Thinking Anglicans

Christ Church Oxford: criticism of proposed tribunal

We last reported on this topic on 7 October: Christ Church Oxford: a further update. Since then there have been a number of developments, but two items were published this morning:

Martin Sewell argues that the public can have no confidence in the current arrangements for a further disciplinary tribunal hearing, and that the Charity Commission is also deeply concerned.

The Church Times report gives further detail on the latter:

On 4 November, Helen Earner, director of regulatory services, wrote to the Revd Professor Sarah Foot, Censor Theologiae and chair of the Governing Body, requesting a long list of background information about the dispute. This includes Governing Body minutes from June 2018 covering the salaries-board dispute that sparked the original complaint against the Dean; the money that the college has spent on its action hitherto, including payments for legal advice and public-relations support; and details of the mediation process and why it was halted.

Also requested are copies of the emails from senior figures in the college made available to Sir Andrew Smith, who conducted the internal inquiry that exonerated the Dean (News, 21 August 2019). Sir Andrew included them in an appendix to his report, but they were redacted from the version circulated to members of the Governing Body. One email about the Dean read: “I’m always ready to think the worst of him. . . Does anyone know any good poisoners?”

Ms Earner also responds in her letter to two questions by Professor Foot. On the question whether the college could contribute to Dean Percy’s legal costs in the tribunal process, she writes: “Based on what we understand to be the current situation, we would see that it is likely to fall within the range of reasonable decisions that trustees could make.”

Professor Foot’s other question is whether the college could pay for legal advice for individual members of the Governing Body who want to take action for alleged defamation “and/or misuse of private information”. The Governing Body has been disturbed by leaks throughout this process, and Ms Earner’s letter acknowledges that “some members of the Governing Body have identified themselves as whistleblowers.”

Before ruling whether this is a permissible use of funds, Ms Earner asks whether the Governing Body has set a budget or cap on money to be advanced to individual members.

Her letter ends by reminding the Governing Body that it is a criminal offence knowingly or recklessly to provide false or misleading information.

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Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
10 days ago

Ref: Archbishop Cranmer has published an opinion piece by Martin SewellChrist Church cannot afford the perception of a ‘Show Trial’

“It is a delusion to think we can be impartial when there is a conflict of interest” Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of Clergy

David Lamming
David Lamming
9 days ago

Perhaps a journalist will contact Archdeacon Chaffey and ask whether, in the light of the Cranmer article and the arguments and references it contains, he will recognise the conflict of interests and ‘reasonable apprehension or suspicion of bias’ that exist in this case, and voluntarily announce that he is to stand down as a member of the tribunal.

Father Ron Smith
9 days ago

MartinSewell: “In 2020, the Church of England foolishly admitted two members of the College faction seeking the Dean’s removal to the national Core Group considering a separate allegation (later roundly dismissed). That was utterly inappropriate. How could complainants be permitted to sit and decide whether their own complaint merited a full inquiry?” This paragraph alone, from the point of view of an outsider, would question the propriety of the Church of England seemingly planting a couple of ‘cuckoos in their own nest’ of judicial enquiry. One wonders how this would play our in other spheres where ‘common justice’ might be a realistic… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Father Ron Smith
9 days ago

Father Ron: The two stood down. As you rightly say, it should never have happened in the first place. Some of us at the time believed that the other remaining members of the core group should also have resiled themselves.  Even if not intentionally complicit, they had been involved in, or had been drawn into, an impropriety. The proper course would have been to start again with an entirely new and independent group.  The answer to your rhetorical question is, I believe, that it would be impossible in any of the three legal jurisdictions of the UK. I witnessed an example of the integrity of… Read more »

Father David
Father David
9 days ago

Couldn’t the ABC simply declare that no “significant cloud” hangs over Dean Percy and bring this whole long running farce to a conclusion? It seems to me little short of persecution.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Father David
9 days ago

This is nothing to do with the Archbishop. Christ Church Oxford is a ‘non-Royal peculiar’ (the term used by William Nye) and not within the Archbishop’s jurisdiction. As has been stated here many times, the Crown is the Visitor of both the College and the Cathedral.

