Thinking Anglicans

Independent Safeguarding Board claims its work is being obstructed

Updated Monday to include ISB’s own annual report puiblished 24 April 2023:

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Gabriella Swerling reports in the Telegraph: Church of England ‘obstructing its own safeguarding panel’ as calls grow for new chairman.

The Church of England is obstructing its own safeguarding panel by denying them their own computers, refusing to share data and treating them with “hostility”, whistleblowers have told The Telegraph.

‌The Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) was formed in January 2022 and tasked with scrutinising the work of the Church’s National Safeguarding Team (NST), as well as holding the Church to account regarding its safeguarding duties.

‌However, the ISB’s only two board members have come forward to claim that their experience working with Church officials is “an uphill battle and unnecessarily challenging”.

‌In an interview with The Telegraph, Jasvinder Sanghera CBE, who founded the Karma Nirvana charity which aims to end honour-based abuse, and Steve Reeves MBE, executive director of Global Safeguarding, raised the alarm.

They claim there has been “clear interference” with their work, a “lack of transparency” and a “reluctance to provide information” meaning that at times they have been “met with hostility”

Their concerns have been echoed by victims who claim that unless the Church revokes its “inappropriate and irresponsible” appointment of the new ISB chair as Meg Munn – the former foreign office minister who already holds posts within the Church of England – they will not only feel “re-abused” but they will also refuse to work with the ISB and share their testimonies…

And there is a great deal more detail, which should be read in full, if possible.

Donna Birrell has this follow-up report at Premier Christian News: Church of England accused of ‘obstructing’ Independent Safeguarding Board. That includes these reactions:

In a statement to Premier, Martin Sewell who is a member of General Synod said :

“These latest revelations confirm the serious concerns that I, survivors, and members of General Synod have repeatedly raised about the lack of independence in the Established Church’s responses to the IICSA enquiry. I thank the two ISB members for bravely aligning themselves with those of us calling for a comprehensive and open debate of this scandal on the floor of Synod.”

In a statement to Premier Bishop Joanne Grenfell, the Church of England’s lead safeguarding bishop said:

“The Independent Safeguarding Board was set up to provide important external scrutiny for the Church’s safeguarding work and it is vital that the right structures are in place to do this.

“We look forward to working with them as they begin the next phase of their work to scope out what these structures are and to having conversations about concerns they have raised. An acting chair was put in place until the end of the year to ensure continuity and I look forward to working with all three Board members.

“We welcome their annual report (being published tomorrow) and note their comments around their work to date and desire to continue with this independent scrutiny of the Church’s safeguarding.  It is vital that we have independent scrutiny as this informs the core responsibility for all in the Church of ensuring good safeguarding in all our parishes kand settings across the country. This important work goes on every day of the year. “

Updates

Hattie Williams Church Times Independent Safeguarding Board seeks to extricate itself from the Church of England

House of Survivors has a useful ISB timeline on this page.

The response from Joanne Grenfell quoted by Premier can now be found here. It appears that it was not written as a response to the Telegraph article, but in order to link the ISB annual report to the CofE website.

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Kate
Kate
11 months ago

No matter what now happens how can anyone have confidence that the Church of England is serious about safeguarding? Reluctantly fixing things won’t now change that impression (for me at least).

Nuno Torre
Nuno Torre
11 months ago

So; Anglicanism; or CofE; is effectively at the same below zero level on moral standards like Roman Catholicism over the pedophile scandals???… No surprise if people is leaving in droves like here!…

Meanwhile have a wonderful Sunday!…

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
11 months ago

Could Bishop Joanne have issued a more anodyne and tone deaf statement? Does anyone in high places understand the gravity of what has been said by the members of the ISB?

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
11 months ago

Well said!
In the USA, her statement would have been called pure pablum.

‘Adrian’
‘Adrian’
11 months ago

As others have pointed out elsewhere, I cannot believe the first public contribution of the new Lead Bishop, Bishop Grenfell. Did she write it herself, or did she just accept something drafted for her? Either way it appears to prove she is not fit for purpose. The days of Peter Hancock who had the temerity to actually listen to and engage with whistleblowers and survivors seem very distant. It appears that since then Lambeth’s policy appears to be to examine all 120 odd bishops and select the least appropriate bishop they can possibly find? Bishop Grenfell now has an enormous… Read more »

‘Adrian’
‘Adrian’
Reply to  ‘Adrian’
11 months ago

Since Peter Hancock ceased being Lead Bishop, it has been clear that subsequent Lead Bishops, Meg Munn and many other Church leaders, in complete contrast to Jasvinder and Steve from the ISB, have simply not understood whistleblowers’ and survivors’ lived experience.

That has to change, and has to change ‘yesterday’.

