THE bells of York Minster are likely to remain silent this Christmas after the dispute between the Chapter and its sacked band of bell-ringers became increasingly bitter this week (News, 21 October).
A Chapter statement said that potential replacements had been intimidated. It emerged that Leeds Minster ringers, 20 miles away, had declined a request to stand in, as “an act of solidarity” with the ousted York band.
All 30 of the York Minster Society of Change Ringers were sacked in October over what the Chapter says is their refusal to accept the banning of their former president, David Potter. Mr Potter has been investigated, but never charged, convicted, or cautioned, over two cases of child sexual grooming and abuse. The Chapter hoped to recruit a new tower captain and ringers in time for Easter.
The Chapter commissioned a risk-assessment on Mr Potter, in line with C of E guidelines, and said in a statement, which does not name him: “Following a detailed review of the matter and with guidance from national agencies, Chapter felt that the person presented an ongoing risk and that the potential severity of the risk meant they could not be reinstated.
”This decision was not accepted by the bell-ringing team. There was a reluctance to recognise the Minster’s concerns despite briefings with staff including our safeguarding officer. . .
”Given the Church’s recent history and safeguarding concerns now emerging in other sectors, the Chapter of York remains resolute that it will maintain the highest standards of welfare and safeguarding for all.”
It said that York had asked bands elsewhere in Yorkshire and beyond to help out, and had received offers of assistance from individuals who supported its actions. “However, we have learned that many of these kind people have been subjected to intimidation on social media and in the local press. At least one member of the clergy who has offered to help has been threatened with legal action.”
The York band released their own statement, however, in which they denied any threats or intimidation. “We distance ourselves from any such behaviour, should it have taken place,” it said. “Likewise, we are unaware of any ‘legal threat’.” Their dismissal had been “deeply distressing”, and they and their families had suffered “untold hurt” by an implied questioning of their suitability to safeguard young ringers.
The society had complied with the Chapter decision to exclude “an individual”, and there was no possible ground for questioning the standing of the remaining members in terms of safeguarding. Indeed, 20 of them had DBS clearance, and several had had safeguarding training.”
These members of the band are as committed to safeguarding as any other volunteer at the Minster,” the York ringers said.