On 10th May, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev’d Steven Croft, instructed his lawyers to demand that a post on this site be taken down. The letter from Birketts LLP was published in full, and a response was sent to them on 12th May declining to censor the referenced blog post, but offering instead to look at any specific comments which they considered defamatory (as opposed to those which the Bishop or his lawyers considered “idle and ill-informed speculation”).
There was also an offer to publish an addendum below the original post, saying the Bishop denies X, Y and Z allegations; and to amend the title, with the suggested inclusion of ‘is considered’ a safeguarding risk, rather than the allegation of actually being one.
The Bishop’s lawyers responded, expressing dismay that their initial letter had been disclosed on the blog, and made it clear in no uncertain terms that they did not consent to any of their correspondence being published: their preferences was for “a direct grown-up exchange.. without the benefit of a gallery”.
Out of respect for that stipulation, their response was not published.
However, a few people (including journalists) have been enquiring about where this dispute or disagreement (or threat of being sued in the High Court for defamation) is currently at.
Today, 16th June, it is a whole month since Birketts were sent a further response to their demands. Rather than “a direct grown-up exchange”, they seem to have opted for the rather childish strategy of silence, leaving their target hanging. This is rather puzzling since they said they were looking forward to receiving a reply.
So, for “the benefit of the gallery” (that is, those who are asking), here is the response they were sent:
Thank you for your email, received on Friday at 18.39.
I note your discontent with the previous email you sent being reproduced on the Archbishop Cranmer blog, and I also note your retrospective denial of consent for me to do so.
I reserve the right to put into the public domain whatever I see fit, excepting, of course, anything that is legally privileged. One person’s ‘playing to the gallery’ is another’s commitment to transparency and accountability.
I also note your preference for ‘a direct grown-up exchange’.
Notwithstanding that there is nothing normative about your apprehension of psychosocial maturity; and also noting that measurable attitudes and dispositions vary from person to person, I’m happy to confirm that I, too, would prefer a grown-up exchange. But more importantly, I’d have preferred a direct Christian exchange with the Bishop of Oxford (or someone on his behalf), instead of being served on a Sunday afternoon with an inflammatory email from the Diocese’s Director of Communications impugning my integrity, making censorious demands as though there were no discussion to be had, and threatening lawyers.
Since those lawyers were instructed within one working day of that email, we are where we are.
I note your rejection of my proposed amendment to the title of the blog post, and your request for me ‘to remove the claim of “safeguarding risk” altogether’.
I am not prepared to do that, but I have unilaterally amended the title along the lines I suggested. I have italicised the amended words to emphasise them. You may cavil that ‘Martyn Percy doesn’t make that claim in his interviews’, but that is not at all what I infer from his account of his suffering. An impartial reading of the Times interview would leave few in any doubt that he clearly attributes his near-suicidal thoughts and mental debilitation in large part to the Bishop of Oxford. Moreover, the Rev’d Matthew Ineson certainly considers him to be a safeguarding risk, and has stated so publicly.
Ergo, ‘..is considered by some to be a safeguarding risk’ is verifiable because it is true. I hope this is acceptable.
I note that your client appears to have dropped his demand that I delete ‘colluded with the powers of darkness’, so I assume he now considers that to be more ‘unhelpful’ than defamatory.
You request a further published instruction for blog commenters ‘to comment appropriately’.
The blog’s Commenting Policy is clearly published, and readers – many of whom are highly intelligent, highly qualified, erudite and discerning people – have already been encouraged ‘to comment appropriately’. They sometimes debate the meaning of that ‘appropriately’, and may push ‘appropriateness’ to the limits, but it’s worth noting that Martyn Percy tends to be the target of far worse criticism than your client. Indeed, when I received the demand for comments to be deleted, I surveyed the thread in some detail and was unable to find anything particularly defamatory about your client at all. Having politely asked you to identify which specific comments you want deleted, I note that you have specified none.
