A REVIEW of the Church’s response to allegations of abuse by a former Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Hubert Victor Whitsey, was announced this week.
The National Safeguarding Team (NST) has appointed a retired judge, His Hon. David Pearl, to chair the “learning lessons case review”, which will consider “what did the Church of England know about alleged abuse perpetrated by Hubert Victor Whitsey, and what was the Church of England’s response to those allegations?” It will cover the period from 1974 (the date of the first known disclosure) to 27 July 2018.
In July 2016, Cheshire Constabulary commenced a police investigation (“Operation Coverage”), after a report from the Chester diocesan safeguarding adviser, which related to serious sexual-abuse disclosures that had been made against Bishop Whitsey (13 October 2017).
The force concluded that, had the Bishop been alive, “the police would have spoken to him in relation to ten of the witness allegations.”
In 2017, it was reported that the allegations dated from 1974 onwards, when Bishop Whitsey was Bishop of Chester, and continued after 1981 when he was retired and moved to Blackburn diocese, with permission to officiate, and that they related to 13 victims: five male and eight female. This week, the NST reported that 19 people had come forward, to date, with allegations. It was not aware of any ongoing criminal investigation, but there were a number of civil claims under way.
The review is expected to be carried out in two phases, and will include the case of Gordon Dickenson, once other church processes have concluded. Dickenson, a former chaplain to Bishop Whitsey, was jailed in March after admitting sexually assaulting a boy in the 1970s (News, 15 March).
Last month, it was announced that a complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure had been lodged against the current Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, by the Church of England’s interim director of national safeguarding, Sir Roger Singleton (News, 5 April 2019).
Dr Forster confirmed that he had delegated all safeguarding responsibilities to the Suffragan Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd Keith Sinclair, “in response to recent comment into my handling of the Gordon Dickenson case in 2009”.
In 2017, the diocese discovered a letter from Dickenson, sent to it in 2009, in which he acknowledged that he had been accused of indecently assaulting a young boy, and stated that Bishop Whitsey had made him promise never to do it again.
An internal inquiry in the diocese of Chester into allegations against Bishop Whitsey found that it was “clear that those who reported abuse [to the police] had previously disclosed details of their allegations to the Church.”
No clergy file relating to Bishop Whitsey could be located, although his retirement file was found.