OXFORD BLUES: Dr Martyn Percy, dean of Christ Church, Oxford, who is being hounded by a cabal of disgruntled dons and ex-dons
THE dean of Christ Church, Oxford, has a unique double status: head of a major university college and senior resident cleric at the city’s cathedral. As the current incumbent the Very Revd Dr Martyn Percy is learning, two jobs also mean twice the opportunities for a cabal of disgruntled dons and ex-dons who want to force him out.
War was publicly declared in September 2018, when seven of them formally accused Percy of “conduct of an immoral, scandalous or disgraceful nature” – the wording that justifies removal from office under college statutes (Eye 1484). The governing body duly suspended him and set up an internal tribunal, chaired by the retired high court judge Sir Andrew Smith. The college said the dispute “relates to issues surrounding the dean’s own pay and how it is set”, without explaining how that could be immoral or scandalous.
Percy had indeed proposed a pay review for himself, and for the treasurer and bursar. But his enemies were plotting well before that. The old guard didn’t see Percy – adopted, and from a humble background – as “one of us”. They were also infuriated by his attempts to modernise the college’s safeguarding practices, following a violent incident involving a student.
The sword of truth
Internal emails seen by Sir Andrew Smith revealed what the judge called “distinct hostility” from a clique of former “Censors”, the academics who regulate the college’s academic and social life. “He’s got to go,” an emeritus professor wrote in an email to cronies. “Does anyone know any good poisoners?” Another commented: “Just think of the Inspector Morse episode we could make when his wrinkly withered little body is found at Osney Lock.”
Sir Andrew Smith’s inquiry, completed last August, rejected all charges against the dean. His 110-page report, which the Eye has seen, often seems bemused by the whole affair: “I find it difficult to understand the real complaints… I cannot understand the Prosecutor’s reasoning… Nor can I understand how the dean can be said to be guilty of culpable behaviour, still less immoral, scandalous or disgraceful conduct.”
When the Censors read the report, they promptly lived up to their name by announcing that the rest of the governing body would get only a heavily redacted version. But college alumnus Revd Jonathan Aitken then deployed the sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play. Outraged that a “small cabal of anti-dean dons” were suppressing the report, in February this year he sent unredacted copies to all 60 governors. Within half an hour they had an email from the panic-stricken Senior Censor, Professor Geraldine Johnson, ordering them to “immediately delete the email from Mr Aitken”.
Despite being fully vindicated, Martyn Percy is left with legal bills of more than £400,000 – and because there is no internal grievance process available to him, the only resort is to an employment tribunal to recover his costs. But he is still dean. Having failed to oust him using college statutes, Percy’s nemeses have now turned to the Church of England to do the job for them. Early this year they alerted church authorities to “very serious safeguarding concerns” about him. The new allegation is that on four occasions students had told Percy that they had been abused, but he didn’t report this to the local authority.
The former students were all adults, and not otherwise vulnerable. Percy’s pastoral role was to listen and offer counsel. He gave them the option to pursue their case within or beyond the college. In the end they chose not to, and he respected their wish for confidentiality. The students made no complaint about the dean. But the word “safeguarding” sends the Church of England’s leadership into a spin, as his detractors presumably knew. The wily Censors went directly to the National Safeguarding Team rather than the local diocese in Oxford. They also retained the church’s own lawyers, Winkworth Sherwood – and hired its favourite PR firm, Luther Pendragon, to brief selected hacks.
Scores to settle
Yet Percy is not accused of breaching any C of E safeguarding protocols. Nor does he even work for the Church of England: he is employed directly by Christ Church, Oxford. Only a few months ago the National Safeguarding Team declined to take action against Revd Jonathan Fletcher, a proven serial abuser, on the grounds that he didn’t technically work for the C of E, even though he had been a parish priest for 35 years (Eye 1513).