Your suggested addendum is not acceptable as presently worded. I offered to include a statement by your client denying any allegations. I did not offer for the blog to become an instrument by which the bullying of Martyn Percy (and injustice to Matthew Ineson) would be perpetuated. I will certainly not promulgate the Diocese’s misleading statement that these reviews are ‘independent’. Indeed, Matthew Ineson has refused to cooperate with the review into his case precisely because of this deficiency.
For the sake of clarity, reviews which are directly commissioned by the respondents to the complaint, who then proceed unilaterally to set out the Terms of Reference; decide which respondents may become participant; determine that no respondents shall be named and no blame apportioned, is not an ‘independent’ review. I wouldn’t presume to make a legal point to you, but I am fully qualified to state in the realm of legal philosophy that this process is so flawed as to constitute a basic denial of ‘natural justice’. To my mind, judgment seems pre-ordained. If it is not, there is no possibility of justice being done (let alone being seen to be done) because no blame can be apportioned. I’m really quite surprised that the ‘Independent Review’ misinformation (which may be disinformation) is being put out by the Diocese at all.
You ask me to publish an apology, which is a new demand.
I will not do so.
There are witnesses of stature willing to testify that the Diocese and Cathedral are not safe places under your client’s tenure, and my quarter-century in senior positions in education (including responsibility for institutional safeguarding and student welfare) inclines me to that view. That is to say, for the avoidance of doubt, from the testimony I have read, accounts I have heard, and actions I have observed, I honestly believe that your client presents a safeguarding risk in his stewardship of the Diocese. That is my professional view as an educator and educationalist.
Rather than continuing with the lingering threat of a defamation action, perhaps I might suggest an alternative course?
The Church of England’s internal CDM process, with its secure management of confidentiality, would be a better forum for this disagreement to be dealt with, and would save us both the significant costs of suing me in the High Court.
Having made the allegation of your client being a ‘safeguarding risk’; and having been threatened with lawyers and coerced into withdrawal for saying so; and having lived, studied, worked and worshipped in the Diocese for 40 years, I obviously have a ‘proper interest’.
Perhaps your client will write to the Archbishops welcoming such an independent testing of the allegations, and conceding (should it be required) that I have locus standi to bring the debate about this alleged risk to a proper resolution.
The Church of England is committed in multiple documents to the principles of transparency and accountability. Archbishops Justin and Stephen have deprecated the use of NDAs to hide clergy concerns. Perhaps your client would undertake to confirm to any priest or former employee of the Diocese who may require it that he will not permit any NDA to be enforced insofar as it relates to raising matters solely within the CDM regime.
I look forward to receiving your reply.
For clarity, those who ‘weaponise’ safeguarding become a safeguarding risk, as do those who are deficient in its oversight or careless in its administration. Those who abuse a Church procedure which is designed to shield the vulnerable and secure justice for them become a safeguarding risk. Those who manipulate the Church’s safeguarding practice and procedure for ulterior motive, and who conspire to conceal that manipulation, become a safeguarding risk.
Perhaps the Bishop of Oxford is meticulous in the oversight and administration of safeguarding in the Diocese of Oxford; and perhaps his handling of the complex case of Dr Martyn Percy has been faultless. But that is not how it appears to some.
Since the Church of England has something of a reputation of not holding senior clergy to account — even when their bullying and harassment has resulted in suicide — preferring instead the imposition of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) to ensure that a safeguarding issue may be presented as ‘resolved’, one may observe the abuse or misuse of power which results in harm.
And when a bishop, with members of a cathedral chapter and its staff, along with diocesan staff and their legal and PR advisors, all determine to pursue a particular partisan route through a complex issue — such as the case of Dr Martyn Percy — and then they compound their corruption with cover-ups and incompetence, it is surely incumbent upon those who perceive the misconduct and malfeasance to say something, and to do something if they can — up to and including for “the benefit of a gallery”, which others may term a Christian duty of accountability and transparency.