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Dean Percy exonerated over safeguarding charges

08 September 2020

David Hartley/Church Times

The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy at the Church Times Festival of Preaching, 2017

The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy at the Church Times Festival of Preaching, 2017

THE Dean of Christ Church, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, has been cleared of all safeguarding charges (News, 6 March, 13 March).

The announcement came on Tuesday morning from the Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, the lead safeguarding bishop: “An independent investigation into allegations that the Dean, Martyn Percy, failed to fulfil his safeguarding responsibilities has concluded the Dean acted entirely appropriately in each case.

“The National Safeguarding Team (NST) followed the House of Bishops guidance when the four separate allegations were referred earlier in the year relating to the Dean, a senior office-holder. At no point was there any allegation or evidence that the Dean presented a direct risk to any child or vulnerable adult.”

Dr Gibbs continues: “I am aware this has been a very difficult time for all parties, particularly Martyn and his family, and I would like to thank everyone for their cooperation.”

He concludes: “Now the investigation has concluded and the Dean has been exonerated of these safeguarding allegations, the NST’s involvement has come to an end.”

The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, welcomed the news that the Dean had been exonerated. He said: “The investigation process was not without pain, and could have been concluded more quickly, but it is entirely right that allegations against clergy and church officers are properly investigated when they are made.”

And he repeated: “This investigation brings full closure to the matter put before the NST, though these continue to be testing times for all at Christ Church.”

Dean Percy has made no public comment about the outcome.

The assertions by both bishops that the investigation into the allegations was “right” is a response to a series of challenges by the Dean throughout the investigation that the NST was being “played” by members of the Christ Church Governing Body as part of a long-running campaign to oust him from his position as Head of House.

Dean Percy has criticised the selection of the core group set up to examine his case, most members of which, he argued, had undeclared conflicts of interest; the conduct of the investigation, which at times appeared to be directed by a lawyer representing the hostile Christ Church dons; and the C of E’s jurisdiction.

A letter sent to the General Synod by two supporters (News, 19 June) maintained that, while all C of E clergy must have “due regard” for safeguarding standards, none of the allegations related to the Dean’s ministry in the cathedral.

The letter’s authors warned: “If Dean Percy is criticised by the Church or the Charity Commission, it will be pleaded in the defence of the Dean’s Employment claim against the Governing Body to defeat or mitigate the damages for the dons’ failed coup. We are being used.”

The charges related to the Dean’s handling of four historic safeguarding allegations made to him by former students. All were adults when they approached him. None was at risk. None had made any complaint against him. The complaint came, instead, from within the Christ Church Governing Body.

The paradox is that Dr Percy’s long-running dispute with a group of Christ Church dons began when he criticised the college’s safeguarding procedures more than two years ago. He was accused of “immoral, scandalous, and disgraceful behaviour” in a dispute about pay and governance, and was suspended (News, 9 November 2018). He was completely exonerated by an internal inquiry conducted by Sir Andrew Smith (News, 23 August 2019).

He was reinstated that autumn, but has been prevented from functioning as head of the college while his employment-tribunal case to recover the £400,000 costs of defending himself is pending. The college is understood to have spent £2-3 million attempting to remove him.

Since reporting him to the National Safeguarding Team, the college authorities have described the Dean as a “safeguarding risk”, written to all staff, students, and parents at the cathedral school saying that he was being investigated, and attempted to stop him interacting with students.

During this time, 41 members of the Governing Body wrote to the chair of the Charity Commission, Baroness Stowell, accusing Dr Percy of “sacrificing the best interests of Christ Church to his own”. Signatories included dons criticised in the Smith inquiry; another was Professor Jan Joosten, who, at the end of June, was imprisoned in France for downloading 28,000 child-abuse images (News, 3 July).

Although the statements by both bishops draw a line under the NST investigation, Dr Gibbs said that there would be a “lessons-learnt” review. “There will of course be lessons to learn about the processes, as there are with any safeguarding case, and that is an essential part of our guidance to make the Church a safer place for all.” He welcomed the willingness of Dean Percy to participate in this.

Dr Gibbs concluded his statement on Tuesday: “I continue to pray for his ministry and the life of the Cathedral and its mission in the diocese and wider Church.

“As I have said before, the NST has no view about, and is not involved in, the wider issues relating to the College and the Dean at Christ Church, Oxford, and this remains the case.”

A statement released by the Christ Church authorities later on Tuesday reports that there had been “no breach of the Church of England’s protocols”.

It goes on: “Safeguarding is of the utmost importance at Christ Church, and it is our obligation to report such concerns appropriately. After a query from a national newspaper regarding a serious sexual assault, an independent QC advised that a referral should be made to the Church of England as the handling of such disclosures fell within its jurisdiction.

“It is vital that everyone has the confidence to report safeguarding concerns. We will be reviewing the NST’s findings with regard to Christ Church’s safeguarding responsibilities.”

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