Malcolm Dixon
Malcolm Dixon
Reply to  ‘Adrian’
11 months ago

I agree.I note that the helpful Twitter link provided above by Simon Sarmiento was copied to ‘birkenheadbish’, the Bishop of Birkenhead, Julie Conalty. When she had the safeguarding lead for Rochester diocese whilst she was Archdeacon of Tonbridge, she had a very good reputation for listening to survivors and acting on their concerns. I had fondly hoped that, following her preferment, she might have been chosen as the next lead bishop for safeguarding, but alas, it was not to be

Graham
Graham
Reply to  Malcolm Dixon
11 months ago

I have emailed all the Bishops associated with Safeguarding, including Jonathan Gibbs and Julie. I have not had a reply, yet alone an acknowledgement, from a single one of them. Complete silence. Unwilling to stick their heads above the parapet and do anything independent, or in the interests of victims/survivors. A disgrace and not worthy of their supposed positions

Malcolm Dixon
Malcolm Dixon
Reply to  Graham
11 months ago

I am very sorry to hear this. It really does seem that the bishops are bound by a collective omerta. I can’t believe that they all believe in it, so it must have been imposed from above. It needs a brave bishop to break it, and to call it out as disgraceful.

David Runcorn
David Runcorn
11 months ago

I want an accountable and effective system like all here. But, in passing, I have never assumed that a newspaper article on any contentious church issue is going to be wholly accurate or even handed.

Martin Sewell
Martin Sewell
Reply to  David Runcorn
11 months ago

If anything, the Sunday Telegraph understates the gravity of the position – no disrespect to excellent journalism but there is too little space in one story to explain how bad things are. The corner of the curtain has been lifted. One simple example: how did a statement get put out with the ISB members allegedly “welcoming “ Meg Munn’s appointment when we know that they resented not being consulted, recognised that there was a blatant conflict of interest, and that survivors would not buy into the “ nothing to see here” narrative. Let’s be blunt: not for the first time… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  David Runcorn
11 months ago

The mere fact that Meg Munn was appointed, despite her glaring conflict of interest, shows that something is badly wrong. Add to that the lack of consultation with ISB board and with survivors, and there’s no need for the Telegraph to overstate the case. The thing stinks.

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
11 months ago

As we go round the buoy with reports of safeguarding failures, again and again again, I think one of the most helpful and insightful comments I have read recently was by Andrew Carey in the 18th April thread on Smythe. “the NST – a body which is hamstrung by the insistence of the bishops and Archbishops that there is no independent investigatory safeguarding body and no core group accountability. This is a problem for everyone.. . . . “ I am reminded of Tony Benn’s five questions, which he repeated endlessly. They are questions we should ask of bishops. •   What… Read more »

Martin Sewell
Martin Sewell
Reply to  Simon Dawson
11 months ago

I agree. At the outset I tried to insist on the ISB having executive powers over bishops in this ( wholly secular) aspect of their work. The debate was closed down by a procedural device which a Synod comprising 60% of new members was naive enough to accept.

WYH
WYH
Reply to  Martin Sewell
11 months ago

Thank you for trying to involve Synod in addressing this. Every member of Synod must take responsibility for warranting a robust system is in place. This may/will mean acceptance of a National Body,( without interference from Church personnel) suitably funded, with appointees who are objective and able to analyse evidence. Clear sanctions should be understood and in place for any failures. Conflict of interest is not understood in Church settings. Froghole had the best ideas in earlier posts on a National Body.

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
Reply to  WYH
11 months ago

Part of the issue is that (Diocesan) Bishops are autonomous and essentially unaccountable. Their vestigial accountability to the Crown (these are Crown Appointments after all) has been mentioned in the Synod paperwork about structures and accountability. Of course it has always been open to Bishops to hold themselves accountable, but that is not part of the culture. The House of Bishops also has an effective veto on General Synod business (by vote by houses, or by not turning up and rendering Synod inquorate for the business in hand). So Synod taking control of the agenda in the manner you suggest… Read more »

Adrian (maungyvicar)
Adrian (maungyvicar)
11 months ago

There is something humpty-dumptyish about the C of E’s use of words and concepts; it is almost as though ‘independent’ means beyond scrutiny by Synod, rather than created by an Act of Parliament. I also fail to understand how the notion of having a conflict of interest does not apply to its Chair.

Marise Hargreaves
Marise Hargreaves
11 months ago

Safeguarding will never be sorted out and be truly independent until it is taken out of the hands of the church. The statement of the Bishop confirms this will not be sorted out in house. I don’t understand how anyone can look at this mess and think it is working or can work given the steps being taken to block any attempt to call people to account. Just when you think things can’t go any lower….

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Marise Hargreaves
11 months ago

Prior to 1985 the police marked their own homework, and when they appointed one of their own (the late John Stalker) to investigate the RUC’s shoot to kill policy in 1983 his own force (Greater Manchester, under the piously egregious John Anderton) turned on him, and even when he was exonerated they refused to cover his extensive legal costs. This and other scandals led to the creation in 1985 of the Police Complaints Authority which became the Independent Police Complaints Commission in 2004. Although the PCA did have one notable success with the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad (how could… Read more »

Last edited 11 months ago by Froghole
Marise Hargreaves
Marise Hargreaves
Reply to  Froghole
11 months ago

I concur – recent revelations about the Metropolitan Police, the ability to avoid real investigation resulting in sacking or prosecution, and the tone deaf response by those on high, shows how much work needs to be done. The ability of powerful institutions to close ranks and protect themselves and shut down agencies trying to get to the truth is terrifying. It is shameful the church resorts to the same tactics and people are still not being held fully accountable.

