Tag Archives: Martin Sewell

February 12 2018 – “Church of England bullies George Bell’s elderly niece by denying her choice of lawyer” – Martin Sewell

Martin Sewell writes here

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February 8 2018 – General Synod – Questions 40 to 60 – Bishop George Bell and the Carlile Report

https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2018-02/Questions%20Notice%20Paper%20February%202018%20%2807.02.18%29.pdf

The Revd Wyn Beynon (Worcester) to ask the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
Q40 In the light of the Carlile Report and the letter of several eminent
historians to the Church Times about the failures in investigating
claims of past historical abuse against Bishop George Bell and the
response from the Archbishop of Canterbury in December, that a
“cloud still hung over the memory of Bishop George Bell”; what weight
will be given to the value of fair historical judgement in assessing the
lives of the saints for inclusion in the Sanctorale at its next revision
and in particular the continued presence of George Bell in the
calendar?
The Bishop of Exeter to reply on behalf of the Chair of the House of Bishops:
A All liturgical business, including any future review of the Calendar, is
only carried out by the Liturgical Commission at the invitation of the
House of Bishops. If such a request were made, any proposed
amendments to the Calendar would require a full synodical process
and at that stage the Commission would seek advice from the House
about the parameters of the review. It

Mr Carl Hughes (Southwark) to ask the Chair of the House of Bishops:
Q41 What is the role of General Synod with regard to safeguarding,
particularly in terms of policy, oversight and review?
The Bishop of Bath & Wells to reply on behalf of the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
A Under Article 6 of its Constitution, the Synod’s functions are legislative
(6 (a)) and deliberative (6 (b)). Under 6 (a) the Synod considers and
enacts legislation on safeguarding. In exercise of its deliberative
function it can debate motions on matters of safeguarding policy,
oversight and review.
Additionally, the Standing Orders relating to Questions allow members
to put questions to the Chair of the House of Bishops relating to those
aspects of its business that concern safeguarding, including the
formulation of safeguarding policy and the guidance it produces on
safeguarding (to which bishops and others are legally required to have
due regard).
The Synod’s safeguarding role is set out in House of Bishops practice
guidance which may be viewed on the Church of England website.
Mr Carl Hughes (Southwark) to ask the Chair of the House of Bishops:
Q42 What is the role of bishops with regard to safeguarding and to whom
are they accountable on safeguarding matters?
The Bishop of Bath & Wells to reply on behalf of the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
A The Bishops’ role with regards to Safeguarding is twofold.
Firstly, as Diocesan Bishops, they have overall responsibility for
Safeguarding within their diocese as outlined in House of Bishops
Practice Guidance.
Secondly, as members of the House of Bishops, they have a collective
national responsibility as leaders of the Church of England to ensure
that the whole of the Church is a safe place for children and
vulnerable adults and that survivors are treated fairly.
Bishops are accountable to the Archbishop of their Province for all
matters including Safeguarding. They are offered support and
challenge by the Independent Chair of the Diocesan Safeguarding
Board. As trustees of their Diocesan Board of Finance they are also
accountable to the Charity Commission.

The Revd Christopher Robinson (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) to ask
the Chair of the House of Bishops:
Q43
Under the Disclosure and Barring service eligibility guidelines, leading
regular Sunday worship is not defined as a regulated activity. In rural
areas lay people often lead Morning or Evening Prayer on a Sunday
where there is no priest present (under Canon B 11(1)), and will
sometimes robe for the purpose, and some dioceses have authorised
lay worship leader schemes for such ministries. At present, these
people are not eligible for a DBS check for this ministry alone, and yet
leading worship and robing puts them in a perceived position of
trustworthiness and authority in a congregation or community. Will the
church of England take active steps to address this issue with the
Government, to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults in
our churches?
The Bishop of Bath & Wells to reply on behalf of the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
A It is not clear that any change in the current position is called for.
Lay people leading worship are already eligible for basic DBS checks.
Enhanced DBS checks are only for those individuals who work, or
have substantial contact, with children or vulnerable adults. So lay
worship leaders of the kind described will be eligible for enhanced
checks if they lead services exclusively for children or vulnerable
adults or where they are members of a PCC, which qualifies as a
children’s or vulnerable adults’ charity.
In any event, it needs to be borne in mind that only a tiny percentage
of individuals who abuse are convicted. DBS checks can only ever
therefore be one element of the safer recruitment process and
organisations must never rely solely on DBS checks when recruiting.
Further guidance on best practice can be found in the Safer
Recruitment Practice Guidance on the Church of England website.
The Revd Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) to ask the Chair of the
House of Bishops:
Q44 Has any consideration been given to the value to the Church of the
process of Neutral Notification whereby an individual, concerned that
their actions, however minor, towards a child or vulnerable adult might
be misconstrued or misinterpreted, can make their own report to a
responsible person without fear or detriment or stigma?

