Lord Carlile to investigate abuse at private school

Lord Carlile Lord Carlile will head inquiry into abuse at St Benedict's

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Lord Carlile has been asked to lead an inquiry into child protection at a Roman Catholic private school.

Governors at St Benedict's School called in the Liberal Democrat peer to review "past mistakes" that allowed a paedophile priest to abuse five pupils.

The move comes after independent inspectors said there were shortcomings in the school's child safety policy.

Last year, former St Benedict's head Father David Pearce was jailed for eight years for abusing five students.

He had admitted 10 indecent assaults and one sexual assault on five boys between 1972 and 2007.

He was head of St Benedict's in the London borough of Ealing until he retired in 1993 and continued to live in the associated abbey. He was arrested and prosecuted after the school alerted police to allegations from an ex-pupil.

The school said Lord Carlile of Berriew QC - best known as the government's independent reviewer of counter-terrorism laws - would conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into events at the school and current child protection provision.

'Forgiveness'

He will look at a report published by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) which found there were still shortcomings in school policy and noted six sets of allegations involving former teachers and monks who no longer teach at the school.

Among them were one former member of the religious community, against whom legal action has been started, and another monk who taught at the school "a long time ago" and is now being investigated by Ealing social services.

The school was founded by Ealing Abbey, where Pearce and other monks facing abuse allegations continued to live.

The ISI report criticises St Benedict's policy of allowing teachers and monks to continue living on the premises, albeit with restrictions on their access to students.

ISI inspectors said: "The commitment to trust within the community and to St Benedict's rule of love and forgiveness appears on occasion to have overshadowed responsibility for children's welfare, as in the case of Fr DP [Father David Pearce]."

The inspectors, who arrived unannounced at the school in April this year and made a follow-up visit in May, also note: "Shortcomings were apparent in the school's safeguarding policy and... an obvious safeguarding emphasis is not included in the school improvement action plan 2009 to 2010 or in the programme for personal, social, health and citizenship education."

Chris Cleugh, St Benedict's current headmaster, says policy changes had been implemented since the visit.

"We have fully co-operated with the ISI while they did the inspection. Whenever they have made suggestions we have been very compliant.

"We would never do anything that would not ensure the safety of the children in this school.

"The governors asked Lord Carlile to look into this because we want to be totally open with everyone. We are not trying to hide anything."

The school admits pupils aged four to 18 and has a mixed sixth form.

Famous alumni include former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten and comedian Julian Clary.

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