Thinking Anglicans

Christ Church dispute with Dean: many more details exposed

Updated Monday; updated again Tuesday, and again Wednesday (scroll down)

We last reported on this long-running saga on 16 February. Today The Times carries a lengthy article by Andrew Billen which contains a great deal more detail, and names of individuals involved, than any previous report. You will need to register with the website to read this. It’s well worth the trouble.

Christ Church scandal: Lavinia Woodward, college dean Martyn Percy and the censors

…It is the story of how a professor at Christ Church blew the whistle on an archaic and inadequate safeguarding regime that had failed her, and claims of how a cabal of academics conspired first to thwart and then delay his proposed reforms before working to remove him from office. The whistleblower was not a junior employee, a naive young don, but the head of the college, the dean of Christ Church himself, the Very Rev Professor Martyn Percy…

There is also a leading article: The Times view on Martyn Percy: Low Table.

Update 1: (Saturday 29 February) there is a revised (from earlier 14 February) statement from Christ Church here:

There has been a clear attempt, through the media, to disrupt the ongoing mediation process that the Governing Body is funding to resolve the current dispute with the Dean. Confidential legal information has been leaked and presented in a deliberately-misleading fashion, aimed at damaging the reputation of Christ Church and a number of its former and current trustees. This account of the dispute is simply not true. Even in the light of such pressure, we remain committed to the mediation.

There is categorically no link between safeguarding and the complaint over pay initiated by the Dean. Christ Church is focused on providing a safe environment for all, and to giving safeguarding the highest importance. Christ Church has been reviewing its safeguarding processes over the last three years and we are confident that all relevant policies met statutory requirements throughout the period in question.

Legal advice has been provided to trustees and officers, acting on behalf of Christ Church, throughout the dispute with the Dean. Those trustees and officers are, and always have been, committed to working for the good of Christ Church. In December 2019, a vote of no confidence was put to the Governing Body. 38 voted that they had no confidence in the Dean, with only 2 against the motion. Frustrations conveyed about the Dean, exacerbated by the dispute over his pay, have also in the past been expressed in some private emails – however, again, none of these related to safeguarding matters.

Mediation with the Dean, funded by Christ Church, is due to continue next week. We very much hope that we can find a way forward through this process.

Update 2:(Tuesday 2 March)There is a new report in The Times: Christ Church Oxford tries to silence defence of dean

The headline in the paper edition reads: Don’t read it! Oxford college tries to silence defence of dean.

…On Sunday evening all 60 members of the governing body of Christ Church were emailed an unredacted copy of the judgment delivered in secret last summer by Sir Andrew Smith, a retired High Court judge.
The emailed copy was sent by the Rev Jonathan Aitken, the former cabinet minister who was once an undergraduate at the college…

…Within half an hour of Mr Aitken sending his email, Geraldine Johnson, the senior Governing Body member …wrote: Please immediately delete the email from Mr Aitken… It is extremely important that we retain our united front on this matter…

Do read the full article if you can. There is also a letter to the editor from Jonathan Aitken.

Update 3: (Wednesday 4 March) There is a new statement from Christ ChurchUpdate on Safeguarding

On 7 February 2020, we received a media enquiry regarding the two Employment Tribunal claims, which the Dean has lodged against Christ Church. This included an allegation that a former student had been sexually assaulted during their time at Christ Church, whilst still a minor. Upon further investigation, it is apparent that this allegation was disclosed to the Dean, but never reported by him to the police, the local authority designated officer, Christ Church’s safeguarding officers, or the Church of England’s safeguarding officer.

This allegation has now been reported to the police. Internal investigations have subsequently raised serious concerns about the Dean’s handling of four separate matters reported to him. All relate to allegations of sexual abuse or assault, two involving a minor. On legal advice, we have also made a report to the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Office, and they have opened an investigation.

There is no implication whatsoever that the Dean himself has been involved in any form of sexual misconduct.

Protecting our students, pupils, staff, and all those who live, work, or study at Christ Church is our highest priority. We are assisting the Church of England and the police in their enquiries, and we are putting in place measures to ensure that our safeguarding obligations continue to be met.

Christ Church’s Governing Body is fully committed to safeguarding and has robust policies and processes in place. Our thoughts are with any survivors of abuse affected by this news. If anyone requires immediate support, they should contact Christ Church or the police.