The Bishop of Bath & Wells to reply on behalf of the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
A The current guidance in relation to responding to an individual who
may have concerns about their own behaviour in relation to a child or
vulnerable adult is outlined in the House of Bishops guidance
responding to safeguarding concerns or allegations against Church
officers. This is based on the Children Act 2004 (section 11)
requirements for faith organisations. This expects that any information
received about concerning behaviour needs to be shared with a
safeguarding professional, in the Church’s case the DSA, for
consideration. If an offence is indicted and/or there is a potential
current risk to a child and/or adult this information will also be shared
with statutory agencies.
DSAs are currently available for advice and support in relation to
appropriate behaviour around vulnerable people.
Outside of statutory organisational requirements, there is more
flexibility to offer such a service, for instance ‘Stop it Now’
https://www.stopitnow.org.uk/.
The Revd Canon Dr Judith Maltby (Universities & TEIs) to ask the Chair
of the House of Bishops:
Q45 Given the Church of England’s commitment to becoming a safe
church, what consideration is being given to removing the one-year
rule in the Clergy Discipline Measure in relation to cases where
bishops and other office holders fail to respond appropriately to
disclosures of abuse that are made to them?
The Bishop of Bath & Wells to reply on behalf of the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
A The one-year limitation period generally serves a useful purpose,
recognising that justice needs to be administered without delay.
Where there is good reason for a complaint not having been made
within one year, the President of Tribunals can nonetheless give
permission for the complaint to be made out of time. However, the
limitation period has now, for good reason, been removed in cases
where the alleged misconduct is of a sexual nature towards children or
vulnerable adults; and when considering the responses to the NST’s
recent consultation on the CDM we shall consider whether there is a
case for removing it in other safeguarding contexts.
Mr Carl Fender (Lincoln) to ask the Chair of the House of Bishops:
Q46 Given Lord Carlile’s recommendation (at paragraph 49) for a
published standard of proof that applies to complainants can the
Church of England’s safeguarding arrangements continue to describe
those alleging abuse as ‘victims’ or ‘survivors’?

The Bishop of Bath & Wells to reply on behalf of the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
A Whilst paragraph 49 is not a recommendation by Lord Carlile, the
response to safeguarding concerns or allegations against Church
officers is outlined in House of Bishops guidance, which was agreed
by the National Safeguarding Steering Group. The guidance is clear
that the use of the expression ‘victim/survivors’ does not presuppose
that any allegation will be substantiated. The guidance states, “This
guidance will usually be needed before there have been any findings
in criminal, civil or disciplinary proceedings. At this stage there will be
people who have made complaints (referred to as safeguarding
concerns or allegations in this guidance) and people against whom
complaints have been made. Both victims/survivors and respondents
will at this stage be alleged victims/survivors and alleged respondents.
For ease of reference this guidance will use the terms
‘victims/survivor’’ and ‘respondent’ without presupposing the accuracy
of the complaint. These should be regarded as neutral terms that do
not imply the innocence or guilt of either party.”
Mrs Kat Alldread (Derby) to ask the Chair of the House of Bishops:
Q47 Given that many General Synod members may be unaware of the
scale of safeguarding casework, please could you state the number of
open safeguarding cases in the Church of England as a whole in
2017? Of those cases, how many involved an allegation of some form
of abuse?
The Bishop of Bath & Wells to reply on behalf of the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
A Each diocese is asked to complete an annual self-assessment
circulated and collated by the National Safeguarding Team for the
previous year’s activity. Our current data therefore relates to 2016
activity. In 2016, dioceses reported that they were dealing with around
3300 safeguarding concerns or allegations, the vast majority of which
related to children, young people and vulnerable adults within church
communities. Around 18% related to safeguarding
concerns/allegations against church officers. These figures do not
distinguish between previously open and new cases that started
during the year.
During 2016, 338 risk assessments were completed by dioceses, of
which 19 (6%) were in respect of members of clergy. During 2016,
there were 867 Safeguarding Agreements in place of which 682 (79%)
related to known offenders. A small number of complex and highprofile
cases are managed by the National Safeguarding Team in
collaboration with relevant dioceses.

