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Bishop apologises for mistakes after Lincoln abuse featured on Panorama

30 April 2019


THE diocese of Lincoln has apologised for its failure to handle past allegations of “appalling” abuse, including child abuse, after a BBC Panorama investigation revealed that the diocese had taken years to refer more than 50 names of clergy and staff to the police.

A list of 53 clergy and staff from the diocese was handed to the police in 2015. Many were known, however, by, among others, two former Bishops of Lincoln, the programme reports, and could have been referred as part of the Past Cases Review (PCR) of 2007-09. The review of more than 40,000 files on diocesan staff, clergy, and lay ministers, dating back 30 years, looked for any evidence that clergy or church workers had abused children (News, 24 February 2010).

Lincolnshire Police, with Lincoln diocese, has since investigated 25 names on the list, BBC Panorama reported on Tuesday; three cases led to convictions. Not all the names related to child abuse. The investigation, codenamed Operation Redstone, is ongoing.

The Bishop of Grantham, Dr Nicholas Chamberlain, who leads on safeguarding for the diocese, said that, because of ongoing cases, it was not possible to comment on certain questions from the BBC, but that “the diocese of Lincoln wishes to acknowledge that past matters have not been handled well. The diocese is committed to learn from its mistakes.

“I am very sorry that it took so long for justice to be served.”

Last week, a spokeswoman for Lincoln Cathedral confirmed that two senior members of staff, the Dean and the Canon Chancellor, were on leave while a historic safeguarding matter, thought to involve vulnerable adults, was investigated (News, 26 April).

Detective Superintendent Rick Hatton, who is leading Operation Redstone, told Panorama that, after contacting hundreds of potential victims, police knew that about half of the names given had committed offences, or that “there was some issue around risk to members of the public from them.

“There was the ongoing concern that those people were working with children. Potentially there was still a risk.”

Panorama reported that a former Bishop of Lincoln, the late Kenneth Riches, was told in 1969 that Roy Griffiths, then a deputy head teacher at Lincoln Cathedral School, had made an attempted indecent assault upon a pupil.

Neither Bishop Riches nor Lincoln Cathedral School reported these concerns to the police, and Griffiths kept his job at the school until 1970, when another child-abuse allegation was raised against him. He remained at the school for at least a further two months, and subsequently took up a post at an Anglican school in Papua New Guinea.

One of his victims, who now lives in Canada, told Panorama: “It should have been dealt with right away, and the Church should have instructed the police. . . They didn’t. They just turned a blind eye and moved on.”

Another former Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Robert Hardy, also failed to report the then director of education for the diocese, John Bailey, the BBC reported. In August 2017, Bailey was convicted at Lincoln Crown Court of indecent assault against three girls under the age of 14 from 1955 to 1982, and sentenced to six years in prison.

The parents of one of the victims reportedly wrote to Bishop Hardy of their daughter’s ordeal, and Bailey himself spoke to the Bishop, saying that he had “touched up” a female, but that it was a “one-off”, Panorama reports. Bishop Hardy, it says, did not contact the victim or her family, or report the matter to police; Bailey was permitted to continue working for the diocese for a further six years.

Bishop Hardy told the programme that he “deeply regrets” his decision to trust Bailey in the light of this information, but that no one had contacted him at the time, or subsequently, to make a comment or complaint about Bailey. Had someone done so, he would have investigated it, he said. There had been no indication of any misdemeanour by Bailey when he was appointed director of education.

One of the victims told the programme that Bailey had become friends with her family. “He would take the opportunity to come upstairs when I was in bed if they were playing cards downstairs, and he would touch me under my clothes while I was in bed between my legs. It went on from when I was four till when I was 11. And it happened quite frequently.”

Detective Superintendent Hatton said: “They were some of the worst sexual offending that’s imaginable.”

Dr Chamberlain continued: “The past abuse that our safeguarding team brought to light, through our revisiting and review of past cases, is all the more appalling, given what the public deserve and are fully entitled to expect, which is the highest level of conduct from clergy and all those involved in leadership in the Church. . .

“Throughout all recent processes, our hope is that victims and survivors have felt heard, and been well supported and cared for, although we acknowledge we may not have always got this right.”

The chief executive of the safeguarding charity Thirtyone:eight (formerly the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service), Justin Humphreys, has written an open letter to the senior leadership of the C of E, in response to the programme, which he said made for “painful” watching.

“For the Church of England to speak of the need for compassionate responses, and to then act in a manner that is devoid of such a necessary and humane response cannot be defended. . . It has been clear for some time that the past cases review conducted between 2007 and 2010 was flawed. . . For there to be any confusion or uncertainty about what happened to those cases that were identified, often referred to as the ‘Known Cases Lists’ is also inexcusable.”

He called for more proactive, self-reflective leadership in the Church that was “not governed, coerced, or muzzled by either insurers, lawyers, or any other stakeholder that may stand to lose from just exposure”.

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