THINKING ANGLICANS

Bishop of Southwark: today's reports

Updated yet again Thursday evening
The Guardian has a news report about the apology! See Times apologises for bishop story.

Thursday morning
The Times issued this apology in the News in Brief column:

Bishop of Southwark

We were wrong to say in our headlines (June 6, 2007, front page and page 4) that the report of Judge Rupert Bursell, QC, into a complaint of drunkenness against Dr Tom Butler, the Bishop of Southwark, had concluded that Dr Butler was drunk. Judge Bursell did not hear any evidence or reach any conclusions as to the truth of the complaint. We apologise to Dr Butler for the distress and embarrassment this must have caused him.

Times archive Dec 19, 2006: Bishop of Southwark denies being drunk

Wednesday evening update

Damian Thompson offers an explanation for all this in The Bishop’s hangover.

The report in The Times has been republished at a new URL, with a new headline, Leaked report into Bishop of Southwark.

And there has been a further write-through of the Daily Mail report, now headlined Whitewash claims over bishop cleared of drunkenness.

Noon update

The story has been removed from the website of The Times although it still appears here. A new version of the story Bishop of Southwark escapes disciplinary action for drinking now appears on the Daily Mail website. And according to the Wimbledon Guardian:

The Bishop of Southwark is to go to the Press Complaints Commission after a report in the Times claimed he was drunk after a Christmas party.

The newspaper said a leaked Church of England document confirmed the Right Reverend Tom Butler was inebriated when he left a bash at the Irish Embassy.

But Lambeth Palace, which took “no further action” after a full investigation into the incident, said the preliminary report was based entirely upon a complainant’s account…

And, Ruth Gledhill has written further about all this on her blog at Judge’s report into Bishop of Southwark.


My original article:

Following a report in The Times by Ruth Gledhill and Lucy Bannerman the following press briefing from Lambeth Palace was issued early this morning:

Times report on the Bishop of Southwark – a correction

A report in today’s Times is headlined Bishop was drunk after Christmas Party, leaked report says (online version as at 12.35am; wording for other versions may differ). The headline accompanies a story about a report into allegations around an incident last December involving the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Dr Tom Butler.

The suggestion in the headline that the report has concluded that the Bishop was drunk is completely misleading. It comes as a result of a misunderstanding of 1) what the report, prepared by Chancellor Bursell, is intended to address, 2) the stage it represents in the procedures of clergy discipine, and 3) the untested nature of the allegations which were set out in the complaint.

The report in question was a preliminary report, intended merely to assess whether – if true – the allegations made by the complainant would be strong enough to justify proceeding further with the disciplinary process under the Clergy Discipline Measure. The report’s finding is that some of the allegations – if true – would be serious enough to justify being taken on to the next stage. Some allegations it discounts.

At this preliminary stage, no explanation or answer by the person complained against is required or expected. Only at the next stage would the opportunity be given to the person complained against to give his side of the story. This report, therefore, is based on only the complainant’s account.

For that reason, the report does not make any judgement as to the truth of the allegations. A footnote makes it clear that other evidence ‘may in due time put a different complexion on the matter’ and, crucially, a clause in brackets makes it clear that the question of the truth of any allegation is yet to be determined: Chancellor Bursell qualifies references to the alleged drunkenness in the complaint with the phrase ‘if it occurred’.

The finding of the report was that the complaint was sufficiently serious to justify further exploration under the Measure. Although the complainant was not qualified under the Measure to bring it forward, a subsequent complaint was taken to the next stage in the disciplinary process, enabling the bishop to give his own account of what had happened. It was only at that point, on the basis of all the evidence then before the Archbishop, that he took the decision, announced last month, that no further action should be taken.

It would, therefore, be entirely misleading to represent this preliminary report as being any kind of judgement or finding that the Bishop of Southwark was drunk on the night in question.

ENDS

Revd Jonathan Jennings
Archbishop’s Press Secretary

A shorter version of the original report appears also in the Irish Independent and there is a derivative report in The Sun and another one Bishop of Southwark was drunk says church in the Daily Mail.