The Very Revd David Ison (Deans) to ask the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
Q48 The Elliott Review of a safeguarding case which reported in March
2016 included in its recommendations two key statements about
structurally changing how the Church of England approaches
safeguarding: that ‘The National Safeguarding Team should be given
the power and the responsibility to monitor practice and to intervene
where it is thought necessary to do so’ and ‘Safeguarding decisions
as they occur across the Church, should be subject to review by an
independent body within the Church, which has the skills, knowledge
and expertise to do this. The role of the National Safeguarding Team
should be looked at again to enable it to possibly fulfil this
requirement.’ What progress has been made in implementing these
recommendations?
The Bishop of Bath & Wells  \sdreto reply on behalf of the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
A Since the publication of the Elliott Review in March 2016, the role of
the NST has been defined within House of Bishops practice
guidance, ‘Key Roles and Responsibilities of Church Office Holders
and Bodies’, October 2017. The independent Peter Ball Review
recommends that ‘the role and responsibilities of the National
Safeguarding Team should clearly reflect an emphasis on planning
and supporting continuous improvement in diocesan safeguarding
services’. The NST is taking an increasing role in quality assurance
work having commissioned independent diocesan safeguarding
audits and ‘Safeguarding Progress Reviews’ with all dioceses, where
it will take a ‘critical friend’ role. The House of Bishops session on
safeguarding in December 2017 also agreed that further work be
undertaken this year in respect of ways to strengthen independent
oversight and scrutiny of safeguarding practice, and this will include
how the role of the NST can be strengthened in relation to its
monitoring and powers of intervention.
Miss Prudence Dailey (Oxford) to ask the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
Q49 In the light of the Carlile Report, what actions are the House of
Bishops planning to take to restore the reputation of Bishop George
Bell?
The Bishop of Bath & Wells to reply on behalf of the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
A I refer to the media statement that I made on Wednesday 31 January
and my reference to the statement made by the National
Safeguarding Team on the same day. I am unable to say anything
else at this stage until such matters have been concluded.

The Ven Julie Conalty (Rochester) to ask the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
Q50 For the record and the benefit of members of General Synod who
have not read the Carlile Report, could you please summarise the
principal errors of law and good practice identified therein, and
outline what measures are being taken to avoid those mistakes in
future by way of retraining, amending procedures, recruiting a
specialist safeguarding lawyer, or otherwise?
The Bishop of Bath & Wells to reply on behalf of the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
A It would not do justice to Lord Carlile’s review to attempt to
summarise the key points of learning and I would encourage
members of Synod to read the report for themselves. However, the
National Safeguarding Steering Group is working through its
consideration of how to give effect to the recommendations of Lord
Carlile’s independent review into the case of George Bell. I have
made it clear in previous statements t

