A 2010 investigation into past allegations of abuse in the Church of England was “flawed” and “failed to give a complete picture”, Sir Roger Singleton said on Friday. He emphasised, however, that he had found no evidence of any attempt to deliberately mislead.
Sir Roger was asked to review the adequacy of the Past Cases Review (PCR) of 2007-09, which was a review of more than 40,000 files on diocesan staff, clergy, and lay ministers dating back 30 years, and looked for any evidence that clergy or church workers had abused children (News, 24 February 2010).
The Church had “botched” the PCR in three ways, Sir Roger told the BBC.
First, its survey “wasn’t completely comprehensive”, since it did not include some cathedrals or employees working with children in some parishes.
Second, in the public statement that the Church made after the review, it had “failed to give a comprehensive picture of the concerns that existed”.
Third, the Church “narrowed down the definitions of who had been responsible for abuse by limiting it to just new cases and the cases where the Church took formal action. And this had the impact of reducing the numbers from nearer 100 to just two which appeared in the public statement.”
Sir Roger said, however, that his review “found no evidence whatsoever of a planned deliberate attempt to mislead. One of the factors that led those who prepared the press statement to emphasise the positive points for the church and to downplay the negative aspect was an attempt to protect the interests of the Church.”
From the perspective of today, Sir Roger said, it was “extraordinary” that the PCR had not spoken to abuse survivors. “I think probably ten years ago the importance of listening to victims and survivors was less well understood than it is now. Some victims and survivors came forward and offered to meet with the independent reviewers, and that offer was refused.”
Sir Roger said that the Church now needed “to complete the incomplete job it made ten years ago by making sure that all files that are available are actually reviewed”.
The Report of the Independent Scrutiny Team into the Adequacy of the Church of England’s Past Cases Review 2008-09, written by Sir Roger and published on Friday, concludes that the PCR had been “well motivated and thoughtfully planned given the limited resources available at the time”.
It continues: “It led to hundreds of cases of concern being reviewed and additional actions taken where appropriate. There were some limitations in relation to its execution and the public statements which were subsequently issued. Recommendations have been made to address these shortcomings and to help the Church to build on the strong policy, procedures and training foundations which have now been laid.”
The report will be sent to the Independent Inquiry for Child Sexual Abuse, which conducted an investigation into failings in Chichester diocese in March (News, 20 March).
It recommends that an updated form of PCR is carried out in seven dioceses. The report also says that “all safeguarding concerns relating to parish employees and volunteers working with children” should be passed on to the diocesan safeguarding officer; cathedrals and other decision-making bodies should conduct their own reviews; a “Whole Church” approach to safeguarding; that the Church should improve its attitude towards victims of abuse; and that the Church should enhance the “quality and consistency” of its record-keeping of safeguarding issues.
The Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, who is the C of E’s lead bishop on safeguarding, said on Friday: “These criticisms have been taken very seriously and acted upon, and the House of Bishops have offered full support to implementing the recommendations in the report and any subsequent actions.
“We are committed to making sure that any known individuals who have not been dealt with appropriately in the past are assessed, and any current potential risks to children and others are rigorously managed, including by reporting these individuals to the statutory authorities for investigation.”
Sir Roger told the BBC that one thing that the Church should do was to put “as much emphasis on prevention, on trying to make sure that unsuitable people do not get into positions of trusty within the church, as it is on making sure that allegations are properly reported”.
But he also commended the improvement that the Church had made since the PCR: “One does have to say that, in the ten years that followed, the Church has made strong efforts to improve its policies, training, and to make more resources available [for safeguarding].”