Thinking Anglicans

Independent Safeguarding Board and the Percy review

A letter on this topic has been sent to all members of the Archbishops’ Council signed by Martin Sewell, a General Synod member from Rochester diocese, and also by a number of other General Synod members.

The letter itself is contained in a PDF file which can be read here. It is well worth reading this in full.

For more of the background to the formation of the ISB, look here.

There is an online public petition related to this, over here.

What follows is the text of the covering email from Martin Sewell, which summarises the content of the letter.

Dear Archbishops and members of Archbishops’ Council,

I enclose a letter signed by members of General Synod which expresses our concern that Archbishops’ Council has prematurely engaged the newly evolving Independent Safeguarding Board in detailed case work which it is not yet properly authorised or suitably equipped to handle with the independence, resource and competence the role requires. We specifically raise a number of specific questions which we believe need to be urgently addressed by Archbishops’ Council.

After a lengthy and discreditable history of response to complaints in Safeguarding and its associated Clergy Discipline issues, nobody objects to the idea of the Church placing itself under effective outside scrutiny. Some of us have campaigned vigorously for the creation of just such a Board in previous General Synods, and you will recall that the recent February Synod considered a following motion that sought to begin a process to debate and vest the ISB with the very independence responsibility and associated powers that will make the Board the kind of constitutional creature that IICSA had in mind to save us from a repetition of the failures and scandals of the past.

That debate was cut short by a procedural motion, approved by a newly elected Synod comprising 60% new members and the matter was not brought to a conclusion. What exactly the ISB is, and what it can and cannot do, constitutionally and practically, given its low resource and part time nature, remains very much “unfinished Synod business”. In our view General Synod has an important continuing role to ensure the success of the ISB project.

We note with respect and gratitude that both Archbishops opposed the truncation of the debate by the use of a procedural device: it did us no favours and is part of the reason we are in this currently unsatisfactory position today.

When the Chair of the ISB addressed us (and her address to Synod is worth a second hearing by Archbishops’ Council) she was plainly seeking to lower expectation and to emphasise the incremental character of their approach to the role. She told us that its members were assessing and growing their understanding of the role within our complex institution, in what was described as “Phase One” of the project. That limited scope of current activity disappointed some of us, but the opportunity to fully articulate those concerns was denied.

What nobody knew or anticipated from that debate, was that only a few weeks later, the members of the ISB would be offered, and would embrace, responsibility for the devising, timetabling, structuring, implementation and personal execution of the most complex and serious Case Review in the history of the Church, and moreover that they would attempt to do so at speed. The members of the ISB have many qualities and much experience; devising and conducting complex case reviews does not appear to feature within their past skill set. In no other national Institution would such a task be delegated to novices. At the Diocesan Synod at Oxford this weekend it was confirmed that the Dr Martyn Percy Case Review is the first such piece of work the Board and its members will have ever have attempted. This is not the case on which to “cut your teeth”.

Put simply, this is a disaster waiting to happen for the reasons contained in our detailed letter. It is especially troubling if, as we understand, the Percy case is not the only matter pressed upon the ISB at short notice.

The ISB needs to be established with the confidence of all parties, and that is unlikely to be the case given the way these reviews are being hurriedly constructed. There is no shame in having second thoughts which we urge you to undertake without delay, asking the ISB to pause its work in this field whilst our objections are evaluated by all concerned. It is essential that the ISB is established with confidence in its independence, constitution, integrity and competence. That confidence must be built on sure foundations if it is to fulfil the role intended for it. Our questions are designed to help Archbishops’ Council review the problem areas to give the ISB its best opportunity to become what we all want it to be.

We hope Archbishops’ Council will discuss the questions we raise with the same care with which we have formulated them, and that the answers will be made available in good time so that they may be scrutinised at the upcoming General Synod in July.

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Dave
Dave
13 days ago

signed by Martin Sewell, a General Synod member from Rochester diocese, and also by a number of other General Synod members.”
I can’t see the names of any signators in the pdf linked to.

Gilo
Gilo
13 days ago

It’s notable that the Chair of the ISB, Maggie Atkinson, indicated through the like of a tweet a few weeks ago some measure of agreement with the urge for judicial review.