With Percy, however, there were scores to settle. The dean is not much loved in Church House Westminster, having helped to expose its mishandling of the false allegations against Bishop George Bell (an alumnus of Christ Church). Instead of telling the college to sort itself out, the C of E has decided to form one of its notorious Core Groups. The Core Group convened to deal with the Percy problem appears to breach the House of Bishops’ own rules. These say that if a complaint is made against someone who is engaged in a statutory process (such as an employment tribunal), that must be completed before the church has its go. Percy’s employment case will not be heard until the autumn of 2021.
The church has swept aside these obstacles and set up a secretive investigation. The dean himself is not represented on the Core Group, and not allowed to know who is on it or when it meets. But two of the complainants from the college, including Senior Censor Geraldine Johnson, are members. It is hard to see what the group can achieve. It can’t question the students whose safeguarding issues the dean allegedly mishandled, since they did not make any complaints and their identity is not known. It can’t ask the dean, since the students spoke to him in confidence. And it can’t see Sir Andrew Smith’s report exonerating the dean, because the Censors have censored it.
The National Safeguarding Team has now asked Dean Percy to stand down during the inquiry, even though nobody believes he poses a risk to anyone. Professor Johnson has indicated that if Percy is still in post when the governing body next meets, she will put a notice on the college’s website to the effect that Christ Church’s safeguarding protocols are all robust except in respect of the dean – richly ironic, given that one of the Censors’ previous complaints about Percy was that he wanted them to take their safeguarding responsibilities more seriously.
‘THINKING ANGLICANS’ COMMENTS
RICHARD W. SYMONDS – THE BELL SOCIETY
This is beyond shocking…”Christ Church At War” – Private Eye
“But the word “safeguarding” sends the Church of England’s leadership into a spin, as his detractors presumably knew. The wily Censors went directly to the National Safeguarding Team rather than the local diocese in Oxford. They also retained the church’s own lawyers, Winkworth Sherwood – and hired its favourite PR firm, Luther Pendragon, to brief selected hacks.
“Yet Percy is not accused of breaching any C of E safeguarding protocols. Nor does he even work for the Church of England: he is employed directly by Christ Church, Oxford. Only a few months ago the National Safeguarding Team declined to take action against Revd Jonathan Fletcher, a proven serial abuser, on the grounds that he didn’t technically work for the C of E, even though he had been a parish priest for 35 years (Eye 1513).
“Instead of telling the college to sort itself out, the C of E has decided to form one of its notorious Core Groups. The Core Group convened to deal with the Percy problem appears to breach the House of Bishops’ own rules. These say that if a complaint is made against someone who is engaged in a statutory process (such as an employment tribunal), that must be completed before the church has its go. Percy’s employment case will not be heard until the autumn of 2021.
“The church has swept aside these obstacles and set up a secretive investigation. The dean himself is not represented on the Core Group, and not allowed to know who is on it or when it meets. But two of the complainants from the college, including Senior Censor Geraldine Johnson, are members”
The Church ‘Bell’ Core Group was a kangaroo court made up of moral and legal incompetents who casually dispensed with the presumption of innocence for Bishop Bell and wantonly threw him under the bus in a despicable act of character assassination and injustice.
There seems little difference between the ‘Bell’ Core Group and the ‘Percy’ Core Group.
I’m afraid to say the fish stinks from the head down in the Church of England which has become institutionally corrupt.
RICHARD W. SYMONDS
“The understandable concern expressed here is that Church House has it in for Martyn Percy because of his campaigning over Bell”
What is less understandable, but equally of deepest concern, is why Church House still has it in for Bishop George Bell. They had no such problem with Bishop Peter Ball at the time.
May 25 2020 – “Row over Oxford Dean” – Daily Telegraph Letters – Brian Martin and Jimmy James
Daily Telegraph Letters [May 25 2020] kindly provided by Jimmy James – on request
The Church of England prong has been reported in Private Eye, and is an altogether more concerning development, for it alleges “very serious safeguarding concerns”, which, as we know, ring alarm bells in the Church louder than bombs over England. But instead of informing Christ Church’s Governing Body that the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team has no jurisdiction in this matter; and instead of informing them that an NST investigation would be ultra vires and in breach of a number of the House of Bishops’ own guidelines, the church has determined to establish a ‘Core Group’ to examine these alleged “very serious safeguarding concerns” against Martyn Percy.