Father David
Father David
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
9 days ago

It is often said that the only power the ABC has is the power of persuasion. Surely, as chief pastor of the Established Church Archbishop Welby should be deeply concerned about the great damage the Christ Church Pantomime is doing not only to the diocese of Oxford but also to the entire Church of England? So, I would respectfully suggest, this has everything to do with the Archbishop, one of whose roles is Primate of All England. In this long running tragedy, a little persuasion wouldn’t go amiss. I recall that Pontius Pilate once took a “Nothing to do with… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Father David
9 days ago

I’m sure your final comment is correct. I tried to set out the legal position. But the analogy with Pilate isn’t a good one. He possessed absolute powers; the Archbishop does not in the context of the unique set up of Oxford. Also, this isn’t solely a Church matter – in fact, quite the contrary. The College is the prime mover in the internal tribunal proceedings, so I’m afraid I can’t share your optimism that the dons would necessarily take any notice of what the Archbishop might say. You would be on safer ground in pinning your hopes on the… Read more »

Martin Sewell
Martin Sewell
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
8 days ago

The Government takes no notice of the Bishops on many things but it doesn’t stop them trying to do what is right..,

They should do it here.

David James
David James
Reply to  Father David
9 days ago

Thank you. One of the most unfortunate aspects in this saga is the failure of ABC (or anyone else in ‘Authority’ ) to use any kind of influence to help bring this saga to any kind of conclusion. To use position and status to gain personal advantage of any kind is unacceptable, to use it when there is a clear case of injustice and persecution is entirely different. A word ‘around the back of the shed’ would be totally in order.

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to  David James
8 days ago

“To use position and status…when there is a clear case of injustice and persecution is entirely different. A word ‘around the back of the shed’ would be totally in order” [DJ] It might be totally in order, but it would appear it can be totally ignored. I am given to understand the key episcopal player in the Martyn Percy/Christ Church case is not Archbishop Justin Welby – it is the Bishop of Oxford Steven Croft. He is the Diocesan Bishop, and for matters concerning his Diocese he trumps the Archbishop. The same presumably applies to the Diocese of Chichester. The… Read more »

God 'elp us all
God 'elp us all
Reply to  David James
8 days ago

Perhaps a Twittering of a delicately nuanced letter from one who speaks with Authority may produce an appreciative response from ‘the Authorities’? 😉

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  David James
8 days ago

Although, like many, I am thoroughly bored with, and comparatively indifferent towards, this whole affair, I suspect that neither the archbishop nor [m]any other bishops will be rushing to come to the aid of one party or another. Dr Percy had almost constituted himself as a de facto ‘leader of the opposition’ to the bench before his legal and other difficulties became public, and I daresay that the bench have not forgotten this. Whether they have also forgiven it, being human, is another matter. As to the status of the visitor, I imagine that the sum total of her involvement… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Froghole
8 days ago

The Martin Neary and Wesley Carr episode at Westminster Abbey should serve as a terrible warning to those who so readily offer their personal solutions to the Ch Ch conundrum.

For what my opinion might be worth, I had no expectation of the Visitor becoming involved. Her stance, I suspect, would be that the Dean has pending claim(s) in the Employment Tribunal which counts as one of Her Majesty’s Courts, if not in the highest echelons of those, and that the law should take its course.

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to  Froghole
8 days ago

“Although, like many, I am thoroughly bored with, and comparatively indifferent towards, this whole affair…” – ‘Froghole’.

Boredom and indifference – regarding this very serious moral and legal issue of justice [from an anonymous but learned TA contributor] – are not helpful.

