Shame of an officer and a gentleman

Mark Branagan

HE was a highly respected monk and teacher and a celebrated mountaineer, the only son of leading Tory peer and public figure Lord Harvington, a personal friend of Margaret Thatcher.

A former officer in the Irish Guards, Piers Grant-Ferris seemed to represent all the values of his late father, the former Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons during Ted Heath’s Government and member of a prominent English Roman Catholic family.

But the younger Grant-Ferris, who once boasted that only his faith had saved him when he became lost in the Andes without food, had desires which were anything but godly.

His secret past as a serial abuser of young boys at Ampleforth was in stark contrast to the life in which he appeared to be living up to the traditions of a spotless family name.

His father Lord Harvington was regarded as a member of the squirearchy, the former backbone of the Tory party – for which politics was a public duty rather than a career.

Lord Harvington was born plain old Robert Ferris, the son of a GP, Dr Robert Francis Ferris. But as a young man he decided to acquire a double-barrelled name by hyphenating his middle name, Grant, to the Ferris.

After starting out in a family estate agent’s business, he began a career in politics by being elected to Birmingham City Council. Later he was called to the Bar and became the Tory MP for St Pancras North.

But his early political career took second place to his role as a fighter pilot in the RAF Reserves in Warwick. When war broke out he was called up and was soon promoted to wing commander, seeing action in Malta, the Middle East, and Europe.

He re-entered politics, becoming Tory MP for Nantwich from 1955 to 1974. In 1970 he was appointed Deputy Speaker and chairman of the Commons Ways and Means Committee.

However, it was probably his religious credentials that led to him becoming the only Tory MP to have been both knighted and created a life peer by Labour.

He was knighted in 1969, sworn onto the Privy Council in 1971, and created a life peer by Wilson after leaving the Commons in 1974 to retire to Jersey.

Life in Jersey revolved around hunting, golf, motor yachting, and farming. Lord Harvington was also a noted breeder of pedigree sheep and former president of the National Sheep Breeders Association. Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and her husband were among the guests on his yacht.

There were even plans for a summer cruise with the Thatchers around northern France a year before the couple entered Downing Street. It was cancelled when the French police said they could not guarantee the party’s security.

Piers was one of two children. The future Lord Harvington had married Florence Brennan De Vine in 1930 and the couple also had a daughter, Sheila, who regarded Piers as a daredevil.

Grant-Ferris attended Gilling Castle, then used by Ampleforth, and Ampleforth itself from the age of seven to 18. He was an officer in the Irish Guards before becoming a novice monk in the Benedictine Order in 1955.

He joined the teaching staff at Ampleforth in 1961, three years before being ordained. From 1965 to 1975 he was second year form master at Gilling Castle with his own quarters.

Det Supt Barry Honeysett said: “The offending took place throughout the period he was there. Having identified often quite vulnerable pupils he would carry out punishments in private which was not policy and inappropriate.

“They told us that at the time they felt it was inappropriate but did not know how to complain. He was someone who was falsely pious and would create punishments for no good reason.”

Police believe Grant-Ferris’s refusal to accept his own guilt might explain his long delay in entering guilty pleas. “He was in denial. He could not accept he had done anything wrong,” Det Supt Honeysett added.

His connection with Gilling Castle , now closed, ended in 1975. He served at Our Lady and St Michael’s Church in Workington, Cumbria, between 1978 and 1989, when he was chaplain to St Joseph’s RC School, before returning to Ampleforth Abbey where he was much sought-after to lead retreats.

mark.branagan@ypn.co.uk