2016-02-04 / Front Page

St. George's Inquiry Proceeds

By Barry Bridges

Martin F. Murphy, the Boston attorney who has been retained to look into allegations of sexual abuse at Middletown’s St. George’s School, has posted an online statement about how his investigation will proceed, along with instructions for those who want to share information.

On Friday, Jan. 29, St. George’s and SGS for Healing (SGS), an alumni and survivor group from the school, issued a joint statement encouraging affected parties to step forward.

SGS’s Anne Scott, a St. George’s alumna who was instrumental in setting the wheels in motion, said, “SGS for Healing is thrilled that Marty Murphy is getting the independent investigation launched so quickly. We have confidence in the process that he has put in place, and encourage survivors to participate should they wish to do so.”

Those with relevant information may find instructions on how to proceed at sgsinvestigation.com. The website encourages victims, witnesses, or other members of the St. George’s community to contact Murphy directly or through legal counsel at sgsinvestigation@foley- hoag.com or at 617-521-5000.

As for the scope of his anticipated work, Murphy summarized, “[We] will examine all matters relating to sexual abuse by faculty, staff, or students at St. George’s School and review the responses to reports of alleged abuse from 1960 to the present…. We will interview in person every victim of sexual assault who wishes to be interviewed in person.” The school has agreed to pay reasonable expenses for those traveling to Boston. Telephone interviews are an option, although Murphy notes that in some cases it may be “necessary to conduct interviews in person rather than by telephone.”

Murphy also clarified that notwithstanding his legal credentials, he has not been hired as an attorney, which speaks to questions that some may have with regards to confidentiality. “Because we have been engaged as independent investigators, we do not serve as legal counsel to any individual who contacts us, or as counsel to St. George’s. Therefore, any communications with us will not be protected by the attorney-client privilege.”

As for what that means, Murphy explained, “We will take appropriate steps to protect the identities of any individual who wishes to provide information confidentially, but we cannot guarantee that information will remain completely confidential if, for example, law enforcement seeks to obtain our records or there is subsequent litigation and the records are required to be produced.”

St. George’s said that anyone should feel free to speak with Murphy, regardless of confidentiality agreements that may be in place with the school. Board of trustees Chair Leslie Heaney wrote, “It is our sincere hope that anyone with information to offer will contact Mr. Murphy. The board remains committed to an exhaustive independent review to secure the truth and enable healing.”

At the conclusion of the investigation, Murphy will issue a report with factual findings, and may also include recommendations about steps the school should take going forward.

According to the Episcopal boarding school’s own probe, at least 26 students were sexually abused by three employees during the 1970s and ‘80s. St. George’s admitted that it failed to make reports to the appropriate authorities, apologized for the “harm done to alumni by former employees and former students,” and offered to provide counseling services.

St. George’s handling of the widening scandal was criticized as not truly independent because Will Hannum, the spouse and law partner of the school’s legal counsel, headed up the investigation. St. George’s agreed in early January to bring on someone new and tapped former Massachusetts Attorney

General Scott Harshbarger. However, the parties were “unable to reach agreement on terms of engagement” and Murphy was thereafter retained on Jan. 20.

As Murphy was brought on, SGS and St. George’s held out his strong credentials, including an “outstanding reputation and proven track record as an investigator and courtroom advocate.” The school added that with this new phase it was “committed to seeking the truth and ensuring that all the facts are reviewed.”

The Rhode Island State Police has launched its own inquiry into the abuse after being contacted by school officials.

As for students who currently attend St. George’s, a spokesman for the school, Joseph T. Baerlein of Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications, told Newport This Week that he is confident that “kids who go there today are in a very safe place.” He added that safety instruction for students on issues such as proper boundaries has been in place at the school for quite some time.

“I think that the school’s administration and board have been very responsive since the very serious allegations became known,” Baerlein said. “There was never a sense that the Hannum report was a final document, but it gave us information to establish a process. Mr. Murphy’s investigation is a search for the facts, and St. George’s has been steadfast in its support for that.”

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