[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] An official review into two separate cases of child abuse at a school in southern England has concluded that there were “missed opportunities to prevent the abuse of children”. The Serious Case Review, by West Berkshire Local Safeguarding Children Board, a statutory agency, was held following the convictions of teacher Robert Neill and local priest Peter Jarvis.
Neill was sentenced to 21 years in prison for offences carried out between 1986 and 2003. Separately, Jarvis was sentenced to 15 months for offences between 2008 and 2012. He pleaded guilty to two charges of causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity by a person in a position of trust and one count of possession of indecent images of children. He had earlier denied the allegations.
The Serious Case Review concluded that not only were opportunities to prevent abuse missed; but that agencies and individuals with statutory responsibilities could have followed up issues of concern more quickly; and that there is a need for “clear and transparent governance arrangements of safeguarding, particularly in Academies” – a type of school that is publicly funded but privately managed, outside of local education authority control.
The report makes a number of recommendations, including an increased programme of awareness and training on safer recruitment processes, checks to ensure effective whistleblowing procedures are in place; and raising awareness of “the need for vigilance in spotting potential signs of harm and how to report it.”
The chair of the West Berkshire Local Safeguarding Children Board, Fran Gosling-Thomas, said that “In West Berkshire it’s not often that we need a Serious Case Review but on this occasion it was absolutely right that we look at how we might learn from this. We fully accept the conclusions of the report and will continue our work implementing the recommendations as quickly as we can.
“Many of the recommendations included in the report were identified at an early stage and activity has been taking place since then to quickly implement changes. All the organisations involved share a commitment to improve working practices and we will continue to work together to ensure that the safety of our young people remain at the heart of everything we do.”
After Jarvis changed his plea to guilty last year, the Bishop of Reading in the Diocese of Oxford, Andrew Proud, described the charges as “serious sexual offences” and said that the diocese was “profoundly shocked and saddened.”
He added: “The Diocese of Oxford takes safeguarding, especially of children, young people, and vulnerable adults, very seriously. We expect the highest standards of conduct from all of our clergy.
“When this case came to light we immediately contacted the statutory authorities. Since then we have worked closely with the police and local authority colleagues and will continue to do so.
“This case has been protracted and distressing for everyone affected. All those involved are in my thoughts and prayers.”
An investigation by Channel Four News in the UK has revealed that a number of young men attending the non-denominational Iwerne holiday camp were severely beaten with a cane by leader John Smyth between 1978 and 1982. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, worked as dormitory officer at the camp in the late 1970s, before his work took him to Paris in 1978.
The trust discovered the abuse in 1982 when one of the young men attempted to commit suicide. The beatings were so severe that some of the young men had to wear adult nappies to staunch the bleeding. An internal investigation uncovered the abuse of 22 young men, and said that “The scale and severity of the practice was horrific. . . 8 received about 14 thousand strokes: 2 of them having some 8000 strokes over three years.”
The trust did not report the abuse to the police, but arranged for Mr Smyth to leave the UK. He went first to Zimbabwe and then to South Africa.
In 2013, the allegations resurfaced when a survivor reported the abuse to the Diocese of Ely. “The police were immediately informed as was the Anglican Church in South Africa where Mr Smyth was then living,” the C of E’s national safeguarding adviser, Graham Tilby, said in a statement. “The national safeguarding officer . . . was informed and helped find support for the survivors.
“Clearly more could have been done at the time to look further into the case. We now have a dedicated central team made up of six full time posts – we will be reviewing all files making further enquiries as necessary.”
In a statement, a Lambeth Palace spokesperson said that “John Smyth was one of the main leaders at the camp and although the Archbishop worked with him, he was not part of the inner circle of friends; no one discussed allegations of abuse by John Smyth with him. . .
“The Archbishop knew Mr Smyth had moved overseas but, apart from the occasional card, did not maintain contact with him.”
The statement continued: “The Archbishop has repeatedly said that he believes that the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults should be a principle priority in all parts of the Church, and that any failings in this area must be immediately reported to the police.
“The Archbishop is on the record as saying that survivors must come first, not the Church’s own interests. This applies regardless of how important, distinguished or well-known the perpetrator is.”
When approached by Channel Four News, Mr Smyth refused to comment, saying: “I’m not talking about what we did at all”.