Abuse allegations must be reported, Church of England safeguarding adviser tells IICSA

20 March 2018

IICSA

Graham Tilby is sworn in on Monday

Graham Tilby is sworn in on Monday

THE National Safeguarding Adviser of the Church of England, Graham Tilby, has said that the language of safeguarding policies and regulations could be clarified to support the call from survivors for mandatory reporting in the Church.

Giving evidence on Monday and Tuesday to the public hearing being conducted by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) into safeguarding failures of the Anglican Church, Mr Tilby said: “I would agree that if a matter is reported to whoever, whether it is a member of [the] clergy or a layperson, that clearly is a safeguarding allegation or an admission, then that must be reported. . .

“Our guidance — as I say, I’m happy to look at it in terms of whether there are ways of strengthening that, but I think the position is clear: it must be reported. I would have to have those conversations with lawyers to work out whether that was something that needed to be enshrined in legislation.”

Asked on behalf of the lawyers representing survivors how the Church could ensure that the number of reports of abuse went up, unless there was mandatory reporting, he said: “It is equipping people with the skills and confidence to recognise abuse, so fundamentally training has to be key to support that.

“The principle of mandatory reporting is absolutely correct: there should be a ‘must report’ [policy] when you have identified abuse. . . the recent Government publication outlines some issues about the application of it.”

These included being “inundated” with reports, and the “risk of missing the proper risk”. “We have to address two key issues in order to make mandatory reporting successful. One is that we have a blame culture, and that leads people to report things maybe for the wrong reason. . . Secondly, we have to have the resources to respond to that increase in reporting.”

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During several hours of detailed questioning from the lead Counsel to the Anglican investigation, Fiona Scolding QC, Mr Tilby also accepted the criticism that, while a vast amount of safeguarding policy and material had been produced by the NST since 2015, including the House of Bishops report, Protecting All God’s Children, not all of this could be easily understood and applied at parish level.

A parish safeguarding handbook was being produced to address this concern, he said.

“Obviously, you have to be very careful in safeguarding that it doesn’t become too simplistic. But I think some handy guide in terms of how to recognise signs and symptoms of abuse, and what to do in terms of response. But, of course, training is key to that as well.”

He agreed with Ms Scolding that “some training to assist bishops in running a diocese” was needed. Specialist modules on recognising grooming, for example, would be included.

“It will take time to embed, but at some point in the future I will be much more confident that if you are a member of clergy or a suffragan bishop or an archdeacon, you will have gone through this pathway of safeguarding training, which now will include senior safeguarding training.”

Mr Tilby is a qualified social worker with 23 years of experience in the sector. He was appointed to oversee safeguarding in the Church in February 2015. “I inherited an improvement journey that the Church had started but had not properly resourced,” he said.

Since then, he had increased the national safeguarding personnel from one joint position with the Methodist Church to 13 full-time employees, and one part-time employee. Every parish now had a designated parish safeguarding officer, and every diocese had at least one full-time diocesan safeguarding officer, most of whom headed a small team, he said.

The National Safeguarding Team (NST) had been established in 2014, before his arrival.

There was now a National Safeguarding Steering Group “to drive accountability and oversight” of the NST; a National Safeguarding Panel, which included representatives of statutory bodies and survivors, set up in response to mishandlings of allegations of abuse in Chichester diocese; and Safe Spaces, a group dedicated to the support of survivors of clerical abuse.

“It has taken too long to [get to] where we have got to now,” Mr Tilby said, however. This was particularly apparent when it came to properly responding to victims and survivors, he said.

Mr Tilby said that the “variety” of criticisms from survivors directed specifically at the NST were “disappointing”, however. “The very small number of complex cases we deal with, the survivors have had the worst experience, not just of abuse, but of the legacy of poor response from the Church. So they are probably the most mistrustful of the Church, angry with the Church.

“And then of course we have to manage expectations. We don’t have a pool of counselling services sitting in Church House . . . the local support for that provision still has to come through the diocese unless in exceptional circumstances.

