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Scouting paedophile ring preyed   on kids and facilitated abuse

15 May 2020 / ireland Print

Scout leaders' paedophile ring preyed on kids and facilitated sexual abuse

An independent review into Scouting Ireland by safeguarding expert Ian Elliott has found that some very senior scouts, who gave immense time to the organisation, were driven by sexual desires and the use of children for sexual gratification.

Ian Elliott says the true extent of historical sexual abuse in Scouting Ireland may never be known and that his review will be disturbing and upsetting to many who have served scouting.

Power

However, these allegations of abuse were not subjected to critical scrutiny in a court of law and many of the alleged offenders are now deceased.

Individuals who had a sexual interest in young people rose to positions of power and influence and controlled any fledgling accountability process, the report says.

This prevented known offenders from being removed from scouting.

Culture

Ian Elliott slams a historical scouting culture of self-interest and clique-forming for the purposes of gaining dominance in the organisation. Roles were awarded to those who were part of an inner circle, which gave rise to poor governance.

Individuals secured positions in scouting because of whom they undertook to support and thereby, those with a sexual interest in children became board members or national officers.

One senior scout admitted to his urges to have sex with children but was permitted to remain in his role.

Protected

Several national officers were reported for multiple allegations of sexual abuse but avoided accountability because they were protected by others in their group and the power of the position they held.

Elliott believes that sex offenders shared information with each other and facilitated abuse for each other.

He describes this as horrific and deeply disturbing and says that committed volunteers deeply regret not doing more to challenge this state of affairs which failed children.

Others minimised or trivialised the abuse because they “lacked the moral courage to intervene”, Ian Elliott writes.

'Mates'

Even with strong evidence of abusive behaviour, these individuals were not put out of scouting. Ian Elliott writes that a ‘mates’ culture of protection against those outside of the clique continues in scouting today.

However, he accepts that Scouting Ireland is now moving away from ‘popularity contests’ to competence-based appointments.

The temptation to consign all bad practices to the past must be resisted, he says, and current volunteers who are not suitable must be expelled quickly.

Being a volunteer in scouting is a privilege, not a right, he says.

Deceased

In his review, Ian Elliott says he found a very different history to what had previously been believed. However, several of the subjects are deceased and could not give any defence or explanation of their actions, he says.

The safety and wellbeing of young people involved in scouting was not always prioritised, particularly during the 1980s and 1990s.

Cronyism thrived and remained a significant problem in scouting until recently, Ian Elliott says. This contributed greatly to the failure to properly address abuses.

Bad behaviour was not pulled up and known offenders were not removed from scouting.

Failure

“Individuals, who were suspected or known to be sex offenders, gained positions of power,” the report says.

“Abuse did happen and was not responded to in a way that protected the young person, or sought to hold the offender to account."

Elliott’s report describes a cover-up and a failure to report, with haphazard or non-existent record-keeping. He criticises the practice of storing records inappropriately in garages, sheds and attics.

Some important documents were not returned to scouting authorities, after volunteers left, retired or died.

Case file

Several volunteers were asked to resign but no case files are available. Ian Elliott says it is reasonable to speculate that these people were involved in the abuse of children.

One case file on a volunteer who rose to national leadership levels describes him as argumentative and bad-tempered. A complainant now struggling with extreme life difficulties made allegations of abuse against this person, and described being plied with alcohol to make them compliant.

While verbal concerns were expressed about this individual being a risk to children, no written record of this was kept.

“This reviewer would see this person as a prolific and vicious sex offender who used alcohol to subdue his victims before subjecting them to violent sexual assaults,” Ian Elliott writes.

Awareness

He believes there was greater awareness of child sexual abuse in the organisation than is apparent from the files, but that those who held that knowledge did not feel empowered to intervene. Consequently, offenders prospered.

And residential camping trips provided an excellent opportunity for abuse, Ian Elliott observes. He believes the victim pool could run to hundreds if not thousands of young people.

Victims were plied with lager and whiskey and two adult victims told of being violently anally raped, at 11 and 12 years of age.

One senior volunteer, now deceased, held information related to several abuse allegations, and was also the subject of allegations himself, stretching over an extended period while he occupied a senior role.

Commitment

Ian Elliott also says there was an almost complete absence of any concern for the young people that were abused and that where attempts were made to support them, this is poorly recorded.

Ian Elliot says the report was a significant commitment by the organisation since it is always tempting not to look beneath the stone and search dark corners.

“Protecting reputation and public profile is a strong pressure to resist,’ the report says.

He accepts that no organisation is perfect, particularly as it grows and becomes more complex. He credits Scouting Ireland with facilitating access to all documentation for the review.

Learning

The emphasis in the process is on learning from past mistakes, Ian Elliott says in his report, rather than itemising every incident of sexual abuse.

To do so would not be possible given the historical timescales involved, Ian Elliott says, acknowledging that Scouting Ireland has expressed its shame at the failures.

The organisation’s commitment to ensuring similar abuses don’t happen again “sets it apart from other institutions in Irish society who have not been transparent in the same way, and who may not have learned the hard lessons of the past,” Ian Elliott writes, commending SI members’ courage and openness.

Leaks

However, he criticises leaks of confidential and sensitive information at board level over the past two years, which led to media speculation and made his safeguarding role more difficult.

“The security of the reports I produced was sometimes not respected,” he writes.

Ian Elliott praises scouting communications manager Dubheasa Kelly for her “immense contribution” to the process.

Scouting Ireland did not have any editorial control over the content of the review and has responded by saying it has suffered considerable reputational damage. The costs of the review, published on 7 May, are also to be met entirely through Scouting Ireland funds.

Safeguarding

Scouting Ireland has said it is committed to implementing in full the review’s recommendations.

Ian Elliott says he is very positive that, notwithstanding the seriousness of the findings, current governance arrangements in Scouting Ireland have robust safeguarding in place, with a board that is strong and well-functioning.

Tusla has also said it is satisfied with current safeguarding practice in Scouting Ireland.

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