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Kate
Kate
13 days ago

It’s perhaps worth noting that Christ Church has announced that the former Attorney General, QC Dominic Grieve will lead the college’s governance review.

https://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/news/house/christ-church-appoints-rt-hon-dominic-grieve-qc-lead-its-independent-governance-review

I have reservations whether the college’s review has been structured as well as it could be and would like to see formal terms of reference but, within that limitation, Grieve’s appointment has many positives. With all respect to the members of the ISB, I can’t help but think a QC or judge with Grieve’s profile ought to lead the Church of England review.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Kate
13 days ago

These are the terms of reference as incorporated in the advertisement for appointment of the reviewer which I recall reading at the time and there was some discussion on TA. I don’t know whether they have been expanded at all, but they ought to be reasonably accurate:

https://www.timeshighereducation.com/unijobs/document/bf3c382c-0dd5-42d1-a5b1-0965475cab9c.pdf

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
12 days ago

Thanks Rowland. I am aware of those. I have some reservations about the scope but that’s for another time and place. What is relevant here is that they are a list of tasks, not terms of reference. They are probably something which gets attached as an annex to terms of reference – possibly modified a little. This is a governance review and formal terms of reference are essential – even if the appointee has to spend the first few weeks drafting them and getting the ToR formally signed off if nobody on the Governing Body can do it. Just to… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Kate
12 days ago

Interestingly the ‘list of tasks’ is specifically referred to as “terms of reference” but I can see that these were generally descriptive before the appointment was made. Doubtless the terms will now be formalised with the reviewer’s appointment recorded, and presumably published.

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
12 days ago

The Candidate Brief also calls ideally for familiarity with the Church of England but if you look at the end of the Candidate Brief you will see that the last page contradicts that and instructs candidates not to reveal their religious beliefs. It isn’t an impressive document in my opinion.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Kate
12 days ago

Yes, I noted that and commented at the time on the inappropriateness of the candidate having “ideally familiarity with the Church of England”. Given the reality of the joint foundation of Cathedral and College, one would have thought knowledge of the C of E should be essential (according to Wikipedia, Dominic Grieve is a practising Anglican). One of the requirements is to consider the ’impact’ of the Cathedrals Measure 2021 (currently disapplied almost in toto to Christ Church) hinting strongly that that particular relationship is likely to be reviewed.

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
12 days ago

I think you are missing my point. Did you see this bit? “In line with GDPR, we ask that you do NOT send us any information that can identify children or any of your Sensitive Personal Data (racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious beliefs, trade union membership, data concerning health or sex life and sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic and/or biometric data) in your CV and application documentation.” (Emphasis added.) So, for example, what happens if a former Archbishop was interested in the role? It also means those with governance experience from trade unions will be discouraged from applying,… Read more »

Last edited 12 days ago by Kate
Kate
Kate
Reply to  Kate
12 days ago

Correction: “discriminatory” in the final paragraph should read “potentially discriminatory”

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Kate
12 days ago

I don’t think I am in any position to comment on how Ch Ch chose to appoint the Reviewer. I noted the paradox that knowledge of the Church of England seemed to be treated as desirable rather than essential, as one might expect, given that the Review is also to consider the position of the Cathedral.

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
11 days ago

Fair enough.

When you said that the Candidate Brief described itself as ToR I wanted to point out that shouldn’t be taken as gospel as there are errors in the pack.

What matters most is that Christ Church has made what appears to be a good appointment and I am pleased for them.

Unreliable Narrator
Unreliable Narrator
13 days ago

I suggest that the only answer to these questions that makes sense is that the ISB has been set up as, and is intended to be, a failure.

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to  Unreliable Narrator
12 days ago

The term ‘set up to fail’ comes to mind – an all-too-familiar practice practised by illegitimate power.

Martin Sewell
Martin Sewell
Reply to  Unreliable Narrator
12 days ago

A very supportive colleague put his finger on it perfectly.

The CofE has evolved a culture of learned incompetence. It knows that incompetence pays, so it has no real incentive to change.

Were you to examine to data of past reviews there is only one obvious guiding principle

Those whom the hierarchy want to protect are protected: those whom the hierarchy want thrown to the wolves are thrown to the wolves.

What we are seeking is a clean independent process that breaks that cycle for the benefit of complainants and respondents alike.

Unreliable Narrator
Unreliable Narrator
Reply to  Martin Sewell
12 days ago

I’m inclined to agree with that diagnosis. I think it worth raising the question as to whether incompetence in the prevention and detection of abuse arises merely from indifference to the suffering of the victims, or sometimes comes from active collusion.

Unreliable Narrator
Unreliable Narrator
13 days ago

There is likely to be some cognitive dissonance should this Review ever see the light of day. The Diocese of Oxford has made a detailed public statement on its website, the executive summary of which might as well be “We were completely right about everything”. I suppose it’s just about possible the Review will agree with that, but in the event of it not doing so, I wonder how the Diocese will cope with such a emphatic public pronouncement being contradicted?

