Sue Gray Report

The Sue Gray Report is about as independent as a Church of England independent inquiry

The Sue Gray Report into Partygate – which saw 126 fines handed out to 83 people, including the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, for attending ‘events’ in No.10 Downing Street during the Covid lockdown which didn’t entirely have the appearance of being ‘work related’ – is due to land this week. It might even be today. It could be tomorrow. But it’s imminent. And it will name and shame anyone and everyone and include all manner of photographs which look like Ibiza on a Saturday night of people wearing Christmas hats sitting in front of their PC next to a half-empty bottle of wine.

It will be rigorously independent, we are told: Sue Gray is a civil servant of considerable integrity and immense respect, and she is investigating without fear or favour.

This may be so, but being a civil servant she is in fact an employee compiling an internal report which investigates her line manager. There is some confusion surrounding a recent meeting between Sue Gray and the Prime Minister: who requested it and why; and what was discussed. Further, the QC advising Sue Gray, Daniel Stilitz, is a “Boris-bashing Brexit-hating” card-carrying member of the Labour Party. “Should someone who clearly dislikes the incumbent government so much even be consulting the Civil Service on such an important national matter?” asks Claire Bullivant.

How can a QC provide a civil servant with independent legal advice about the conduct of Boris Johnson when he has previously retweeted that he is a “reckless dangerous PM”?

He has deleted his Twitter account, so that’s okay then

But if you think the independence of the Sue Gray Report into Partygate is questionable, consider the Church of England’s independent inquiry into Dr Martyn Percy vs Christ Church, which might hereafter be known as Hairgate. When Martyn Percy announced he was to leave the Church of England, the Diocese of Oxford issued this statement:

Martyn’s cri de cœur will anger many readers, as it simply does not reflect the church that they know and love. It is time for an objective and independent account of what has happened at Christ Church during the past two years. Following a decision by Bishop’s Council some months ago, we have jointly commissioned with the Archbishops’ Council an independent review to take place this year, to be led by the Church of England Independent Safeguarding Board. We welcome the scrutiny the review will bring and are ready and willing to acknowledge any failings. Our hope is that Martyn will too and, after a time away from ministry, he might reconsider his decision to leave the Church of England.

Wonderful: objective and independent account.. an independent review.. We welcome the scrutiny the review will bring..

But the Church of England’s notion of ‘independent’ is a conceptual stretch from any legal (or even dictionary) understanding of the term.

In the “objective and independent” inquiry into “what has happened at Christ Church during the past two years”, the Church of England (a respondent to Martyn Percy’s complaint) has determined that they will do the investigating and set the Terms of Reference; that is, they will determine the scope of the inquiry. It will be a wholly internal review: they will determine which other respondents may participate, and they have helpfully (to themselves) decreed that the Church of England’s lawyers (a respondent to Martyn Percy’s complaint) may not be named as a respondent. And they have also helpfully (to themselves) decreed that the Church of England’s PR agency (a respondent in Martyn Percy’s complaint) may also not be named as a respondent.

The Church of England’s lawyers will obviously be advising on the quasi-judicial process, and the Church of England’s PR agency will be advising on how best to spin it.

This is the sort of ‘independent’ review which Matt Ineson was offered, and (to his credit) he has refused to give credence to it. When a report is directly commissioned by the respondent to the complaint – Bishop Steven Croft, the National Safeguarding Team, etc. – it really comes as no surprise that the Terms of Reference offered to Martyn Percy specify that lawyers Winckworth Sherwood and PR agency Luther Pendragon may not be named, despite their being a major part of his complaint.

The specific complaint he lodged – the ‘weaponisation’ of safeguarding with intent to cause him harm, incl. incidences of misconduct, malpractice, deliberate malfeasance, corruption (eg the faked risk assessments etc) – are all ignored in the Church of England’s Terms of Reference.

And yet, like the Sue Gray Report, they insist it is an independent review.

They have also sought to dissolve the respondent-complainant distinction, so the entire process of any complaint is collapsed into something claiming to be some kind of “independent investigation”, which is in fact the Church of England taking back control, treating any charge of gross misconduct or deliberate malfeasance as a ‘failing’ or a ‘pastoral matter’ or an ‘unfortunate lapse’.

The Church of England’s Independent Safeguarding Board is not independent. They are funded by the Archbishops’ Council, accountable to it, and have no remit or powers that render it independent. It operates out of Church House in Westminster. Ergo, it is another internal laundry machine, merely branded ‘independent’ in order to satisfy the PR imperative for reputational damage control.

Alex Carlile’s review into the Church of England’s treatment of George Bell was independent, and given his searing judgment against the Church of England’s woeful and chronic maladministration of justice, you might understand why they don’t want to commission another one of those.

But an “independent inquiry” has to mean what it says, and do what it says on the tin. To achieve that, the Church of England cannot protect itself by setting the Terms of Reference, and then picking the coppers, counsel, judge and jury; and then controlling the PR on the verdict.

‘What is truth?’