Just like they did for Bishop George Bell, where the conflicts of interest of certain members of that ‘Core Group’ were manifest; and the notable exclusion of an advocate for the dead Bishop and his descendants was a clear breach of natural justice.
You would think that the National Safeguarding Team, now under the new leadership of Ms Melissa Caslake at Church House, might have learned from their past mistakes. But no: the ‘Core Group’ convened by Ms Caslake reportedly includes at least two members of Christ Church’s Governing Body (who may have slight conflicts of interest); and excludes any advocate for Martyn Percy (which may constitute a slight breach of natural justice). The make-up of the group hasn’t been disclosed the Dean: its membership is secret, except to the two members of the Governing Body.
Quite why the Church of England is prepared to collude in a chronic campaign of bullying against the Dean of Christ Church is a mystery. The mere establishing of this ‘Core Group’, in contravention of its own guidelines, constitutes harassment: the NST can’t create a bespoke investigatory process for Martyn Percy – who isn’t even an employee of the Church – without defaming him further. What exactly are these “very serious safeguarding concerns” which merit a quasi-judicial process which bypasses established guidelines, contravenes basic principles of natural justice, and ignores the law on defamation?
And yet, setting aside the fact that the Dean of Christ Church is not an office-holder of the Church of England; and setting aside the fact that the safeguarding disclosures all concerned adults (not undergraduates); and setting aside the fact that none of them has complained about the Dean or his conduct; and setting aside the fact that there has been no internal investigation at Christ Church which has established “a consistent lack of moral compass”; and setting aside the fact that the Employment Tribunal process needs to have been completed before any investigation may be initiated, the Church of England has indeed convened a ‘Core Group’, which its own guidance says it must do:
Martyn Percy is not accused of any of these behaviours or crimes, but the National Safeguarding Team of the Church of England has now smeared him with the whiff of possibility.
The only evidence of “a consistent lack of moral compass” in this whole sorry saga is that manifest by the conduct of certain members of the Governing Body of Christ Church, along with the consistent moral failures and poor legal judgment of the National Safeguarding Team of the Church of England. The only compass points which might touch upon Martyn Percy are his being driven mad north-north-west.
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The Rt Hon. The Baroness Stowell of Beeston, MBE
Chair of the Charity Commission
102 Petty France, Westminster
London SW1H 9AJ
By post and email to email@example.com
As from Mr Andrew Graystone, 17 Rushford Avenue, Manchester M192HG
Wednesday 27th May 2020
Dear Lady Stowell
You recently received a letter from some individual trustees of Christ Church Oxford
making a series of allegations against their Dean, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy.
We wish to express our confidence in Martyn Percy. We know him in our various capacities,
as a man of consistently good character, an exceptional scholar, a respected public servant,
and an outstanding Christian leader.
We do not speculate on the reasons why some members of the Governing Body of Christ
Church wish to go to such extreme lengths to destroy the reputation of their Dean and
to break his spirit. But we do know that :
• The recent letter is the latest episode in a sustained campaign against the Dean
led by senior members of the college Governing Body since his appointment.
• The specific allegations against Martyn Percy have changed over time, but each
allegation has been disproved. In August of last year Dean Percy was wholly
exonerated after an extensive investigation by Sir Andrew Smith, a retired High
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• The signatories of the letter are far from objective. Several of them were revealed
by Sir Andrew to have employed devious methods and offensive language in their
efforts to break his resolve, and some will be parties to an Employment Tribunal to
be heard next year.
• The grievances in the letter are a set of untested and gratuitous assertions for
which no evidence is provided.
• The insinuation that Dean Percy personally represents a safeguarding risk
is abhorrent and wholly unjustified.
• The suggestion that he “lacks a moral compass” is so far from the truth as to
be laughable, were it not so insulting.
We believe that Martyn Percy is a victim of gross injustice and malice. We wish to see
this damaging business resolved justly, and with the minimum delay, so that he can
continue to exercise his gifts in leading Christ Church.