March 4, 2020

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
22 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
God 'elp us all
God 'elp us all
4 months ago

A reminder that institutions of higher education, amongst others, have long thought they should administer ‘justice’ themselves without reference to ‘law’ …

I was working in a university hall of residence when the Donellan case hit the news:

https://universityappg.co.uk/sites/default/files/field/attachment/NUS%20Zellick%20report%20briefing.pdf

It’s hard to believe how long it takes for an institution to learn.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
3 months ago

I recall that last year (or was it earlier – this matter has been so long drawn out that it’s difficult to be precise about the chronology) there was discussion on TA of this provision from the Christ Church Statutes: Statute XXXIX (Redundancy, Discipline, etc.) Part VII (Removal of the Dean from Office) “42. If it appears both (a) to the Governing Body; and (b) to the Chapter on the available material that the complaint is supported by sufficient evidence which could, if proved, constitute good cause for the removal of the Dean from office, the Governing Body and the… Read more »

Richard W. Symonds
3 months ago

Legal advice is being taken in the case of Bishop Bell by those seeking damages against the Church of England. The Donellan case would appear to set a precedent.

Interested Observer
Interested Observer
4 months ago

As a rather less exalted academic than the denizens of “The House”, the story rings horribly true. What rings most particularly true is the pathological aversion to clear job descriptions, the bad faith arguments used to attack them, and the entirely out of proportion lengths to which elderly academics will go to subvert them. A certain sort of older, senior academic doesn’t like clear job descriptions, clear learning objectives, clear management structures or clear decision structures. They don’t like anything which implies they do not have the powers of captains of ships at sea in international waters, empowered to perform… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
4 months ago

I read it. I’ve said before, and I repeat, that this is not a church matter. It’s puerile and pusillanimous dons behaving entirely stereotypically in trying to get rid of someone who is not of the ‘club’, sees what needs to be done, and tries to do it. There’s nothing in the article that comes as a shock to anyone who has had anything to do with academics. It’s a novel co-authored by Lewis Carroll and Tom Sharpe. I like a bit of cut and thrust, and I like to provoke and be provoked, but one or two comments on… Read more »

David Keen
David Keen
4 months ago

There’s a certain irony that Martyn Percy has criticised the Archbishop of Canterbury for ‘managerialism’, yet here he is getting it in the neck for following good practice in the management and leadership of ChristChurch. I hope he wins this.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
3 months ago

Today’s Times carries a letter from Prof Nigel Biggar saying that the claims Christ Church continue to make are untrue. Dean Percy did not ‘”request…a sizeable salary increase” over and above his current “six-figure sum”‘ but merely asked why the post was not remunerated on a level with other Oxford colleges. Prof Biggar also confirms that it was Dean Percy’s insistence on safeguarding and proper job descriptions that was the root of the trouble.

Sam Jones
Sam Jones
3 months ago

If Percy did lose a no-confidence vote 38 to 2, his position is completely untenable. The sooner a payoff is agreed the better.

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
3 months ago
Reply to  Sam Jones

It all depends on the facts of each case. There are many valid whistleblowers who would lose a vote of no confidence held among the clique of powerful people they are whistleblowing against. That does not mean the only correct or valid way forward is for the whistleblower to be paid cash to keep quiet and go away, although that is what often happens. Sometimes the whistleblower stays and fights and is vindicated.

God 'elp us all
God 'elp us all
3 months ago
Reply to  Simon Dawson

Whistleblowers/ tellers of truth to power/ prophets must unfortunately expect persecution/ exclusion/ loss of job or even life.
Whether Martyn Percy is an employee or worker or not, for ‘the church or ‘the college (‘The House of Christ’) or neither or both,he is up against powers and principalities

http://www.gov.uk/whistleblowing
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-47936662

Thinking also of survivors of such as Weinstein, Ball, Vanier …

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
3 months ago

I agree with your linking this with the Weinstein case. There is also (in the UK) the Pritti Patel/Philip Rutman bust up. It seems to me that in each case (unusually) the whistleblower/complainant is not a minor functionary but very senior in the profession. In each case the whistleblowers/complainants were offered money to go away quietly. In each case the complainant refused to go away quietly but took the immense emotional and financial risk to stay and fight, not just (it seems) to protect themselves, but to protect other people further down the food chain. The Weinstein complainants were vindicated.… Read more »

Kate
Kate
3 months ago
Reply to  Sam Jones

Whatever happens, within 5 years or so, a tiny amount of time in the history of an institution of the House, Dr Percy will be gone, through retirement if nothing else. However, the college will need to raise money from the alumni who are doubtless watching this with horror for another 50 years or more. In many ways what the Students (dons) think is irrelevant compared to how potential benefactors see things.

