Dr Percy and his college face large legal bills

30 August 2019

Dean of Christ Church back at work after complaints are dismissed

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The Cathedral of Christ Church, Oxford

The Cathedral of Christ Church, Oxford

ON WEDNESDAY morning, a cathedral dean entered his usual stall, said morning prayer, and presided at the eucharist.

What made this news was that the dean was the Very Revd Dr Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. Wednesday was his first day back after a 15-month wrangle that involved his suspension from his college and cathedral post, and prompted a legal battle that is thought to have cost him a substantial six-figure sum and the college well into seven figures.

Dr Percy was suspended last November when a formal complaint was made against him by a member of the college, relating to an issue of governance (News, 5, 23 November). The tribunal handling the complaint concluded last month (News, 19 July). It was chaired by a retired High Court judge, Sir Andrew Smith.

The judgment was announced by the Cathedral Chapter and the college’s Governing Body late on Wednesday of last week. A statement said: “Following a thorough investigation, the tribunal has decided that the charges are not upheld and that there is no cause to remove the Dean as Head of House. However, the tribunal made some criticism of the Dean’s conduct and found that there was one breach of his fiduciary duty.”

The qualifications in the announcement are thought to have referred to the Dean’s tone in some correspondence, and for failing to report having taken legal advice.

As for the legal battle, one commentator equated it with Leicester’s winning the Premiership against the combined forces of the Manchester and London teams. Dr Percy was represented by Catherine Richmond and Sean Jones QC, and, although they worked on a shoestring, the £85,000 raised by the Dean’s supporters might end up meeting only one quarter of his legal bill.

Christ Church, which has its own legal bill to pay — thought to be more than £1 million — is not obliged to cover Dr Percy’s costs, since the tribunal, despite the legal paraphernalia, was an internal exercise. Pressure to do so, however, appears to be mounting from alumni as well as members of the university and the cathedral congregation.

The Sub-Dean of Christ Church, Canon Edmund Newey, expressed the cathedral’s delight. “In the weeks to come the Cathedral Chapter will be taking time to reflect honestly and openly together with the Dean on the events of the past months, investing wholeheartedly in the work of reconciliation to which Christ calls us.

“We have all drawn strength from the support offered by so many of those who look to Christ Church as a home and would ask for their continued prayers in the weeks and months to come.”

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