Professor Malcolm Airs OBE Emeritus Fellow, Kellogg College Oxford
The Revd Jonathan Aitken Christ Church alumnus
The Venerable Christine Allsopp Archdeacon emeritus
Rt Hon Sir Tony Baldry High Steward of Banbury
Simon Barrow Director, Ekklesia
The Revd Canon Sue Booys Team Rector, Dorchester Team Ministry
Simon Broadbent Chair, The Ainstable Trust
The Revd Canon Andrew Bunch Vicar of St Giles’ and St Margaret’s, Oxford
The Venerable Gavin Collins Archdeacon of the Meon
The Revd Canon Rod Cosh Chaplain, St Monica Trust
Richard Dick Former High Sheriff of Oxfordshire
Canon Barbara Doubtfire Canon Emeritus, Christ Church Oxford
The Rt Revd and Rt Hon The Lord Carey of Clifton Former Archbishop of Canterbury
The Revd Canon Anthony Dickinson
Anglican Chaplain in Genoa,
Canon Emeritus, Christ Church Oxford
The Very Revd Dr Jonathan Draper General Secretary, Modern Church
The Rt Revd Vivienne Faull Bishop of Bristol
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The Revd Canon Professor Paul S. Fiddes Professor of Systematic Theology,
University of Oxford and Principal Emeritus,
Regent’s Park College, Oxford
The Rt Hon Frank Field
The Rt Revd Jeremy Greaves, Bishop for the Northern Region,
Diocese of Brisbane
The Revd Canon Christopher Hall Canon Emeritus of Christ Church Oxford
The Revd Canon Rosie Harper
Vicar, Great Missenden
Honorary Canon of Christ Church Oxford
Dr Adrian Hilton, Chairman of the Academic Council,
The Margaret Thatcher Centre
The Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, Lord Bishop of Salisbury
The Very Revd Dr David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral
The Revd Dr T C Keighley Co-ordinator, Martyn Percy Support Fund
David Lamming Member of General Synod
The Revd Ruth Lampard
The Revd Andrew Lightbown Rector of the Winslow Benefice
The Revd Lady Lisvane former High Sheriff of Herefordshire
Professor Gordon Lynch Michael Ramsey Professor of Modern
Theology, University of Kent
The Very Revd Ian S. Markham, Dean and president of Virginia Theological
Dr Katie McKeogh, New College Oxford
The Revd Canon Tom Moffatt Canon Emeritus, Christ Church Oxford
The Venerable John Morrison Former Archdeacon of Oxford
Hon Canon Emeritus, Christ Church Oxford
The Very Revd Andrew Nunn Dean of Southwark
The Rev’d Dr Steven Ogden Principal, St Francis Anglican Theological
Jayne Ozanne, Director, Ozanne Foundation
Member of General Synod
The Very Revd Nicholas Papadopulos Dean of Salisbury
Rt Revd Professor Stephen Pickard Charles Sturt University, Australia
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Canon Nick Ralph Residentiary canon at Portsmouth
Sir Ivor Roberts
Former ambassador and former President
of Trinity College Oxford
Lady Elizabeth Roberts Trinity College Oxford
The Very Revd Michael Sadgrove Dean Emeritus of Durham
Simon Sarmiento Churchwarden, Knaresborough
Richard Scorer Head of Abuse Law, Slater & Gordon
Martin Sewell Member of General Synod
Canon Brian Shenton Canon Emeritus, Christ Church Oxford
The Revd Canon Vincent Strudwick, Canon Emeritus Christ Church Oxford
Honorary Fellow Emeritus, Kellogg College
The Revd Ian Tattum Area Dean, Wandsworth
Dr Anna Thomas-Betts MBE
The Revd Angela Tilby Canon Emeritus Christ Church Oxford
Professor Iain R Torrence Pro-Chancellor, University of Aberdeen
Terry Waite CBE
Professor Pete Ward Professor of Practical Theology, Durham
The Rt Revd Dr Alan Wilson Bishop of Buckingham
The Very Revd Christine Wilson Dean of Lincoln
Professor Linda Woodhead MBE Distinguished Professor, University of