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Downside School: Monks May Lose Control After Paedophile Richard White Convicted Of Sex Abuse

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Richard White Has Been Jailed For Five Years
Richard White Has Been Jailed For Five Years

After more than 200 years, Roman Catholic monks could lose control of the running one of the country's most prestigious private schools following a series of sex abuse scandals.

Downside School in Somerset is currently conducting a "major review" of the governance arrangements after Richard White, a former monk and teacher at the school, was jailed for abusing two boys there in the 1980s.

White, who was known as "Father Nicholas" to the 1,500 students at the school, was jailed for five years, having been sheltered from prosecution by the church for more than two decades, despite admitting his crimes to monastic staff.

Even after the matter was reported to the school authorities and White admitted his crimes to the principal, the police were not brought in.

Taunton Crown Court heard last week how White had lured one of the boys , who was interested in old books, to the monastery library, which was usually off-limits to students. There he sexually touched the boy and forced him to take part in sex acts, paying him 50p per time.

White's actions were uncovered when some of the other pupils at the independent Catholic School in Stratton-on-the-Fosse near Bath saw the boy had extra money to spend at the tuck shop. The boy then admitted how he had come by it.

White, a former British Army soldier, who told the court he was repressing his homosexuality at the time, was dismissed from his teaching post and spent the next 20 years being sent to different monastic communities across the country.

Following White's conviction, Abbot Aidan Bellenger, from the independent school, said "significant changes" would soon be announced.

"It is the school's understanding that last year two former members of staff received cautions in relation to historical allegations.

"One of those involved left Downside in 1970. The other matter is unrelated to pupil welfare and concerns an 80-year-old former staff member," he added.

Rob Hastings, the boy who was paid by White, waived his right to anonymity and urged other victims of abuse at the school to contact police, the Press Association reported.

The 35-year-old IT consultant and father of four from Calne in Wiltshire said it was time the school faced up to the level of abuse which went on, criticising its apology as "inadequate".

"The apology wasn't even an apology, it was saying 'we have done everything right'," Mr Hastings said.

"To the letter of the law, in terms of legal requirements, they may have done, but they were not doing the right thing by letting him get away with the first offence.

"I feel that Downside had been infiltrated by paedophiles at all levels.

"The school needs to admit its level of failure to support the safeguarding of children. Once it has done that it is in a place to move forward and make it a safer place."

In November last year, White, of Fordingbridge, Hampshire, admitted five charges of indecent assault and two of gross indecency with a child.

His crimes only came to light when an investigation by Avon and Somerset Police and the church's Clifton Diocese into historic child abuse claims found evidence in old files.

Speaking on Monday, Mr Hastings said he had been scared to come forward until contacted by police.

"I felt as if I was complicit and it was partly my fault," he said.

"But after going to court I felt like a victim, it helped me put my head in the right place.

"I felt that if I didn't stand up for the 1,500 children at Downside I would feel ashamed."

In a statement released last week, Abbot Bellenger said the school was "truly sorry" that the abuse took place, adding: "The offences for which Richard Nicholas White has been convicted occurred over 20 years ago.

"The police and the press were aware at the time of the accusations against Richard Nicholas White but the victims' parents and the police did not proceed to prosecution.

"Since then Richard Nicholas White has been through therapy, a risk assessment and has lived under restrictions ... and has remained withdrawn from ministry.

"It is some consolation that Richard Nicholas White did not abuse any child during this period of restriction."