Among the many documents attached to the recent IICSA hearings was an email correspondence dating back to 2015 between a survivors’ group and the Archbishop of Canterbury. I would not have picked up on this exchange but for an alarming article last Friday in the Church of England Newspaper by Sheik Muhammad Al-Husseini. Al-Husseini has core status in the IICSA hearings and although he is not directly involved in the Anglican side of the hearings, he seems remarkably well-informed about the detail of what is going on in our church. He has also spoken to several survivors and their lawyers.
The correspondence, to which Al-Husseini refers, mentions that in 2015 one of the things that survivors were complaining about to the Archbishop was the use by some dioceses of a particular company to protect their interests, Luther Pendragon, a specialist in crisis management. Without knowing anything further about this firm, one is immediately concerned to discover that at least two dioceses are spending considerable sums of money on this kind of advice. If any institution brings in professional help to protect its interests then it means that this institution has decided that it needs to ‘circle the wagons’ to protect itself against a perceived enemy. Who is this enemy? The enemy is evidently none other than the survivors themselves. These are the same people, whose interests the Archbishop of Canterbury has promised to put right at the centre of the Church’s concerns.
The letter addressed to the Archbishop on the 12 June 2015 claims that ‘scandal management companies like Luther Pendragon Limited .. are known to have acted to obstruct, apply pressure and threaten survivors, whistleblowers and others who have spoken out about Anglican clergy abuse’. Even without reading the letter detailing the techniques used by this firm, we seem to be entering a very dark place. A diocese of the Church of England (two are mentioned, London and Winchester) has felt it right to use the services of what can only be described as professional bullies to protect its reputation. The victims of this bullying are among the most vulnerable group in society – the sexually and spiritually abused. How can this be ethical, let alone Christian? One survivor I know was informed that it was normal practice for the Church or its agents to collect personal information about complainants to assist in the potential legal defence processes which might lessen the potential liability of the Church. A particularly nasty attack that survivors have had to face is the suggestion that, before their abuse, they were in some way already mentally fragile. Thus, any symptoms of post-traumatic stress they may now be suffering, were already present.
Al-Husseini’s article also mentions the fact that the Church of England nationally employs one particularly aggressive law firm to protect its interests. A particular lawyer in this firm has acquired from survivors the nickname the Pitbull on account of her techniques of intimidation and merciless interrogation of survivors. The article overall gives us some insight into a thoroughly unpleasant culture. On the outside there are pleasing soft words, tears of remorse and apology. Inside we find a ruthless machine full of hard-headed professional reputation people aligned to aggressive lawyers desperate to defend, at all costs, the institution.
It is to be hoped that this inclusion by IICSA of the 2015 document naming, and hopefully shaming, the underhand methods of Luther Pendragon, shows that the Inquiry is fully aware of hypocritical goings-on in the Church. A further area of injustice remains to be resolved. This is the way that the Church has tried, through its professionals, to discredit a highly respected international expert on safeguarding, Ian Elliott. In 2015 Ian produced a comprehensive report about the treatment of one particular survivor, known to IICSA as A4. In his report which has not been published in full, Ian criticised the advice given to the Church by lawyers and others to withdraw pastoral and other support from A4. The Church, after initially enthusiastically receiving the report and promising to implement its findings in full, started to draw back from this support. We do not know of course what was said behind closed doors at meetings of strategists and advisers but evidently senior people desperately wanted to discredit the report’s recommendations. Within six to nine months it became just another report to be shelved and forgotten. By that time the bishop who had been asked by the House of Bishops to oversee its implementation, Sarah Mullally, had been promoted from Crediton to London. Here her new responsibilities made the task of overseeing the implementation of the Elliott report impossible to fulfil. The criticism that Elliott had made in his report about the withdrawal of pastoral care for A4 was not picked up by the Church or responded to. Nevertheless, there were enough denials and rumours around to suggest that this was not a true record of what had happened and this allowed the Church to wriggle out of any obligation to implement any part of the report. No one in the leadership of the Church attacked Elliott, but neither did they, in the end, do anything to support him or put his recommendations into practice.
The doubts which had been cast over the Elliott report were finally confronted as the result of detective work presented to the IICSA enquiry. Documents were uncovered which showed that there was, as he had claimed, written advice in circulation which gave clear advice to dioceses that A4 and other survivors were to be cut off from all communication with the Church if they made civil claims against it. This included the withdrawal of pastoral support just as Ian Elliott had accurately reported. This whole story was explored in the BBC Sunday programme on July 21st.
When we take an overall view of the way the Church has been behaving in regard to the survivors of sexual abuse it is hard not to use a series of adjectives which would include the words murky, disreputable and dishonest. The gall needed to spend the Churches’ money on a company such as Luther Pendragon, which has made its name on defending tobacco companies and the nuclear waste industry, suggests that there are a considerable number of senior clergy who are in danger of losing their moral compass.
