Thinking Anglicans

Fr Alan Griffin: Diocese of London responds to Coroner

Updated Tuesday evening

Church Times report: Diocese of London accepts coroner’s list of failings in Fr Griffin case

Submission to Coroner – Fr Alan Griffin

This PDF version may be easier to read: Submission to Coroner Fr Alan Griffin

Response by the Diocese of London and Lambeth Palace to the Regulation 28 Report (9 July 2021) to the Church of England in relation to the death by suicide of Fr Alan Griffin on 8 November 2020

  1. Introduction

The Diocese of London and Lambeth Palace wish to thank the Coroner for writing to the Archbishop of Canterbury and bringing to our attention the various matters of concern that were prompted by her investigation into the tragic death of Father Alan Griffin.

Those concerns have been shared with and considered carefully by the various Church Institutions. We have formed a Case Steering Group, with representatives including the Diocese of London, the National Safeguarding Team (NST), Lambeth Palace, and an independent professional member of the Diocese of London’s Safeguarding Steering Group to oversee both this response and our next steps.

This report is our collective response on behalf of the Church of England to your Report to Prevent Future Deaths dated 9 July 2021, in accordance with the provisions of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.

  1. Aims

The Diocese of London and Lambeth Palace express their deep regret and sorrow at the death of Fr Alan Griffin. We acknowledge that there were either poor processes or systems, or mistakes, that led to unreasonable pressures on Fr Alan and we take responsibility for what went wrong. This response is prepared to assure the Chief Coroner of the Diocese’s commitment to change, ongoing learning and improvement.

We will seek to respond to the key points that have been raised by the Coroner in criticism of the Diocese of London’s handling of the concerns relating to Fr Alan, to set out current and future actions to improve our handling of conduct and safeguarding concerns, and to set out measures to mitigate the risk of any future suicide by someone who is the subject of such concerns within the Church of England.

We are also committed to undertaking a Lessons Learned Review and implementing any necessary actions (see section 5).

  1. Other parties

We are committed to doing whatever we can in partnership with our colleagues in the Roman Catholic Church to improve our joint management of matters that affect people within both our Churches.

  1. Immediate first steps

We had already made a Serious Incident Report to the Charity Commission, and this has been updated since the publication of the R28 Report.

As a result of the concerns that the Coroner raised in her report, we have revised the terms of reference initially proposed for the Lessons Learned Review and have taken steps towards appointing an experienced, independent reviewer,[1] not previously known to or associated with the Diocese of London, who is able to give rigorous external scrutiny to the safeguarding systems and processes of the Diocese of London as applied in this case.

To ensure good process, we have consulted the independent professional members of the Diocese of London’s Safeguarding Steering Group (part of the governance of the Diocese of London) and are engaging with the close family and friends of Fr Griffin who were registered as Interested Parties for the purposes of the Inquest, about these Terms of Reference.

  1. Lessons Learned Review

We aim to agree the Terms of Reference by early September with the intention of the Lessons Learned Review (“the Review”) beginning in September 2021.   The purpose and objectives of the Review are currently as follows:

  • This Review will examine the Diocese of London’s handling of information relating to the late Fr Alan Griffin in the light of the ten specific concerns and three further issues set out in Section 5 of the Coroner’s Regulation 28 Report. The Review will set out a simple and accessible chronology of events.
  • It will identify lessons to be learned and how they should be acted on, which will enable the Diocese of London and the Church of England to take steps to enhance and improve their handling of matters relating to conduct and safeguarding.
  • The Review will consider the effectiveness of procedures, areas of service improvement and development needs and will establish what lessons can be learned regarding the way in which information is responded to, recorded, assessed, shared, and managed.
  • The overall purpose of the Review is to promote learning and improve practice, not to apportion blame.
  • It will make recommendations about what could be done better in the Church of England to help prevent such a death taking place again.
  • With the cooperation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster, it will seek to understand how information was shared and acted upon between the Diocese of London and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster and set out lessons that should be learned to improve this.

The full Terms of Reference (subject to consultation) will be published on the Diocese of London website when consultations are complete (anticipated early September 2021).

