THE former Bishop of Chichester, Dr John Hind, has apologised for not giving the diocesan safeguarding officers full access to the “blue files” — containing safeguarding concerns about individual clerics in the diocese — at an earlier time in his tenure.
Dr Hind was giving evidence on Wednesday morning to the public hearing conducted by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA), in London, on the extent to which the Anglican Church has failed to protect children from sexual abuse.
The investigation is using Chichester diocese, which has been the subject of several high-profile sex abuse cases and abuse inquiries, as a case study.
“So much of good safeguarding requires joining up the dots at an early stage,” Dr Hind said, “and I wish now that I had taken an earlier decision to give [the diocesan safeguarding officers] unfettered access to all blue files: not simply the particular one they wanted to look at.
“They would have been helped had this been done earlier.”
Dr Hind was the Bishop of Chichester from 2001 to 2012, when several allegations, investigations, and convictions of child sex abuse by priests in his diocese, both recent and historic, were brought to his attention.
This included allegations against Canon Gordon Rideout, who was jailed for ten years in 2013 for 36 separate counts of sex abuses against 16 children in Hampshire and Sussex in the 1960s and 1970s. It also included the cases of the late Roger Cotton, and Colin Pritchard, who, last week, was convicted of several counts of rape against a teenage boy in the 1980s and 1990s (News, 2 March).
Questioned under oath by the Counsel to the Anglican investigation, Fiona Scolding QC, Dr Hind also said that some safeguarding information might have been removed in error by diocesan staff during a review of up to 1500 clergy blue files after the enforcement of the Data Protection Act in October 2001, when Dr Hind ordered personal or sensitive information to be culled.
“One of the reasons I am, in retrospect, so sorry that the restrictions on access to blue files meant that there was not unfettered access to the diocesan safeguarding officers . . . is that knowing what to look for in information is absolutely critical. Bishops and their staff did not have the expertise to do that. . . I hope we have learnt a lot since then.”
He confirmed that he had reviewed some of these files.
Although Cotton’s file would not have been reviewed in 2001 “because he was retired”, Dr Hind said, there were at least six other types of clergy files, some containing copies of the same information, spread across the diocese, that should have been collated to enable safeguarding officers to “join the dots” earlier.
Asked on behalf of the lawyers representing survivors why Cotton’s file wasn’t reviewed at that time, Bishop Hind said: “We were faced with an enormous task between April and October and we had to prioritise [serving clergy].”
IICSAThe former Bishop of Chichester, Dr John Hind, giving evidence on Wednesday
Philip Johnson, a survivor of abuse by Cotton and Pritchard, gave evidence of his experience to IICSA on Tuesday afternoon, as did an anonymous survivor of abuse carried out by Rideout.
IICSA also heard evidence on Tuesday from Shirley Hosgood, an experienced social worker and former safeguarding adviser in the diocese of Chichester. She had been appointed part-time to the position in 2007, but resigned three years later, shortly after expressing concerns over the handling of safeguarding in the diocese.
In a written statement to IICSA, she said: “The diocese’s failure to cooperate or support me in my efforts to carry out my duties betrayed, at best, a misunderstanding and, at worst, an indifference to safeguarding work.”
Her predecessor, Tony Sellwood, died in a car crash.
When questioned by the Counsel to the Inquiry, Nikita McNeill QC, Ms Hosgood said that her handover in 2007 was conducted by the previous safeguarding adviser, Janet Hind, Bishop Hind’s wife, who is due to give evidence on Friday.
Pritchard had, at that time, been arrested.
“When I spoke to Janet Hind during the handover,” Ms Hosgood said, “I expressed surprise that Colin Pritchard hadn’t been suspended, had his PtO [permission to officiate] suspended, given the seriousness of the allegations against him, bearing in mind that this wasn’t the first police investigation as well, it was the second police investigation.”
She confirmed that she was also told about the allegations against Cotton, who had died in 2006, two weeks after Pritchard was arrested.
Ms Hosgood said that Dr Hind had later refused her permission to view the Meekings report, which considered the behaviour of Cotton and Pritchard, and had also refused to discuss the findings with her once she had sourced the report from Roger Meekings himself.
Dr Hind denied this in his evidence.
The Meekings report was not given to survivors, however, Dr Hind said, because the then Bishop of Lewes, Wallace Benn, was preparing to sue Dr Hind and the diocese for libel for attempting to publish the report.