Every time a lie is told to a survivor, or a committee listens to ethically doubtful advice from an expensive lawyer, corruption enters in. Individuals may have arrived at a meeting decent and honourable. By the end of a meeting when they may have colluded in a blatant piece of expedient management of a survivor, there has been a slippage into colluding with evil activity. This makes them participants in the evil themselves.
The saga of Jonathan Fletcher rumbles on. Many people are asking how an individual with a history of doubtful behaviour and no PTO was able to access many pulpits in Britain and abroad over the past 2 ½ years. Every such invitation involved another person in authority defying the rules of the Church. Were these invitations made in conscious defiance of church rules or is it a case of information not being shared? Then there is the deliberate ‘cleansing’ of mentions of Fletcher on various websites. Who had the authority to perform such an act? One author of a piece which had mentioned Fletcher in his original piece, only to see the name disappear, protested to me personally about this underhand and unauthorised editing. The censorship shows every sign of being coordinated. Thankfully no one has access to my blog posts so that my, no doubt provocative, posts on the topic remain up for anyone to read.
The Church at the institutional level and through its non-official manifestations seems to be going through a crisis of morality. In spite of thousands of sermons preached each Sunday, the response to abuse survivors is apparently sometimes mired in shady, often shameful activity. At the heart of this activity, as we have said many times before, is the need to preserve the good name of the structure. How long will it be before this reputation polishing exercise collapses in total failure and the questionably ethical behaviour of so many church people becomes manifest? That will be possibly the beginning of the end for our national Church.
- Rowland Wateridge
2. 02/03/2018 – Church of England faces ‘deep shame’ at child abuse inquiry” – The Guardian – Harriet Sherwood
Photo John Titchener (left) – Ecclesiastical Insurance Office [EIO]. David Bonehill (right) – Ecclesiastical Insurance Group [EIG]
MS McNEILL: Do you think…A4, as the victim, should have had to wait or fight as long as he has in order for this to be clarified on the record?
MR BONEHILL: No.
MS McNEILL: Finally, I want to read directly…the guiding principles that you told us about last week from Ecclesiastical. The first of those guiding principles is that policyholders…should respond to victims and survivors in such a way that it is not experienced or seen as negative, resistant or unhelpful, because this can create relationship difficulties and may worsen their well-being. Do you think that in managing this entire issue, Ecclesiastical has lived up to that guiding principle?
MR BONEHILL: Could we have done it better? Yes, I accept that point.
MS McNEILL: …as a statement of principle, it is a good one, isn’t it?
MR BONEHILL: Yes, it is. I agree entirely.
MS McNEILL: Do you think that you lived up to that principle?
MR BONEHILL: I think we could have done better
MS McNEILL: Thank you.
Above in summary form by #AnglicanHearing
“EIO is an insurer. It is a commercial organisation. And perhaps some of the difficulties for claimants here arise because they expect EIO to behave towards them rather more as if it was the church”
“IICSA reprimands Ecclesiastical over earlier advice to C of E and evidence to Inquiry” – Church Times – 12/07/2019 – Hattie Williams
“The sex abuse that was perpetrated upon me by Peter Ball pales into insignificance when compared to the entirely cruel and sadistic treatment that has been meted out to me by officials, both lay and ordained. I know from the testimony of other people who have got in touch with me over the last five or 10 years that what I have experienced is not dissimilar to the experience of so many others and I use these words cruel and sadistic because I think that is how they behave. It is an ecclesiastical protection racket and [the attitude is that] anyone who seeks to in any way threaten the reputation of the church as an institution has to be destroyed”
~ Revd Graham Sawyer – IICSA – July 2018
Today, the final Friday, was originally intended to be used only for closing statements from the lawyers representing the various parties. However, it was announced at the end of Thursday that an additional witness would be called first on Friday morning. This turned out to be David Bonehill, Claims Director of EIG and and John Titchener, Group Compliance Director of EIO.
The Church Times has a report of what happened: IICSA reprimands Ecclesiastical over earlier advice to C of E and evidence to Inquiry
List of documents adduced on day 10 (but none have as yet been published)
July 13 2019 – “The Matt Ineson Story – Archbishops challenged” – ‘Surviving Church’ – Stephen Parsons
July 28 2018 – IICSA Transcript – Final Day – July 27 2018
Mr William Chapman, counsel for complainants, victims and survivors represented by Switalskis and also who represents MACSAS:
Page 135-136: “He [George Carey], in the words of Andrew Nunn, did try to sweep it under the carpet. If George Carey thought by doing so he served the reputation of the church, it was a gross misjudgment. The tactics deployed by the church were at the very edge of lawfulness. We heard how Bishop Kemp attempted to compromise Mr Murdock. We heard how several bishops telephoned Ros Hunt to ask her to tell the young men who had made complaints not to speak to the police or the press. We heard how Michael Ball, Bishop of Truro, had been contacting witnesses and, in Mr Murdock’s view, trying to influence them. We do encourage the police to review whether any of these matters, in particular the actions of the bishops who contacted Ros Hunt, disclose offences of perverting the course of justice”