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Richard W. Symonds
7 days ago

Many thanks. The comment I made was not a creditable one, and I apologise for it. I recall Richard Pinch remarking on this website some time ago, that it was like watching an old friend succumb to drink. In this instance the old friend seems determined not to climb onto the waggon. Like Dr Pinch I am an alumnus of Christ Church, but in my case there came a time a couple of years ago when it became evident that the ‘old friend’ (i.e., the college) seemed so incapable of helping itself, and so unwilling to do so, that something… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Froghole
6 days ago

But isn’t that, at least in part, why the Dean asked for pay rates to be reviewed? And that got spun as asking for a rise for himself.

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Janet Fife
6 days ago

Yes: I have evidently swallowed the propaganda uncritically, and must apologise for that.

Louise Deschamps
Louise Deschamps
Reply to  Froghole
2 days ago

By students, I assume you mean dons (in Christ Church speak)? In which case your figures for dons’ pay, in the college, would seem to be at odds with the National Pay Framework for UK universities. The starting salary for a newly appointed academic is about £40k and rises to about £70k with promotion. Professorial pay can go up to £120k plus. (See Oxford Uni website for details.) It is true that teaching fellows, on fixed-term contracts, earn a lot less. But they are not classified as academic appointments; typically they are PhD students/recent doctoral graduates who do teaching on… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Louise Deschamps
2 days ago

Many thanks. I responded to your similar comment on SC earlier this week, but for some reason it was not published, perhaps because I included this link, with which I had been familiar: https://finance.admin.ox.ac.uk/salary-scales#collapse1096031. Some of my gullibility/stupidity perhaps has its origins in reportage from several years’ ago, such as this: https://www.ft.com/content/2cb52a3e-eaad-11e9-a240-3b065ef5fc55. It seems to me, looking at these scales, that pay starts at £29,614 for ‘academic’ appointments, and not at £40k; it is not necessarily the case that all such staff are stuck in the GCR. For several years pay has been rising below the prevailing rate of inflation,… Read more »

Martin Sewell
Martin Sewell
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
8 days ago

Rowland, the Church can clarify that all its requirements nationally are met. It then becomes a matter for the Bishop of Oxford whose performance in this matter is seriously sub-optimal. At General Synod a Bishop who knows I have an all round grasp of the situation asked me to explain Bp Croft’s thinking – it makes no sense to many, and they are right. If you seriously have grounds to believe a clergy person is a risk, you can use the Safeguarding Clergy Risk Assessment rules 2016. He KNOWS he has no grounds to do so but still wounds with… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Martin Sewell
8 days ago

My comments were largely concerned with the Ch Ch Internal Tribunal which seems to be driven by the dons, although the Canons are a party to it. It had crossed my mind that the Archbishop might have already made representations from the C of E angle, but it would have been unkind to point out to Fr David and David James that, if so, they had been singularly unsuccessful. 

Let’s hope that the Charity Commission might make headway where others have failed. 

Martin Sewell
Martin Sewell
Reply to  Father David
8 days ago

David, believe me I have put this precisely in the terms you propose to the CofE at highest level, and they will say privately to the Dean and to me that there is no impediment to his resuming ministry when his health permits. But they refuse to say so publicly. This is high level moral cowardice.

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
8 days ago

I am wondering who might think they have a stronger case than the Dean for defamation?

Martin Sewell
Martin Sewell
Reply to  Mark Bennet
8 days ago

He has been left seriously in debt as a result of past persecution by litigation. He simply cannot afford and is is no medical state to take on yet more litigation cost and worry.

The Governing Body were advised way back that not paying his defence costs for their previous failed allegations was “ not moral but legal”. They did not actually ask the Charity Commission until recently and they have just indicated it is within the Trustees discretionary powers.

The pressure to do the decent thing is becoming increasingly strong.

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
8 days ago

“It is a disgraceful abuse of power. It is just like George Bell – defaming but not respecting the processes… But they refuse to say so publicly. This is high level moral cowardice” [Martin Sewell]

Regarding Bishop Bell, only Archbishop Welby – so far – has shown brave moral and legal courage to publicly admit “I was wrong”.

