Ecclesiastical planned to persuade bishop ‘to take a less active role’ in claimant’s pastoral care

26 July 2019

Blue Coat School

Blue Coat School in Birmingham

Blue Coat School in Birmingham

THE Ecclesiastical Insurance Group (EIG) planned to pressure a bishop to withdraw pastoral support from a survivor of abuse because it might prejudice a claim, redacted documents seen by the Church Times suggest.

The survivor, Julian Whiting, alleges that he was abused by a pupil and two housemasters of the Blue Coat School in Birmingham. Neither adult was a cleric. Several years later, in 2012, Mr Whiting approached the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, who is President of Blue Coat, for pastoral help.

In a letter to a redacted recipient dated April 2013, the casualty-claims employee for EIG in Manchester states: “I feel we may need you to help persuade the Bishop of Birmingham to take a less active role in his pastoral care of a claimant which we feel could have a knock-on effect to the current outstanding abuse claims we have for a Julian Whiting.”

He then says of the Blue Coat allegation: “Importantly, he [Julian Whiting] has never pursued a formal claim. There has been a lot of email traffic, but the position is that until the claimant properly formulates the claim, we have rightly shown little interest in the matter.

“What has recently complicated matters is that the Bishop of Birmingham in his role as Blue Coats [sic] School President has met with Whiting to hear his story. Whilst I fully understand the position taken that there is a pastoral care aspect here, my concern is that a continued dialogue with the Bishop and Whiting could prejudice the positioning we have taken in respect of the two claims.” (Mr Whiting was also pursuing a claim that, in 2009, he was groped by a church employee at a meeting at a hotel.)

The unnamed EIG employee goes on to recommend that the recipient contacts the Church to discuss the bishop’s continued interaction with the claimant. “This is a very delicate matter where I can see there being a conflict between the pastoral care the bishop feels he has a duty to perform and our desire to protect the position concerning the liability dispute we wish to maintain as the insurer of these two policy holders.”

A second, separate letter from EIG later that day, also to redacted recipients, states that “[redacted] is our prime company contact with the Church of England and my intention is to see if he can help concerning restricting further the recent interventions of the Bishop of Birmingham.”

A spokesman for the diocese confirmed on Tuesday that the Bishop had met Mr Whiting in November 2012, but said that there had been no subsequent contact.

Bishop Urquhart, who has been in post since 2006, said in a statement: “Our responsibility was to listen carefully to Julian Whiting’s concerns and to enable him, as far as was possible, to communicate with those who had responsibility for the tragic events he was describing. The discussion I had with Julian was not in connection with an ordained or licensed person.”

The diocesan spokesman said on Tuesday that the diocese had had no correspondence from EIG urging it to restrict contact between the Bishop and the complainant.

“We have much correspondence, spanning over many months, making clear [that] Blue Coat School [is] being constrained by insurers. In contrast, the bishop is evidently not constrained by insurers. Were it so, the diocese would not have arranged a meeting with Julian or communicated with various entities on his behalf to help adequately bring closure and justice.”

Moreover, the Bishop was not a governor of the school, he said. “The Bishop is President of the school but that is an honorific title only and bears no executive responsibility for the school. The Bishop was and is in no position to dictate to the school how it should deal with Julian’s complaints against the school.”

The revelation comes after the EIG was criticised by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) earlier this month for refusing to provide evidence — which later came to light — showing that, in a separate case, it had advised the Church to “cease all contact” with a survivor (News, 12 July).

Other correspondence, sent by EIG in July 2013 to redacted recipients, refers to “the latest saga of Julian Whiting”. A file note dated November 2014 on a meeting about the case states: “All agree that at most there is a hassle value and some risk around publicity.”

Mr Whiting said on Tuesday: “I have been shunted from pillar to post by the Church and its insurer. The comments about me and about my case are disgraceful, which demonstrates the contempt the insurers have for survivors. It is re-abuse. It is now well-past time that the Archbishops’ Council re-appraise past derisory settlements and start dealing with people with compassion. No one should have to go through 19 years of such anguish.”

A spokeswoman for EIG responded in a statement: “We have great sympathy for survivors and the impact that childhood abuse has had on their lives. We have learned important lessons about the potential distress caused to survivors by discussing the details of their case in the media. For this reason, we will not comment on individual cases or claims.

“When an abuse claim is brought against any of our policyholders, we take full control of handling the claim, with the assistance of the policyholder. Our guiding principles support and encourage the provision of pastoral care to survivors through the claims process.”

The EIG guiding principles were formulated in the summer of 2016 after criticism in the Church Times by another abuse survivor, Dr Julie Macfarlane (Comment, 15 July 2016).

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