The report continues at very great length to describe initial actions taken, actions being taken at national level by the National Safeguarding Team, and responses to the coroner’s specific criticisms. Read the whole document to understand the detailed level of these responses. It concludes with this explanation on one particular point:

  • Finally, the coroner responded to the legal submissions made on 28 June 2021 in these terms:

I then received submissions on behalf of the Church of England regarding any prevention of future deaths report. These submissions impressed upon me that referrals to child protection and safeguarding professionals must not be reduced and urged me not to include any concerns that may be taken as a criticism of clerics or staff for not filtering or verifying allegation.  

The aim of making this submission to the Coroner was not to deflect criticism away from clergy or staff if they had acted inappropriately. It was made in the context of the IICSA recommendations and in the light of existing House of Bishop’s Guidance to the clergy that state that clergy must refer all safeguarding concerns or allegations to the Diocesan Safeguarding Team in the first instance and in any event within 24 hours (see 6, above). This is to ensure untrained clergy are not investigating or using their own judgement, and to establish consistency of process. We believe that our clergy and staff acted in accordance with this Guidance and we were concerned that any criticism of them for following it might deter others from the appropriate reporting of safeguarding concerns

Our submission, therefore, was intended to ask the Coroner to bear in mind when making her findings that all clergy and staff are obliged to follow this Guidance. The Guidance is clear that it is inappropriate for clergy and staff to filter or investigate any apparent or alleged safeguarding related concerns and instructs them to refer these directly to safeguarding professionals. The Church of England has worked hard to ensure that all clergy and staff are clear about their reporting obligations. We were and are keen that this good work is not undermined.

For completeness the relevant Diocese of London submission is included here:    

If, despite these submissions, the learned coroner remains minded to issue a regulation 28 report, she is urged not to include any concerns that may be taken as a criticism of clerics or staff for not filtering or verifying allegations. The learned Coroner has heard that the events in question took place in the context of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). The purpose of the Inquiry, as set out in its terms of reference, is to consider the extent to which State and non-State institutions have failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation. The Diocese of London is deeply committed to child protection and wishes to avoid anything that may have the unintended consequences of reducing referrals to child protection and safeguarding professionals.

At the bottom of the document the following list of names appears:

Case Steering Group:

Richard Gough, General Secretary of the Diocese of London
Joanne Grenfell, Bishop of Stepney
Zena Marshall, Interim National Director of Safeguarding
Tim Thornton, Bishop at Lambeth (alternate Richard Sudworth)
Tim Bishop, independent member of the London Diocesan Safeguarding Steering Group
Date: 24 August 2021

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Richard Ashby
Richard Ashby
30 days ago

Why won’t the review apportion blame, or are those who share responsibility for the suicide going to get away with it?

Alison Menage
Alison Menage
Reply to  Richard Ashby
30 days ago

Well said Sir!!

Liam Beadle
Liam Beadle
30 days ago

“The aim of making this submission to the Coroner was not to deflect criticism away from clergy or staff if they had acted inappropriately. It was made in the context of the IICSA recommendations and in the light of existing House of Bishop’s Guidance to the clergy that state that clergy must refer all safeguarding concerns or allegations to the Diocesan Safeguarding Team in the first instance and in any event within 24 hours (see 6, above). This is to ensure untrained clergy are not investigating or using their own judgement, and to establish consistency of process. We believe that… Read more »

Fr Dean
Fr Dean
Reply to  Liam Beadle
30 days ago

As you say Liam there is always a judgement involved in deciding whether something is a safeguarding matter or not. The ‘brain dump’ that led to this tragedy from what I’ve read was nothing more than homophobic tittle tattle, didn’t the Coroner decide that as a matter of fact?

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
30 days ago

If allegations with no proof were sent to Roman Catholic officials by CofE officials upon Fr. Griffin’s conversion, per the BBC: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-57780729, how does the Roman Catholic Church bear any responsibility, unless it is alleged the Roman Catholic Church officials did not follow through more carefully? Unfounded charges against Fr. Griffin who had apparently served faithfully for decades, having to answer questions about allegations Fr. Griffin was never fully informed of. Is this England? Or the old USSR? If someone makes credible allegations about abuse of minors, the accuser deserves protection, but the accused deserves basic rights also. Such as… Read more »

T Pott
T Pott
Reply to  peterpi - Peter Gross
29 days ago

A previous employer trying to undermine an employee who has jumped ship by making vague and unspecified insinuations is sadly not confined to the churches.

