Child sex abuse inquiry: Priest 'tried to control' investigation

Ampleforth College
Image caption Allegations of sex abuse at Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire are being probed by the independent child sex abuse inquiry

Police raised concerns that the head of a Roman Catholic boarding school tried to "control" a child sex abuse investigation, an inquiry has heard.

A former North Yorkshire detective said officers were "excluded" from inquiries at Ampleforth College in 1995 and 2002.

But former head teacher Father Leo Chamberlain denied influencing a boy's parents during a phone call in 1995.

He told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse there had been "no skulduggery".

The Catholic Church is one of 13 public organisations being scrutinised by the inquiry, which is being headed by Prof Alexis Jay.

'Direct approach'

Det Supt Barry Honeysett said he had told Fr Chamberlain in 2003 that he did not trust the private school, because alleged victims of abuse had been spoken to by staff before police were called in.

Mr Honeysett, who led an inquiry into abuse at Ampleforth College, said: "The issue was largely around the delay in the police becoming involved.

"A direct approach had been made to the victim which I felt was inappropriate."

Earlier in the hearing, the priest was questioned about another policy officer, Det Sgt Hartnett, who was involved investigating allegations at Ampleforth.

Lead counsel to the inquiry Riel Karmy-Jones put it to Fr Chamberlain that Det Sgt Hartnett believed the priest was trying to "control the investigation".

Fr Chamberlain, who began working at the school in 1961, said the suggestion was "completely subjective".

He said he had to spoken to the boy's parents to inform them of the situation and in doing so, had "made no obstruction" to the police inquiry.

Image caption Father Leo Chamberlain taught at Ampleforth College from 1961 to 2003

Evidence was heard that the Abbott of Ampleforth, Fr Timothy Wright, went to visit a complainant of child sex abuse, causing mistrust between the Church and North Yorkshire Police.

Speaking via video link, Fr Chamberlain - head teacher at Ampleforth between 1992 and 2003 - said police thought there was a conspiracy between him and Fr Wright "to close the matter down", which he said was not the case.

Fr Chamberlain told the inquiry that during the 1980s, a teacher who had abused pupils would "be got rid of and it was thought wrongly that to keep it all very quiet was in the best interests of the victim".

'Goldfish bowl'

An earlier hearing was told the former head teacher was warned about employing Fr Piers Grant-Ferris - who was later jailed for abusing boys.

Grant-Ferris, who the pupils had nicknamed "Pervy Piers", was convicted of 20 counts of indecent assault in 2006.

The inquiry was shown a letter by a psychologist employed by the school, Elizabeth Mann, who wrote in 2003 that Grant-Ferris and a second monk posed a risk to pupils.

At the time, Fr Chamberlain said he thought it was safe to employ Grant-Ferris in the abbey's shop, which he had described as "something of a goldfish bowl", regularly visited by guests and students.

He told the inquiry: "Because it was a very visible place I thought well, we could probably make it work. But I think I could have been wrong about that."

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