Thinking Anglicans

ISB phase 1: Wilkinson report published

This review was announced on 11 September: Independent Barrister to conduct a Review of ISB phase 1

Today the report is published:

Press release:
Publication of independent review into Church’s Independent Safeguarding Board

The actual report is here (PDF)

Press release text

11/12/2023

A report from a leading barrister into the Church of England’s Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) has been published today.

Sarah Wilkinson, of Blackstone Chambers in London, was asked to carry out an independent review following the decision by the Archbishops’ Council to terminate the contracts of the members of the ISB following a breakdown in relationships earlier this year.

The report establishes a detailed account of events from the conception, design and establishment of the ISB until the announcement of the termination of contracts of members in June and makes findings on the reasons which led to the decision to terminate and identifies lessons to be learnt.

Speaking on behalf of the Archbishops’ Council, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said: “The Archbishops’ Council wishes to thank Sarah Wilkinson for her careful consideration and work in preparing this report and to everyone who has submitted evidence or contributed to the process.

“As a Council we have begun to discuss this very thorough report and will continue to do so over the coming weeks.

“Although we will respond in more detail later, we want to say now that we deeply regret the flaws exposed by this report, especially in the design and governance of the ISB which contributed to the ultimate breakdown in relationships and take our share of responsibility for that breakdown.

“We particularly regret the impact this has had on victims and survivors of abuse.

“The report is clear that the breakdown in relationships between the ISB members following the appointment of the acting Chair – which was evident at the Archbishops’ Council’s meeting on May 9, 2023 – was the event which made termination of their contracts almost inevitable.

“It found no evidence for claims that other motives lay behind the decision, although it recognised it was unsurprising the subject of case reviews might have thought otherwise.

“It is vital that we now learn lessons and do not lose sight of those for whom the delivery of independent oversight is crucial – the survivors and victims of abuse – and, more widely, all those who come in contact with the Church and who place their trust in us to deliver the highest standards of safeguarding.”

The report has been sent to Professor Alexis Jay as part of her ongoing work to develop proposals for a fully independent structure for safeguarding scrutiny in the Church of England.

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David G
David G
2 months ago

This is a devastaing read, and I have only lightly skimmed so far. It is plain that the Archbishops, Archbishops’ Council and those setting up the ISB were clueless, engaged in constant coverups, and also highly disingenuous in what the statements they made to General Synod, survivors, victims and others. This is a catastrophic failure of governance in a charity, and frankly there should not be a number of resignations. I also observe. CHW/LamPal employ around 25 legal officers/staff. Not one has expertise in: a.     Safeguarding b.    General Policy and Codes of Practice drafting/application. c.     Relevant HR to deal with complainants.   2.     It… Read more »

Trevor
Trevor
2 months ago

I do hope that the Church will consider the all-important matter of truth which has been ignored in much safeguarding, with people assuming that a complainant is truthful, when there is evidence against it and no unbiased evidence for it. Truth, justice and competence are absolutely essential, especial when there is no remedy for injustice and falsehood within the system, and when bishops and others ignore all complaints from falsely accused people, as well as the church’s own published rules!!!

David G
David G
Reply to  Trevor
2 months ago

Agreed, Trevor. The article in ‘Surviving Church’ is worth noting: “For these reasons, and many others, we now need some resignations. We are well past another “lessons learned review” whitewash. The Archbishops’ Council has shown itself to be utterly incompetent, unprofessional, and incapable of sorting out conflicts of interest. Its only response to its total incapacity is endless cover-ups and comms-led spin. We do not use ‘corrupt’ lightly of Archbishops’ Council. But it is entirely proper to do so. Safeguarding is unsafe in the hands of the Archbishops’ Council and NST. They perpetrate abuse. The setting up of the ISB was done deploying duplicity… Read more »

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  David G
2 months ago

David G,
“We are well past another ‘lessons learned review’ whitewash”

But that may be precisely what the Archbishops’ Council serves up.
The last paragraph of the quoted text from the press release makes reference to that very term, and survivors, those who feel falsely accused, and others may feel that the press release is deja vu all over again.

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  Trevor
2 months ago

I do hope that, while there may be people who have been falsely accused, you recognize the number of survivors would indicate that sexual abuse and child abuse has happened in the CofE.