Jonathan Jamal
Jonathan Jamal
Reply to  Marise Hargreaves
11 months ago

Marise, it is very interesting and I remember reading this in the IICSA report online, when Bishop Lord Williams gave evidence before IICSA, he said words to that effect, that the Church should not be in the buisiness of doing its own in-House Safeguarding but that it should be done independently by the State and in this he may be proving to be right in all that is now unfolding. Jonathan

Marise Hargreaves
Marise Hargreaves
Reply to  Jonathan Jamal
11 months ago

I agree Jonathan – I remember seeing the transcript. It is a shame this was not acted on while he had some authority to try and force the issue. But then there are other people behind the scenes working to subvert that and protect their interests or their people from prosecution. I wonder just how long this can go on. It is too long already.

Bernie Clarke
Bernie Clarke
Reply to  Marise Hargreaves
11 months ago

Absolutely right. Perhaps a solution is for each diocese to pay a suitable sum of money to each local civic authority (county council etc) and for church safeguarding to come under the auspices of social services – with all the statutory powers that go with it. The duty then becomes to contact MASH for every church referral and let professionals sort it out. Slap a few section 47 enquiries onto a bishop or two and see how high they jump when they realise what safeguarding actually means. Within a year we would have a professionally resourced safeguarding team capable of… Read more »

Jonathan Jamal
Jonathan Jamal
11 months ago

A thought I would share with you all who have commented so far on the State of Safeguarding in the Church of England and perhaps with it a very very pertinent question, which if followed through could have wider Ecumenical implications beyond the Church of England and the Anglican Family. Is it not time once and for all to end these shambles the Church of England is making of Safeguarding with further damage being done to Victims and getting an MP you know who could bring a Private Members Bill to the House of Commons for the purpose of ending… Read more »

Savi Hensman
Savi Hensman
Reply to  Jonathan Jamal
11 months ago

I believe churches would still have to have their own internal procedures even if, beyond a certain threshold, investigations were dealt with by another agency. Parish safeguarding training can include flagging up situations in which there is no or minimal reason to suppose that a parishioner, say, has done anything wrong in a family situation, and it would be destructive to pastoral care and risk intensifying inequality if there were instant referrals to social services, which is already overloaded.

Susanna (no ‘h’)
Susanna (no ‘h’)
Reply to  Savi Hensman
11 months ago

My question to you would be- how do you know that? Wouldn’t it be better for the threshold decisions to be made consistently by someone outside the organisation?
And if Social Services were paid appropriately to do this then that should make it possible to take place within an agreed timeframe

Savi Hensman
Savi Hensman
Reply to  Susanna (no ‘h’)
11 months ago

I believe most organisations in England working with young people and/or adults in vulnerable situations have internal processes as well as linking with social services-coordinated statutory systems, though with a low referral threshold. And I do not think it would be appropriate if, say, a lay volunteer newly appointed to a parish visiting team, without specialist knowledge, who was concerned about the mental health of a widowed member of the congregation he had just visited, were required to contact adult safeguarding directly. A more experienced person might be able to explain that her behaviour was not unusual in response to… Read more »

Last edited 11 months ago by Savi Hensman
James Spencer
James Spencer
Reply to  Savi Hensman
11 months ago

Surely the point is that the MASH team would be well placed to make that determination for themselves? The CofE has proven it is not capable of safeguarding the interests of children or vulnerable adults and has limited to no desire to change. It is time to relieve the church of this responsibility entirely.

Savi Hensman
Savi Hensman
Reply to  James Spencer
11 months ago

What happened to Alan Griffin is also worth remembering; and extending risk further among people with pastoral needs (e.g. if an inexperienced volunteer who misinterpreted a bereaved person’s distress were expected to go directly to the authorities) would be hazardous. I believe a more humane system could be devised to replace the current one.

Susanna (no ‘h’)
Susanna (no ‘h’)
Reply to  Savi Hensman
11 months ago

The assumption which underlies all your comments seems to be that a referral to a statutory agency is in itself a cause of harm, especially in the case of a bereaved and grieving adult, and, if the current system changes, potentially most likely to carried out by an inexperienced person lacking appropriate guidance from someone older and more experienced ? Any new system will require careful fine tuning for the parties to build trust and work together- and first of all agree a proper and robust protocol for information sharing. But the ‘fresh eyes’ of a new volunteer should never… Read more »

Savi Hensman
Savi Hensman
Reply to  Susanna (no ‘h’)
11 months ago

My point is not about someone’s age but rather skills, knowledge and experience in matters of safeguarding. Certainly a new volunteer may spot what others do not and the option should remain, if that person believes that a matter of concern is not being dealt with properly, to go to the statutory authorities. While a referral to these is not necessarily a source of harm, it can be, as well as diverting resources from higher-risk cases. In practice, I suspect that some congregation members might be more reluctant to flag up concerns directly with social services if there are high… Read more »

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