Hallmarks of grooming ‘overlooked’ by staff at Wells Cathedral School

03 October 2019

IICSA investigates extent of the failure to protect choristers

NEIL OWEN/GEOGRAPH/COMMONS

Wells Cathedral School’s music faculty

Wells Cathedral School’s music faculty

WELLS CATHEDRAL SCHOOL failed to recognise “all the hallmarks of grooming” among music staff who were later convicted of child sexual abuse, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has heard.

The Inquiry is conducting two weeks of hearings investigating the extent to which residential (i.e. boarding) schools — including church-run schools — failed to protect children from abuse. Its investigation of abuse in the Church in England and Church in Wales concluded in July (News, 19 July).

Wells Cathedral School has educated boy-choristers since the tenth century. Today, it is a co-educational day and boarding school, educating about 760 pupils from nursery to sixth form. The chorister-pupils are funded by the cathedral and the Chorister Trust.

Julien Bertrand was a music assistant who started at Wells Cathedral School in 2002. After an allegation of sexual abuse was made against him in 2005, he pleaded guilty to 15 offences against two boys, including indecent assault on persons both over and under 16, and taking indecent photographs of boys engaged in sexual activities. He was sentenced to six years in prison in April 2007.

His behaviour, the lead counsel to the Inquiry, Fiona Scolding QC, said in her opening statement, on Monday, “showed all the hallmarks of grooming, something which the school did not fully recognise at the time, and that the events in question has led them to significantly sharpen the practice of the school”.

A former safeguarding officer at the school, Helen Bennett, said in her evidence on Wednesday afternoon: “Nobody really wants to think that that sort of thing would happen in their establishment. Actually, people — nobody wants to believe that that could happen. That would be the norm.”

The current head teacher, Alastair Tighe, who has been in post since September 2018, has apologised.

A lawyer representing the school, Genevieve Woods QC, said on Monday: “The school acknowledges its historic relationship with Wells Cathedral, which demands close co-operation between the school and the cathedral’s dedicated safeguarding teams in order to ensure the safety and well-being of choristers in particular.

“However, despite the school’s current commitment to safeguarding, we are acutely conscious that, at times in the past, abuse has been committed at the school by individuals entrusted with the care of children.

“In his statement on behalf of the school, Mr Tighe has offered a full apology to all survivors of abuse. He has asked me now to say on his behalf to anyone who suffered historic abuse at the school that his door is open.”

Mr Tighe, who also gave evidence on Wednesday, said that the school now had stringent safeguarding staff and practices. “We have a designated safeguarding lead who is also deputy head (pastoral). He has around him a team of six or seven other deputy safeguarding leads. . .

“It allows us to have as broad a team as possible around the issue of safeguarding, and often we find it’s really important that more than one person is thinking about particular issues.”

The Inquiry also heard evidence concerning abuse at Chetham’s, a boys’ grammar school that educated the choristers of Manchester Cathedral from the 17th century to 1969, when it became a mixed-sex specialist music school with boarders.

In 1993 and 2002, allegations of abuse were made against a former Dean of Manchester, Robert Waddington, who was a governor at Chetham’s from September 1984 until September 1993. He died in 2007. In 2013, fresh allegations were made. A survivor, known only as “P”, said that he had been one of several boys who attended Chetham’s School of Music and sang in the choir at Manchester Cathedral who were targeted by Dean Waddington (News, 17 May 2013).

A former student at Chetham’s, now a musicologist, Dr Ian Pace, said in his evidence via videolink from the United States on Tuesday, that the Australian journalist who had investigated Waddington had “found a pattern” of abuse among staff in senior positions.

“They often tend to recruit in their own image, in the process building a type of protective layer around themselves, and I think Michael Brewer was essentially responsible for the recruitment of most of the music staff. He was likely to recruit others of that type.”

Mr Brewer was a director of music at the school who, in 2013, was convicted on five counts of indecent assault against a girl who had been one of his pupils, Frances Andrade, who boarded at the school. He was sentenced to six years in prison. His wife was convicted of one count of indecent assault when Mrs Andrade was 18, and was sentenced to 21 months. Mrs Andrade took her own life during the trial.

An investigation, Operation Kiso, was launched by Greater Manchester Police: 47 alleged perpetrators were reported to the police, of which 35 were related to Chetham’s School of Music.

A former headmaster of Chetham’s, Peter Hullah, who was made a canon of Manchester Cathedral during his headship (1992 to 1999), said in his evidence on Tuesday that, when Mr Brewer resigned after rumours of his affairs with students, the school’s internal investigation into his actions ended. Mr Hullah had not felt that Mr Brewer was a risk to students, he said, only a risk to the stability of the school. “I was more interested in, actually, the school running smoothly.”

The school said in a statement last week: “It is a matter of deep and profound regret to Chetham’s that former teachers at our school betrayed and manipulated the trust that had been placed in them in order to harm children, for which we are truly sorry.”

The current principal, Alun Jones, said: “I inherited a school with a troubled past, but which thankfully was in exceptional health when I arrived. In terms of the school building and safeguarding procedures, we’ve made huge improvements, and continue to keep them under review.”

Ms Scolding said in her opening statement that residential or boarding schools “may be a riskier place for children. They are places where children may be more likely to be open to abuse, as the adults around them have prolonged periods of contact in a variety of settings. As such, this presents greater scope for grooming to take place.”

She continued: “The child’s loyalty to the institution, furthermore, may well mean they do not say anything. In residential special schools, moreover, children often require one-to-one round-the-clock care and attention, including overnight.”

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