against church officers’ which includes further clarity with regards to
its membership and function. I am confident that collectively the core
groups have the right spread of skills and expertise they need to
perform this role. It is, however, accepted that further guidance is
now required with regards to posthumous allegations, which will give
consideration to Lord Carlile’s specific recommendation concerning
the presence of someone assigned to the core group to represent the
interests of the accused person and his or her descendants.
Fr Thomas Seville (Religious Communities) to ask the Chair of the
House of Bishops:
Q52 (i) What fees and expenses have been paid (or agreed to be paid)
to Lord Carlile for his Review, published on 15 December 2017,
into the way in which the Church of England dealt with a
complaint of sexual abuse made by a woman known as ‘Carol’
against the late Bishop George Bell;
(ii) What other costs were incurred by the church (including by the
Diocese of Chichester) in relation to Lord Carlile’s review; and
(iii) Who, or what church body, has paid, or will be paying, all such
fees, expenses and costs?
The Bishop of Bath & Wells to reply on behalf of the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
A (i) Having consulted Lord Carlile, I can confirm that the costs of
the review were £35,000 plus an additional £3,000 for
administrative support;
(ii) I am not able to identify the costs of incurred by the church in
relation to Lord Carlile’s review as this would involve extensive
work and have an unreasonable impact on the work of the
NST;
(iii) The costs of the independent review were met jointly by the
Archbishops’ Council and Church Commissioners.
Mr Philip French (Rochester) to ask the Chair of the House of Bishops:
Q53 Which individuals and/or groups were provided with Lord Carlile’s
draft report (in whole or in part) for comment, between the receipt of
the draft in October 2017 and publication of the final version on 15
December 2017?
Mr Philip French (Rochester) to ask the Chair of the House of Bishops:
Q54 Were any significant amendments or redactions made to the draft
Carlile report (as received in October 2017), before the final report
was published?

The Bishop of Bath & Wells to reply on behalf of the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
A With permission I will answer questions 53 and 54 together.
Upon receipt of the first draft of his report, the NST agreed with Lord
Carlile the key areas on which comments might be offered, which
were:
• factual points
• general substantive points not affecting the recommendations
• matters affecting the possible jigsaw identification of ‘Carol’
• typographical errors
The above criteria informed decisions as to who to circulate the
report to for comment. Upon receipt of a range of comments relating
to the above areas, Lord Carlile accepted some changes and
rejected others. For the most part, the amendments made were in
respect of matters of factual accuracy and possible identification of
‘Carol’. No changes were made to the recommendations of the
report.
The Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn) to ask the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
Q55 In order to clarify the role intended to be undertaken by the external
lawyer who attended meetings of the Core Group, can the standard
client care letter (which all solicitors must deliver on receipt of
instructions) provided by her be made public, so as to make clear her
understanding of the role she was asked to perform?
The Bishop of Bath & Wells to reply on behalf of the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
A The external lawyer involved in the core group was given clear
instructions well within her professional expertise. The Carlile Report
recognised that the external lawyer offered advice, including in
respect of the civil burden of proof and expert evidence. This would
be consistent standard practice in such cases. The release of any
standard client care letter would be a matter for consideration by the
Bishop of Chichester.

The Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn) to ask the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
Q56 On what basis did the Press Statement of 22 October 2015 [Carlile
Report Annex A, pages 3-4]:
(a)state that “expert independent reports” had found “[no] reason to
doubt the veracity” of the allegation made against Bishop George
Bell when the psychiatric report commissioned by the Core Group
referred expressly to the possibility of false memories and said
unambiguously that that could not be excluded; and
(b)give the impression that a “thorough pre-litigation process” had
taken place when no serious attempt had been made to seek
testimony from important living witnesses?
The Bishop of Bath & Wells to reply on behalf of the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
A I understand that Professor Maden routinely makes reference to the
‘possibility of false memories’ in his reports. Their inclusion does not
therefore suggest that this was more or less likely in this case.
The Carlile Report offers a chronology of the work that was
undertaken by the core group including the use of an external,
experienced lawyer and consideration of two external experts’
reports. However, I accept that a number of aspects of the process
could have been much better, as pointed out in Lord Carlile’s report. I
have apologised for these failings, and we are seeking to learn the
lessons of this review.
We are now examining in detail how best to give effect to the
recommendations, taking account of Lord Carlile’s analysis.
Mr David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) to ask the Chair of the
House of Bishops:
Q57 In the light of the statement on 15 December 2017 by the Archbishop
of Canterbury in his response to the Carlile Review into the way in
which the Church of England dealt with a complaint of sexual abuse
made by a woman known as ‘Carol’ against the late Bishop George
Bell, “We realise that a significant cloud is left over his name … no
human being is entirely good or bad. Bishop Bell was in many ways a
hero. He is also accused of great wickedness. Good acts do not
diminish evil ones, nor do evil ones make it right to forget the good,”
is there considered to be any evidence or other information that
would support or corroborate the claim by ‘Carol’ that she was
sexually abused as a child by Bishop Bell?

