Dec 2009

Paedophile was allowed access to boys at abbey school even after repeated abuse claims

A paedophile who abused young boys at an abbey school in Ealing was allowed access to pupils even after the Catholic Church and regulators were warned about his past, an inquiry has found.

Benedictine monk Father David Pearce, who was jailed for eight years in October for abusing five boys, faced accusations of paedophilia as early as 1984.

A Charity Commission report said the trust responsible for running St Benedict’s school failed to protect pupils, despite making assurances that Father Pearce would be kept away from children.

He was arrested in January 2008, ending 18 months of abuse of a pupil who was hired to wash up for monks in the abbey.

That most recent case was allowed to take place despite complaints against Father Pearce in the Eighties and Nineties, when he was headmaster of St Benedict’s junior school and taught at the senior school, that resulted in civil damages being awarded.

The child protection commission of the diocese of Westminster was reported by The Guardian to have known about Pearce’s past but advised the abbey that he could continue to live at the abbey under restrictions.

The head of the Catholic church in Britain, Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, is a passionate opponent of child abuse by priests.

‘One of the terms of [Pearce’s] continued role in the charity was that he was to have no access to children and young people on the charity’s premises,’ the Charity Commission concluded. ‘The trustees failed to ensure this was the case.’

Jonathon West, whose son attended the £12,000 a year school, said: ‘If this were a secular school I am sure the headmaster and the chairman of governors would have been removed.’

St Benedict’s abbot Martin Shipperlee apologised, saying: ‘We were in error allowing the young man to work in an area where he could potentially come into contact with David Pearce. It is a very sad situation and we didn’t care for him as we should have done. Hindsight makes that devastatingly clear. I am quite aware of child abuse happening among priests as a wider issue, but I wasn’t aware enough of how paedophiles work and how they exploit situations.’

A spokesman for the diocese of Westminster said Pearce was ‘a cunning and determined paedophile able to exploit any restrictions placed on him’.