THE diocese of Birmingham has defended its decision to insist that a survivor of sexual abuse sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) before allowing her to see an independent review of her case.
The survivor, Jo 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 on Wednesday evening. His habit was to appear naked in her presence.
She 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).
In February this year, upon her request, the diocese commissioned an independent reviewer to conduct a Learning Lessons Case Review to investigate the way in which the allegations had been dealt with over the ten-year period.
The final report was ready in August, but she said on Wednesday that the diocese had last month asked her to sign a non-disclosure agreement before she was allowed to see the final report of the review. She signed, but was only shown a heavily redacted version of the the report.
In a statement on Thursday, Mrs Kind said: “I was shocked to be informed by the diocese last month that I would not be allowed to read the review of my own case unless I signed a lifelong non-disclosure agreement.”
She had agreed to sign the NDA after taking legal advice, since she was told that it would only be in effect until the report was published. She had been “assured” that it would be published in full, she said, but the diocese has since confirmed that it will not be releasing it.
A spokeswoman for the diocese of Birmingham said: “One of the main factors affecting the decision not to publish the full contents of the report related to concerns regarding the safeguarding of the many contributors — some of whom wish to remain anonymous — and many others whom this situation involves either directly or indirectly.”
Safeguarding was the main reason for using the NDA, the diocese states in a response to the Channel 4 interview on its website: “We need to make clear that the Church of England [in] Birmingham has never restricted, or sought to restrict Jo from telling her story. This is not the purpose of the NDA. It was and will always be her story to tell.
“The decision with regards to the NDA was made to protect the many contributors to the report, some of whom wish to remain unidentifiable, along with the many others whom this situation affects.
“The suggestion of asking Jo to sign the NDA was also made by the independent reviewer once the report had been finalised. We encouraged Jo to seek legal advice, which she did, before signing the NDA, rather than ‘forcing it on her’ as reported. . .
“Jo was asked to sign an NDA with the intention to prevent [her] from sharing information not belonging to her that she was not previously aware of.”
The NDA, seen by this paper, states that Mrs 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 Mrs 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 strongest criticism of the diocese is believed to be contained in the full report, but the executive summary of the report, which was released on Thursday, concludes that these individuals “should have been approached by an independent person with no connection to the diocese”.
Another conclusion is that “it should have been possible to decide within no longer than a fortnight, that [Mrs Kind’s] complaint should be the subject of a full church investigation.”
Mrs 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.
Mrs Kind has previously described the ten-year-long process since her first complaint as “haphazard”. The Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, who has been in post since 2006, recently apologised to Mrs Kind and her husband “for the upset and anguish that you both have suffered as a result of the mistakes I have made in the handling of your complaint”.
She told Channel 4: “I have been trying to talk about this for ten years, and I am being silenced by an NDA in order to make sure that he can’t be identified.”
Mrs Kind said that Canon Walker had told her, at the time, that “he had a problem with his libido”, and that “in order to rectify that he had medical advice that he should be without his clothes as much as possible.”
“He would be walking around in various states of arousal,” she said.
In 2015, Canon Walker was issued Penalty of Rebuke by Consent under the Clergy Discipline Measure, by Bishop Urquhart. 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. Rev 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.”
A spokeswoman for the Church of England’s national safeguarding team said: “National guidance on Lessons Learnt Reviews will soon be going out to consultation, and will include advice against the use of NDAs by dioceses.
“Once this is approved by the House of Bishops, all dioceses will be expected to have ‘due regard’ to this policy. This has been formulated over the past year and is not a direct result of any current case.”
On Thursday afternoon the following statement appeared on 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, and is not available for publication or distribution. Those who wish to view the redacted full report will be required to sign an agreement preventing the misuse of third party information.”