Panel member for CSA inquiry tells of clash with then education secretary over Salesians

By David Hencke and Tim Wood | 1 October 2014

Graham Wilmer blasts Michael Gove over sex abuse at schoolsAllegations of the sexual abuse of children at a Catholic school led to an extraordinary clash between one former pupil and ministers over child safeguarding.

Graham Wilmer, a member of the panel for the overarching inquiry into child sex abuse (CSA), is furious with Michael Gove for refusing, when he was education secretary, to order an investigation into allegations against schools run by a Catholic order in Great Britain. Wilmer was sexually abused as a pupil at a school run by the order – the Salesians.

In his book, ‘The Devil’s Advocate’, which is published today, Wilmer says that he “had written several times” to Gove to investigate the Salesian order, which runs several schools in the UK. Wilmer is director of the Lantern Project, a charity that supports CSA victims.

The Department for Education is ultimately responsible for overseeing regulation of schools.

But, Wilmer writes, “He [Gove] did not respond initially, but one of his officials did, telling me that, while she was ‘saddened to hear what had happened to me’, they were not going to investigate because ‘it was too long ago.’

“What planet were they on?”

Wilmer asked his MP, Angela Eagle, to press the issue on his behalf.

Then, as Exaro revealed just over a year ago, the Metropolitan Police Service’s paedophile unit launched ‘Operation Torva’, amid strict secrecy, to investigate the sexual abuse of children at Salesian schools.

Edward Timpson, children’s minister, responded to Eagle by saying: “Departmental officials have written to Mr Wilmer a number of times to explain that the secretary of state’s powers in this area are extremely limited.

“The investigation of allegations of abuse is a matter for the local police force, and it is not within the secretary of state’s powers to run a parallel investigation.

“I think that it would also, legal issues aside, be counter-productive and unhelpful. We need to see the outcome of any police investigation before concluding that the department can or should take action.” Child protection was “an absolute priority for this government”.

Gove was moved in the ministerial reshuffle in July from education secretary to chief whip.

Exaro revealed yesterday how detectives had discovered that a Catholic priest and teacher who masqueraded as a child psychotherapist and operated at a Salesian school – Father Terence O’Brien – was a “prolific paedophile”. A Met report details Operation Torva’s findings on the priest described his activities.

The report also notes that the Salesians are “an international Roman Catholic religious order of men, dedicated to being signs and bearers of the love of God for young people, especially those who are disadvantaged.”

It says that Operation Torva investigated criminal allegations received from “ex-pupils of a number of Salesian schools within the UK. The allegations are historical in origin, and are made against school staff members, who at that time were not only teachers, but also priests of the Roman Catholic church.”

A Salesian spokesman told Exaro in a statement that it was “co-operating fully” with the police in their investigation, and that its policy was to pass allegations of offences against children to the police.

The statement added: “The Salesians will, of course, co-operate fully with the forthcoming government inquiry if they are required to do so.”

A Met spokeswoman told Exaro that all the suspects identified so far in Operation Torva are dead.

But Wilmer said that at least two of them are still alive. He also hopes that his book might prompt further witnesses to come forward.

Wilmer says that profits from ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ will go to the Lantern Project.

Related Stories : Child sex abuse, ‘Fernbridge’ and ‘Fairbank’: Exaro story thread

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