The Bishop of Bath & Wells to reply on behalf of the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
A I refer to the media statement that I made on Wednesday 31 January
and my reference to the statement made by the National
Safeguarding Team on the same day. I am unable to say anything
else at this stage until such matters have been concluded.
Mr David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) to ask the Chair of the
House of Bishops:
Q58 Since Lord Carlile, in the report of his review into the way the Church
of England dealt with a complaint of sexual abuse made by a woman
known as ‘Carol’ against the late Bishop George Bell [GS Misc 1173],
has effectively found the process of the Core Group that investigated
the complaint to be fundamentally flawed, is it accepted that, if the
Church of England wishes to act justly, it has two options: if it is to
maintain that “a significant cloud” remains over Bishop Bell’s name, it
must either (i) set up a fresh independent review into the truth or
otherwise of Carol’s allegation, to be conducted in accordance with
correct procedural principles, to include ensuring representation of
the interests of the late bishop, and abide by the outcome, or (ii) if it
is not prepared to go to the expense of such a review, it must accept
that the Core Group’s effective finding of Bell’s guilt [see Carlile
report para 237] cannot stand, and say so?
The Bishop of Bath & Wells to reply on behalf of the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
A I refer to the media statement that I made on Wednesday 31 January
and my reference to the statement made by the National
Safeguarding Team on the same day. I am unable to say anything
else at this stage until such matters have been concluded.
Mr Martin Sewell (Rochester) to ask the Chair of the House of Bishops:
Q59 Is it unambiguously accepted that the prejudging of a case through
the legal heresy that “the victim must be believed” must play no part
in the Church’s processes in determining whether a case of alleged
sexual abuse is or is not made out?
The Bishop of Bath & Wells to reply on behalf of the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
A It has never been the case that the ‘victim must be believed’ in
determining a case.
The determination in any case whether an allegation is made or not
made has always been in accordance with a civil standard of proof,
i.e. the balance of probabilities. The process determining this is
32
outlined in the House of Bishops guidance ‘responding to
safeguarding concerns or allegations against Church officers’. This
was agreed by the National Safeguarding Steering Group. The
guidance uses the term ‘taken seriously’ in responding to such
concerns. Section 2.2 clearly states that the response should not
prejudice any statutory investigation that may be required but should
be compassionate.
Mr Martin Sewell (Rochester) to ask the Chair of the House of Bishops:
Q60 Before the Statement issued on 28 June 2016 that there was to be
an independent review, commissioned by the Church of England’s
National Safeguarding Team, on the recommendation of the Bishop
of Chichester, “to see what lessons can be learned from how the
[George Bell] case was handled”, the Church of England refused to
disclose any information, beyond that set out in the 22 October 2015
statement, on which the civil claim by ‘Carol’ was settled, claiming
that it was precluded in law from doing so by the need to protect the
“survivor’s” privacy. It was indicated that this was in accordance with
legal advice. Given the comprehensive explanations set out by Lord
Carlile without in any way compromising the complainant’s proper
claim for anonymity, is it now conceded that a transparent
explanation of process is desirable, lawful, and not at all problematic?
The Bishop of Bath & Wells to reply on behalf of the Chair of the House of
Bishops:
A The purpose of commissioning an independent review was to ensure
that there was a transparent explanation of the processes that led to
the decisions made in respect of this case. In doing so, a judgement
was made that it was in the best interest of all concerned that this be
explained by someone independent of those processes.
The National Safeguarding Steering Group is working through its
consideration of how to give effect to the recommendations of Lord
Carlile’s independent review into the case of George Bell. I have
made it clear in previous statements that the NSSG accepts the main
thrust of the recommendations, though respectfully differing on one
part of one of them. I have apologised for any failings in the process
and we are now considering how best to make improvements in light
of the review. The NSSG will report to the House of Bishops as soon
as this process is complete.

