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IICSA sets out agenda as final hearing on Anglican safeguarding begins

01 July 2019


Fiona Scolding QC

Fiona Scolding QC

MORE than 390 clerics or individuals in position of trust in the Church of England have been convicted of carrying out abuse in a church context in the recent past — a “significant amount” of which involved the downloading or possession of indecent images of children, the official abuse inquiry has heard.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is this week conducting its third and final public hearing investigating safeguarding in the Anglican Church. The timetable of witnesses for the first week includes the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, and four C of E bishops.

The timetable for the second week will be released on Thursday. In her opening statement, on Monday, however, the lead counsel to the Anglican investigation, Fiona Scolding QC, confirmed that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York would be giving evidence next week. Dr Sentamu has not previously given oral evidence to the Inquiry.

The two-week hearing would investigate whether the Church of England and Church in Wales were “currently giving sufficient priority to keeping children safe”, so that church was a place of welcome where victims and survivors were given a voice, Ms Scolding said.

The chair of the Inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay, said that the evidence would be “thematic” in nature. This included, specifically: an examination of the views of victims and survivors on the failures of the Church; reparations and insurance claims; safeguarding policies and practices; whether the current structure of safeguarding was fit for its purpose; how the Church handled allegations of non-recent abuse and against deceased clergy; and whether the current system for external scrutiny was capable of highlighting deficiencies in policy or practice.

Ms Scolding said: “Behind all these specific areas lies the biggest question of all: whether the current culture of the Church of England and Church in Wales is capable of dealing with these issues.”

The Inquiry has received evidence that more than 1000 safeguarding concerns had been raised with the C of E in 2015. This increased to 1257 in 2017, of which 53 per cent related to sexual abuse, 736 of which concerned church officers — 43 per cent clerics, 21 per cent volunteers. One third of all complaints had been passed on to the relevant authorities. In 2017, the C of E brought disciplinary measures in 72 cases, 39 of which were brought under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM).

The Ecclesiastical Insurance Office (EIO) had received 231 formal letters of claim against the C of E, the Inquiry heard, of which 217 fell under an insurance policy. Until December 2018, 122 involved abuse carried out by clerics, 30 by deceased clerics, and 86 by non-clerics, including volunteers. Of all claims, 215 involved male perpetrators; 199 were made more than 20 years after the abuse took place; and 36 perpetrators had more than one claim made against them.

Representing EIO, Rory Philips QC, said: “The settlements are, without exception, financial. They are, and are intended to be, final. Claimants enter into them having had the benefit of legal advice: based on the latest statistics, 56 per cent of the sums went to claimants, 30 per cent went to claimant lawyers, and 14 per cent went to EIO’s lawyers. EIO understands that money cannot truly compensate claimants for the harm they have suffered as a result of abuse. 

“EIO’s role is defined by the limits of its insurance contracts and more broadly by the limits of the civil justice system. . . no system of remedy can ever make a claimant whole again. . . it cannot guarantee to deliver closure; it cannot of itself prevent the recurrence of abuse.”

The Ecclesiastical Insurance Group, which runs the EIO, was owned by the All Churches Trust, Ms Scolding pointed out. “Some survivors have been concerned that an organisation that funds the Church and over which there is a significant clerical presence does not act in a way that is consistent with the Church’s values and statements in terms of protection and child safeguarding.”

Representing survivors of abuse, Richard Scorer QC, said that the Inquiry was an opportunity to ensure that victims and survivors received proper redress from the Church, and that a fully independent body was established to investigate complaints. Churchpeople and clerics agreed with this, he said.

The Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, has told BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme that “a very serious debate” on independence of safeguarding oversight was needed.

“I would [be in favour of an independent structure], because separate structures in each diocese don’t allow checks and balances that are needed, and it means that safeguarding teams can always be prey to budgeting cuts,” he said.

“There is no evidence of that, but it is going to be a temptation in straitened financial times. It seems to me that an independent national safeguarding team with locally deployed safeguarding officers, working in dioceses but answerable to the national team, is going to provide the kind of checks and balances that we need.”

Auditing of parishes was also needed, he said: “In some churches, there is excellent practice; in others, safeguarding is still a matter of ticking boxes. We need to be clear that every single local church is safe for children and families.”