He agreed that the energy that went into this dispute distracted the diocese from giving an appropriately empathetic response to survivors. He also expressed “profound regret” for the wording of the letter he sent, via the police, to victims and survivors of abuse carried out by Pritchard after his conviction in 2010.
“I profoundly regret the wording of my statement that the Church cannot be held responsible for the offences of individuals,” Dr Hind said. “I did not say, as is commonly quoted, responsible for what happened. . . I was very clearly advised. . . that to admit direct responsibility would be difficult in terms of our liability and insurance.”
Ms Scolding then questioned Dr Hind on Rideout.
Ms Hosgood had confirmed in her evidence that, in 2010, Dr Hind — after learning of the previous investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by Rideout in 2002 — had not felt that suspending Rideout’s permission to officiate was justified, since the allegations were historic.
Ms Hosgood told IICSA on Tuesday: “I was amazed that that was the response.”
Dr Hind did not deny this, but said that he had believed the case against Rideout to have been closed by the police, and that internal investigations by the Church were not common practice at the time. He agreed, however, that it been “unwise” to express his support of Rideout at that time.
He suspended Rideout shortly afterwards on the advice of the then newly formed diocesan safeguarding panel. He had been “shocked beyond measure” to receive a letter from Bishop Benn beforehand urging him not to disclose the blemished CRB of Rideout to the panel.
Dr Hind was also questioned about the case of Terence Banks, a steward at Chichester Cathedral, who was convicted for a series of sex offences in May 2001.
“The diocesan arrangements for safeguarding did not at this stage apply in the cathedral,” Dr Hind said, “and the role of the safeguarding adviser was very much one of grace and favour matter in relation to the cathedral which ran its own affairs.”
He confirmed that he had been responsible for commissioning a report into the case, and that he had written personally to the survivors.
Concluding his evidence, he told the IICSA panel: “I had received safeguarding training, but it was spasmodic. Regular ministerial-development oversight is important — I only had one ministerial review with the Archbishop during the whole of my time as diocesan Bishop.
“The last thing I really do hope the inquiry will try to get its mind around is the issue of the independence of safeguarding of institutional structures. This is not a point about the Church: I have come to believe that no institution should be allowed to police itself.”
As the first cleric to give evidence at the public hearing, Dr Hind was also questioned extensively on the structure and hierarchy of the Church of England, including the nature of the seal of confession in relation to reporting criminal offences, how bishops and clerics were appointed, when CRB checks were introduced, and how PtO was given.
Dr Hind also explained the jurisdiction of diocesan, area, and suffragan bishops, in relation to who was responsible for safeguarding concerns in a given area.
During his tenure, a diocesan bishop could not revoke PtO without having gone through the Clergy Discipline Measure: that is, unless the individual concerned had been arrested and charged with an offence, he said.
This changed in 2013, after his tenure, to allow the bishop to revoke PtO if there was “reasonable suspicion” surrounding the behaviour of an individual.
Although CRB checks had not been conducted on all clerics and licenced lay people in the diocese until November 2009, and two out of three appointing church officers not having undergone safeguarding training, Dr Hind said that safeguarding remained important to the parishes.
“A lot of parish representatives are taking these issues very seriously. A lot of these people have children and would be very concerned that safe practices are taking place.”
After Dr Hind, the former Archdeacon of Lewes and Hastings, the Ven. Philip Jones, gave evidence to the Inquiry panel. He said that an apology to survivors should have been issued earlier than March 2010.
“We were not attuned at that point to consider what is now an absolutely fundamental requirement in dealing with victims of abuse,” he said.
He said that the threat of libel action from Bishop Benn “should not have” impeded a formal apology.
Archdeacon Jones, a former solicitor, was delegated to implement the safeguarding recommendations in the Meekings report. He said that he had never, however, given legal advice to either Dr Hind or Bishop Wallace.
“I made it plain to Bishop Wallace that he should get his own legal advice, which he did. I knew that Bishop John would talk to the diocesan registrar. I did not think I was in a position of conflict.”
When asked by the Counsel to the Inquiry, Nikita McNeill QC, why one of the survivors, Philip Johnson, was prevented from receiving funding from the diocese to pay for his counselling, Archdeacon Jones said: “It wasn’t bureaucracy. It was the overriding concern that in fact we [the diocese] were in serious financial difficulty.”
The same applied for a delay in rolling out formal safeguarding training in the diocese, he said.