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The truth about the 'Reconciliation Process'
Posted: Fri Sep 07, 2007 6:08 pm
Remember David Boddy's impressive invocation of Archbishop Desmond Tutu when speaking of "the need to bring about some reconciliation with our former pupils"? I wonder how many people watching Boddy on national television
way back in March last year interpreted his words as expressing an intention to set up a thorough 'truth and reconciliation' process? Perhaps something along the lines of the South African model, with perpetrators of abuse avoiding punishment only through full disclosure of the truth?
Well, here's my experience of 'reconciliation', SES-style:
Shortly after the publication of the Townend Report, I, along with other contributors to the Inquiry, was contacted by two St James Governors offering to "do all that we can to reconcile any differences or difficulties there might be."
At that stage, I chose not to take part as I wanted to assess the Governorsâ€™ response to Matthew Woolfâ€™s open letter
before committing myself. As we now know, Matthew's letter and its very reasonable proposals have been treated with evasion and contempt by the SES.
In March this year, I decided to give the reconciliation process a go after all and I wrote to one of the Governors asking if the process remained open. I have since exchanged several letters with this person, who has been very courteous and helpful and, in my view, has done a first-class job. It was quickly arranged that my address would be forwarded to seven former teachers (the ones with whom I was most keen to meet).
Four months later, how many of these seven ex-teachers have responded to my request for reconciliation? Two. And these were both people who had already offered apologies long before
The good news for me is that I have now fully made my peace with these two gentlemen and have unconditionally forgiven any wrongs that they have done me. They have shown much courage and integrity in their open-hearted responses and they have earned my respect and admiration.
The same cannot be said for the other five former teachers, not one of whom has even contacted me. In the famous South African process, this sort of non-cooperation would, I believe, have meant no amnesty from prosecution and, often, lengthy prison terms on conviction. I suspect that the SES may choose not to emulate this aspect of the South African example.
Posted: Tue Sep 11, 2007 8:09 am
Thank you for your post about your experiences of the process. Sadly this is much what I feared, that the words are just hollow promises and the processes perfunctory.
I'm pleased that there has been some reconciliation and that there has been some peace made and respect earnt. This owes more to the individuals involved than the organisations. I hope that others will have the courage to follow, though I hold little expectation that this will come to fruition.
It remains sad that despite all the talk and despite the courageous steps taken to have the inquiry that the School and the SES remain unable to make meaningful steps to change where change is required. Until they do the wounds remain unhealed.
Did you get any sense from those you have reconciled with that there are changes happening within the school or that the concerns of raised in the open letter would be addressed?
Posted: Thu Sep 13, 2007 7:03 pm
I'm afraid I'm still in the dark about what's going on at the current school or SES. I didn't ask them about this and they didn't mention it, which I think is also to their credit: neither of them tried to excuse their actions at St James or to contrast the present and past schools. They simply apologised sincerely for their part in my unhappiness. I also invited them to make a public apology on this forum to all former pupils, which I hope they will choose to do.
Posted: Sun Sep 23, 2007 8:18 am
Just want to say I'm glad you got unconditional apologies from two teachers. Shame about the other five - their shame. Its also a shame that there is no organisational acknowledgement of this lack of co-operation - perhaps because that would mean they would have to take responsibilty for the organisation's role in the abuse? As some say, the best predictor of future behaviour, is past behaviour (yeah yeah, I know all about living in the"now" and that - just haven't met many who do this (have met lots who use it as an excuse not to address their behaviour though)) - so perhaps its not that surprising. I am very sorry though that your dignity and integrity hasn't been respected at the time of the abuse and not fully now, either.
Denial is a very strong force and there's a lot of it floating around the SES - actually it seems that denial is the basic modus operandi - I'm curious now where the root of that came from - I wonder was MacLaren suppressing a lot of his own 'stuff'?
I hope you your involvement in the process was worthwhile for you - it sounds like, on balance, it may have been?
Posted: Mon Sep 24, 2007 8:10 am
All the talk about truth and reconciliation is all very grand posturing by St James and the SES but it is clear to see that nothing is really happening.
One of the things, I think, which is most remarkable about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa was that only 849 people were granted amnesty out of 7112 petitioners. This means that about 88% of applicants came forward to tell the truth of the part they played in the attrocities committed and yet were not deemed to have given a wholely truthful and unequivocal account of their actions and as such were still liable to face prosecution. The TRC was public, there was nowhere to hide.
What St James is doing has very little to do with reconciliation or reparations for the wrongs of the past. The actions are nothing more than a PR exercise to try and stop any lasting damage to the schools today. The fact is though, that while the punishment regime may have changed at St James, it has not changed because of a shift in attitude towards that punishment regime but rather because the corporal punishment was finally made illegal in all situations. Also the St James has consistently refused to allow the teaching of the SES philosophy or the role of the philosophy in the environment at the school to be examined.
