This is a devastating finding against a charity that was clearly out of control. Detailed concerns were first raised with the Charity Commission in March 2019. We are hugely grateful for their considered, thorough and forensic review of Christ Church, and their conclusions.
It is absurd to suggest that Christ Church Governing Body properly incurred these costs in a relentless, wasteful and unsuccessful campaign to prosecute Prof. Percy. It is beyond doubt now that a small group of trustees (the ‘Senate of Ex-Censors’ and handful of enforcers) at Christ Church were determined to get rid of Prof. Percy at any cost, and the Charity Commission correctly identifies this in their statement, by drawing attention to the failure of trustees in the exercise of their fiduciary duties. Notably, the Charity Commission states that:
· “There is a sense from reading the papers that whatever the cost of taking action against the Dean, the Charity was prepared to take it, which is not consistent with managing the Charity’s resources responsibly.” (Paragraph 72).
· Paragraph 67 states: “The Reviewer also observes that it is hard to avoid a view, having read the case files, that the trustees, or a proportion of them, were determined to remove the Dean from the Charity at almost any cost and this is exactly why the Commission has had such concern about the size of the costs incurred in the dispute with him and that this warranted consideration of an Official Warning.”
· Paragraph 81 adds: “There was an obligation on the trustees to be accountable for the way they spent the Charity’s funds and this requires openness amongst the Governing Body about costs.”
It is patently clear there was no effective oversight – and that there was a deliberate attempt to hide, and therefore mislead the public and alumni – about the legal and PR costs of the campaign to oust and smear Prof. Percy.
Alumni and donors will be shocked that £6.6m – money ostensibly earmarked for education – was instead squandered on lawyers and PR agencies. This was then covered up in the accounts under ‘education’. The deliberate “weaponization of multiple groundless safeguarding allegations”, all perpetrated by the individuals driving this campaign, which included clergy and church lawyers, remains a major concern.
During the protracted dispute, mediation had made little headway as the nominees acting for Christ Church mostly refused to meet with the Dean face-to-face to try and resolve matters. The nominees would then report back to Governing Body that Professor Percy was being intransigent and highly unreasonable, yet failed to disclose they had refused to meet with him. Having accused Martyn of “immoral, scandalous and disgraceful conduct”, “safeguarding failures” and also trying to remove him for alleged “mental incapacity”, the foundations for a mediated settlement were bound to be challenging for the former Dean.
Prof. Percy states: “We remain deeply grateful for the support we have had throughout this ordeal. We have now moved on, and sincerely hope Christ Church can come to terms with what has taken place and take remedial steps to reform its operations”.
However, the matter cannot be left there. Those responsible for mismanagement and/or misconduct should be held to account. Christ Church cannot recover from this episode until that happens.
We note that the College pleaded with the Charity Commission to conceal the findings from the public – claiming it would cause “reputational damage.” That suggests that, even now, a small group of unaccountable dons still running Christ Church has failed to learn the meaning of transparency and accountability. The Commission is to be congratulated on resisting this pressure.