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Unreliable Narrator
12 days ago

The Prime Minister has often been in the position of investigations contradicting his prior emphatic denials. He just ploughs on regardless. That’s corrupting because of the impact on our democracy but it’s likely we will also see a corrosive trickle down effect with more and more individuals and organisations taking the view that if Boris can get away with such contradictions, they can too.

Last edited 12 days ago by Kate
Unreliable Narrator
Unreliable Narrator
Reply to  Kate
12 days ago

If you think that the practice of telling untruths and ignoring subsequent exposure originated with and is entirely attributable to the current government, then I have a pig in a poke to sell you.

But I suspect that the CofE trope is more about declaring that lessons will be learnt and recommendations will be implemented.

Last edited 12 days ago by Unreliable Narrator
Kate
Kate
Reply to  Unreliable Narrator
12 days ago

I don’t suggest that the practice ‘originated’ with the Prime Minister but I do think he is responsible for normalising some very unattractive behaviours.

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Unreliable Narrator
12 days ago

I will add that I am not suggesting that the Diocese is telling untruths, just that in the current national environment it is important to be transparent in governance because the country has got very untrusting of bland press statements that everything is ok.

Maud Colthwaite
Maud Colthwaite
12 days ago

Paragraph j of the letter gets to the heart of the matter when it asks: Why is it necessary to have the ISB, which evidently ‘reports to the NST,’ report on why a single brief incident, characterised initially by the Oxford DSA as possibly a matter contrary to harassment policy, was treated as a safeguarding matter at all? Therein may lie the rationale, in part, for the review’s narrow scope. Does an allegation of sexual harassment by an adult who is not herself in a vulnerable category automatically become a safeguarding matter? If so, then the question is whether correct… Read more »

Last edited 12 days ago by Maud Colthwaite
L Buckland
L Buckland
11 days ago

Without a truly *independent* review, under a QC, there can be no justice.
Let there be a proper debate/discussion at General Synod, with sufficient time given, and with a clear purpose that new Synod members can appreciate should not be curtailed.

James Watson
James Watson
11 days ago

What I don’t get (and doubtless someone with more legal and canonical brain than me will answer) is why Christ Church is having a QC-led review and the Church of England is desperately resisting this? Ok. I know the Christ Church review and the C of E review have different aims. But, surely, if the Diocese of Oxford believes that there are serious reasons why Martyn Percy has ‘form’ and that he represents too much of a risk to be given PTO (even before he resigned from the CofE), they would surely want the most robust and rigorous investigation, with… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  James Watson
11 days ago

I’m afraid, without wishing to appear too cynical, that the answer is probably that an independent investigation is going to expose shortcomings on the part of the C of E which could turn out to be decidedly uncomfortable. In any event this review is not about the Dean (who has already undergone all of the C of E disciplinary processes and survived them). It is the actions of the Church which are under examination.

Maud Colthwaite
Maud Colthwaite
Reply to  James Watson
10 days ago

By all means set up a subcommittee of Synod, or something similar, to look at the work of the ISB, and the issues in the round. But a QC-led review would be an excessive (and expensive) response to what started as a routine dispute which morphed into an extended war of attrition compounded by escalating legal costs. Now that the case has been settled out of court, there’s little public interest, as far as I can see, in re-prosecuting it. The college review will surely examine all relevant aspects of the joint foundation. The proximate cause of the dispute originates… Read more »

Last edited 10 days ago by Maud Colthwaite
Martin Sewell
Martin Sewell
Reply to  Maud Colthwaite
9 days ago

If this were fundamentally an issue about the Dean. your approach might make sense, but this case has always to be viewed in a wider deeper context. That of an unhealthy culture in which the Bishops are wholly unskilled and unaccountable in a variety of important aspects in their role notably safeguarding and the control of bullying. When it comes to reviews there is only one rational predictor of outcome. Those the Establishment want to protect are protected and those they want thrown to the wolves are thrown to the wolves. There is no other principle that works. Dr Percy… Read more »

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
11 days ago

One of the issues the review seems not to address is the relationship of Church of England authorities with advisers. At IICSA we heard about how Ecclesiastical Insurance acted and advised, and saw how moral agency was effectively abrogated by the authorities who paid for the insurance. It took a robust outside body to uncover that shameful history and make it public. The Church authorities said for years that all was well and there was nothing to see. There is a suggestion here by Dr Percy and his supporters that a similar pattern has emerged in relation to other advisers:… Read more »

Stephen Terry
Stephen Terry
11 days ago

It is absolutely typical of the Church of England to delay doing anything in the face of overwhelming evidence of the need to do so, and then, after sustained pressure, and even worse, bad publicity, to design a response destined to go off at half-cock or even less. No wonder Martyn feels unsafe.

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