“We are trying to get a professional response mixed with that pastoral response at a distance. . . So I accept some of the criticisms, I don’t agree with them all. I don’t think we’re cold; we are professional people who have absolutely dedicated our lives to the safeguarding of children and young people.”

Sir Roger Singleton, who is the chair of the Independent Safeguarding Authority, said in his evidence last week that the National Safeguarding Panel, including survivors, needed to be given “more teeth” to hold the Church to account.

Mr Tilby agreed, and said that the panel was going through a process of transition.

“It is one of the richest meetings I go to. . . You would get a richness of input, and particularly from survivors as well in terms of challenge. The panel now is going through a time of transition where it needs to redefine itself. It needs to move into a place where it’s holding the Church to account.”

The Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) had also been through a process of consultation on his arrival, and the process “strengthened” to better suit the disciplining of safeguarding breaches, Mr Tilby said, but further changes were being considered.

“Now we need to . . . make sure that we are clear in what circumstances would you travel down the CDM route, and in what circumstances would you travel down the risk-assessment route.”

Mr Tilby said that he was “open-minded” about the possibility of setting up a national redress scheme for survivors, and acknowledged that separate groups should be established to deal with historic and recent allegations.

“At the moment it is about making sure we do it well with current cases, and make sure we work closely with insurers to provide a good response in terms of settlement and redress.

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“I have been mindful of the developments in Australia, particularly with the Australian Royal Commission, and note that the Anglican Church in Australia were setting up a national redress scheme, and now the Commonwealth Government are setting up a scheme.”

Ms Scolding also questioned Mr Tilby on changes to how permission to officiate (PTO) was granted, after two weeks of evidence to IICSA on how a series of failures in the diocese of Chichester had led to PTO being granted without question to clergy who posed a serious safeguarding risk to children.

Since 2016, all clergy with, or applying for, PTO had to undergo national safeguarding training, he said. The problem was not specific to Chichester diocese, he said, and new guidance was currently being pushed through the House of Bishops’ delegation committee.

“There may be, amongst some, a sort of tendency to think: ‘I’ve got a right to have PTO.’ The guidance will make it very clear that is not the case.

“The expectation will be that there is rigorous, safer recruitment practice as we would expect for other members of the clergy and, indeed, where there are safeguarding concerns, those issues are dealt with in terms of a suspension of the PTO immediately, or if there has been substantiated safeguarding concerns that person is not granted PTO in the future.”

Mr Tilby said that attitudes to CBR and DBS checks also had to be changed. “It is that sense of ‘being Church’ and sort of, ‘We are good people, why would we be seen to be potentially unsuitable?’ We have to reverse the conversation to some degree. It is a kind of cultural conversation.”

The NST was also working with the clerical directory Crockfords to update its records to include every cleric with PTO, he said.

Mr Tilby acknowledged a “legacy of poor recording practice” on a national, diocesan, and parish level, but confirmed that a more rigorous online IT system was being implemented across the 42 dioceses, which would include the “blue files” and PTO information.

Once this, and a parallel national case-management system was in place, and files migrated, he said, “the Church as a whole will be in a much better place in terms of oversight of those who pose a risk.”

He also reassured IICSA that clergy safeguarding data would not be shredded to comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, which becomes law on 25 May.

Mr Tilby said on Tuesday that, while he accepted “some” of the criticisms made by Lord Carlile in his report on George Bell, including that of the Core Group, settlements should not be kept confidential (News, 15 December 2017).

“Having heard evidence and read many statements, I think that the Church has been beset with situations of denial and not wanting to be open about the abuse that has happened. I have come into this role with a sense of determination that there is an openness in our culture and a transparency, and this is an area we have to be open and transparent about.”

A “mature debate” was needed to understand the reconciliation of sexual offending and reputation, he said. “The media has to play some part in this: we need to have a more mature debate as a society about what it means to potentially be a sex offender but also to have characteristics that are good. As I say, I make no judgement about George Bell, but that is a bigger issue for society and indeed this Inquiry.”

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