THE diocese of Truro repeatedly failed to deal with allegations of child sex abuse made over several decades against a former press officer of the diocese, Jeremy Dowling, a case review has concluded.
The review, conducted by the diocese and published last Friday, states that senior staff members and clergy had “ongoing knowledge” of the illicit activities of Mr Dowling while he was involved in the Church and later employed by the diocese from the late 1950s through to the ’70s.
In June 2015, Mr Dowling pleaded guilty at Truro Crown Court to several charges of indecent assaults on boys between 1959 and 1971 while working as a teacher in a boarding school in Cornwall (News, 12 June 2015). In September 2016, he was found guilty of indecent assault on one boy from 1973 to 1977.
The Crown Prosecution Service had also “left on file” matters concerning the possession of indecent images of children on a computer, the review states. Mr Dowling, who is now 79, retired from the diocese in 2009, after 25 years, and served on both diocesan and General Synods.
He was a housemaster at a school in Cornwall for 16 years, before handing in his resignation in 1972 after allegations of “improper behaviour” with boys there. The review documents his letter of resignation, and responses to this, which were noted in a meeting of the school governors that year.
The then Bishop of Truro, Maurice Key, was informed of the resignation in a letter from the chair of governors. He replied: “It is terribly sad that this should have happened, not only because it is a tragedy for Jeremy Dowling, but it can be a real blow for the school and the Church.”
Bishop Key already knew, however, that Mr Dowling, who had also held various positions of authority in his local church, including as churchwarden, was under police investigation for multiple offences against boys.
No action was taken by the diocese, and proceedings against Mr Dowling were not brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The review states that the level of evidence to bring about prosecution was “extremely high” in 1972, but that this did not excuse lack of action from the diocese.
“No institution or organisation should have relied on a police investigation to make judgements on the conduct of those it employs or engages with,” it states. “It has its own responsibilities to judge such behaviour.”
Knowledge of the allegations continued into the 1980s, during which time Mr Dowling was being considered for ordination by the then Bishop of Truro, Peter Mumford. Bishop Mumford was informed of the allegations by a clergyman with direct knowledge of the incidents, but, again, no action was taken.
Rather, he wrote in a letter to the director of ordinands: “There is a good fat file about Jeremy in my office, and you may have some stuff about him yourself. There is no need to read it all. . . Whatever happened was, at worst, a kind of indiscretion, and is much best forgotten.”
His successor, Bishop Michael Ball, told the review that he had been informed of the allegations, but, since the police investigation had ended, did not review the files himself.
Mr Dowling was appointed diocesan communications and bishop’s research officer, full-time, in 2003. These positions were “poorly monitored”, and “this allowed him to create an air of independence that made challenge difficult,” the review says.
Mr Dowling ceased his association with St Gennys, in Bude, in 1987, but continued to serve unattached as a Reader until 2013, when a file was discovered and passed to police during a safeguarding audit.
The review concludes: “There is no doubt that there were a number of missed opportunities for the diocese of Truro to undertake its own investigations into the allegations. . . The diocese did not understand the difference between criminal and civil standards of law. Legal advice should have been sought.”
Its recommendations include continuing safeguarding training in the diocese, and producing a code of conduct for lay members, based on that issued to the clergy.
The Bishop of St Germans, Dr Chris Goldsmith, who is the acting diocesan bishop, apologised to survivors on behalf of the diocese. “It is clear that abusive behaviour flourishes where there is a culture of secrecy, and so it was important that we made the findings of this review widely available. We are committed to being transparent.
“My apology on behalf of the diocese to anybody who has suffered as a result of past failings is abject, sincere, and heartfelt. It was with a sense of disappointment, sorrow, and shame that we read of a failure to act, and make any independent investigation of Jeremy Dowling, after the initial allegations were made.
“Thankfully, there have been changes in society and attitudes as a whole; changes to the law; and many changes to the structures, culture, procedures, and policies of the Church; and the diocese of Truro is no exception.”
The author of the review, Dr Andy Thompson, said: “I was disappointed by what I found, but not surprised. Sadly, we have heard numerous examples of people in positions of power and influence behaving in a different way in the 1970s when it came to dealing with serious allegations. Certainly, it is a way that is entirely unacceptable by today’s standards.”
The independent chair of the diocesan Safeguarding Advisory Panel, Nigel Druce, said: “We now have a much better understanding that any kind of abuse, particularly against young people, can have catastrophic effects for the rest of those individuals’ lives. . .
“We don’t see this publication as an end, but as a station on the journey of trying to make every aspect of life within the church family as safe as possible.”