Fr Dean
Fr Dean
30 days ago

Why haven’t the Archbishop and the Bishop of London put their names to this response? Too grand even for HM Coroner?

Pete Broadbent
Pete Broadbent
Reply to  Fr Dean
30 days ago

Because Justin is on sabbatical and Sarah is on holiday, and we have to meet a deadline. So +Tim was deputising for Justin, and +Joanne, who has the safeguarding portfolio, was acting for +Sarah (who has seen and signed off the response). We try to work collectively on these matters – including taking collective responsibility when we get things wrong.

Michael Mulhern
Michael Mulhern
Reply to  Pete Broadbent
30 days ago

Will this ‘taking collective responsibility when we get things wrong’ mean that those who wrote to the Coroner urging her ‘not to include any concerns that may be taken as a criticism of clerics or staff for not filtering or verifying allegations’ will own up to their actions, if only to reassure the rest of us that ‘transparency’ means exactly what it says on the tin? If not, I cannot see how this review can have any credibility, let alone rebuild trust among those who currently serve in the Diocese of London (or elsewhere in the C of E) that… Read more »

David Lamming
David Lamming
Reply to  Michael Mulhern
29 days ago

The submission to the coroner in which she was ‘urged not to include any concerns that may be taken as a criticism of clerics or staff for not filtering or verifying allegations” was not by someone who wrote to her, but was part of the closing submissions of the barrister instructed to represent the Diocese of London. The full text of the relevant paragraph (“the relevant Diocese of London submission”) is set out above. The submission, though, would have been based on counsel’s instructions.

Michael Mulhern
Michael Mulhern
Reply to  David Lamming
29 days ago

Glad to be corrected, David.

I’m still asking whether ‘transparency’ would assure people that those who instructed the lawyer would be held to account.

David Wyatt
David Wyatt
Reply to  David Lamming
29 days ago

I am not sure why the steering group felt the need to clarify what the coroner had written as she has simply summarised what the ‘relevant Diocese of London submission’ said. Bar showing that the barrister is guilty of ‘mansplaining’, the inclusion of the paragraph does not change the substance of what the coroner wrote.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Pete Broadbent
30 days ago

But Justin was willing to intervene, while on sabbatical, in an incident in the Church in Wales in which he has no jurisdiction or responsibility. So why not this situation where he is responsible and has been directly asked by the Coroner to respond?

David Lamming
David Lamming
Reply to  Janet Fife
29 days ago

Also to speak during the House of Lords debate on Afghanistan on Wednesday 18 August:
https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2021/20-august/news/world/west-is-urged-to-resettle-afghans-fleeing-the-taliban.
To be fair, though, it was the conduct of personnel in the Diocese of London that was the focus of the coroner’s criticism.

God 'elp us all
God 'elp us all
Reply to  Janet Fife
29 days ago

The Archbishop of Canterbury also spoke in/to the House of Lords, when 25 might have ‘deputised’, on its recall last week; and why is +Tim deputising rather than have +Emma or ++York, or +Pete. What is the status of this ‘collective’?

Bill Broadhead
Bill Broadhead
Reply to  Janet Fife
29 days ago

Spot on, Janet. And I thought +Thornton had taken early retirement. Or was he wheeled out to represent Lambeth’s reputational management interests?

Now that Lambeth has removed its wagons from forming a protective ring around the Bishop of Winchester, presumably Canon Porter has instructed them to take up position outside the Old Deanery EC1?

If it doesn’t involve cosying up to his mates in the Tory party, you won’t see Welby for dust when there’s “trouble at’ mill”!

Fr Dean
Fr Dean
Reply to  Janet Fife
29 days ago

Spot on Janet, perhaps the Welby and Mullally families are holidaying in Crete together?

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Pete Broadbent
29 days ago

An interesting conundrum. In the absence of Cantuar and the Bishop of London, the Bishop of Winchester (also +Tim) is to preside in the Southern Province, although he also is currently on sabbatical. The response seems to be being treated as purely a Diocese of London matter, notwithstanding that the Coroner’s Report was addressed to Cantuar – implying the wider C of E – Janet’s point.

Pete Broadbent
Pete Broadbent
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
29 days ago

It’s mainly because the Coroner had no clue about how the CofE works. Nor indeed of the difference between the Anglican see of London and the RC Archdiocese of Westminster, which she conflates in her report. So she wrote to Justin as line manager. But it’s a good thing that this is addressed to the wider CofE, even if the mistakes were made by us in the Diocese of London.