I can only hope that St James and the SES will reform but it is not something that shows any sign of materialising soon. I can only hope that in the meantime prospective parents conduct their own diligent research into the schools. You certainly would not find me sending my children to St James with the same governors in place who failed in their responsibilities at the time and were merely puppets of MacLaren's regime.
Change, and change visible to all to see is required.
Posted: Mon Dec 17, 2007 7:55 pm
Just over a week ago, I met up with a former teacher as part of the reconciliation process. It was a very short meeting but a fruitful one and I received a full apology from this man. Many years late, of course, but still very welcome.
Posted: Tue Dec 18, 2007 10:54 am
I am delighted to hear that you have had some more good news and progress with reconciling with the teachers concerned. It may be slow and frustrating progress but it does seem to bearing fruit.
Well done on all your efforts to get to this stage and well done for all the patience and perseverance.
I hope that St James will continue to embrace this process and allow both the school and the individual pupils to reach some sort of conclusion.
I particularly hope that the school will leave open some sort of framework for any former pupils who have not had the opportunity of participating in the inquiry or this reconciliation process.
Posted: Sat Jan 12, 2008 4:12 pm
Well, I think I've waited long enough. The truth about the SES's 'Reconciliation Process', as it relates to me, is this:
Seven former St Vedast teachers were sent my address and informed of my desire for reconciliation. Four have replied. Of these four, two had, to their credit, already made apologies long before the publication of the Townend Report. These two apologised to me in writing and, although they have not so far fulfilled my request for a public apology to their many victims, I consider my grievance with them to be over. Another of the four met me last month and offered me a full and welcome apology and, although he also has not yet publicly apologised, I have given him my forgiveness. One of these gentlemen also gave me some very significant information about Leon MacLaren's involvement in the abuse of pupils at the schools he founded.
The fourth former teacher to contact me was Nicholas Debenham. He did not apologise. His letter made it clear that he is still in denial about what occurred at St Vedast and St James. I replied, quoting some of the findings of the Townend Report, and asking if he accepted them. I have not yet had an answer and do not much expect to get one. When I last met Nicholas Debenham, he claimed that everyone at St James was happy. Judging from his letter, he does not seem to have changed his opinion much. Debenham is a bully, a sadist and a liar. He has caused misery and pain to hundreds of people and refuses to apologise for or even acknowledge this fact. He compounds the harm he has done by wilfully ignoring or denying the claims of those courageous enough to tell the truth about their experience under his 'care'.
The following three men have, it seems, simply ignored my request for reconciliation: Colin Russell, Christopher Southwell and David Lacey.
One of Russell's specialities was throwing children across rooms and into walls. He was very probably dangerously disturbed and should never have been put in charge of children. Yet Debenham and MacLaren obviously thought he was just the man for the job.
Southwell was a thug who took obvious delight in publicly beating boys with plimsolls and forcing them to do painful and dangerous physical exercise. I believe he was recently teaching at St James. He may well still do so.
Lacey's brutality will probably be remembered by hundreds of former pupils. He seemed to find it particularly amusing to throw cricket balls at children when they weren't looking. Maybe he still thinks it's funny. He certainly doesn't think it's worth apologising for.
Posted: Sun Jan 13, 2008 10:46 pm
A perfect exposure of the hypocrisy that will continue to haunt them.
Good for for you, Tom!
Posted: Mon Jan 14, 2008 10:38 am
I feel I must point out for the benefit of people reading this board that Christopher Southwell in particular was also extremely abusive (both physically and emotionally) to many of the female pupils he taught. He certainly made my life a living hell.
The Townend report pretty much ignored the girls' school, I think mainly because so few female former pupils were prepared to contact the inquiry in the first place.
Posted: Mon Jan 14, 2008 10:56 am
ET wrote:I feel I must point out for the benefit of people reading this board that Christopher Southwell in particular was also extremely abusive (both physically and emotionally) to many of the female pupils he taught. He certainly made my life a living hell.
I can certainly vouch for that, ET. Ditto here. And they're still employing him to this day, I believe. Draw your own conclusions from that... Need any more be said?
Posted: Tue Jan 15, 2008 4:50 pm
Thank you, Tom, for this update. It is not surprising that those you have reconciled with were those that were prepared to talk on the forum and apologise as such before the Inquiry was set up and underway. St James and the SES are very unlikely to change and I agree Tom that you have probably waited long enough for reconciliation.
As one of the most open and straightforward about your grievances, Tom, St James has had plenty of opportunity to reconcile with you. I hold no hope that St James is prepared for truly reconciling with all those who hold grievances and it is intent on continuing with its pig-headed ignorant path of what it believes to be right.
