It is widely reported that the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Rev’d Professor Martyn Percy, has agreed a mediated settlement with the Governing Body of the College, and will formally step down from his position on 26th April. The amount of the settlement (£1,175,000) was leaked to the Censors’ favourite journalist, Henry Mance at the Financial Times. We don’t know by whom, but the precise amount and the way it was spun would suggest it was leaked by somebody who is rather pedantic, slippery, defensive and vindictive, if not a little worried about an imminent investigation by the Charity Commission.
The College said the person who accused the dean of sexual harassment (‘Ms X’) has settled her claim with him on terms which haven’t leaked. It is estimated to be around £50,000, which, for alleged hair-touching, would seem rather generous, especially given that Ms X has said she “was not upset in any way“, and England’s fourth most Senior Court of Appeal Judge (Dame Sarah Asplin), and the Thames Valley Police, and the National Safeguarding Team of the Church of England have all cleared the Dean of any serious wrongdoing.
But the magic money has made everything disappear.
Martyn Percy represented a serious safeguarding risk, we were told. So serious a threat was he deemed to be that he was summarily suspended, barred from his Cathedral, forbidden contact with any staff or students, and virtually incarcerated in the Deanery. But now he’s accepted a compensatory pay-off, he is free to meet with and talk to whomever he pleases.
The Dean is no longer suspended. He has voluntarily stepped back from his duties until he leaves, but he is free to preach and minister as Dean until then (though not in his Cathedral). As the Bishop of Oxford explained 18 months ago, when the Dean was reinstated following his first suspension after allegations of behaviour of an “immoral, scandalous or disgraceful nature” had been dismissed:
Thanks for this and for the other correspondence today. Sorry not to have replied earlier – and only briefly now – but I have been in interviews today. I will digest the detail in due course.
I’ve regard[ed] the temporary PTO as having lapsed by virtue of your being re-instated as Dean of Christ Church following the Smith Tribunal and its outcome but happy to “receive” it back if that clears up any ambiguity. By virtue of being Dean of Christ Church you are able to minister in churches of this Diocese.
With kind regards and continued prayers
The Risk Assessments which were produced to justify the suspension, besides being bogus and secret and unknown to the Dean, no longer apply. All of the proceedings against him have been withdrawn. He may choose – voluntarily – not to see people, but that is a choice for him to make. Christ Church made it a condition that he does not do any more work there – in College or Cathedral – but he is not under house arrest, and neither is he subject to any legal proceedings.
In short, he no longer presents a serious safeguarding risk.
And ‘Ms X’ was sexually harassed, we were told. So serious was the harassment, and so seriously did the Censors take the allegation, that even after the police had found nothing, and a senior judge said it wasn’t serious, and the CofE came up empty, the College was determined to convene its own tribunal in order to find Martyn Percy guilty – a case of double double jeopardy.
So serious was this alleged hair-touching that when the Chancellor, Chris Patten, wrote to the Governing Body to request a meeting with them, Senior Censor Prof. Dirk Aarts was adamant it was none of the Chancellor’s (or Vice Chancellor’s) business, and proposed a terse dismissal: “At the meeting we can explain that we are dealing with an investigation of sexual harassment (takes 5 mins) and they may then make suggestions. Are they really going to suggest that we don’t investigate?.. The VC & C are actively interfering with a sexual harassement [sic] process – they should be ashamed.”
Junior Censor Prof. Kevin McGerty agreed, and suggested this response:
..we are concerned that the timing of your letter, and its reception in the press risks creating the appearance that the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor wish to influence an investigation of an allegation of sexual harassment. At a time when the University is committed to its “Oxford Against Sexual Violence” campaign, the potential damage this might cause the University gives us grave cause for concern.
Martin Townsend of Pagefield PR suggested:
..I have enclosed a draft that makes reference to the importance of remembering that a sexual allegation lies at the root of this dispute, which I think is the really valuable point worth making if we want to draft a tougher letter. It risks upsetting the Dean, but it is a fact, after all.
