Sussex children’s officials called for Benn’s suspension
PUBLIC officials in Sussex demanded, in May, the suspension of
the Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Revd Wallace Benn, a letter obtained by
the BBC shows. Bishop Benn's solicitors have said that the BBC
relayed "factual inaccuracies".
A report on BBC South East
Today, broadcast on Tuesday, revealed some of the contents
of letters between Lambeth Palace and the director of children's
services at East Sussex County Council, Matt Dunkley, and the
chairwoman of the Local Safeguarding Board for East Sussex, Cathie
Pattison - letters obtained under the Freedom of Information
A letter from Mr Dunkley and Ms Pattison to Dr Williams, dated
16 May, said: "We have no confidence in the judgement and conduct
of Bishop Benn, in relation to dealing with safeguarding issues,
and believe it is appalling that the Church seems reluctant to take
decisive and immediate action.
"Bishop Benn faces serious questions of, at best, his competence
to ensure children are protected, and at worst, his gross
negligence in the face of serious allegations against staff he was
responsible for. His position as bishop is plainly untenable until
these matters are fully investigated."
The letter also said that "insufficient attention" was being
paid "to the ongoing and immediate safeguarding of children in
A response from Lambeth Palace, dated 7 June, said: "Any process
of suspension involves us jumping through several hoops and we are
by no means certain that the evidence for such a step will be
sufficient. I would add that the Church is not like other
organisations in terms of employment arrangements."
A statement from Bishop Benn's solicitors said: "Legal
obligations prevent the Bishop of Lewes from using confidential
information within his possession for correcting those factual
inaccuracies mentioned in the BBC report."
Bishop Benn is understood to be nearing retirement, although an
official announcement has not yet been made in the diocese.
The letters mentioned in the BBC report were written before the
publication of the Archbishop's commissaries' interim report, which
said that "dysfunctionality" in Chichester diocese was preventing
adequate child safeguarding (News, 7 September).
A Chichester diocesan spokesman said on Wednesday: "East Sussex
County Council have properly raised matters of concern with the
Archbishop of Canterbury's office, whose responsibility it is to
comment at this stage. We would refer to the interim report of the
Archiepiscopal Visitors, which contains substantial recommendations
regarding the Clergy Discipline Measure and the issue of neutral
A joint statement by Mr Dunkley and Ms Pattison, issued after
the BBC broadcast, said: "The letters reflect our long-standing
concerns and frustrations about the way in which Lambeth Palace was
investigating the handling of safeguarding matters within the
Chichester diocese. . . The letters speak for themselves, and while
the language used in them reflects the fact that they were not
intended for publication, it does accurately reflect our strength
Mr Dunkley and Ms Pattison "agree with the recommendations" of
the Archbishop's commissaries' interim report, particularly those
that "attempt to bring the Church's safeguarding procedures into
line with all other organisations that work with children".
Lambeth Palace declined to comment.