Survivor tells IICSA of ‘vacuum of leadership’

01 July 2019

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Lambeth Palace

Lambeth Palace

A SURVIVOR of clerical abuse has described a “vacuum of leadership at the top of the Church”, which, he said, had repeatedly allowed survivors to be “re-abused” in the process of disclosing and seeking remediation.

Only “deep surgical reform” of the structure of the C of E would change its culture of clericalism, he said. The survivor, known only as AN-A4, who alleges that he was raped by an individual — AN-F15 — in 1976, when he was 16, was giving evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) on Monday afternoon.

“I don’t see leadership in the current layer,” he said. “There is a kind of vacuum of leadership at the top of the Church. I have seen — bitterly and sadly — how easy it is for a bishop to be given a golden mandate, an incredible ticket with cherries on top, and not seem to do very much with it.

“I don’t think that this Church can be rescued at the moment unless there can be deep surgical reform at so many levels; until they start treating us [survivors] justly and fairly and honestly. I didn’t expect to get rich; but I did expect to be treated honestly, fairly, nobly, and justly. . . Many [survivors] have been re-abused by this structure.”

In an emotional testimony, the witness said that he had lost his job, his pension, and his home. “I feel I am advocating and supporting survivors on behalf of the bishops.”

His disclosures had been repeatedly ignored by senior church leaders over several decades, he said.

The witness was being questioned by the Inquiry’s lead counsel to the Anglican investigation, Fiona Scolding QC. He said that his abuser used to talk about “psychic stuff. . . He used to excite me with talk of ghosts and death and afterlife. He would give me drinks, which my parents certainly didn’t . . . sherry and gin and tonic when I was 14.

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“We would never get drunk, but I was always treated as special, that this was just between us. . . He also used my adoption very heavily to confuse me. He was very clever.”

When he was 16, he said, he was raped after a meal at his abuser’s flat, near to the church where the witness had worshipped. “He [F15] was very Jekyll-and-Hyde in his way of behaving. He pinned me down [and] he cuffed me around the head because he couldn’t get it up.”

The witness did not tell anyone immediately. In about 1978, he made his first disclosure, to a cleric who had claimed that he did not know who the perpetrator was, the witness said. “I knew I was being lied to. . . He said to ‘leave it with me’. I never saw or heard from him again.”

In 2003, the witness made a disclosure to the then Bishop of Sherborne, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, who is now the Bishop at Lambeth. “He knew my family, not terribly well. . . We met six times or so.” The witness had told Bishop Thornton about his experience, he said, but no formal action was taken.

The witness also contacted the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, the Inquiry heard, when he was the lead bishop on safeguarding. “[Bishop Butler] was very quick in response — less than 48 hours — and came to visit very soon after. I disclosed my entire story and everyone I had told.”

Bishop Butler reportedly wrote to the witness apologising for taking legal advice, and advice from the Ecclesiastical Insurance Office (EIO), to end contact with him. “Paul Butler was genuinely apologetic; he acknowledged that he had responded poorly and followed disastrous advice.”

The witness also wrote 17 letters to Lambeth Palace, which, he said, were met with “tumbleweed silence. . . it was just ignored completely.” He was told to accept, he said, that this silence was “the way that we [the Church] do it. . . I was stunned and angry by a lot of these antics. It was a rotten circus.”

His pastoral support was closed down, and his compensation offer started at £5000, he said, because the Church claimed that his abuse had not happened in a church context. “I felt like a used car part. It was disgusting.”

The claims director of the EIO, David Bonehill, said in his evidence on Tuesday that “at no point” would claims handlers have told the Church not to apologise or withdraw pastoral support such as counselling. Pastoral support or counselling would not have voided an insurance contract, he said.

He confirmed, however, that, unlike the C of E, the EIO had chosen not to waive legal professional privilege and release the relevant documents to help the Inquiry to resolve the dispute. This was “simply from a consistency perspective”. 

The C of E eventually settled the survivors’ claim for £35,000, and initiated the Elliott review. The survivor later discovered that the National Safeguarding Team of the C of E (NST) had conducted core groups concerning the Elliott review and his case without inviting him or his lawyer, David Greenwood QC.

The core group session was attended by author of the report, Ian Elliott, who gave evidence to the Inquiry on Tuesday. He was “shocked” that neither A4 nor his legal representatives were present at the meeting, he said, and that the focus was “more to do with the protection of the institution”.

“It was very much a business meeting; it did not have a focus on the care and welfare of A4. I was quite shocked by that.”

The C of E safeguarding policies in place at the time of his three-month investigation in 2015 were “impressive”, Mr Elliott said, but the way in which the case was managed did not reflect these policies.

“There was a very clear difference about what the policy stated and what the practice was. That was a concern. . . There is a major problem of deference to the hierarchy; you can have the best policies in the world, but they can be skewed by other factors that are not written down.”

Neither Bishop Butler nor the NST should have followed the advice from the EIO to end pastoral support for A4, he said; the fact that the support was only withdrawn for two weeks was irrelevant. “The issue is that the message was communicated to A4 and acted upon.”

Mr Elliott repeated the recommendations made in his report that the NST should be more than an advisory body, that auditing should be done from within the Church, that the Church should value the “wisdom” and authority of survivors, and the need for mandatory reporting within the Church to a statutory authority. “The ideal situation is one in which safeguarding is integral to the Church.”

In her questions, the junior counsel to the Anglican investigation Nikita McNeill QC referred to public responses to the Elliott review published in the Church Times, specifically statements from spokespeople for both Church House and the EIO. These statements did not consider the effect on the survivor A4, Mr Elliott said. “A4 did not choose to be in the situation that he was in. . . He has been suffering from it since.”

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Mr Bonehill, however, maintained that it was “right and proper” that the EIO was able to respond to what he described as “misinformed” recommendations about the insurers handling of the case. He regretted not consulting with A4 about this response, however. 

In 2016, the completed Elliott review was received by the then Bishop of Crediton, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, who is now the Bishop of London. The survivor, A4, said in his evidence: “She was kindly, with good intentions, but she was very quickly hoovered up into the institutions. She didn’t want to grasp the wider issues. . . I eventually got very frustrated.”

No one senior figure could lead change within the current structure of the Church, he said, which centred around the protection of hierarchy, institution, and assets. He praised the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, and other “junior bishops” for speaking publicly in favour of an independent safeguarding body to hold the Church to account.

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