Last edited 2 months ago by peterpi - Peter Gross
Trevor
Trevor
Reply to  peterpi - Peter Gross
2 months ago

Of course, Peter. What Lord Carlile called the worst injustice and incompetence he had ever seen works both ways. They are totally unfit to regulate anything. They simply cannot be trusted, and there should certainly be numerous resignations, as others have suggested. If not voluntary resignations, then perhaps there should be forced resignations at the hands of a competent authority.

Jeremy
Jeremy
2 months ago

The CofE press release, with its “almost inevitable” paragraph, omits a key finding in the report.
Note well: “29. Appointment of the acting Chair: the appointment of the acting Chair without consulting the other ISB members by the Archbishops’ Council was the most significant short term cause of the termination of the ISB contracts.”

David G
David G
2 months ago

In summary, it says: “a complex matrix of reasons led to the termination of the ISB contracts. The structural reasons for the termination were principally the responsibility of the Archbishops’ Council”. We need some members of the AC to resign. None should be allowed anywhere near safeguarding.

‘Adrian’
‘Adrian’
2 months ago

My second favourite quote re Safeguarding (second only to that of the Deputy Chief Constable that I have quoted previously) always was: Watching a C of E Bishop doing safeguarding (Peter Hancock being the sole exception in my direct personal experience of more than 30 current and recent bishops) is like watching your plumber attempting brain surgery: you just know it’s going to end badly. In a sense that’s neither surprising or reprehensible: they have neither the relevant experience or training. Just a shame they don’t realise that, but cling on to the power & control for something they demonstrate… Read more »

Anthony Archer
Anthony Archer
2 months ago

This is a hugely impressive and important piece of work which we all need to consider carefully, not least the Archbishops’ Council. I will read it and may comment further. However, it does not augur well that as early as paragraph 11 we find: ‘Having consulted with senior staff, the boundaries of the [Archbishops’] Council and its trustees’ legal and practical responsibilities were not clear to me.’

Adrian
Adrian
2 months ago

It has been like watching a series of train crashes in slow motion… with no one able to change the oncoming trains onto another track (the siding for example). One after another, entirely predictable, which would lead to a question: ‘are you blind?’ or ‘do you now want to see?’ Nelson with his telescope up to the wrong eye is an example of the latter. All I can think of is the pressure to preserve the organisation, in some strange world-view where this is considered to be preserving the organisation . A perverse notion of the good perhaps? That’s being… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
2 months ago

This excellent report is all the more lethal for noting the limits placed upon Ms Wilkinson, the protests lodged, and for articulating in a formidable accumulation of sober detail the gradual collapse of the ISB. The cumulative effect is painful indeed. I strongly suspect that the authorities will pay her the high compliment of not commissioning another report from her (probably to her great relief). Isn’t the basic problem, as Ms Wilkinson states on several occasions, that ‘form followed function’? In other words, relations between the ISB and AC disintegrated because of structural failings which were baked in at the… Read more »

Realist
Realist
Reply to  Froghole
2 months ago

The only point on which you and I disagree, in what you have written, Froghole, is in your encouragement for the Bishops to become solely pastors to the pastors. Sadly, in my experience of quite a lot of the current crop, in the different roles I have held, a majority are no more able or gifted in that than they are in (mis)managing safeguarding. With a few notable exceptions who managed to slip through the gaps in the Boddington years, they weren’t added to preferment lists for that calling or skill, and have little interest in learning it. In my… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Realist
2 months ago

I agree completely.

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
2 months ago

The most interesting recommendation for me is at paragraph 38, that ” … the design of any future safeguarding scrutiny body should incorporate a mechanism for the implementation and enforcement of case review findings.” Enforcement is counter-cultural for the Church of England, particularly in regard to independent office holders and Crown appointees. I think the report is a good one and shows how badly well-meaning amateurs can get things wrong – lots of people (even the members of the Archbishops Council) wanted the ISB to succeed, but it was set up in a way that almost certainly doomed it to… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Mark Bennet
2 months ago

