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IICSA: the dean’s bonfire and the destroyed report at Chichester Cathedral

21 March 2018


Chichester Cathedral

Chichester Cathedral

A FORMER Dean of Chichester Cathedral, the late John Treadgold, burnt a batch of files suspected to contain sensitive personnel material upon his retirement in 2001, the Dean of Worcester, the Very Revd Peter Atkinson, confirmed on Tuesday.

Dean Atkinson, who was Canon Chancellor of Chichester Cathedral at the time of the incident, was giving evidence to a public hearing conducted by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA).

The hearing, now in its third and final week, is using the Chichester diocese as a case study.

Asked by Counsel about the burning of files, Dean Atkinson said: “He [Dean Treadgold] had retired in the autumn of 2001 and moved a short distance away. What I remember of the episode is that he returned to the Deanery, which then was empty — this was long before Dean Frayling arrived — removed a number of files from the Deanery basement and had a fire in the garden.

“I don’t know what the files were. I think there is some indication that they might have been old Chapter files, but they may well have been his own. It’s a bit odd that he’d moved away and then came back to do this, and it was sufficiently troubling for us to mention this to the police, which happened.”

Dean Atkinson confirmed that no further disciplinary action was taken against Dean Treadgold.

Witnesses on Tuesday were giving evidence of the mishandling of safeguarding in Chichester Cathedral. Terence Banks, a former head steward at the cathedral, was convicted in 2001 of 32 sexual offences against 12 boys between 1971 and 2000.

IICSA heard that a victim and his mother had disclosed abuse to Dean Treadgold at the time, but that the Dean had failed to report the matter to the child-protection adviser, the police, or social services.

The Banks case had led the then newly appointed Bishop of Chichester, Dr John Hind, to commission a report by Edina Carmi, a social-work consultant, which was finished in 2004. The report, which describes a “hostile environment” in the cathedral, and warns of serious safeguarding breaches over three decades, was not published until 2014 (News, 11 July 2014).

It also describes a “confusion” in the Church and Chapter between homosexuality and child abuse. Asked by the Counsel about this, Dean Atkinson said of Dean Treadgold: “Like many men of his background and his generation, there was an unease about the whole idea of homosexuality and a sort of presumption that homosexual men were unsafe in relation to other men, particularly younger men or boys.”

Dean Treadgold would also have been “deeply uneasy and unsure of himself” in his dealings with the police, he said.

Dean Atkinson had reservations about the conclusions of the Carmi report, however. “I felt that she [Ms Carmi] hadn’t got under the skin of the sort of organisation that a cathedral is, and that significantly coloured her report, and that if there had been a point at which she had [asked]. . . ‘What does this feel like?’ we could have had some discussion about that. . .

“I regretted that the report had been written in that way, and in some contrast to the police investigation of 2002, in which some very searching questions were asked about the kind of culture in the cathedral that elicited, I think, some important points. So I didn’t feel that it had been, in that sense, as thorough as it should have been.”

Ms Carmi, in her evidence to the hearing on Tuesday, said that, contrary to the evidence of other witnesses, she had, in fact, interviewed the Communar of the cathedral (a senior lay administrator on the staff), and the organist, and Dean Treadgold, albeit at a later stage, to inform her report.

“I was not trying to do a top-down review where you go to the top and the senior managers and find out what they think and then, sort of, they point you to other people. We wanted to have something that was open, to understand the culture and to have people who wished to talk to us — not limited to the senior people, but not excluding them in any sense at all.

“If they felt they had something to contribute — they had had a meeting with me and they knew full well how to contact me, and they should have known, if the Dean was telling them, that I was asking to write to them all to involve them.”

Ms Carmi confirmed that she had had a meeting about the Banks case with the Dean and Chapter, the then diocesan safeguarding adviser Janet Hind, at that time, and school governors, during her review.

“There was an issue about the reputational risk involved, the fact that it was so long ago. . . The feeling coming very strongly, from particularly the Dean, was that there was concern that we would be distressing people by bringing back the past that was well over and, in his view, forgotten.”

Ms Carmi was then questioned by Counsel about the reception of her report in 2004. “After the report was delivered,” she said, “there seems to have been the most extraordinary turn of events that I was totally unaware of, which is that the cathedral expressed their dissatisfaction with the report.”

She said that copies of her report, of which she had requested that at least the recommendations be made public, had also been destroyed by the Chapter.

“I understand from what I have read in the past week... That all copies of my report were destroyed so they were unavailable should anybody request them. . . That it was considered a flawed report to be destroyed by the cathedral, and, therefore, that seems to be what happened.”

She confirmed at the start of her evidence that she had destroyed her own records and notes leading up to the review, as well as a few electronic files.

Questioned on the culture in the cathedral at the time of the abuse by Banks, she said she had been told by one parent that “there was this in-group, of which Terence Banks was very much part of the in group, of the people that you would see with the senior clergy, with the Dean, who would socialise together, and the parents whose children were befriended by the abuser. . .

“And, therefore, the parents themselves would get to be in this inner circle as well, and that, actually, if you tried to do anything from outside, if you tried to get a better seat in the cathedral, you couldn’t.”

Asked whether conservative views on homosexuality had affected safeguarding in the cathedral, Ms Carmi gave an example of the confliction of a senior member of the cathedral, whom she had spoken to about the case: “What he explained was that because of his theological beliefs, he was totally against homosexuality. . .

“So when he, in hindsight, was able to see what was actually Terence Banks grooming. . . he just put it in a box where he didn’t allow himself to think, because that was the homosexual box where you mustn’t think about it.”

The national safeguarding adviser to the Church of England since 2010, a joint post held with Methodist Church, Elizabeth Hall, also commented, during the conclusion of her evidence on Tuesday, on the practice of clerics burning depositing or burning their files upon retirement.

“I used to hear these stories about different people who destroyed their documents before they moved on, in both Churches, and it was always a great concern to me,” she said.

“Sometimes there was a theological underpinning to this, that people deserved a new start, so that they would let them have a new start. Sometimes it was the Dean of the cathedral [Dean Treadgold] who simply destroyed everything he had because he believed all these men had seen the light and were no longer a risk.”

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