An investigation into one of the worst scandals to afflict the Catholic Church in Britain is set to be dropped from the public inquiry into child abuse.
Next week lawyers for Alexis Jay, chairwoman of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), will propose that no evidence be called about decades of abuse of pupils at Ealing Abbey and its adjoining independent school, St Benedict’s.
Victims were furious and accused Professor Jay of backtracking on her previous promise not to reduce the scope of the inquiry. They said the move undermined the credibility of the inquiry, which has lost three chairwomen, cost more than £20 million and shown little tangible progress since it was set up by Theresa May in 2014.
The 60-year history of abuse at the school and abbey in Ealing, west London, was exposed by The Times, leading to an independent review by a respected barrister, an emergency visit by the Independent Schools Inspectorate and intervention by the Vatican.
A report by Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC, concluded in 2011 that there had been a “lengthy and cumulative failure” by monks at the abbey to protect children in their care. He named five monks and three lay teachers as abusers. The report said that monks who had been banned from teaching because of abusive conduct had continued to live next door to St Benedict’s School and had access to children.
Lord Carlile’s report said “there were repeated acts of abuse committed by monks” and it was difficult to believe that “other monks were not suspicious of, or at least alerted to, the possibility of abusive or inappropriate behaviour by colleagues.” He recommended an overhaul of governance which would remove control of the school from monks.
A preliminary IICSA hearing will be told that it will focus on abuse allegations at three Benedictine institutions — Ampleforth, Downside and Worth — but will abandon its previous commitments to investigate Ealing and Fort Augustus in Scotland.
IICSA lawyers will say that proposed dates for hearings into the Benedictines in November and December clash with the criminal trial of a man previously connected with Ealing Abbey who has been charged with child abuse offences. Rather than delay the hearings, they will say Ealing should be removed from the inquiry. The examination of Fort Augustus is being dropped because the inquiry’s remit is to examine cases in England and Wales.
Victims of abuse at both institutions had been given core participant status at the IICSA. Jonathan West, who campaigned for reform of Benedictine schools, said if Ealing was dropped because of a “scheduling conflict” it would “break publicly stated commitments by Professor Jay that the scope if the inquiry will not be reduced”.
Mr West said: “Ealing Abbey is central to understanding the Benedictine abuse scandal. Lord Carlile made recommendations for governance which were adopted by Ealing but ignored by the other houses. If Ealing is dropped, it will cripple the inquiry’s ability to understand the Benedictine crisis.”
A spokesman for the IICSA said: “No decisions have yet been made about the matters to be considered at the Benedictine hearing that is due to start later this year. Submissions will be heard from inquiry counsel and core participants about this at the preliminary hearing.”