martyn percy dean christ church oxford exonorated safeguarding allegations
Church of England

Church of England clears Martyn Percy of all safeguarding allegations

The Dean of Christ Church Oxford, The Very Rev’d Professor Martyn Percy, has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the discharge of his safeguarding responsibilities in respect of his various roles in that Peculiar (and peculiar) institution. Following receipt of the independent report by the investigator appointed by the Church of England at the instigation of malcontent Dons, the Church has published a notice on its website (with another from the Diocese of Oxford) making it unequivocally clear that not only was there insufficient evidence of any safeguarding wrongdoing, but that the Dean had done everything required of him under the rules of the Church of England, the College, and the University of Oxford. It could not be clearer.

There is accordingly no reason why he should not forthwith take up his responsibilities once again at the Cathedral, College and associated institutions without hesitation, equivocation or reservation, and to the fullest degree. Anything less would compound the farce by which the Governing Body of the Christ Church has been shown to have been led by the nose and made to look foolish within the University.

This blog has played its part (see here, here, here, here and here) in telling the shabby story of the persecution of Martyn Percy by a coterie within Christ Church, which has cost the College many hundreds of thousands of pounds and much of its reputation for fairness and sound judgment, both within the University and beyond. Having previously brought no fewer that 27 articles of complaint under the College Statutes to an independent investigator, the Dean’s critics saw each and everyone dismissed by the retired High Court Judge Sir Andrew Smith QC, who was appointed to determine their merit.

Not content with this failed attempt at character assassination, the same conspiracy of self-conceit – who referred to themselves at a Governors’ meeting as “the Wily Censors” – sought to pursue their vendetta by manipulating the fear and poor procedures of the Church of England. Extraordinarily, they wheeled themselves into a Core Group of the National Safeguarding Team without any primary evidence by which to raise even a prima facie case. They secured an investigation to achieve their objective via a secondary external route. How much this has cost the Church of England will have to be ascertained.

The Censors of Christ Church had engaged not one but two of the Church’s own preferred legal firms, together with the Church’s Public Relations company, Luther Pendragon, all at the College’s expense. How a faction secured privileged access to charitable funds to pursue this is a matter for others: one doubts they would have done this on their own dollar. But much good did it do them. It was putting expensive lipstick on a very unpromising pig.

This latest decision should see an end to this sorry chapter, which has brought both Christ Church’s governance and the Church of England’s safeguarding regime under legitimate scrutiny. It cannot be the final chapter, however: we are now at the point where the Charity Commission has been asked to intervene to restore good order and proper process within both institutions. The full extent of the manipulation is not yet fully in the public domain.

Lest anyone urge us to swiftly move on, suggesting that a good outcome is sufficient closure, let us remind ourselves that a man and his family have been put through the most awful experience by powerful, well-resourced bullies using other people’s money to pursue their own grievances and protect their own vanities. That they failed is good, but both the University of Oxford and the Church of England have a moral duty to look carefully into how this happened, and to ensure it cannot not happen again.

In the Percy case, there was nothing known at the conclusion of the NST investigation that was not ascertainable within the first two hours of the complaint being received. Had the Dean been entitled to representation at the Core Group stage, all the obvious and pertinent questions would have had to be considered at the outset. The allegations would not have survived entry-level scrutiny. The Censors’ ‘case’ was always a dead prosecutorial parrot. If the Crown Prosecution Service brought a case to trial with no complaining victims and no witnesses, a judge would rightly require that the deficient processes be scrutinised. For the Church of England, that is now the task of members of the General Synod.

This stupidity only got this far because of the arrogance of power in both institutions, and an absence of confident professional judgment where it was needed at appropriate times. We ought to be able to take that for granted in Church House, but as on numerous other occasions, that is not the case.

We are now going to have a ‘Learned Lessons Review’. We have had those before. The problem is that historically the lessons are never learned. It has just been announced that the IICSA Report will be published on 6th October. The Percy case will serve as a useful yardstick by which to test the utility of its recommendations.

One final point for now: Martyn Percy was obliged to incur very substantial legal fees defending himself against the initial set of allegations brought by the Censors of Christ Church. He could accordingly only afford modest initial fees in respect of the Church of England investigation, thereafter relying on pro bono assistance. The church, having treated him appallingly throughout, ought to consider recompense: the least our new Lead Safeguarding Bishop should do is to insist that the Archbishops’ Council pays those very modest fees for him. It would be a just restitution in accordance with Micah 6:8, and would save questions having to be asked at the next meeting of the General Synod.

We might also hope the Censors of Christ Church will consider their positions, and that the Governing Body will carefully evaluate whether it received value for money for the advice they are paying for out of charitable funds for this folie d’incompétence.