A report into Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse described the atmosphere at St Benedict’s, in south-west London, as sadistic and predatory with a culture of excessive corporal punishment. In many cases, physical abuse was used as a platform for sexual gratification and a means by which to instigate sexual abuse.
The report, part of a wider investigation into the Roman Catholic Church describes how senior figures at the school and abbey were perpetrators of abuse, with staff members warned to say nothing, leaving victims feeling they had nowhere to turn. This led to a culture of abuse spanning 30 years.
Prolific abusers like Soper and David Pearce were senior figures at the school and Abbey, making reporting more difficult for both victims and staff. They described the atmosphere as feeling “like the mafia” and chose not to risk their jobs. Soper is known to have abused at least 10 children at St Benedict’s between 1972 and 1983, including multiple rapes. Whilst on Police bail in 2011 he absconded and it wasn’t until some five years later he was located and finally sentenced in 2017, more than 40 years since his offending began.
One victim, referring to former abbot Laurence Soper, who is currently serving 18 years in prison, said: “I often wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn’t been abused … I feel like I am still in a black hole and just can’t climb out of it. I don’t think I can ever put down in words fully what has done to me. He has damaged me for life and I am afraid that that damage will never go away.”
Pearce and two lay teachers, John Maestri and Stephen Skelton, have also been convicted of multiple offences involving the sexual abuse of more than 20 children between at least the 1970s and 2008. In 2016, deputy head Peter Allott was convicted of offences relating to the possession of indecent images of children.
While there were many opportunities to stop abusers in the school, these were not acted on. “Instead, a culture of cover-up and denial at Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s meant the abuse went on for decades,” said IICSA. Abbot Martin Shipperlee, who resigned over his failure to investigate abuse, is condemned for serious shortcomings, and for inadequate and ill-judged actions.
The report states also that the Metropolitan Police made mistakes in how some of the early allegations against former monks Pearce and Soper were investigated, with the Crown Prosecution Service bearing some responsibility for the fact that neither was prosecuted sooner. The inquiry’s final public hearing into the Roman Catholic Church will begin on the 28 October and will run for two weeks.
Professor Alexis Jay, inquiry chair, said:
“For years, a culture of cover-up and denial meant children at Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School suffered appalling sexual and physical abuse. A reluctance to properly respond to safeguarding concerns meant significant opportunities to stop abusers were missed. When action was taken, the responses of senior staff, headmasters and external institutions were often poorly judged or flawed. As a result, children were left at risk of abuse which could have been stopped decades earlier.
“The Catholic church needs to be held accountable for its criminality, but unless and until we have a mandatory reporting law, requiring knowledge or suspicion of abuse to be reported on pain of criminal prosecution, these cover ups will continue. I urge the inquiry in its final recommendations to demand such a law without delay”.