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Independent safeguarding chair steps back after second data-breach

04 August 2022

Sam Atkins/Church Times

The chair of the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB), Professor Maggie Atkinson, addresses the General Synod in York, in July

The chair of the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB), Professor Maggie Atkinson, addresses the General Synod in York, in July

THE chair of the fledgling Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB), Professor Maggie Atkinson, has been asked to step back from her role after a second complaint that she breached data-protection rules and confidentiality was upheld.

In a statement published on the C of E safeguarding webpages on Thursday, the Bishop-elect of Rochester, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, who is the lead safeguarding bishop, said that a complaint had been made to the National Church Institutions, which includes the National Safeguarding Team, from an unnamed individual — “data subject” — about a data and confidentiality breach by Professor Atkinson.

This complaint had been upheld, he said. “We have notified the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), and the Archbishops’ Council has made a Serious Incident Report to the Charity Commission.”

The ICO is a non-departmental public body set up to uphold information rights. Two weeks ago, it upheld a complaint from a survivor of clerical abuse, the Revd Graham Sawyer, that Professor Atkinson broke data-protection rules during their correspondence about the interim redress scheme for survivors (News, 22 July).

The Church Times understand that Dr Gibbs’s statement refers to a separate incident. He continues: “We have apologised to the data subject for the distress caused and the chair has been asked to step back from her role as we await a response from the ICO. We would like to stress that the rights of individuals to protect their data, and our duty to use that data properly in any aspect of our work is paramount.”

The ISB, which has been given the task of overseeing the National Safeguarding Team, was announced by Dr Gibbs in 2020 (News, 23 October 2020) and established the following year with Professor Atkinson as chair and survivor advocate (News, 1 October 2021). Its independence, and by extension the effectiveness of its scrutiny of church safeguarding practices, has repeatedly been called into question by survivors.

Dr Gibbs concluded his statement saying that “independent oversight continues to be a key part of making the Church a safer place for all, but it will take time to embed its work to ensure it has the confidence of all concerned. We are in contact with the other members of the ISB, who will continue in their work, and there will be further updates in due course.”

A statement from the ISB later on Thursday said: “The ISB regrets it has been necessary to ask Maggie Atkinson Chair of ISB, to step aside whilst the ICO investigates. We support their decision. The ISB recognises and is grateful for all the work undertaken to date by Maggie. The ISB acknowledges the importance of keeping personal data safe. The work of the ISB continues with the shortly to be published first report into survivor experiences authored by Survivor Advocate Lead Jasvinder Sanghera CBE.”

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