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Downside Abbey reputation suffers after monks abuse scandal

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: January 19, 2012

  • Downside Abbey

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The head teacher of a school rocked by allegations of historic sex offences and a subsequent cover up has admitted the school’s reputation has been damaged.

But he said that Downside Abbey, the Somerset school at the centre of the scandal following the jailing of a monk who taught there, now had its ‘child protection issues right’, and situations in which abuse might occur are not allowed to happen any more.

Father Leo Maidlow Davis, the head master of the Roman Catholic private boarding school in Stratton-on-the-Fosse, in north Somerset, said the school leadership would be ‘very foolish to underestimate’ the amount the school’s reputation had been tarnished by the case.

Father Richard David White, a monk at Downside Abbey and a teacher at the school next door, was jailed for five years earlier this month for child sex offences. He was convicted of abusing two boys at different times during the 1980s.

One of them, Robert Hastings, was abused by White when he was 12 in the late 1980s. Now a 35-year-old IT consultant from Calne, he had called on the school to acknowledge its failings.

Mr Leo said: “The reputation – the damage I’m sure has been very considerable because it’s raised a lot of concern about Catholic education,” he said. “Benedictine schools and I would be very foolish to underestimate the damage that could do to the school.

“Ofsted in their last report say that we have robust risk assessments in place and that they are confident that we can prevent the wrong people having access to children.

“But in the past, when the concerns were raised, they did have one-to-one access to children, which they do not have now.

“And yes, I am satisfied that we have our child protection issues right now,” he added.

At White’s trial, it emerged that after school authorities back in the 1980s were told of one allegation of abuse, they did not report it to the police, but merely prevented White from teaching younger students.

He went on to indecently assault a second boy, and after that was kept away from the school but still was not made the subject of a police inquiry.

Several other monks received police cautions for historic child abuse as part of the police investigation, including Brother Anselm, the brother of actor John Hurt, who taught at the school in the 1960s.

The 79-year-old, who now lives under restriction at the Benedictine monastery in Glenstal Abbey in Ireland, was visited by officers from Somerset last summer, it emerged yesterday.

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