Children at top Catholic schools 'still at risk of abuse' despite years of work to remove predators and improve safeguarding

By Josh White
Daily Mail
November 27, 2017

The inquiry is focusing on offenders who targeted children at two famous Catholic public schools, including Ampleforth in North Yorkshire

The other high profile Catholic school scrutinised by the probe, is Downside in Somerset

  • An inquiry is examining prevalence of paedophilia among Benedictine monks
  • Focusing on schools: Ampleforth in North Yorkshire and Downside in Somerset
  • Rape to voyeuristic beatings was inflicted on school pupils, hearing was told

Pupils at Roman Catholic schools could still be at risk of sexual abuse despite years of efforts to remove predators and improve child safeguarding, an inquiry heard yesterday.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has begun examining the prevalence of paedophilia among Benedictine monks and failures to protect young people.

It is focusing on offenders who targeted children at two famous Catholic public schools, Ampleforth in North Yorkshire and Downside in Somerset, over many decades.

But although numerous inquiries have exposed the problem of child abuse within church institutions and a string of offenders have been convicted, safety concerns are said to remain.

Yesterday, counsel to the inquiry Riel Karmy-Jones QC told a hearing in London the recorded allegations ‘go back many years... and they continue into the present day’.

She added: ‘In considering the evidence and assessing the extent of abuse, it must be remembered that we have to rely on that which has been reported, and the extent and accuracy with which those reports have been recorded, if at all.

‘In that time we have moved from scant records, little more than a handwritten notes on scraps of paper being kept, to electronic records. So some of the records that remain are old and illegible, some incomplete, some lost or destroyed.’

Miss Karmy-Jones listed some of the notorious offenders to have blighted the two schools. Lawyers for both institutions later apologised to all the victims they failed.

A ‘wide spectrum of behaviour’, ranging from rape to voyeuristic beatings, was inflicted on school pupils over many years, the inquiry heard.

There were a number of reasons for cover-ups, including families being pressured not to report assaults, offenders getting shifted to different establishments but not punished, and complaints simply being ignored.

Convicted predators at the two schools include David Lowe, who taught at Ampleforth and was jailed for 10 years in 2015 for 15 indecent assaults on boys aged under 14.

Lowe’s offences, which were also committed at Westminster Cathedral School, dated back to the 1980s.

Miss Karmy-Jones told the hearing: ‘It may be that during the course of evidence and the submissions to come (that) there is some acceptance of failings, but reliance will be placed on changes that have been made over the years.

‘But, as you will hear, concerns remain and you are likely to hear evidence that suggests safeguarding problems are still ongoing, in some instances, and with the inevitable result that children may remain at risk.’

Lawyers for those who suffered abuse called for turning a blind eye to paedophilia to be made a criminal offence so Church institutions are discouraged from hushing up scandals.

Richard Scorer, who represents 27 victims, said some Catholic Church schools concealed offending out of concerns for their reputation.

Many rely on private school fees to survive and cannot risk exposing misconduct, turning schools into ‘honeypots where multiple offenders operate’, he said.

‘The reputational pressures, the cultural and theological factors which led to abuse being covered up in Catholic institutions have not gone away,’ he told the hearing. ‘They remain as powerful as ever.’

Addressing the inquiry’s chairwoman, Professor Alexis Jay, Mr Scorer continued: ‘Madam, because we have no mandatory reporting law, that temptation to cover up, in our view, remains undiminished today.

‘The Catholic Church and the institutions you hear from in these hearings will tell you that things are different now.

‘But the question you have to ask is this: when all the fuss from this inquiry has died down, can we really rely on these institutions voluntarily to ensure that they never slip back into old habits, even though the old temptations exist today as they surely did before?’

Another lawyer acting for victims, David Enright, hinted at the idea of priests being told to break the confidentiality of the confessional - a key tenet of Catholicism - in cases involving child abuse.

‘Matters revealed in confession, including child abuse, cannot be used in governance. One can’t think of a more serious obstacle embedded in the law of the Catholic church to achieving child protection,’ he said.

The inquiry’s investigation into the Catholic Church will continue until mid-December. The church is one of 13 strands involved in British public life being scrutinised for child safety failings by IICSA.

Today, the hearing will receive evidence from senior monks, including Dom Richard Yeo, the current head of the Benedictines.



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