Alan Jeffries
Alan Jeffries
Reply to  Pete Broadbent
29 days ago

Back-handed comments about the Coroner’s lack of familiarity with the internal machination of the CofE will, thankfully, not deflect from the fact that she has a much clearer instinct for truth, transparency and justice than some senior figures in the Diocese of London who pride themselves on knowing how the CofE works – and to their reputational advantage, it would seem. As an Area Bishop during the time this tragedy unfolded with fatal consequences, I would have thought you might think it relevant that the Coroner’s ‘no clue’ was actually a considerable benefit in ensuring that this horrible series of… Read more »

Pete Broadbent
Pete Broadbent
Reply to  Alan Jeffries
29 days ago

As I said, irrespective of her knowledge of the mechanism, it’s a good thing that this has been addressed to the CofE at large. So we’re not disagreeing. What I’m trying to engage with were the questions people were asking about “why Justin?” and “why the Diocese of London and Westminster?” – I have no interest in being defensive about this. But it’s better, isn’t it, for folk to know the answers to their questions and the origins of the confusion?

Fr Dean
Fr Dean
Reply to  Pete Broadbent
29 days ago

Maybe ‘no clue’ about trivial things, but by golly she was tenacious in getting to the truth in the matters germane to this poor man’s tragic death. She gave back to him though sadly posthumously, some of the dignity the Diocese of London had taken away. Your defensiveness does you no credit bishop but is illuminating nonetheless.

Hilary Dawes
Hilary Dawes
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
29 days ago

I don’t want to take this thread up a cul-de-sac but, as a matter of fact, it is not correct to say that the Bishop of Winchester is on sabbatical. He is not. He remains in office (and in receipt of a stipend) until February 2022; and is ‘standing back’ (whatever that means in practice) from his duties which are being performed by others. That is very different from a planned sabbatical and should not be confused with it, especially if it gives the impression of ‘business as usual’ in the Winchester Diocese.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Hilary Dawes
29 days ago

I don’t think ‘sabbatical’ is an inappropriate word in its popular meaning of paid leave for study, or even recreation. I have to say I would not have made my innocent comment at all if I had thought that it might lead to the above riposte by Alan Jeffries to the bishop’s reply to me. So best that I abstain from any further comment here.

Kelvin Holdsworth
30 days ago

It seems utterly extraordinary that there is no attempt to assess whether or not homophobia within the Church of England and within the leadership of the Diocese of London was a contributing factor to this man’s death.

Fr Dean
Fr Dean
Reply to  Kelvin Holdsworth
29 days ago

Kelvin that does seem to be a particularly large elephant in the room and especially so given the large number of LGBTQI clergy in London. A curious position of institutional self loathing. Only a few years ago there was a deanery in London entirely staffed by gay clergy, no not one heterosexual amongst them. Did those indulging in these bitchy comments about Fr Alan connect with the reality of their own workforce? Clearly not.

Peter
Peter
30 days ago

In my unhappy experience of a safeguarding motivated CDM, I was left wondering whether as a gay man, my character and testimony was considered less trustworthy by the police and my local Catholic and Anglican dioceses than that of a heterosexual man with a criminal record. The tragic case of Fr Griffin and the response I have read does nothing to alter my opinion.

Fr Dean
Fr Dean
Reply to  Peter
29 days ago

A gay former colleague had to deal with homophobia from a local Reader who insinuated that my colleague was gay and therefore promiscuous. The Reader’s wife told my friend that her husband regularly went dogging and kept a travel rug in his car for just that activity. She said “poor X he can’t help himself”. When I was made an Assistant Rural Dean I was briefed about the domestic arrangements of the other gay clergy in the deanery. As an out gay man I sat there wide eyed at the incongruity of this briefing process. Being congruent is not encouraged… Read more »

Michael
Michael
Reply to  Fr Dean
29 days ago

I fear that the assumption that ‘being gay and therefore promiscuous’ is a remarkably common presumption. Being gay is seen as being a choice and therefore ‘gay groups should be banned from using church premises,’ I was told recently. I’m glad to say that my parish is happy to lend its premises to a wide range of groups but teaching is important. Christian catechesis needs to be fearless. Existence is not a sin. I’ll be getting my OAP soon and am beginning to wonder if there is a lot less ‘sin’ around than when I was at taught at Sunday… Read more »

Clare Amos
28 days ago

I don’t know whether it is just me – but I am finding the Diocese of London/Lambeth Palace response simply rather unsubstantial woffle. It seems clear – and at least the Diocese of London response does not try to deny this – that at the end of the day somebody died as a result of the mistakes that were made by the Diocese of London. With respect, I feel that in the circumstances, at the very least the regret for the diocesan culpability should be signalled by the resignation or dismissal of at least one or more individual.