For an organisation that claims to teach the Truth and morality it seems entirely incapable of recognising the Truth when it comes knocking at its door.
As such I could never bring myself to consider sending my own kids to these schools or ever recommending them to anyone else. Throughout this process the schools have tried to extend an invitation for any former pupils of the schools to visit them today and see that they are different and my simple question to them is, "Why should I when you are not prepared to listen, acknowledge or accept my feelings about how I was treated when I was in your care?"
Tom Grubb wrote:The fourth former teacher to contact me was Nicholas Debenham. He did not apologise. His letter made it clear that he is still in denial about what occurred at St Vedast and St James. I replied, quoting some of the findings of the Townend Report, and asking if he accepted them. I have not yet had an answer and do not much expect to get one. When I last met Nicholas Debenham, he claimed that everyone at St James was happy.
Nicholas Debenhamâ€™s response astounds me and it is clear that he has entirely lost any ability to reason and knows nothing about people. If someone is standing in front of you telling you that they are not happy and were not happy then, you cannot simply tell them that they are wrong and that you know better how they feel. He may not be able to comprehend why someone is not happy but if there is to be any reconciliation he must accept that what the person in front of him is saying is indeed true and honest representation of how they feel.
Tom Grubb wrote:The following three men have, it seems, simply ignored my request for reconciliation: Colin Russell, Christopher Southwell and David Lacey.
The most concerning thing about Chris Southwell and particularly David Lacey as yet not taking up the invitation for reconciliation is that these two teachers are both currently in post. David Lacey is deputy head of the senior boys and I regard his non participation as indicative of the schools position on this process. If the school is truly committed to this process of reconciliation it is not acceptable that individual teachers with whom audiences are sought may choose to opt out and especially when they hold the position of deputy head.
With the exception of the few courageous individuals who have stood on their own two feet and accepted responsibility for their actions and the parts they have played, this entire process remains a PR exercise aimed solely at saving the organisations' face amongst current and future pupils and members.
Posted: Sat Jan 19, 2008 2:32 pm
Thanks Matthew, ET and bonsai!
By the way, I might as well elaborate on the information that a former St Vedast teacher gave me about MacLaren as I made no promise to keep it secret:
In the very early days of St James, there was a meeting with MacLaren and the teaching staff, including Debenham. MacLaren, the founder of the school and dictator of SES policy at the time, instructed the teachers that they should punish immediately and physically any breach of school rules. Apparently, he did not bother to specify what form this physical punishment ought to take. Therefore, when Howell punched you in the face, Russell threw you into a wall, Lacey chucked a cricket ball at your head or Southwell whacked you with a plimsoll, they probably believed they were doing so with the blessing of the SES god-man.
Posted: Mon Jan 21, 2008 2:16 pm
Tom Grubb wrote:In the very early days of St James, there was a meeting with MacLaren and the teaching staff, including Debenham. MacLaren, the founder of the school and dictator of SES policy at the time, instructed the teachers that they should punish immediately and physically any breach of school rules.
There is no doubt in my mind that MacLaren had a direct influence on the punishment regime at St James. His name was bandied around and revered for everything.
To his supporters he was a strict disciplinarian. To his critics he was just a vicious control freak.
I remember meeting him for the first time when my class were being invited to join the foundation group. He just struck me as a bitter angry man who was pissed off with the world. It was clear that the people around him were deferential to him more out of fear than anything else.
I don't care what his intentions were when he set up the SES or St James and whether or not he cared about the spiritual well being of his pupils or not; he chose to impose his will through tyranny and was arrogant enough to think that he had the right to do so.
Posted: Tue Jan 22, 2008 10:21 am
I agree with most of what you say, Bonsai, but I don't agree that "the people around [MacLaren] were deferential to him more out of fear than anything else".
I was also forced to go to one of these Foundation Group invitations - at Sarum Chase, I think - and I remember us sitting on chairs arranged in a semi-circle waiting for him to enter. There were three seats: one for MacLaren, one for Debenham and one for Capper. The thing I remember the most clearly is the atmosphere of reverence. Every time he smiled, Debenham and Capper smiled; every time he chuckled his inane haughty laugh, so did they. I didn't get the impression of fear - just the sense that they considered they were in the presence of a holy man.
My parents were similar: when they came back from the once-a-term address from MacLaren to the SES they were in awe. Nothing I could say to them would fog their rose-tinted glasses.
Of course, the fear came more subtly - as with all cults, the fear of disapproval, of becoming an outcast, of being alone if complete obedience was not shown.
It is a shame he is not alive to answer for his sins. I would love to have seen him doorstopped by an investigative TV programme. Debenham is still alive though - I wonder what can be encouraged along these lines?