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‘Culture of amateurism’ among possible problems with Church of England safeguarding, IICSA told

05 March 2018


Fiona Scolding QC speaks at the Inquiry on Monday morning

Fiona Scolding QC speaks at the Inquiry on Monday morning

A “CULTURE of amateurism” and a “tendency to let difficult issues drift” are among the possible problems with which the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) into the Anglican Church will have to contend, it has been told.

The three-week hearing, which will take the diocese of Chichester as a case-study to consider the extent of any institutional failures to protect children from sexual abuse in the Anglican Church, began in London on Monday morning. The investigation is one of 13 that the Inquiry is conducting.

In her opening remarks, Fiona Scolding QC, the lead counsel to the Anglican investigation, said: “Those who will be giving evidence and the available documentation suggests there may be the following problems.”

She went on to list 16 problems, which included a tendency “to let difficult issues drift rather than confront them”; an inability to believe that people who appeared to be good “could be capable of great harm towards children and young people”; and a “culture of excessive deference to those at the top of the hierarchy and an unwillingness to challenge them”.

Another of the possible problems, Ms Scolding said, was “a culture of amateurism”, in which “training was patchy and not embedded within the professional lives of clergy, record-keeping was not standardised, and the sums of money spent upon safeguarding were, until recently, very small.

“Bishops, with largely no professional management qualifications or even experience running multi-million-pound institutions with significant numbers of office-holders and employees, as well as a vast number of volunteers. You will hear evidence from a canon and previous management consultant who identified that absence of management experience as a significant impediment to running an effective diocese.”

Ms Scolding began her opening remarks by summarising in detail the background of the structure and workings of the Church of England; the significance of the Established Church’s being embroiled in allegations of child sex abuse; and why the diocese of Chichester had been selected as a case-study (News, 2 March).

This was partly summarised from witness statements, which included those submitted by director of the Ministry Division, the Ven. Julian Hubbard; the secretary general of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye; and the head of the C of E’s Legal Office, Stephen Slack.

A significant proportion of evidence would be given by people who were abused, or who had made allegations of abuse many years ago. “As a society, we have had to examine uncomfortable truths about our wilful blindness to such abuse over decades, over the past ten years,” Ms Scolding said.

“We have gone from a situation where sexual abuse was not spoken about, discussed, or heard; where, in many people’s eyes, it was even inconceivable that it could exist, let alone that individuals who were otherwise pious, holy, charismatic people could have engaged in it, to recognising that such abuse occurs at all levels of society and can involve individuals who otherwise would be considered to be paragons of their communities. This Inquiry is part of the continuing conversation that our society is having about such truths.”

Evidence will also be given by former and current Archbishops of Canterbury; former and current Bishops of Chichester; and diocesan and national safeguarding officers and advisers, past and present, in the diocese of Chichester and elsewhere.

The Inquiry will seek to understand why CRB and DBS checks were not conducted; why allegations or rumours were not taken seriously or the police informed at the time of disclosure; why suspicions of inappropriate behaviour by church officers towards vulnerable children and adults were not acted upon, and why permission to officiate (PtO) was not withdrawn in these cases.

Ms Scolding referred to specific cases of clerical abuse in the diocese of Chichester and the failures of the Church to handle appropriately these allegations, investigations, and convictions. This 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).

Subsequent reviews of these cases, conducted by Roger Meekings and Baroness Butler-Sloss on behalf of the Bishop of Chichester at the time, Dr John Hind, who is due to give evidence on Wednesday, would also be reviewed as evidence in the Inquiry, she said.

Ms Scolding also referred to the former clerics Robert Coles, who pleaded guilty to 11 counts of indecent assault and two of attempted buggery and was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment in February 2013, and Jonathan Graves, who was convicted of 12 offences, including indecent assault and cruelty to a child, and sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment, last September.

She went on to refer to failures of the Church in the case against the disgraced former Bishop of Gloucester Peter Ball (News, 30 June). A written statement from Ball would be read out during this hearing, she said, alongside a witness statement of Sussex police. To investigate the Church’s handling of posthumous allegations of child sex abuse, the case of a former Bishop of Chichester George Bell would also be reviewed.

“It is understood that very recently another allegation has been made. This Inquiry will not be concerned with the truth or otherwise of these allegations.”

Archbishop Welby reprimanded. A breach of confidentiality by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who confirmed on the record last week that he was due to give evidence to the Inquiry, was “disappointing” and must not be repeated, the chair of the Inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay, said today.

Introducing the first of 14 days of sessions on the failures of the Anglican Church, Professor Jay reiterated the importance of core participants’ keeping confidentiality. “Given the sensitive nature of the information and material which the Inquiry shares with core participants, they cannot pick and choose what information they keep confidential and what they make public,” she said.

“I am aware that during a press conference at Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury recently confirmed to journalists that he would be giving evidence to this hearing, also the date of his appearance. . . While the panel is grateful for [his subsequent] apology, it is most disappointing confidential matters were shared by the Archbishop in breach of the undertaking.”

The public hearing is due to conclude on 23 March.

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