Prof. McGerty added a dark dimension, if not veiled threat to the Vice Chancellor, Louise Richardson:
..I think they have involved themselves in a way which at least could damage both of them severely: were Richardson to be visibly on the wrong side of how sexual harassment was portrayed in the press, I would not be surprised if her position at Carnegie evaporated, and although you say that Patten is well-thought of, none of our undergraduates were born yet at the time he was Governor of Hong Kong, none of them will remember a time when he was an “acceptable Tory” in the New Labour era, so to them he is a dinasour [sic] who has been Chancellor of the University for essentially all their lives. Appearing on the wrong side of how sexual harassment should be handled would be pretty humiliating for him.
But now this case of alleged sexual harassment no longer has to be investigated at all – not even as the University is committed to its “Oxford Against Sexual Violence” campaign.
Who should be ashamed now? Who is damaged severely by the revelation that vulnerable young women at Christ Church who make serious allegations of sexual harassment can be paid off, and the powerful abuser can walk free? Isn’t appearing on the wrong side of how sexual harassment should be handled “pretty humiliating” for them?
Perhaps they just changed their minds. Expediency, eh?
It must be clear to any neutral observer that “safeguarding concerns” and “sexual harassment” were weaponised against the Dean, and, according to Prof. Kevin McGerty, it must also be clear that the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor would also have suffered a comparable attack if they had ‘interfered’.
Christ Church’s website carries this notification, lauding the righteousness of the College, and giving the final word to ‘Ms X’:
This is interesting on a number of levels. The College labours on the allegation of sexual harassment, insisting that any such allegations are “thoroughly investigated”.
Except when it’s less hassle not to investigate them thoroughly, and pay off the accuser for expediency.
It’s worth noting that the College’s statement originally said: “An individual who accused the dean of sexual harassment has settled her claim with the dean, on terms which, at her request, are confidential.”
This was untrue, if not defamatory: “The dean has not reached any financial settlement or issued any apology to the woman. He continues to deny her claims and this is pure defamation.”
The College has now changed the wording slightly: “..and the individual who made the allegation of sexual harassment against the Dean has agreed to settle her claim on terms which on her request are confidential.” But their impulse to smear is evident.
‘Ms X’ has written an account of her “ordeal”, including her “distress”, her “pain and stress”, her victimisation and the emotional and psychological burden she will bear for the rest of her life. This is curious, given that Judge Sarah Asplin noted:
*the fact that [the employee] accepts that she was not upset in any way;
*stated originally that she was not perturbed (albeit she told the police that she was concerned what would happen next);
*the incident took place in a room which was or could be accessed by others;
*and [the employee] stated that she would have accepted an apology if the Dean had admitted what she says took place,
it seems to me that it is entirely disproportionate that this matter should be referred to a tribunal.
We still don’t know (and now probably never will) how she came to be designated as ‘vulnerable’ and admitted to the Church of England’s safeguarding process in the first place. Ms X’s allegation of sexual harassment is treated as credible and true (to coin a phrase); and Martyn Percy’s name is left under a significant cloud (to coin another phrase).
Ms X apparently had to accept she couldn’t prove her claim, so why does the College advertise that fact on its website while the settlement announcement is couched in terms of this claim alone being settled? Might it be a smokescreen for their total capitulation in settling a massive claim for institutional bullying and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice?
The Dean also issued a statement, but the College hasn’t published it:
The fact that he is still the Dean (until 26th April) and the College hasn’t placed his gracious statement alongside that of his accuser doesn’t augur well for their assertion that claims are thoroughly investigated and addressed, “whilst respecting the right to a fair hearing for the accused”.
You don’t get a fair hearing from the Governing Body of Christ Church if they don’t like what you have to say. Hopefully the two reviews now being undertaken – an independent one into the College’s policies and procedures in relation to sexual harassment; and the Charity Commission’s investigation into how the Governing Body came to squander £10million or £15million or £20million of charitable funds – might teach them a little more about fairness and justice, if not about truth and humility.
Martyn Percy is now job-seeking and house-hunting.
But this isn’t quite the end of it – not by a long chalk.