martyn percy dean christ church oxford
Church of England

The harrowing of Martyn Percy (part ii): Church of England colludes in bullying

The harrowing of the Very Rev’d Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church Oxford, ought to have ceased with his vindication in the judgment of Sir Andrew Smith. Professor Percy had been accused by a certain cabal of College dons of “conduct of an immoral, scandalous or disgraceful nature” (which, if true, would have permitted them to eject him from office), but an internal tribunal chaired by Sir Andrew Smith, a retired High Court judge, found no evidence of any such conduct (indeed, the misconduct [see here, here and here] appears to have been on the part of certain members of the Governing Body). The Christ Church dons had spent £1million in their campaign of attrition, and Dean Percy had clocked up legal costs in self-defence of around £350K. Since the Governing Body wasn’t minded to reimburse the Dean for the injustice they meted out, his only remedy was a claim for damages in an Employment Tribunal (costing both parties many £1000s [ie a £million or so] more). The College confirmed the process on its website a few months ago:

Christ Church Oxford Martyn Percy

But rather than have this unseemliness rumbling on for another year, the Christ Church Governing Body have now adopted an alternative two-pronged strategy to eject the Dean: i) a formal complaint about his conduct to the Charity Commission; and ii) a formal complaint about safeguarding concerns to the Church of England. This pincer movement has only one objective, which was outlined in ‘The harrowing of Martyn Percy‘ (part i):

…bullying is far, far worse than this, emanating, as it does, from a plane of evil which is rarely understood by those who have never been victims of the systematic, chronic, manipulative drip-drip-drip of damaging innuendo and dishonourable inference. Real bullying is when those in power suddenly decide to turn on you with a ferocious determination to destroy your soul and completely eradicate the physical remains. They must ascend, so you will be reduced to nothing. When a person is victimised, undermined and discredited irreparably, with no means of securing justice, the physical, mental, emotional and professional costs are unimaginable.

…you knock back cocktails of valium and zopiclone, or maybe temazepam and sertraline. The combination ceases to matter, and so does the quantity. Anxious, stressed, sweating, isolated, lonely and crying uncontrollably, you try to sleep, but you can never quite get past 3.00am. So you lie there weeping, praying, drifting for maybe two more hours. But the 5.00am chorus sounds, and it’s harder to stay under the duvet than it is to face another day of hollow existence. On the brink of a complete breakdown, you question the worth of your life as you begin to entertain the veracity of the lies and doubts circulating about you.

The Charity Commission prong has been reported in the Telegraph, which reveals that Martyn Percy, having been found not guilty of “conduct of an immoral, scandalous or disgraceful nature”, now stands accused by 41 members of the Governing Body of “a consistent lack of moral compass”, and so is deemed unfit to be a Trustee of ‘The Dean And Chapter Of The Cathedral Church Of Christ In Oxford Of The Foundation Of King Henry VIII‘. They do, of course, have a legal right to make a report to the regulator should they have any concerns, but not one which alleges “a consistent lack of moral compass” when no evidence has been adduced and no formal investigation or tribunal has determined so (indeed, Sir Andrew Smith comprehensively dismissed all such allegations).

Governing Body member Professor Nigel Biggar penned a succinct letter to the Times this week rebutting the claims of his colleagues (and making a few of his own against them):Nigel Biggar Times letter Martyn Percy 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.