January 23 2018 – “Justin Welby under fire over refusal to say sorry over ‘trashing’ of Bishop George Bell’s name” – Daily Telegraph – Robert Mendick

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/22/justin-welby-fire-refusal-say-sorry-trashing-bishop-george-bells/

Justin Welby under fire over refusal to say sorry over ‘trashing’ of Bishop George Bell’s name

Archbishop Justin Welby CREDIT: MOHAMED NURELDIN ABDALLAH/ REUTERS

The Archbishop of Canterbury has provoked a furious backlash by accusing supporters of a highly respected bishop of refusing to believe a historic child sex abuse allegation.

The Most Reverend Justin Welby has repeatedly declined  to apologise for the shredding of the reputation of Bishop George Bell over a single, uncorroborated claim made by a woman dating back more than 60 years.

Archbishop Welby has been under pressure to say sorry following the publication of an independent report which concluded Bishop Bell’s reputation had been wrongly destroyed.

Senior academics had written an open letter to the Telegraph complaining that the archbishop had shamed his office with “irresponsible and dangerous” claims that Bishop Bell may have been a paedophile.

But the Archbishop issued a statement on Monday standing by his refusal to apologise and taking a sideswipe at Bishop Bell’s supporters. In it he likened the case of Bishop Bell, the former Bishop of Chichester, to another bishop Peter Ball, a convicted sex offender.

“I cannot with integrity rescind my statement.” he said, referring to an earlier claim that Bishop Bell had a “significant cloud… over his name” and that he had been accused of “great wickedness”.

Lead Safeguarding Bishop supports Carlile recommendations

Archbishop Welby said on Monday: “As in the case of Peter Ball, and others, it is often suggested that what is being alleged could not have been true, because the person writing knew the alleged abuser and is absolutely certain that it was impossible for them to have done what is alleged.

“As with Peter Ball this sometimes turns out to be untrue, not through their own fault or deceit but because abuse is often kept very secret.

“The experience of discovering feet of clay in more than one person I held in profound respect has been personally tragic.”

Bishop Bell’s supporters reacted with fury and dismay, pointing out the claim against him is uncorroborated and made by one woman – known only as carol – decades after the alleged abuse.

Bishop George Bell
Bishop George Bell

Lord Carlile, who wrote an independent report commissioned by the archbishop, concluded that Bishop bell’s reputation was “wrongly and unnecessarily damaged by the Church”. The Church had paid Carol £16,800 damages and issued an apology in 2015.

Richard Symonds, of the Bell Society, said the archbishop should consider resigning, adding: “His stance is unforgivable.” 

Martin Sewell, a retired child protection lawyer and a member of the general synod who will demand an apology when it meets next month, said: “This makes me extraordinarily angry. This statement makes your heart sink.” 

Archbishop Welby
Archbishop Welby CREDIT: GARETH FULLER/PA

A well-placed source inside the Church said: “There is widespread belief that he [Welby] has not shown an appropriate Christian approach in this case. There is a head of steam in the Church of England that could end up in his resignation over this.”

Bishop Bell, who died aged 75 in 1958, was one of the towering figure of the Church of England in the 20th century and was revered for his role in rescuing Jews from Nazi Germany before the war.

The allegation was first made by ‘Carol’ in 1995 some 38 years after his death and brought to Archbishop Welby’s attention in 2013.

Professor Tony Maden, a psychiatrist who examined her, said the “delays in reporting in this case are exceptional” and added that “memory is not reliable over such long periods of time”. He said “false memory” could not be ruled out as an explanation for her claim in the absence of any corroboration.

December 2 2017 – “Bishop Bell delay…What delay?” says the Church – Letters – The Spectator

IMG_0296 (1)

“Bishop Bell delay” [Martin Sewell – General Synod Member] – “What delay?” [Bishop Peter Hancock – Safeguarding] – Letters Page – The Spectator – December 2 2017

November 9 2017 – Martin Sewell on ‘Must be Believed’ vs. ‘Must Be Taken Seriously’

Martin Sewell – General Synod Member and Child Protection Lawyer [Retd]

_____

The recent furore about the Parliamentary ‘sex scandals’ – which I prefer to think of as principally about bullying and the misuse of power – is causing people to ask a question afresh. Is it proper to ‘believe’ such allegations when made, or simply to ‘take them seriously’?

