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Ealing abbot resigns after admitting failure to report abuse

Ealing Abbey (Wikimedia Commons)

Abbot Martin Shipperlee failed to inform police of an allegation against his predecessor

The abbot of Ealing Abbey has resigned after admitting that he failed to report an allegation of abuse against his predecessor to the police.

Dom Martin Shipperlee, who has served as abbot since 2000, said there had been a “series of serious failings in Safeguarding and some of those failings have been mine.”

“Much has been achieved to correct this in recent years and I have confidence in the present structures and policies,” he said. “However this does not take away from the seriousness of what went before.”

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) heard this week that the abbot had withheld an allegation of abuse against Laurence Soper from the police when he first heard of it in 2001.

Shipperlee, who served as headmaster of St Benedict’s Junior School from 1993 to 2000, admitted to the inquiry that he did not report the allegation because “I simply did not believe that this was possible.”

“I was outraged that such an accusation could be made against someone of whom I – well, it did not occur to me that it was possible that this sort of thing could happen,” he said.

Laurence Soper, who was Shipperlee’s predecessor as abbot and a teacher at the school, was jailed for 18 years in 2017 for sexual offences against children. He had been on the run for five years before being arrested in Kosovo.

The Archdiocese of Westminster wrote to Shipperlee in 2001, a year after he became abbot, with an abuse claim against Soper.

“The serious claim against Abbot Laurence Soper should be reported to the child protection team at Ealing Police Station,” the archdiocese told him.

Lead counsel to the inquiry, Riel Karmuy-Jones, QC, asked Shipperlee why he failed to inform the police. He replied that he was “convinced in my own mind it must be a spurious claim”.

In 2004, another allegation of rape and corporal punishment was made against Soper dating from the 1970s. Shipperlee said he did not ask for a risk assessment about Soper because he “didn’t think it was necessary”.

“I wish to express my profound sorrow for my mistakes and my failure to properly manage potential offenders,” Abbot Shipperlee said in a statement on Friday.

“I apologise unreservedly to all those I have let down; my brethren, St Benedict’s School, the wider Ealing community, those who might look to the Church to be simply much better than I have been, but above all to all those who have been abused and hurt by monks and have not been sufficiently protected.”

“Most of this harm was done a long time ago, but its consequences are still with us and I must accept those consequences for myself.”