Thinking Anglicans

Dean of Christ Church: some updates

We last reported on the tribunal hearing relating to the Dean of Christ Church on 21 August. Since then there have been some developments in the story.

30 August Church Times Dr Percy and his college face large legal bills

8 September Mail on Sunday ‘Bullying’ Oxford University dons are accused of using more than £1 million of charity cash to remove their names from damning report against dean

Oxford University dons have been accused of trying to avoid ‘damning criticism’ of their ill-fated effort to force out a college dean by having their names removed from a report.

Trustees at Christ Church college have spent more than £1 million on legal fees during a year-long feud with the dean, the Very Reverend Professor Martyn Percy.

The senior dons levelled charges of ‘immoral, scandalous or disgraceful conduct’ against the dean – but the case was thrown out at a tribunal chaired by retired High Court judge Sir Andrew Smith earlier this year.

Now Jonathan Aitken, the former Tory Minister and a Christ Church alumnus, has alleged that further funds are being spent to ensure that the names of some of the accusers are redacted from the 110-page tribunal report, which the dean’s supporters want published in full.

In a letter to Baroness Stowell, chairman of the Charity Commission, he wrote: ‘It is now known that some parts of the tribunal’s report… contain devastating criticisms of individual members of the governing body, particularly those officers of the college who led the attack on the dean.

‘It is those same officers who are now fighting the battle to have the tribunal report redacted.

‘They are, without the authority of the full governing body, instructing more expensive lawyers (paid for by charitable funds) to provide them with opinions to justify the attempted censorship.’

Calling on the Charity Commission to intervene, Mr Aitken claims the college has already spent £1.6 million on bringing the tribunal and the bill could soar to more than £2 million.

‘The scandal of wrongful charitable governance at Christ Church has grown, is continuing to grow and will soon become notorious as a result of media coverage, action by angry members of the wider Christ Church community, withdrawal of support by charitable donors and possible questions in Parliament,’ he added…

9 September Third Sector Former Cabinet minister urges regulator to intervene in Oxford college case

13 September Cherwell Christ Church blasted by former minister which includes:

…Alongside his letter to the charity commission, Aitken gave Cherwell the following comment, “Like many members of the Christ Church Alumni Association, I regard it as a scandal of governance that the full Governing Body of the College has been refused sight of a full, unredacted copy of the Tribunal’s findings and reasons for clearing the Dean of all charges.”

“The notion that a small cabal of anti-Dean Dons can censor the Tribunal’s report is an attempt at self-serving protection for themselves because they are severely criticised in the Appendices of the report.”

“The wounds at Christ Church need to be healed, in the longer term, by a sustained effort by all parties towards truth and reconciliation. This remains impossible as long as the truth contained in the Tribunal’s findings is not allowed to be seen by the Governing Body. In my mind the big question is: ‘Can the Governing Body govern itself?”

And this:

…In a recent letter to undergraduates, Dean Martyn Percy said: “I am writing to thank you for your support of Christ Church over these past months. This has not been an easy year for the House, but I want to reassure you that we are committed to Christ Church and its flourishing. Like a family, even in the midst of difficult times, we retain our core purposes and identity.

“It will take time to reflect on the events of the past year, and we would ask you to allow us the space to do this. The House will need to carefully consider the tribunal process and, more generally, its governance arrangements. The latter will be reviewed through an independent review as has been recommended by the Charity Commission. I ask you to please bear with us whilst we undertake this important work. As you can appreciate, we will not be commenting further until the review has been concluded.”

13 September Church Times Andrew Brown Press: Christ Church, Oxford, saga won’t go away

Update

17 September Telegraph Oxford alumni attack college over ‘bitter campaign’ against dean

 

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Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

We do not, as yet, know all of the facts, but on any showing these sums of money are staggering.

If this had been litigation in the civil courts, other than in the most exceptional circumstances, the losing party would have been ordered to pay the winner’s legal costs.

Dean Percy does say that the Charity Commission has recommended an independent review (another one) into the governance arrangements but that would not, presumably, extend to any consideration of the disciplinary tribunal.

Paul Waddington
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Paul Waddington

An independent review would probably cost another £100,000. But don’t worry someone else will be paying.

Father Ron Smith
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Having a close relative who is an alumnus of Christ Church, I am aware of the concern of him and of others that Dean Percy has been poorly treated on this whole issue. It is to be hoped that the College may be spared further ignominy by ensuring that the Dean does not suffer a personal financial burden by any expectation of him having to shoulder the cost of his legal defence. The good name of Christchurch Oxford may well depend on a just and proper outcome for Dr Percy.

Kate
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Kate

I quite understand why some alumni would feel like that but, for better or for worse, the House is a charity and voluntarily meeting such a liability might not be in line with the House’s charitable objectives and governing trust. I suspect a separate fund-raiser for the Dean, outside of the provisions of the House, would be more appropriate.

David Exham
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David Exham

It would be a bit rich if Christ Church were to refuse to pay the Dean’s costs on the grounds of the college’s charitable objects, having spent up to £2 million on bringing a baseless complaint against him. A separate fundraiser might well be a good thing for people to do, but it would be asking such people to pay for the college’s failings.

Sam Jones
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Sam Jones

Serious questions need to be asked as to what the legal fees were spent on and who authorised this level of spending. £1.6m would represent 3,200 hours of a senior lawyer’s time @ £500 per hour. It is difficult to see how a dispute with an employee would require this level of legal advice. Even if the issues were irreconcilable I am sure the college could have paid Martyn Percy off for a fraction of this amount.

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

The Dean isn’t an employee. In fact, as noted on a previous thread, the Dean as Head of House is supremo in practically everything (except in relation to his own position) with responsibility for discipline in ‘the House’. It’s extraordinary that (although chosen by the Governing Body) a Dean appointed by the Queen can be dismissed from office by ‘colleagues’. If it were it not such a serious matter, it’s almost worthy of P G Wodehouse. Doubtless the independent review will take these matters on board.

You and David Exham make very valid points about the sums involved.

Jeremy
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Jeremy

Perhaps it is time to name who is on the Governing Body. According to a Christ Church website, its members are as follows: The Very Rev’d Professor Martyn Percy – Dean The Ven. Archdeacon of Oxford Martin Gorick Canon Professor Nigel Biggar (Theology and Religion) Canon Professor Sarah Foot (Theology and Religion) Canon Professor Graham Ward (Theology and Religion) The Revd Canon E Newey – Sub Dean Canon Professor Carol Harrison (Theology) Professor Richard Rutherford (Classics) Professor Lindsay Judson (Philosophy) Professor Ian Watson (French) Professor Edwin Simpson (Law) Professor Sam Howison (Mathematics) Professor Mark Edwards (Theology and Religion) Professor Malcolm… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

I haven’t checked every single name, but they all also appear to to be the Christ Church charity trustees.

David Exham
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David Exham

The members of the Governing Body are the charitable trustees, by definition, as it were. One cannot be one without automatically being the other.

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

Indeed. Having just reminded myself of charitable trustees potentially having joint and several liability for debts and damages etc., I’m relieved that I am no longer one. Trustees may have the protection of insurance cover, but without it they are personally liable.