London clergyperson
London clergyperson
Reply to  Clare Amos
28 days ago

Alan Griffin was a kind, gentle, hospitable and learned priest. May he rest in peace. It might well have to wait until the outcome of an investigation before resignations or dismissals happen, but to date there have not even been suspensions of those named by the learned Coroner for their individual failings. The 3 Deaneries of the Two Cities Area have so far met on 2 occasions with the Bishop of London, and on 2 occasions as a Greater Chapter on their own. Further meetings will follow next month. We were shocked and appalled at what has come to light,… Read more »

James Nye
James Nye
Reply to  Clare Amos
27 days ago

This is all beyond, doubt Clare. ‘Woffle’ is what Lambeth Palace has excelled in over the past few years (and I don’t see that changing anytime soon) as a way of expiditing its incompetence and lack of ethical gravitas. Reputation is everything and no energy will be spared in sacrificing the reputation or well-being of individuals to ensure that ‘Brand Welby’ is the market leader. As for the Diocese of London, there were many of us who had huge question marks about Dame Sarah’s ability to effectively lead a large, complex diocese at the time of her appointment. Those who… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  James Nye
27 days ago

This is a terrible episode, and In general I hold no brief for the current leadership of the C of E. But I’m not sure it’s fair to say that Welby and Mullally had only ‘arms-length’ experience of the C of E.

Simon Kershaw
Reply to  Janet Fife
26 days ago

Indeed. Archbishop Justin was ordained at about the age of 33 and served for 10 years as a curate and then rector of parishes in rural Warwickshire (parishes I know quite well, though not when he was there). Then he was a residentiary canon at Coventry for five years, and Dean of Liverpool for another four, before his consecration as Bishop of Durham. That looks a pretty hands-on experience of ministry in the English Church. Bishop Sarah was ordained at about 39 and served for 11 years as curate and rector in the diocese of Southwark, then three years as… Read more »

Alan Jeffries
Alan Jeffries
Reply to  Simon Kershaw
25 days ago

With all due respect to Simon & Janet, James’s comment was about ‘arm’s length’ experience of the institution – not time served. As we all know, it is perfectly possible to undertake a whole raft of roles in the CofE and yet remain at a distance from the people and processes (not to say the history and culture) of the institution. I can see many experienced clergy who have done the long haul by serving more than one incumbency (which is what Justin Welby and Sarah Mullally served) in a variety of geographical and socio-economic situations, who have served their… Read more »

Drew Payne
Drew Payne
28 days ago

A man died, Fr Alan Griffin, driven to his death by the callous treatment that was in no way protecting anyone, and yet he is barely mentioned in the comments here. Instead there are long arguments about why the coroner sent this report to the people she did. Why are none of you shouting about the disgusting treatment this man received? Where is the anger at all this injustice? I am not a member of the CofE, but I am a healthcare professional who is regularly involved in safeguarding concerns. If I had ever come across someone as badly treated… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Drew Payne
28 days ago

The subject of this thread is the response of the Diocese of London to the Coroner’s Report. You may not have seen (your comment rather suggests this) the previous TA thread about Fr Griffin which you will find under 17th July by scrolling back to the earlier pages including that date. I appreciate that it was not cross-referenced here. You will find 110 comments there, some expressing the kinds of concern you mention.  However, some of us feel that it is appropriate and proper (particularly for professionals) to await the outcome of an official investigation before commenting publicly. That doesn’t imply any lack… Read more »

Martin Sewell
Martin Sewell
Reply to  Drew Payne
28 days ago

To be fair Drew, the commentators here are all likely to take it as read that what happened was a disgrace, unchristian and cruel. Analysis of the problem follows. We do not need to constantly repeat that which is the fundamental premise of the inquiry.

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