Another lawyer who represents survivors and the survivors’ group MACSAS, David Greenwood QC, told the Inquiry that the Church provided “a huge area of unregulated activity” and a safe space for paedophiles. He agreed that the independent ombudsman service proposed by the National Safeguarding Team of the C of E did not go far enough.

“The Church is trying to buy time until IICSA goes away,” he said. “When it comes to safeguarding, this is a thoroughly irreparable organisation that cannot be trusted.”

Ms Scolding said that the Inquiry would examine the C of E’s “inappropriate” responses to allegations of specific cases of recent abuse. These included that of Timothy Storey, a former ordinand and youth leader, who in 2016 was convicted of three charges of rape and one count of sexual assault, after grooming children and teenagers from his church on Facebook; and the Revd John Roberts, who in 1989 was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy, but who continued to minister in the C of E until 2013 and was appointed a canon of Liverpool Cathedral.

A survivor known only as AN-A4, who alleged that he was raped by an individual — AN-F15 — in 1976, when he was 16, and who disclosed this abuse repeatedly over a number of years, was due to give evidence on Monday afternoon.

Other cases to be investigated include those of the late Dean Robert Waddington, who continued to hold permission to officiate (PTO) in the diocese of York until 2004, despite years of allegations made in Australia and the UK; a former Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Hubert Victor Whitsey, concerning allegations of abuse from 1974 onwards; and the abuse carried out by the Revd Trevor Devamanikkam, who took his own life in June 2017 shortly before he was due to appear in court accused of sexual offences.

Ms Scolding said: “We wish to know in particular whether excessive deference, sometimes known as clericalism, still exists, and what the Church is doing about the potential abuse of power.”

Cultural attitudes to safeguarding in the past had been barriers to change, she said. This included people being ostracised in a parish for reporting abuse, or congregations’ refusing to believe that people in positions of power — such as the clergy — could carry out abuse. She also spoke of people who had been unwilling to undergo DBS checks or safeguarding training for fear of suspicion.

The Inquiry had heard evidence that it would “take decades” to change this culture, Ms Scolding said.

The C of E had introduced compulsory safeguarding training for certain lay people and for members of the clergy in 2016, the Inquiry heard. Some 69,000 people had completed the basic training; 68,000 had completed the foundation training; 16,000 had completed the leadership module; and 1600 had completed the senior leadership module since 2017.

These were “impressive numbers” for a short period, Ms Scolding said, but 56,000 church officers still needed to complete the most basic level of training. The Inquiry had also received evidence that, at nearly every safeguarding training session for clerics with PTO in 2018, there had been “aggressive resistance” from some participants. Many church volunteers did not understand how safeguarding training was relevant to the part that they played — for example, on the PCC.

The Inquiry expected to hear evidence of the lack of safeguarding courses or modules in the curriculum of theological educational institutions (TEIs); the Church’s vetting and barring system; the place of the seal of the confessional in reporting abuse; the granting and removal of PTO; and the efficiency of the CDM.

Ms Scolding referred to two recent examples of its use: the suspension of the Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, “due to alleged failures in respect of safeguarding related to Operation Redstone”; and a complaint made by Sir Roger Singleton against the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, concerning a lack of action against Gordon Dickinson, who, in March admitted to eight counts of sexual assault against a boy in the 1970s. Both Sir Roger and Dr Forster are due to give evidence this week.

Other barriers to cultural change which were to be explored included attitudes to sexuality in the Church, Ms Scolding said, and whether the Church had a sense of “complacency”, now that safeguarding policies and procedures had been put in place.

Nigel Griffin QC, who represents the Archbishops’ Council, said that his client agreed with the criticisms of the Church in the latest Inquiry report and the recommendations made. He reiterated the Church’s previous apologies to survivors.

The Church had been trying to improve its practices without knowing the final recommendations of the Inquiry, he said. Progress included distribution of safeguarding resources to parishes, the independent auditing of cathedrals, and the reporting of safeguarding arrangements to the Charity Commission. “A lot has been done in quite a short time and all this, we suggest, represents a major commitment; it is not just cosmetic exercise.”

Other matters had not progressed as far or fast as the NST had hoped. “This does not mean that they have been forgotten,” he said. “This is a time of transition for the NST.” The Archbishops’ Council still believed that safeguarding should remain “in the fabric” of the Church, he said.

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