Call for mandatory child abuse reporting

After a 'cover-up' over abuse at top Catholic school, lords call for legislation forcing schools to report abuse

Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire

Ministers have been urged to make the reporting of child abuse mandatory after a major cover-up at two leading Catholic schools.

The call in the House of Lords for action came after a report said that monks at Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire and Downside School in Somerset hid allegations of "appalling sexual abuse" against pupils as young as 7 to protect the church's reputation.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) also said that the abuse, spanning four decades, was likely to have been "considerably" more widespread than previously thought.

It made the claims in a scathing report on the English Benedictine Congregation, which has 10 monasteries in England and Wales.

Ampleforth and Downside are two schools linked to the monasteries, run at times by "secretive, evasive and suspicious" church officials who avoided reporting misconduct to police and social services, the report says.

Allegations stretching back to the 1960s encompassed "a wide spectrum of physical abuse, much of which had sadistic and sexual overtones", according to the report.

Ten individuals linked to the schools, mainly monks, have been cautioned or convicted over sexual activity or pornography offences involving a "large number of children".

Child abuse: 'Wretched establishments'

Raising the scandal in the Lords, Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Walmsley said: "Is the minister aware that the committee had evidence that one of the schools consulted its legal adviser as to whether it was legally obliged to report the abuse that it knew about? Having learned that it was not so obliged, it decided to cover it up.

"How much more evidence do the government require of the need for mandatory reporting of child abuse in regulated activity? Will the government now follow the evidence and respond with legislation?"

Education minister Lord Agnew said: "It is absolutely unacceptable for anyone to conceal abuse. The government are committed to ensuring that legislation can adequately deal with this."

He added: "What individuals and organisations should do is already clear in statutory guidance."

Labour frontbencher Lord Watson of Invergowrie pointed out that the Independent Schools Inspectorate had given both schools "a clean bill of health when it comes to safeguarding".

He asked what steps were being taken to "ascertain how the inspectorate managed to miss the continuing failings at these wretched establishments".

Liberal Demcorat peer Baroness Brinton said: "The minister has talked about the last-chance saloon and said that schools know what they should be doing. However, they are still not reporting all cases.

"When will the government introduce mandatory reporting for regulated activities?"

Lord Agnew said: "I know that there are calls for mandatory reporting."

But highlighting a consultation which was carried out, he added: "We had 760 responses from social workers, police officers and other connected parties.

"Some 70 per cent of them felt that mandatory reporting would have an adverse impact; 85 per cent said that it would not, in itself, lead to the appropriate action being taken.

"However, over the last few years we have prioritised sexual abuse as a national threat, to empower police forces to maximise skills and expertise."

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