88 As we will see, it was not until 2011 that Nicholas White was finally arrested and prosecuted in respect of several offences.
Two clear examples of Dom Leo’s struggle with safeguarding issues can be seen in his decision to burn files and in his response to the letters sent by Aidan Bellenger in 2016/17.
In relation to the files, Dom Leo told us that he burnt several staff files. He could not recall the year in which this occurred but guessed that it was 2012. He told us that he loaded up a wheelbarrow and took the files into a distant part of the gardens to burn. It took him several trips. He said that he just took a rather casual look at these files, and that ‘they were staff files going back, I think, into the early ’80s, and I felt that it would be reasonable just to destroy them. There were quite a quantity of them in the filing cabinet, and I didn’t read through every single file.’ He told us that he had no idea what he had destroyed and accepted that he could have destroyed documents relating to allegations. He was sure, however, that he was not trying to conceal anything. His evidence was he ‘simply didn’t think of it in safeguarding terms’ but was ‘simply thinking of getting rid of what seemed … to be unnecessary old material’
Dom Leo told us that Downside is currently working towards the school becoming separate and independent from the monastery. We were not convinced by this statement, but we now understand that after our public hearings a consultancy firm was appointed in April 2018 to manage the separation. It took nearly 10 years to organise this separation, which is yet to be complete.
As with Ampleforth, the evidence that we have seen and heard during the course of our Inquiry, outlined above, indicates that a number of systemic child protection and safeguarding challenges remain at Downside to this day.
- The true scale of sexual abuse of children in the schools that occurred over 40 years is likely to be considerably greater than numbers cited in the convictions. There were 10 men at Ampleforth and Downside, mostly monks, who were convicted of, or cautioned for, offences involving sexual activity towards children or pornography.
- Many perpetrators did not hide their sexual interests from the boys. At Ampleforth, this included communal activities, outdoors and indoors, involving fondling of children, mutual masturbation and group masturbation. The blatant openness of this behaviour demonstrates there was a culture of acceptance of abusive behaviour.
- In the matter of child protection, monks in both institutions were very often secretive, evasive and suspicious of anyone outside the English Benedictine Congregation. For decades, they tried to avoid giving information, other than what was specifically requested, to the statutory authorities, that might have assisted the investigation of the abuse of children in their care.
- Even after the Nolan Report, when monks were obliged to work with the statutory authorities and gave the appearance of cooperation and trust, their approach could be summarised as a ‘tell them nothing’ attitude.
- On the few occasions where parents raised complaints about sexual abuse, or were informed about it by either institution, some preferred not to have the matters treated as a crime requiring police investigation, but to keep it quiet at all costs. Their interest was to protect the school, the Benedictine Congregation and the Catholic Church. In some instances, parents also wished to protect their children from the process of police investigation.
- Both Ampleforth and Downside prioritised the monks and their own reputations over the protection of children, manoeuvring monks away from the schools in order to avoid scandal. The known risk of child sexual abuse was thus transferred to other locations. Those who received them would sometimes not be adequately informed of the risk, with the result that constraints on access to children were not fully enforced.
- Downside, in particular, tried to pave the way for the return of abusive monks, such as Nicholas White, when the boys who might have known the monk in question had left.
- Nicholas White, who was sentenced in 2012, should not have been permitted to stay at Downside School after the disclosure of abuse of one of the pupils. Nor should he have been allowed to become the victim’s housemaster. In permitting this, the abbot and headmaster John Roberts showed complete disregard for the safety of the children in their care, and of the well-being of the victims. This led not only to the continued abuse of the victim but also of another boy. If they had behaved differently, the abbot and the headmaster could have prevented this abuse.
- Monks against whom an allegation had been made were on a number of occasions removed from the school but allowed to remain at the abbey, sometimes with no restrictions, sometimes under a Covenant of Care. The restriction of monks to the abbey, as a precautionary measure, had some merit but was no substitute for notifying the police of allegations or suspected abuse.
- The oversight of monks who were known or suspected abusers was rarely as vigilant as it should have been. There was a lack of effective communication within the institutions. There was also a tendency to focus on semantic arguments. Although there may have been an intention to reduce the risk to children, the safeguarding responses were almost always managed in favour of the alleged abuser.
- Porous boundaries between the abbey and school at Downside, and within the extensive grounds, made it easy for monks who were known or suspected abusers to breach the conditions of their restriction to the abbey. There was a laxity in the attitudes of abbots to the rigorous enforcement of such ‘confinements’.
- The Nolan Report, in 2001, was a turning point in Catholic Church safeguarding policy and practice, but we heard no evidence that demonstrated Downside and Ampleforth did any more than pay lip service to it. There was hostility to the Nolan Report in both institutions for some years after its adoption. They seemed to take a view that its implementation was neither obligatory nor desirable. This view appeared to go unchallenged by the wider Catholic Church.
- Recently, possibly in 2012 when he was headmaster, Dom Leo Maidlow Davies spent some time removing files from the basement of a Downside building. He made several trips with a wheelbarrow loaded with files to the edge of the estate and made a bonfire of them. The fact that we do not precisely know what was burned and what the motivation was is in itself of concern. The files could have contained important information about the behaviour of individual monks and the lives of the children at the school.
- It is notable that in both Ampleforth and Downside the focus of safeguarding arrangements was to protect children from the very people – the monks and staff – charged with their care in the institution concerned.
- A strict separation between the governance of these two abbeys and schools will be required if safeguarding arrangements are to be free from the often-conflicting priorities of the abbeys. This took too long to achieve at Ampleforth. More than eight years following the Downside governing body considering the issue, Downside is still working towards the school becoming both legally and financially separate and independent of the monastery.
- On occasions abbots used semantic justifications for inadequate action. Timothy Wright at Ampleforth referred to admissions of abuse rather than disclosures of abuse, as if the distinction allowed them to avoid taking the action which Nolan prescribed on ‘disclosures’. Downside suggested that a monk who regularly accessed pornography at night on a school computer using somebody else’s debit card had only looked at sites involving young adult males, ignoring the safeguarding risks in such activity.
- In both institutions, abbots designated people from within the order to carry out a form of ‘risk-assessment’ of known or alleged abusers, despite them having no expertise or relevant experience to do so. The results of these ‘assessments’ were often biased, tending to tolerate abusers and indulge behaviours as ‘one-off’ slips with no foundations for reaching such conclusions.
- The actions of the statutory authorities have limited scrutiny in this investigation. In many instances they were not informed of safeguarding issues when they should have been.
- Nevertheless, the North Yorkshire Police conducted a number of criminal investigations. On occasions their approach was patchy. In the face of opposition, they properly pursued investigations against Fr Bernard Green, but they failed to investigate David Lowe. The task of criminal investigation is made more difficult if the circumstances of offending are notified by the relevant institution some years after the event.
- The role of inspectors and regulators in scrutinising child protection and safeguarding in these two schools, as well as in Ealing Abbey and School, will be included in the second part of the English Benedictine Congregation case study which will be published after completion of that hearing next year.
- While some steps have been taken, neither Ampleforth nor Downside has formally established a comprehensive redress scheme, financial or otherwise, and other than in the context of this Inquiry, no public apology has been made.
- This case study has given rise to a number of issues which have wider implications than for the English Benedictine Congregation. These include issues of self-governance relating to safeguarding, ‘failure to report’ and ‘position of trust’ offences, and the extension of statutory procedures governing state schools to independent schools. We shall address these in future Inquiry reports.
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