Survivor on national safeguarding panel slams Birmingham diocese over redacted report

14 December 2018

‘I am not trusted to behave sensibly with my own review material’

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A SURVIVOR of clerical abuse, Jo Kind, has described as “nonsense” the diocese of Birmingham’s decision not to trust her with the full unredacted report of a review into her own case.

In an interview with Channel 4 News last week, Ms Kind revealed that the diocese had encouraged her to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) before she could see the final report of the Learning Lessons Case Review (LLCR). She had requested the review in February this year, to investigate the way in which her case had been dealt with by the Church over a ten-year period (News, 7 December).

She signed the NDA last month, but was shown only a heavily redacted version of the report.

It has since been confirmed that the diocese of Birmingham, having taken legal advice, also prevented members of the National Safeguarding Steering Group (NSSG) of the Church of England from reading the unredacted report. As with Ms Kind, the diocese requested that members sign a confidentiality agreement — similar to an NDA — before viewing only a heavily redacted executive summary, which has since been released more widely.

Members of the group include the Bishops of Manchester, London, Lambeth, and Bath & Wells, as well as the Secretary-General of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye, and the Church’s national safeguarding adviser, Graham Tilby.

A spokeswoman has said that forthcoming national guidance on LLCRs would include advice against the use of NDAs by dioceses.

Ms Kind was a personal assistant to Canon Thomas Walker at the time of the abuse, from 1989, when she was 22, to 1991. Canon Walker was the Vicar of St John’s, Harborne, in Birmingham, at the time, and was named publicly as her abuser for the first time on Channel 4, last week. His habit was to appear naked in her presence.

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She had first disclosed the alleged abuse to Canon Walker’s successor, the Revd John Hughes, in 2008, and brought a formal complaint through the Clergy Discipline Measure in 2015 (Comment, 15 July 2016).

The NDA states that Ms Kind had been free to disclose any information that was “known to [her], otherwise than under any obligation of confidentiality, prior to the provision of the Reports”.

The information that Ms Kind could not disclose included the personal details of contributors to the report, including three other individuals who expressed concerns about the behaviour of Canon Walker to two clergymen: the “Revd B” — believed to be Mr Hughes; and the “Revd C”, who asked two of the individuals whether they wished to make a complaint against Canon Walker.

The diocese of Birmingham said last week that the NDA had been issued “to protect the many contributors to the report, some of whom wish to remain unidentifiable, along with the many others whom this situation affects”. Ms Kind had been asked to sign “to prevent [her] from sharing information not belonging to her that she was not previously aware of”.

Ms Kind told the Church Times on Tuesday, however, that this suggestion was “nonsense when bearing in mind that I know the names of all the contributors, and where the events took place.

“Indeed, part of the process of the review was to consult with me as to who should be approached to contribute. I chose not to name the contributors because I agree that all those directly and indirectly affected by Tom Walker’s behaviour should be protected: it is an ethical decision, but I’m not bound by the NDA in this department.”

The safeguarding of contributors had also been one of the main reasons not to publish the report in full, the diocese said. Ms Kind said this week that the report would not have been published at all had it not been for the Channel 4 coverage.

She had agreed to sign the NDA after taking legal advice, since she was told that it would be in effect only until the report was published. She had been “assured” that it would be published in full, but the diocese has since confirmed that it will not be releasing it.

Ms Kind, who is on the National Safeguarding Advisory Panel of the Church of England, and became the first survivor to address the General Synod, in July, continued: “I am trusted to be on the C of E National Safeguarding Advisory Panel; I was trusted to address the General Synod; and yet I am not trusted to behave sensibly with my own review material.

“The redactions are nearly all the dates, all places, and the genders of all church personnel; even the word ‘vicarage’ is redacted. Publication would not have identified anyone apart from me and my husband, as we had chosen to waive anonymity.”

NDAs should never be used in cases of abuse, she said. “It is quite frightening to have to sign something and take legal advice when you feel vulnerable. An embargo on information before publication is reasonable, and protection of victims and bystanders is also essential, but to slap that on somebody who is vulnerable is ill-advised, especially in the Church, when we are trying to be compassionate.”

Moreover, the independent reviewer had taken “the utmost care” to protect the identity of contributors in the 136-page report and 26-page executive summary, Ms Kind said. “His intention was that I was given an unredacted copy: I wasn’t. I was told that the Bishop of Birmingham’s copy was also redacted, and that he did not have to sign an NDA.”

The full report is “excellent” and thoroughly researched, she said. “I submitted 980-odd pages to the reviewer and cross-referenced everything because it is quite complex. . . and he went through that very carefully. He interviewed a lot of people and upheld nearly all my complaints. For me it was — and I hate using this word — a healing process. . .

“It was very carefully done. If I was the reviewer I would be quite cross that it has been watered down to a list of lessons learnt. Nobody, unless they have committed a crime, should get in trouble for what they have done — and I don’t want anybody to [get into trouble] — but I do think people ought to be more open about their mistakes, rather than hiding behind diocesan statements.”

No one from the diocese, nor St John’s, Harborne, had been in touch since the interview last week, she said. The last contact she had, had been in November.

“I am not surprised, because that is my experience. I should think that they are quite angry. But it is a missed opportunity to engage with me. They seem to have forgotten that I was harmed in this, that I was a victim, and as such I am a vulnerable adult in that context.”

The diocese of Birmingham did not comment further when approached this week.

The executive summary concludes that those involved “should have been approached by an independent person with no connection to the diocese”.

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Another conclusion is that “it should have been possible to decide within no longer than a fortnight, that [Ms Kind’s] complaint should be the subject of a full church investigation.”

Ms Kind instigated a civil action to claim for personal injury, which was settled out of court in February of last year. She received £40,000 in compensation, though St John’s did not accept liability.

Speaking about the decades-long process since the abuse, this week, Ms Kind, who is a member of the survivors group MACSAS, said: “Disclosures I made weren’t taken seriously enough to act upon them, opportunities were missed right from 1991 when it first came to light. . . The report backs up the fact that I had to push through the process, that too much of the energy had to come from me to make it happen.

“The Bishop should not have dealt with it himself. From that moment, it was flawed, because he did not have the skills, the capacity, or independence to do that. . . I am hopeful that lessons have been learnt.”

In 2015, Canon Walker was issued Penalty of Rebuke by Consent under the Clergy Discipline Measure, by the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, who has been in post since 2006. Canon Walker died in 2016, before the Lessons Learned Case Review had been commissioned, but after the initial investigation.

His family told Channel 4 News: “We acknowledge and regret any pain and distress that Mrs Kind has suffered. Reverend Walker was a much loved and respected parish priest, but he accepted that some aspects of his behaviour, whilst he had been in poor mental and physical health, had been inappropriate. However, the allegations of sexually motivated behaviour were always denied, and, indeed, unproven.”

This week, the following statement was added to the Birmingham diocesan website: “Copies of the full redacted report are not available for publication or distribution but a copy can be viewed, on prior agreement by our Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser, at our offices. This is still redacted due to our responsibility to safeguard all contributors, as previously mentioned.”

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