martyn percy burned at the stake
Church of England

If Martyn Percy kills himself, the Church of England will have blood on its hands

465 years ago today, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was burned at the stake for ‘heresy’. 15 years ago today, on the 450th anniversary of that fateful day, the Archbishop Cranmer blog was born. It has been a long, sometimes fruitful, sometimes tedious, often meandering, occasionally beneficial, but invariably thankless mission. If nothing else, this blog has kept the Anglican spirit of protest alive, prodding here, poking there, nudging elsewhere; generally being a thorn in the side of something or someone who needs a good pricking. And it has occasionally been effectual – often behind the scenes, unobserved and (hitherto) untold – for out of sight, unobtrusively, gently, persuasively, is sometimes the best way to work for reconciliation and to secure lasting peace.

And sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes only a blast of sunlight or a bomb of exposure will do.

The case of the Very Rev’d Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church Oxford, has taken a deadly turn. Already signed off work suffering a nervous breakdown, on heaps of medication, under psychiatric care, the Church of England has determined that the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) instigated in the wake of an allegation of hair-touching must proceed to a full trial. The Bishop of Oxford, himself being under a safeguarding cloud, had delegated this matter to the Bishop of Birmingham. The Bishop of Birmingham, in order to absolve himself of any culpability in compounding the Dean’s suicidal thoughts, delegated the responsibility for delivering bad news to another member of the clergy, who then absolved himself of culpability by informing the Dean’s wife.

Imagine being the Rev’d Emma Percy, preparing to celebrate Mother’s Day, receiving a call from someone on behalf of the Bishop of Birmingham, asking you to tell your husband, suffering a nervous breakdown, that the Church of England is commencing disciplinary proceedings, with them knowing full well that he’s not well enough either to respond or even to instruct lawyers.

Perhaps this CDM would benefit from a beam of sunlight, if not a bomb of fraudulent exposure, which may become a CDM matter for the Bishop of Oxford to deal with, if not Thames Valley Police.

When in October last year the Dean of Christ Church was investigated by the police after an unnamed member of the Cathedral staff (Ms X) alleged that she had been sexually assaulted and harassed by the Dean, they deemed that no crime had been committed, and no further action would be taken. But the College wasn’t happy with the police’s judgment, so they commenced their own disciplinary proceedings which relied on a document which they knew to be false, or knowing that the document was false, nevertheless advanced it in order to harm the Dean.

If this isn’t forgery, it is certainly a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

When the law firm involved – Winckworth Sherwood LLP (WS Law) – appear to be simultaneously advising (or appointed to advise) Christ Church (the College), Christ Church (the Cathedral), the Cathedral School, the Diocese of Oxford, the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Province of Canterbury, they are advisors to both prosecutor and judge in this case. Probity in such a dual (/triunal/quartal) role is essential.

The allegations against the Dean first resulted in a Church of England ‘core group’ being established which authorised an independent investigation to be undertaken by Kate Wood, a retired Police Inspector from the Sussex Police force who has subsequently acted as Safeguarding Advisor to the Province of Canterbury and to the Archbishop, but now acts as an independent Safeguarding Consultant and investigator. She was tasked with interviewing the female complainant and the Dean, and duly provided a report.

The proper process on receiving an investigator’s report is for the recipient to decide whether the facts found therein create reasonable grounds for a CDM to be issued. In this case, Canon Graham Ward was given responsibility for advancing the matter.

Kate Wood states plainly that her report is not a risk assessment. She also makes clear that if a proper risk assessment were required, it needed to be undertaken by a suitably qualified person under the 2016 Clergy Risk Assessment Rules. Yet Canon Ward produced what purports to be a risk assessment of the Dean. It was extreme in its ambit, placing the Dean in various categories of perceived risk. According to the Church Times, “Key codes were changed, panic alarms were considered, and staff were told to be aware of the nearest exit at Christ Church Oxford, all to protect them from the Dean..”

This wasn’t so much proportionate safeguarding awareness for a man who had allegedly touched a woman’s hair, but a regime for dealing with a rapist, paedophile or violent offender.

Yet Kate Wood’s report – which is not a risk assessment – resulted in a risk assessment falsely bearing her name going through revisions by the Oxford Diocesan Safeguarding Officer and the lawyers who have been advising the Christ Church Governing body in their lengthy and costly (and so far failed) litigation against the Dean. The document bears the official logo of the Church of England. This is different from that of the Oxford Diocese, and implies provenance from the National Safeguarding Team of the Church of England at Church House.

A casual reader would assume that it was quality controlled under the National Church procedures, and that it had been created under the Clergy Risk Assessment Regulations of 2016.

Further, the template for the document purporting to be an official Risk Assessment was not taken from the CofE website, but is a generic one whose metadata shows that its was primarily used for ‘event’ risk assessment. In short, it is a cobbled-together ‘home-made’ document, which conveys an authority and provenance it does not have.

The Bishop of Oxford was made aware that the Risk Assessment on the Dean was highly questionable, but responded that it has been drawn up professionally, and, bearing the CofE logo, authoritatively. That logo conveys probity and an assurance that all statutory regulations have been complied with. And despite Kate Wood’s name appearing on the document, she told the Church Times: “I have never undertaken a risk assessment in this matter or been party to the assessment in any regard. I have never even seen the risk assessment conducted by the College and the Cathedral. My role was to conduct an initial investigation into the allegations of sexual harassment. This is a very different role to conducting a risk assessment.”

Ms Wood continues: “I asked the College several times to publicly explain the error and to confirm that I had not conducted a risk assessment. I also asked the College to engage with those who had been most vocal in criticising me on the false narrative.”

According to retired barrister and Synod member David Lamming, the damning sentences in the Church Times are these: “A spokesperson for Christ Church confirmed that Ms Wood’s name had been incorrectly included in an early “risk assessment draft”… This was corrected before the assessment was finalised.”

Were corrected risk assessments provided (with an explanation and apology) to the Bishop of Birmingham, to whom a decision under section 12 of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 had been delegated by the Bishop of Oxford?

If so, when? If not, why not?

Given that Canon Graham Ward annexed to his CDM complaint a document entitled “Second risk assessment: Kate Wood (Independent Safeguarding Consultant) on 22 October 2020”, the inference must be that he deliberately or recklessly allowed misleading risk assessments (with grossly exaggerated and disproportionate risks stated) to be included with his complaint to the Bishop of Oxford, with the imprimatur of Kate Wood as the independent assessor to bolster the case against the Dean.

Since he had already told the Charity Commission that the Dean shows “a consistent lack of moral compass” and was “not fit to remain a Trustee”, one wonders why he did not disclose this slight conflict of interest to his Bishop.

It appears that Kate Wood’s objections to being ‘used’ like this were simply ignored. The record may have been corrected now, but the damage has been done: the Bishops of Oxford and Birmingham are deceived. The Canons of Christ Church have achieved their purpose of escalating the CDM process by means of advancing a document with was not from the Church of England (as opposed to the Diocese of Oxford), and was in fact a concocted, fabricated document which conveyed  false authority.

Others can judge whether this is criminal forgery or an attempt to pervert the course of justice. Either way, the Church of England is heaping hot coals on Martyn Percy’s head. So many coals, in fact, that he may not be able to hold his hand over the flames in defiance, but might instead just open a bottle of pills.