THE Ecclesiastical Insurance Group (EIG) has been reprimanded by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) for refusing to provide evidence — that has since come to light — which shows that it had advised the Church of England to “cease all contact” with a survivor.
This evidence, the Inquiry learned, had been read out to a journalist by the head of communications for the Ecclesiastical Insurance Office (EIO). The conversation had been recorded and sent to the EIO in September 2017. Despite this, the insurers had chosen to keep the document redacted throughout the inquiry’s current investigation of safeguarding in the Anglican Church.
The claims director of the EIG, David Bonehill, was called back on the final day of the two-week hearing on Friday to explain why he had said in his evidence on Tuesday of last week that “at no point” would claims handlers have told the Church not to apologise or withdraw pastoral support such as counselling from a survivor of clerical abuse (News, 5 July).
A survivor — A4 — whose case prompted the Elliott review had said in his evidence that his pastoral support had been closed down in 2015, and his compensation offer started at £5000, because the Church had been advised to do so by the EIO. The Church claimed that his abuse had not happened in a church context, he said. He had told the Inquiry: “I felt like a used car part. It was disgusting.”
Mr Bonehill had responded that pastoral support or counselling would not have voided an insurance contract. Unlike the C of E, he had said, the EIO had chosen not to waive legal professional privilege and release the relevant documents unredacted to help the Inquiry to resolve the dispute. He had told the Inquiry that this was “simply from a consistency perspective”.
On Friday morning, however, the junior counsel to the Anglican investigation, Nikiti McNeill QC, produced the previously redacted document. It contained email exchanges between a former safeguarding adviser (DSA) for the diocese of London, Sheryl Kent, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who had previously been in contact with A4, the EIO, and others.
The recording of an EIO employee reading out privileged information to a journalist as “background” was also played to the Inquiry.
In the written exchange, Ms Kent asks the EIO whether the advice that she had been given by the Church House legal team to “cease all contact” with A4 was correct, to which a claims handler responds: “The advice you have received is correct. You should not be in any further contact with the claimant as he has now instructed solicitors to represent him.”
There is no mention of pastoral support. Asked whether the EIO should have clarified this, Mr Bonehill said: “We thought [her question] was clear. We assumed it was related to the civil claim. . . It was all about the civil claim unfortunately.”
Pressed on this, he agreed that it would be impossible to provide pastoral support to someone without contacting them. “We could have gone further in terms of clarifying that pastoral care could have been provided alongside the civil claim.”
Asked whether the advice that had been given to the Church was good enough, Mr Bonehill said: “With hindsight, no.” Asked whether he thought that A4, as the victim, should have had to “wait or fight as long as he has” to have this clarified on the record, he again said: “No.” Asked whether both this advice, and his evidence last week, had lived up to the EIO’s own guiding principles, he said: “I think we could have done better.”
Ms McNeill again produced the EIO press statement in response to the Elliott review, which accuses the review of containing factual inaccuracies (News, 28 July 2017). Ms McNeill told the Inquiry that the Elliott review “cites almost word for word” the advice given by EIO to the Church; “yet Ecclesiastical has repeatedly and publicly called the Elliot report inaccurate.”
Asked whether he still thought that it was fair to call the Elliott review inaccurate, based on this evidence, Mr Bonehill said: “On reflection, I would accept that.”
He was giving his evidence simultaneously with the group compliance director of the EIO, John Titchener. Mr Titchener agreed that EIO had wasted the “time and effort” of the Inquiry and hindered it from resolving the dispute.
“We would have provided them to the Inquiry had we had the tapes at the forefront of our minds,” he said. “It is a source of deep regret that these documents were not disclosed sooner, and that probably would have saved time and effort.”
The survivor, known by the Inquiry as A4, said after the morning hearing on Friday that he would be meeting with the author of the Elliott review, Ian Elliott, to discuss the new evidence. He said: “I believe that the Church and its insurer has a considerable body of evidence to support what emerged today — that contact and pastoral care have been closed down in many cases. The counsel was fierce and forensic. We watched the EIO executives dance on a Rizla paper.”