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Graham
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Graham

When I read the article this morning, my first thought was bad sub-editing – since the story makes it clear that the preliminary report did not say that +Butler was drunk, and indeed noted “that medical evidence was submitted which stated that the Bishop’s “amnesia is certainly entirely explicable on the basis of his head injuries”.”
I would hope that if this is reported to the Press Complaints Commission, that a complaint is made against both The Times and The Sun – since their report was far less balanced – and makes clearly false statements.

Lapinbizarre
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Lapinbizarre

Pity that the Times story was taken down, since when I read it, two or three hours ago, all ten of the attached comments took a “why the h-ll are you wasting our time with this story, leave the guy alone” approach. The two comments attached to Gledhill’s blog are both anti-bishop. Since my limited experience of posting to this site indicates that postings contrary to Gledhill’s point of view have no guarantee of publication, this proves little.

Pluralist
Guest

I don’t know where this gets anyone but I’m puzzled about one thing. This idea that there has to be a ‘proper interest’ and that Mr Adams was not a person who ‘has a proper interest in making a complaint’. Presumably there was the basis for carrying on, but then it sort of ended that there was not a proper interest and that was it. But that was how it started. So it was a sort of Calvinist investigation then, more or less pre-ordained (excuse the pun). Presumably there are criteria for deciding a proper interest. Suppose my car is… Read more »

Graham Ward
Guest

Pluralist says “Suppose my car is parked and a clergyman sits in it and starts chucking out my glass cleaner and paper roll and the odd half drunk bottle of cola? Would I have a proper interest?”.
Aplogies for flippancy, but if he washed the car as well, I’d probably pay him about £25.

John Richardson
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John Richardson

It doesn’t happen very often, but I think Pluralist and I are in agreement on this one. I do not think that being drunk is an automatic ‘hanging offence’, but, having said that, Judge Bursell’s report seems to suggest there was clearly a case to answer, even though it was not proven (proof, either way, being the point of bringing a case). The problem is that the reason the case has not been heard (and the question settled) seems, in the first instance, to be a technical one, in that Mr Adams has been ruled as not having a ‘proper… Read more »

matthewhunt
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matthewhunt

If, hypothetically, any guy has a drink problem which causes them to have serious blackouts, and put their life and livelihood etc at risk, then the last thing I would feel impelled to do *AS A CHRISTIAN AND A HUMAN BEING* is COMPLAIN about him to the authorities or LEAK information about his predicament to the PRESS. I hope all those involved in the COMPLAINT and LEAK had tried over some time and with some effort to help the person in question to seek help and healing before they personally took such measures to publically shame and destroy his reputation… Read more »

Pete Broadbent
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Pete Broadbent

The other aspect of this is the way in which it is likely to undermine confidence in the new Measure. What’s been leaked is an internal report on whether there was a case to answer, equivalent to a Crown Prosecution Service report in criminal cases. Now, it may well be that a leaker feels that Bishops are fair game for such a leak, but it’s not likely to inspire confidence in the system on the part of the average clergyperson who’s been complained against. If it’s possible for the report on Bishop to get out [from where? Lambeth? Judge’s chambers?],… Read more »

David Walker
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David Walker

When CDM was drawn up the category of proper complainants was deliberately kept tight. In practice it includes anyone who has been the direct “victim” of clerical misbehaviour (for example the next of kin at a funeral where the vicar arrived drunk) plus those individuals and corporate bodies to which the cleric owes some particular duty (eg their own churchwardens, PCC). Explicitly in the legislation the relevant archdeacon is a proper complainant. This is strong enough to allow both redress for victims and general accountability for a cleric’s behaviour to the local laity and wider church whilst limiting the options… Read more »

John Richardson
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John Richardson

Whilst David Walker’s account may well be correct, the worry is that the complaint against Bishop Butler did not fall at the first hurdle. On the contrary, it seems to have sailed over it fairly adequately. The question then arises why, if that is the case, did it fall at the second hurdle (when it seems the complaint had been taken up by someone else – possibly his putative archdeacon)? The explanation seems to be that this time evidence was heard from Bishop Butler, including medical testimony that could have explained his actions. However, the possibility of other explanations was… Read more »

badman
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badman

The Times has this morning (Thursday 7 June) published an unqualified retraction and apology. It reads as follows:

“BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK
We were wrong to say in our headlines (yesterday, front page and page 4) that the report of Judge Rupert Bursell, QC, into a complaint of drunkenness against Dr Tom Butler, the Bishop of Southwark, had concluded that Dr Butler was drunk. Judge Bursell did not hear any evidence or reach any conclusions as to the truth of the complaint. We apologise to Dr Butler for the distress and embarrassment this must have caused him.” [ENDS]

Ruth Gledhill
Guest

Hi, interesting comments, just wanted to note that our apology this morning was for the headline only, not the story, which has been republished online with a different headline.Ruth

badman
Guest
badman

There was no “only” about the headline. It was on the front page with a huge picture of the Bishop and you had to read well into an inside page to see that it was completely indefensible. As far as the front page was concerned, the headline was pretty much all there was.

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

Why the fuss? It’s not like anyone expects honesty and unbiased reporting from the media, surely. I’ve often thought it would be a good project for a journalism student to review the coverage by the major news stations of 9/11 (or 7/7 for you Brits), just to see how much of what was reported was fact and what was just rumour. The drive is to be the first with the story, and to have the most lurid details. Factual reporting takes a very distant third place behind these two.

Ruth Gledhill
Guest

Yes well certainly the bishop’s lawyers would agree with you on that one! I didn’t write the headline of course, just the story. So as far as I’m concerned, it is quite an important ‘only’…

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

What’s all the fuss about? It’s not like anyone looks to the media for objectivity and unbiased reporting. And that’s not mere sarcasm, does anyone actually believe that what they read in their newspapers or watch on telly is actually an attempt at unbiased reporting of the facts?

Stephen Kuhrt
Guest
Stephen Kuhrt

Ruth – I know that you weren’t guilty of writing the headline but what do you think about the suggestion that such retractions should be written in the same size font as the original statement requiring retraction? That would be fair, wouldn’t it?

Ruth Gledhill
Guest

It would not be fair on the newspaper, no. Sometimes, in their outrage, people in this country forget how fortunate we are to have a free press. That is something that must not be imperilled. Newspapers pay a price in other ways. We have the most draconian libel laws of any country in the world.

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

I don’t agree with Ruth Gledhill on this. Printing the original untruth in bold headlines and the retraction in a tiny corner – that is clearly the action of dishonest people. Why support dishonesty and ‘spin’ where honesty is perfectly possible? But it gets worse. These dishonest people are in our capitalist and relativist society the chief opinion-formers. What they say are the options are perceived by others as the options. They cannot always change views, but they can change views of what is and is not normal. Which amounts to the same thing. And who exactly are these [journalist]… Read more »

Stephen Kuhrt
Guest
Stephen Kuhrt

Come on Ruth you’ve got to do better than that. You say that “Newspapers pay a price in other ways” but how? Any fines that they receive are generally chicken feed in comparison to the publicity for the paper that such vast headlines crank up even if they are subsequently retracted.

If the Times committed itself to printing retractions in the same size font as the thing retracted surely respect for the paper in this cynical age would soar. I’ll even allow you to claim it was your idea.

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“They are not nearly as socially diverse as the country they claim to represent.” No indeed! The American television media seems to be either pretty much GWB style Republicans, or so intimidated by their government they don’t dare question. Odd that you get better American news commentary these days on a comedy show than on the major news channels! The funny thing of course is that, even though people have been effectively prevented from speaking out about Bush’s foreign policy on any major network, even though the rejailing of a vacuous waste of groceries gets all over the television while… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Ford- You may well be right – I wouldn’t know not being American. In Britain we have the reverse problem. It is not always admitted – but it would be relatively simple to have a secret anonymous ballot/referendum among media types to prove the point of how unrepresentative they are. They are in any case bound to be unrepresentative. Certain types of people with certain backgrounds – and indeed certain ages – will be more likely to pursue such a career than others. But one wishes they would be honest about it. It is never mentioned in the media, for… Read more »