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
3 months ago
Reply to  Kate

The thing is that the place is so well endowed that it really doesn’t need to raise money – the idea that any of this is really about money, or that the amounts being spent (wasted) or lost (though profligate) are in any way existentially problematic, is just wrong. The numbers make good/shocking headlines for human beings used to more modest amounts. The whole thing points to an institution which needs to recover a sense of moral purpose – given that its core purposes are religion and education there should be resources to do this, including its governing documents.

Robert Riding
Robert Riding
1 month ago
Reply to  Kate

I suspect I am not the only alumnus of The House who is cancelling his bequest for a seven figure sum to endow a lectureship. If the Governing Body can spend millions on their campaign against Martyn Percy they clearly don’t need mine. Perhaps the Visitor could ask the Charity Commission how this expenditure qualifies.

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
3 months ago
Reply to  Sam Jones

Have the people who voted yet seen the unredacted report of the hearing of the complaints? I hope they all have – because to vote on a matter of this kind without being fully informed would – in most settings – represent a serious failure of governance.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
3 months ago
Reply to  Mark Bennet

Today’s Times reports that on Sunday evening Jonathan Aitken emailed the unredacted report with appended email correspondence (as reported in the Times) to all members of the Governing Body. Within half an hour Geraldine Johnson, the senior Governing Body member, emailed them all asking that they delete the email and attachments unopened. So no, they hadn’t read it when they passed a no confidence vote. I think Ms. Johnson needs to explain why she doesn’t want them to read it now.

It’s not the dean’s position which is untenable, in my view.

John Wallace
John Wallace
3 months ago
Reply to  Janet Fife

I agree with Janet. Why wasn’t a report which was obviously commissioned / organised by the Governing Body, not made fully available to all its members befofe any other steps were taken? If there is embarassing content in respect of some of them, that is the responsibility of those who wrote the grossly offensive emails; it should not be hidden or colluded with. My view is that the Charity Commission needs to step in urgently to look at the governance of Christchurch. To me this saga is an offence to academic openness and a great shame for the C of… Read more »

Anthony Archer
Anthony Archer
3 months ago

For an academic institution that has proven that it has nothing better to do than gossip by email (and worse), it was fatuous in the extreme to think that the 60 Students (members of the Governing Body) would not have opened an email from Revd Jonathan Aitken, together with its attachment, a document they should all have received last summer through official College channels, by the time (30 minutes) an apparent later email from the Senior Censor instructed them to delete it. Realising from media coverage that the tribunal report was in the public domain, he was right to send… Read more »

Susannah Clark
3 months ago
Reply to  Anthony Archer

Indeed. It must be a total nightmare for them, embroiled in a toxic culture and with so much spite. How sad that people who are supposedly learned, and are undoubtedly privileged, can act with vindictiveness and downright ignorant unkindness. I have personal family links with Christ Church Oxford, and I’m appalled at the dishonour this has brought on an institution that had a wonderful reputation, tradition and history. At this point, if resignations are not pushed through, and compensation awarded with sincere apology, then belonging to that governing body will be a badge of shame. For goodness sake: Christ Church… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
3 months ago
Reply to  Susannah Clark

There’s no necessary link between academic distinction and emotional/psychological maturity. In fact, many academics neglected their emotional development in order to concentrate on their scholarly avocation. You can see this at school, where many children resent the ‘girly swots’ and ‘nerds’, who perforce are less socially integrated. I think this is one of the things behind Kissinger’s famous observation that disputes between academics are so vicious ‘because the stakes are so low’. Here the stakes are very high – the welfare of students and the reputation of the college – but the tactics are definitely low.

Susannah Clark
3 months ago
Reply to  Janet Fife

I agree Janet. I used to have two next door neighbours when I was a child (they are deceased now) and they made a big thing about belonging to MENSA. No doubt they did indeed have high ability in that narrow measure of intelligence that is verbal and non-verbal reasoning, and fair enough. But the experience of my brothers and I was that they had exceptionally low emotional intelligence. They would puncture our footballs if they went over the fence. They weren’t able to integrate when my parents invited them to parties with other people in the neighbourhood. And they… Read more »

Christian Rarre
Christian Rarre
3 months ago
Reply to  Susannah Clark

Beautifully written, thank you.

22
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x