Police Probe at Private School With History of Sex Abuse Scandals

January 30, 2012

Posted by: Rebecca Sheriff


Downside School in Somerset, one of the country’s most prestigious private schools, has admitted that seven Roman Catholic monks at the connecting Downside Abbey have faced police investigation over child abuse offences. In a letter to parents at the £26,000-per-year school, Benedictine Abbot apologised and named some of the monks investigated looking back into 50 years of school records.

Of these seven monks, four have faced police action, two have had restrictions imposed on their ministry and the seventh was cleared and allowed to return to his duties.

This follows an announcement that there would be a major review of the school’s governance after former teacher and monk, Richard White, was jailed for 5 years on 3 January 2012 for sexually abusing two 12 year old boys in the late 1980’s.

White later admitted his crimes to staff, including the principal, at an independent Catholic School in Stratton-on-the-Fosse near Bath after he had left his employment at Downside. Unbelievably he then evaded criminal charges for more than 20 years under their protection despite reports being made to the school authorities.

Taunton Crown Court heard how White lured one of the boys to the monastery library, usually off-limits to students, where he sexually abused him and forced him to take part in sex acts, paying him 50p per time. White’s actions were uncovered when other pupils saw that the boy had extra money to spend at the tuck shop.

Waiving his right to anonymity, Rob Hastings, the boy who was paid by White, urged other victims of abuse at the school to contact police. He added that although he had been scared to come forward, he would have been ashamed of himself if he had not stood up for the other children at the school.

As a result of the sex scandals associated with Downside, the monks could finally lose control of the running of the school after a period of over 200 years.

Similarly, the Vatican has now called for an inquiry into the sexual abuse of children at St Benedicts School and the connecting Ealing Abbey.

This will form the first enquiry of its kind into sexual abuse in Britain. Pope Benedict has set a deadline of May 2012 for completion of the report although controversially the findings will remain private.

In 2009 Father David Pearce, the former head of St Benedicts School was jailed for 8 years for abusing five male students over a period of 36 years. Former Abbot of Ealing Abbey, Father Laurence Soper, also wanted over child abuse allegations, is still being sought by police after skipping bail. He is believed to be in a monastery in Rome, safe under the protection of the Catholic Church and probably never to be found.

Lord Carlisle’s recently published report into the school recommends that the Ealing Abbey monks finally lose control of St Benedicts. Present head of the school Christopher Cleugh said that the recommendations would be implemented by September 2012 and a new system of governance would be established to separate the abbey from the running of the school.

Bolt Burdon Kemp are currently acting for victims of the abuse at Ealing Abbey and in other similar cases against both the Catholic Church and the Church of England. If you have been a victim of such abuse please contact the specialist abuse team for free confidential advice.

Posted by: Rebecca Sheriff

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