jonathan gibbs lead safeguarding bishop
Church of England

Lead Safeguarding Bishop to critics: “You don’t understand”

Considering the experiences they have been through, and the historically indifferent responses of the Church of England to their suffering, many of those who survived sexual abuse are surprisingly positive in supporting each other as their campaign for justice has unfolded. There are even occasional outbreaks of levity.

As we sought signatures for the letter seeking a Charity Commission inquiry into the Church’s safeguarding policy and practices, one of the more cynical and mischievous victims offered a draft response to be offered to the NST to save them time.

The Church of England takes its responsibility for safeguarding very seriously, and has already put into place many measures to improve. These include blah, blah, blah.

The Church awaits the publication of the IICSA report, and plans to form a committee to examine the findings which will report back to the Archbishops’ Council within 12 months of its publication. A report will then be forwarded to the General Synod with proposals for changes as we deem may be required.

The issues raised in the letter to the Charity Commissioners will be carefully considered in due course by the National Safeguarding Steering Group, who will report back to the Archbishops’ Council. We will of course fully co-operate with the Charity Commissioners to provide any further information that may help them.

What was actually published can be read HERE. One of the most extraordinary claims by the Lead Safeguarding Bishop, Jonathan Gibbs, was the notion that critics of the NST ‘core groups’ misunderstood their character and functioning. The signatories to the letter include Lord (Alex) Carlile QC, who was the reviewer chosen by the Church of England to conduct the comprehensive review into the Bishop George Bell ‘core group’ process. He made significant recommendations for the improvement of the system and these were accepted by the Archbishops on behalf of the Church.

Those recommendations have not been implemented.

Additional signatories to the letter included David Greenwood and Richard Scorer who represented the victim/survivors’ cases at IICSA. They have undertaken sterling work over the years in this field and have sat through the entire IICSA hearings as the various core participants explained their experiences. Before that, they would have interviewed their clients at length and prepared the statements upon which much of the IICSA edifice rests.

Taking brave and principled stands, the Synodical Secretary for the Province of Canterbury and the Synodical Secretary for the Province of York (both lawyers) also signed, as did a former CPS prosecutor, my colleague Barrister David Lamming, and myself. Though I am but a retired provincial solicitor, I have attended many dozens of core groups and have scrutinised practice within them through cross examinations in court. In contrast to the collective experience and expertise of these signatories, Church House employs not a singe lawyer with comparable experience of what a core group is, or how one functions.

All in all, the Bishop’s press release advances what we in the legal profession sometimes refer to as a “very brave” position. Renaming a function does not change its reality: it is like insisting that a duck is a platypus; the walk and the quack tend to give it away. You can rename what you do a “statutory strategy meeting” if you want, but if you lack a ‘conflicts of interest’ policy, an appeal system, and fail to take minutes, and sit a communications officer at the table but not a competent lawyer, and don’t run a system where those at risk of catastrophic consequence of malpractice either as complainant or respondent have confidence, you will continue to have dissatisfaction.

The BBC Sunday programme addressed the issue and secured an interview (@31.40) with the Lead Safeguarding Bishop. Jonathan Gibbs of Huddersfield succeeded Peter Hancock of Bath and Wells six months ago: Bishop Peter had been liked and trusted by many in the survivor community. They would be happy if his replacement and his fellow Safeguarding Bishops Vivienne Faull of Bristol and Debbie Sellin of Southampton were to build on his legacy, taking control and bringing fresh eyes to a chronically failing operation.

In his qualified welcome for the impatience behind the Charity Commission letter and the research into survivor redress undertaken by Dr Josephine Stein,  Bishop Jonathan is plainly singing the Lord’s song in a land of alienation. He is fortunate that his target audience has acquired a high degree of sophistication. They know that, given his position, his name has to be on the official press releases, but when that document says he is “assured” that the Archbishop of Canterbury is treated just like Dean Martyn Percy or Lord Carey, they do not immediately blame him for the dissonance.

Asked for their reaction to Bishop Jonathan’s response, one survivor told me: “Bishop Jonathan has been set up to take the flak for those who really are responsible for the mess the Church is in.” Another wrote at greater length:

What many of us have been saying for a long time is that if the NST is to be functioning properly and ethically it needs to be removed from the grip of Archbishops’ Council senior management and comms – and re-trained and re-orientated to be made fit for purpose. One difficulty for the NST is that there is no institutional memory or narrative left now in the team. The people with significant institutional memory in the building are unlikely to share much of it with Melissa Caslake or the NST. So they have little idea of the bodies buried around them in Church House.

They will judge them by their fruits. The window of opportunity to show their mettle is open, but will not be so indefinitely. Much will depend on how they respond to issues coming unexpectedly out of the woodwork as the following simple illustration will show.

After the signed letter was sent to the Charity Commission, Matt Ineson, whose case will be well known to readers of this blog, received notification that his complaint is being reviewed. Under GDPR he has to be notified that his personal data and information held about him, including information concerning his disclosures of abuse, was being sent to the reviewer.

The name of the Data Controller has to be notified under the legislation, and was. The Data Controller is the gatekeeper, determining what papers shall be sent and what redactions are appropriate. In Matt Ineson’s case, the Data Controller is Martyn Snow, Bishop of Leicester.

Bishop Martyn Snow is one of those about whom Matt Inseson has complained, from the time he served as Archdeacon of Rotherham.

Incredible, eh?

Where, at the very least, is the ‘conflict of interest’ policy?

Lord Carlile has described the Church of England’s safeguarding system as “the most unjust and incompetent” he had ever seen. You can take your pick which applies in Matt Ineson’s case. The bad news is that there is more to be revealed. Far more.