Mrs Kate Wood
Q. How would you characterise the emails you received from Neil Todd? You received a number I think at this time?
A. I did. He, I think, was surprised this was being raised again. He was very calm about it, I felt. He wanted information, and why wouldn’t he? I wanted to give him as much information as I could, but, for the reasons you have outlined, I had to be a bit careful. I didn’t have any emails from him that showed any great distress at that point. He was obviously anxious, and he wanted information. But he was very calm and composed with his emails. I could tell he was also very angry at the church, and, again, why wouldn’t he be? So I tried to support him through that.
Q. In your witness statement at paragraph 149 you refer to the fact that in his later emails in particular he was clearly angry with the church —
Q. — and was feeling anxious. You refer to an email — I think the reference is wrong, but the correct reference is ACE001870. This is an email to Jeremy Pryor. Why is it that you have this email, Mrs Wood?
A. I can only think that Jez, Jeremy, copied me in on it, I think.
Q. You think Jeremy copied you in or did Neil Todd copy you in? The reason I say that is in your summary you seem to think that Neil copied you in when he wrote this to Jeremy?
A. I don’t know, sorry.
Q. That’s all right. Don’t worry about that. If we can go down to the fifth paragraph of the long email that begins, “So the difficulty”. I think this is the email you are referring to in your witness statement:
Neil Todd’s Email to Mrs Kate Wood/Jeremy Pryor
“So the difficulty of the black-and-white events of Peter Ball’s behaviour are not in the acts themselves — but the fact that he corrupted my genuine search for something good with acts which were obviously intentional for his own sexual gratification in the guise of a wise teacher nurturing and caring of a young seeker, aspiring to good intentions.
“When he denied his behaviour, this struck at my deepest conscience — it was then that the reality of what I allowed him to do — was not moral. The reality that his behaviour was not for my good or inspirational guidance.
“He only had to admit that what he did — actually occurred — this would then have made some sense to me. If he could admit that lying on top of me naked, his ejaculations, the naked showers under his instruction, the threat of physical beatings was all part of his unique path to spiritual guidance, was normal, then maybe we could have accepted that his intentions were good, just unusual. But his denial of all that occurred resulted in deep disillusionment. I personally felt ashamed for allowing this behaviour to occur, for allowing myself to be so gullible and not question or seek guidance earlier. This could have redirected my path. I could have joined a true community and been guided appropriately. The church should also have showed a greater deal of support but to dismiss me after the incident with no due care, simply resulted in full disillusionment with the institution as a whole. I genuinely felt the church was covering up, but at the worst it affected my personal relationship with God and my genuine search in faith. When Peter accepted a caution, he stated with penitence and sorrow he was accepting the police caution, but, again, the church was saddened by his resignation.
“All I want is the truth to be known without suspicion. I want Peter to admit in black and white that the events that took place did take place — that none of this was my imagination — nor my fault. I want the black-and-white questions to be answered.
“I would also request that the church take responsibility for not acknowledging nor supporting nor investigating my concerns.
“I heard that Peter had a new candidate when I was based in London — I wonder if he too experienced similar behaviour.
“I have survived all this, led a normal life — I changed direction after a few years of rebellion, to say the least, and commenced training as a registered nurse. I have been qualified since 1999 and have been working as director of nursing for indigenous communities in Australia. I have a loving and supportive partner of 18 years and am generally considered normal.
“Unfortunately, I never had counselling to deal with nor work through the emotions that occur after such a personal incident — but, yes, I can accept that Peter Ball’s behaviour has left its mark. I am not a vindictive person — I only wish for an acknowledgement that my experience was a reality and that all Church of England hierarchical parties take a share in the responsibility of their inaction.
Closing remarks by Fiona Scolding QC
Chair and panel, obviously it is not the role of counsel to the inquiry to sum up. I just have a very few brief remarks. I would like to thank everybody — in particular the legal teams and all the witnesses who have attended — for their patience and cooperation. I would also like to thank everyone for the courteous and respectful way in which this hearing has been conducted and in their approach and role towards us as counsel to the inquiry.
Just a few statistics, so that everyone can feel that they have earned their fees: 108,000 pages of documents were received by the inquiry during this investigation, and 53,244 pages were disclosed; 118 witness statements were obtained from 23 97 individuals; we have heard 14 live witnesses and three read witnesses.
Last, but by no means least, we want to hold and remember Neil Todd and his family and hope that they are able to find peace and solace after what must have been a painful reawakening of their memories.
We also wish to thank all the other victims and survivors, whose courage in speaking to us and whose insight, wisdom and understanding is both central and essential to the work of this inquiry. We apologise for any distress and upset that this week may have caused to them. Thank you very much