Last year we were approached by a journalist from the Yorkshire Post newspaper regarding sex abuse at Ampleforth College. His article addressed the announcement by the Charity Commission of an investigation into the prestigious fee paying school’s handling of abuse claims. At the same time, there were yet more allegations of sexual abuse at the school being investigated by North Yorkshire Police.
Ampleforth College is once again the subject of negative press as scrutiny from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse leads to some concerning revelations. Former head teacher of Ampleforth College, Father Leo Chamberlain, taught at the school from 1961 until 2003. During his tenure as head teacher, it has been revealed that a number of Benedictine Monks sexually abused pupils of the school. Furthermore, the way in which these allegations were dealt with appears to have put the interests of the school over those of the children involved.
An earlier hearing was told that Father Chamberlain had received a warning about employing Father Piers Grant-Ferris, which was not heeded. In fact, he was allowed to continue working at the abbey’s shop after the school’s psychologist in 2003 reported that Father Grant-Ferris and another monk posed a risk to pupils. Father Grant-Ferris sexually abused numerous boys at the school and was later convicted of 20 counts of indecent assault.
As well as these apparent failures to deal with allegations of sexual abuse appropriately, it has been reported to the Inquiry by a former Detective of North Yorkshire Police that officers were ‘excluded’ from enquiries at Ampleforth College. The concerns included the delay in the Police becoming involved following allegations of abuse, as well as reports that before the Police were eventually called in members of staff spoke to victims of sex abuse at Ampleforth College. The BBC has reported that it was put to Father Chamberlain when questioned by the Inquiry that he had made attempts to ‘control the investigation’.
There is a reoccurring theme I find myself describing time and time again when considering issues of abuse within organisations. We repeatedly see examples of the reputation of that organisation or institution being of paramount consideration, over and abuse the protection and care of the children in their care. Ignoring warnings, moving the offender, silencing those involved and brushing the matter under the carpet is a pattern of behaviour that is common throughout almost all of the abuse scandals that have come to light. With the recent sexual harassment scandals in Hollywood and Westminster, this focus on silencing victims by intimidation applies to adults as well as children. It is something that makes me deeply uncomfortable and all stems from one key desire, self-preservation.