The report actually gives detailed guidance on how to do it well. Simply bring in competent outside advisors to develop the scheme. But such a process, and any resultant scheme, will be difficult for the senior hierarchy as it will involve giving away power, in terms of the structure and independence of the safeguarding body, the formal enforcement of review outcomes, and suchlike. It will be fought every step of the way. But is such resistance the natural reluctant of any powerful body to give away power (as can be seen currently with the OFSTED scandal). Or is there something… Read more »

Martin Sewell
Martin Sewell
2 months ago

The report is substantial but far from perfect, largely because the Terms of Reference were set by those most under scrutiny, as a result of which the two ISB members ( who alone had the trust of survivors) did not feel able to safely participate. This is by no means unusual now: people cannot and should not trust the Church to organise such reviews. It may not mark its own homework but instead it simply provides the marking scheme. I know there are some conclusions which the Reviewer might have resolved differently had there been a more comprehensive review. The… Read more »

Jane Chevous
Jane Chevous
2 months ago

As one of the victims who contributed to the report, I’m glad our voice has been heard & some of the failings & duplicity of senior staff exposed. But it means nothing unless there are consequences, and a way forward is found with our reviews, which have still not progressed since June. We survivors are still waiting for Council to respond to our request for mediation to find a way forward we can have confidence in. I’m thankful we still have the support of Jasvinder and Steve, but they are not allowed to complete our reviews. It’s unbearable to contemplate… Read more »

Kate Keates
Kate Keates
Reply to  Jane Chevous
2 months ago

The Wilkinson report describes at s672 the failure to delay the closure of ISB as “unreasonable”. If I was one of those affected, I would be citing that observation in a formal complaint, not pleading for mediation.

Martin Sewell
Martin Sewell
Reply to  Kate Keates
2 months ago

This may happen

T Pott
T Pott
2 months ago

The Press Release says: “It found no evidence for claims that other motives lay behind the decision, although it recognised it was unsurprising the subject of case reviews might have thought otherwise.” Actually, the report says “might think”, not “might have thought”. If there were other motives, would there be any evidence, and if there was any evidence would it be found? The Press Release also says: “all those who come in contact with the Church and who place their trust in us to deliver the highest standards of safeguarding.” They just don’t get it. Almost nobody trusts them to… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  T Pott
2 months ago

Of course no evidence of other motives was found, because the terms of reference set up, without consultation by the Archbishops’ Council, ensured that such evidence would not be found.

David G
David G
Reply to  T Pott
2 months ago

I agree. The Archbishops are destroying their credibility and integrity and that of the CofE senior staff and bishops across the board. Their lies and coverups invalidate what they preach and proclaim. They cannot be trusted to speak truthfully. It becomes a waste of time listening to them on any subject, ultimately.

Michael Hopkins
Michael Hopkins
2 months ago

Have I read this correctly? The Archbishops and their staff were attempting to mediate a dispute of which they were actually one of the parties?

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Michael Hopkins
2 months ago

Yes, you read correctly.

David G
David G
Reply to  Michael Hopkins
2 months ago

Yes, correctly read. The Archbishops’ Council and its Secretariat are at the same time the judge, jury, prosecution, defence and investigator in dispute. They’re so petrified of external mediation, because they’d be weighed,found wanting, made to compromise and abide by the independent mediator’s recommendation. If you are unaccountable and don’t want any external scrutiny, or even internal scrutiny by your own Audit Committee, thenit naturally follows that any dispute is mediated by the Archbishops’ Council. How else can they keep control of the narrative? Corruption has to be protected.

Martin Sewell
Martin Sewell
Reply to  Michael Hopkins
2 months ago

Yes and they curtailed the contractual Dispute Resolution Process thereby closing the proper process by which the truth or otherwise of the ISB members complaints against the Secretary General might have been objectively determined.

These complaints are not comprehensively examined within the report as it was commissioned by … Church House.

Francis James
Francis James
2 months ago

The CofE hierarchy seem to believe that they are untouchable, and that regardless of what happened, or what any report manages to reveal, all they need to do is promise to learn lessons, and add in a dose of prayerful bromide to pad out their response.
Nothing will change unless a really senior bishop (or arch-bishop) is publicly defenestrated ‘pour encourager les autres’. Sadly that is extremely unlikely to happen.

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