This has been live and topical question within the Church of England.

Not only do we have our own slew of allegations coming to the fore, as female clergy and lay people begin to share their stories every bit as serious and worrying as those of Hollywood and Westminster, but we have recently had the Carlile Report into the Church of England’s handling of the allegation against Bishop Bell lodged with Lambeth Palace. That was a month ago, on 7th October. Within that report will lie the answer to our question.

Unfortunately, the church has not yet released that report, telling me that it is being ‘finalised’. One wonders quite what processes this implies, and who exactly is ‘finalising’ this for the independent reviewer. Questions have been asked to clarify these matters, so far without substantial success, but that is a story for another time.

One of course accepts the need for victim anonymisation and giving criticised persons due process, but a projected publication date and confirmation of who exactly is doing what would be good to know in a church which is aiming to embrace transparency and accountability.

Yet the core question of how one treats complaints is a very real and relevant one. Lord Carlile will doubtless have considered both the law and the ‘hot off the press’ report of Sir Richard Henriques report on police mishandling of this very question. That report is important and has presented usable information right now: what is or is not the law is surely an independent matter of fact. The law reports are quite plain in reiterating and approving the approach of Baroness Butler-Sloss as set out in the Cleveland Report in 1987: the victim is entitled to be ‘taken seriously’.

The alternative view is persistently – and erroneously – attractive.

Statistically, most victims are truthful historians about what happened to them. Anyone who has spent time talking to victims of bullying and/or abuse knows how hard it is for them to find the courage to speak, especially when this truth-telling takes place in an institutionally hostile or defensive environment.

It therefore seems a kindness to offer immediate reassurance and support, which is right and proper. A friend, a confessor, an authorised listener, pastoral assistant or therapist may offer such belief and real good will be done by it, but once one enters the more forensic forums where the question becomes ‘Is this allegation true?’, an important and necessary cultural change is required.

In that different environment, which can, frequently does, and should result in life-changing decisions, a more balanced approach necessarily comes into play. In this forum, the only proper response is to fall back upon the tried and trusted principles such as ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and ‘he who asserts must prove’.

The Church of England patently lost sight of this, which resulted in the debacle by which the late Bishop George Bell failed to receive due process for the allegations posthumously made against him – a full half-century after his death. There has been quiet diplomacy going on behind the scenes at General Synod with those of a legal background imploring the National Safeguarding Team to align its approach with the law of the land. Initially this was to little avail, but that is now changing.

I believe we are witnessing a corrective sea change in how we approach these matters.

The Carlile Report was delivered on 7th October; by 13th October a new policy document was produced – ‘Promoting a Safer Church’, issued by House of Bishops (but not debated by Synod). It declares on p. 6:

The Church in exercising its responsibilities to suspicions, concerns, knowledge or allegations of abuse will endeavour to respect the rights under criminal, civil and ecclesiastical law of an accused Church Officer including the clergy. A legal presumption of innocence will be maintained during the statutory and Church inquiry processes.’

Additionally, in a clarification which the NST did provide in answer to inquiries, we learn:

The key piece of guidance here is the ‘Responding to, assessing and managing safeguarding concerns or allegations against church officers’, which was published on 13 October 2017. There is guidance within this document in respect of responding to disclosures or allegations of abuse. For example, Section 2, First response (Page 25) states that a person receiving a safeguarding concern or allegation against a church officer should ‘respond well to the victim/survivor to ensure they feel heard and taken seriously.

An earlier flowchart that began with the words “Believe the victim” is no longer there. The latest practice guidance show that listening has occurred.

The language used for complainants and those complained against is always a sensitive issue. This guidance will usually be needed before there have been any findings in criminal, civil or disciplinary proceedings. At this stage there will be people who have made complaints (referred to as safeguarding concerns or allegations in this guidance) and people against whom complaints have been made. Both victims/survivors and respondents will at this stage be alleged victims/survivors and alleged respondents. For ease of reference this guidance will use the terms ‘victims/survivor’’ and ‘respondent’ without presupposing the accuracy of the complaint. These should be regarded as neutral terms that do not imply the innocence or guilt of either party.

