Christ Church, Oxford, is being challenged to reveal who produced controversial safeguarding documents aimed at its Dean, the Very Rev’d Prof. Martyn Percy. The unattributed Risk Assessment relates to the Cathedral and bears the official logo of the Church of England, but it has proved impossible to determine who wrote it. It was certainly taken seriously: it resulted in key codes being changed, panic alarms considered, and a warning that College employees should not meet the Dean alone.
A second set of risk assessments concerning the Dean and relating to the College and to the Deanery and College was drawn up last October. Two people listed on the documents as its authors have denied being involved. Which raises questions about who did compile them.
The ‘Whodunnit’ mystery has come into new focus after a Court of Appeal judge threw out an attempt by the College to subject the Dean to a Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM). Dame Sarah Asplin said it would be “entirely disproportionate” to proceed with a CDM over a case in which the Dean was alleged briefly to have touched a female employee’s hair while complimenting her. The police also decided not to investigate the matter any further. The Dean denies touching Ms X’s hair.
Dame Sarah wrote: “The incident itself was extremely short, the alleged hair stroking was even shorter and the language and the conduct as a whole was not overtly sexual. If this is put together with the fact that [the employee] accepts that she was not upset in any way [and] stated originally that she was not perturbed… it seems to me that it is entirely disproportionate that this matter should be referred to a tribunal.”
But Christ Church – which has for three years been battling to sack the Dean at a cost of millions – produced a set of risk assessments which, one of which stated that other college employees – including the Chaplain – could be at a high risk of harm if they were alone with Professor Percy. His PA was told not to be in the same room with him without written permission, and College gardeners were warned only to work in the Deanery garden in pairs. The Dean was forbidden to have any contact with students. He is also prohibited from attending his own Cathedral without written permission.
The College’s draft assessments were attributed to Kate Wood, the independent safeguarding consultant hired by the College to investigate the allegation; and Richard Woodley, the Diocesan Safeguarding Office. But both have denied having anything to do with them, or the final document.
“I have never undertaken a risk assessment in this matter or been party to the assessment in any regard,” Ms Wood, a retired police inspector, told the Church Times. “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 continued: “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.”
Richard Woodley, the Diocesan Safeguarding Officer, said that because this was an “interim assessment of risk” rather than a formal risk assessment, it did not need to comply with the Safeguarding (Clergy Risk Assessment) Regulations 2016. That meant that Professor Percy wasn’t given the right to query it.
The document has been dubbed the “dirty dossier” by the Surviving Church blog, written by Stephen Parsons, a retired clergyman who has become an expert in clerical abuse issues. “This is a fraudulent risk assessment document submitted with the CDM documents to the Bishop of Oxford. The College has admitted that they were wrong to back this document, but the damage was done in creating the over-the-top risk assessment which has now been put in place around the College.”
Yet another legal expert who specialised in safeguarding, Martin Sewell, wrote: “Somebody created that document and saw fit to badge it as a CofE assessment, somebody saw fit to share it with the Bishop who – when challenged – still apparently asserts it is a valid assessment by unauthorised people. Perhaps he will confirm and release how many such assessments those responsible have undertaken. Did he undertake ANY due diligence – if so what?”
Christ Church has also been challenged by retired barrister, safeguarding expert and General Synod member, David Lamming, to answer seven key questions:
1. Who prepared the ‘draft’ risk assessment and incorrectly named Kate Wood as the author of one of the risk assessments?
2. Was the early ‘draft’ headed or watermarked ‘draft’?
3. On what date was this draft prepared?
4. When was the risk assessment ‘finalised’ and the draft ‘corrected’?
5. On what dates did Kate Wood ask the College ‘several times’ to “publicly explain the error and to confirm that I had not conducted a risk assessment.”?
6. Why was the ‘error’ not corrected at the first time of asking?
7. Were corrected risk assessments duly 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 and, if so, when?
Lawyers have pointed out that it may be a criminal offence to produce a document which misrepresents its status or authorship. Section 1 of the Forgery Act 1981 states: “A person is guilty of forgery if he makes a false instrument, with the intention that he or another shall use it to induce somebody to accept it as genuine, and by reason of so accepting it to do or not to do some act to his own or any other person’s prejudice.”
CPS guidance states: “a document can be deemed as being false when it purports to have been made in a form or on terms or altered by a person who did not in fact make it in such a form or in such terms or so altered it, or who did not authorise its making in that form or on those terms or so altered.”
To date, the Bishop of Oxford and the Christ Church Senior Censor have not given clear answers to questions about the risk assessments, and neither have they replied to requests for clarification. There has been silence about the CDM result from the Diocese.
Though Dame Sarah’s judgment is in the public domain, the Diocese claims it is confidential. The Sub-Dean of the Cathedral, Fr Richard Peers, wrote to the congregation simply telling them that it had been “concluded”, without making it clear that she had found that it would be “entirely disproportionate” to refer the claim against the Dean to a tribunal. Her short judgment, based on a thorough investigation, concluded that – without wishing to trivialise the allegations – the claims did not (even if true) amount to the sort of serious misconduct that should concern a tribunal.