Regarding Martyn Percy, moral and legal cowardice still reigns at the highest levels within the Church of England.

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to  Richard W. Symonds
8 days ago

Not even “I was wrong to be silent”

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to  Richard W. Symonds
6 days ago

Archbishop Welby’s ‘’I was wrong’ confession might trigger a significant cloudburst of criticism against the Diocese of both Oxford and Chichester who, so far, show little sign of following the Archbishop into the ‘confession box’.

Last edited 6 days ago by Richard W. Symonds
David Lamming
David Lamming
7 days ago

Among the 17 items of ‘Information Required’ by the Charity Commission in the appendix to the letter from Helen Earner to Professor Foot (copied to all trustees), the subject of the report in the 26 November 2021 issue of the Church Times set out above, are: (1) “An annual breakdown of the costs incurred by the charity from 1 April 2018 to date in respect of (a) disciplinary action against the dean… These costs should include(but distinguish between) all payments for legal advice, public relations support and other professional services.” (2) “The budgeted provision for (a) The Smith Tribunal, (b)… Read more »

David Lamming
David Lamming
7 days ago

[… continuation] Sir Andrew Smith’s Decision is dated 19 August 2019. It would be revealing to see the letter that the Censors promised to send to alumni by way of an update following that Decision, by which Sir Andrew dismissed all 27 charges against the Dean. Transparency is not exactly uppermost in the minds of the College malcontents. It may be recalled that when an alumnus, who had obtained a copy of the 110-page Smith Decision, e-mailed it to the trustees, one of the Censors sought to suppress it, asking those who had received it to delete the e-mail. The… Read more »

Last edited 7 days ago by David Lamming
Anthony Archer
Anthony Archer
6 days ago

This is all unravelling fast for the Students and Canons of Christ Church, which is of course little solace for the Dean, as a resolution of this affair still seems some way off. The answers to the questions posed by the Charity Commission will reveal much, significantly the total legal and other related professional fees so far incurred, the details of the abortive mediation process, the full audit trail of decisions taken by the Governing Body since 2018, and all the emails provided to Sir Andrew Smith for the purposes of his Tribunal, extracts from which he quoted in an… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Anthony Archer
6 days ago

Possibly as significant as the list of the Charity Commission’s requirements which you mention is their further requirement in relation to the minutes of relevant meetings of the Governing Body from 2018 to the present time when the issues were discussed and decisions taken, to be told “which trustees were present when the discussions took place and the decisions were taken”.

God 'elp us all
God 'elp us all
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
4 days ago

Showing my ignorance here/ a dumb question …?
Who carries responsibility in relation to ‘decisions taken’? Those who voted for (or against?) the proposition under consideration? The person(s) proposing/ recommending? All present? The whole Governing Body? The ‘institution’?
Opportunity for more ‘advice’ to be sought, argued, accepted/ acted upon, and paid for, by some body/ bodies? What an unholy mess. WWJD?

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  God 'elp us all
4 days ago

Obviously I don’t know what the Charity Commission has in mind, but it struck me as a very pointed and significant question. It’s open to anyone who disagrees with what is being proposed to ask that their dissenting vote is specifically recorded in the minutes. Where all this will lead we can only wait to see.

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
4 days ago

Indeed one can ask – but that doesn’t guarantee that dissent is recorded. It is conventional, but the majority can approve minutes which do not record dissent. Obviously then the question of further action arises. Unsure what happened in this case, but I have seen it made practically impossible for disagreement to be noted eg the use of ‘decision only’ minutes. I think Charity guidance needs to be more explicit that the records kept by trustees, including minutes and annual reports should be sufficient to demonstrate that they have been discharging their duties, and also an explicit right to have… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Reply to  Mark Bennet
4 days ago

It would be instructive if the reports of the bishops’ meetings also recorded dissent!

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