So the angel is in the detail.

These statements demonstrate a highly significant – and immensely welcome – U-turn on the part of the church in how it handles allegations. Instead of institutional pre-judgement, the parties are to be treated equally and with seriousness.

The alignment of the Established Church’s approach in these vital matters with the ordinary standards of justice found in every court in the land is a major change and ought not to be hidden under a bushel. There is much rejoicing in heaven over a sinner that repents.

It is not simply that a long-dead bishop is likely to have due process (though complete exoneration is, in my view, impractical to expect so late in the day), what is much more important is that village priests and curates from Cornwall to Cumbria and beyond, whose causes the great and the good will not rally around, will now have a fair hearing within the disciplinary structures of the church.

I am sure there will be some embarrassment that after two years of resistance Lord Carlile has endorsed the wisdom of the church’s critics. Why it took so long to accept the change, when all the necessary materials were made available at the outset, is also a question for another time.

This is not to be unkind, but rather to ensure that the impetus that improved things for Bishop Bell takes the next step and assists victims who have different injustices outstanding.

The more important priority is to explain to the victim community why this development is actually very good news for them and an important victory in their battle to reform a Church Establishment that finds it very hard to acknowledge its errors in plain and unambiguous terms.

Talking to one of the experienced lawyers for church victims recently, I listened as he described ‘the victim must be believed’ narrative as a blind alley. Too often, in the criminal law context, he explained that cash-strapped police forces ticked their empathy boxes by bringing prosecutions without committing the necessary resources to doing the job properly. This has led to Crown Prosecutors determining not to proceed, but the police being content because they could not be blamed, for had they not ‘believed the victim’? Job done.

Reputation management came before outcome as a priority, and that is unkind and deeply disrespectful. If a task is worth doing, it is worth doing properly.

The ‘always believe the victim’ doctrine is one of cheap virtue. Even cases that passed the tests and were brought to court have sometimes failed through insufficiently robust intellectual rigour being applied to all available angles of the case. An uncritical advancement of a case leads one to walk into a ‘sucker punch’, which would have been seen and avoided if only the case had been properly prepared at the outset. Premature belief can result in sloppy practice. One ceases to take each individual piece of the jigsaw, examine it carefully and ask the simple question: ‘Now what does this mean?’

If the evidence is insufficiently robust, it is better not to bring a case at all rather than to betray a complainant’s trust and leave them angry and humiliated because due process had been skimped with resulting failure.

Yet the legal standard is not unhelpful: ‘taking seriously’ is actually much better than knee-jerk ‘belief’.

When I was a child I believed in Father Christmas. There was superficial evidence for that belief. It had its utility for a while, yet could not hold up to scrutiny once I began to apply my mind to ‘taking the proposition seriously’.

In contrast, I take Jesus Christ seriously.

That does not make things easy. There are things I don’t fully understand, issues I put to one side hoping to gain a fuller understanding later, and I accept there are some questions that I may never fully grasp, yet that seems to me to be a sign of mature engagement.

Jesus himself made just such a distinction.

Not everyone saying “Lord, Lord” is a true follower. He pointed that out. Easy belief must give way to the better way of ‘taking seriously’. Many of us respond better to a faith leader whose whole life demonstrates serious engagement than to one who encourages premature superficial verbal assent.

So when the Carlile Report comes out, and we see the important changes explained in detail, I hope that we will find our Bishops and Safeguarding Officers rejoicing that that have been corrected with sound judgment, and not simply offer a surly nod or terse lip-service.

Rend your hearts not your garments‘ comes to mind. The redrawn documents must be accompanied by the real and public embracing of a new and more healthy culture, as we educate insiders and outsiders alike to the virtues of applying the proper standards in the appropriate points of engagement with those bringing their grievances to the church.

Serious but sensitive listening at the outset; rigorous forensic detachment during the investigatory stage; justice, repentance and proper support and reparation if the complaint is upheld.

What we are seeing is an important curving of the arc of our procedures toward justice, and that is a cause for modest celebration even as we acknowledge that there is so very much more to be done.