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Elliott condemns PR response to his safeguarding review

11 September 2020

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THE author of a strongly critical safeguarding review of the Church of England has condemned the revelation that the National Safeguarding Team (NST) responded to his recommendations by initiating closer ties between insurers, communications officers, and legal staff.

The review by Ian Elliott, a safeguarding consultant with the Churches’ Child Protection Service, concluded in 2016 that the C of E’s procedures were “fundamentally flawed” (News, 18 March 2016). At the time, the Archbishop of Canterbury pledged to implement speedily all the changes called for.

Now, a document from 2016 which sketches out how officials at Church House, Westminster, intended to deal with the recommendations has emerged, revealing efforts to work more closely with Ecclesiastical Insurance Group (EIG), the Church’s insurers who are responsible for compensation payments to survivors and victims of abuse.

“On August 9th there was a meeting of 4 people from EIG and members of the archbishop’s council, including the legal team, Comms and safeguarding team to look at a more joined up approach in relation to press/media on stories,” the document states.

Mr Elliott said that he was shocked to hear that this was one of the lessons learned for the Church from his report.

“The revelation that learning for the Church in respect of the settlement process, placed an emphasis on a closer liaison between ‘Comms, legal team, and safeguarding’ to prepare for responding to press and media stories, is truly shocking. It completely misses the point.

“It shows that their primary interest was defending the institution rather than caring for the survivor. Issues of justice and compassion are not mentioned. What they have learned is that they need to be better at defending themselves.”

When Gilo, the survivor whose case prompted the Elliott review, and who procured the document through a records request, asked for detail on this meeting, he was told that there were no minutes held at Church House and that none of the participants had any recollection of it.

He later managed to secure EIG’s own minutes of the meeting, which show that participants discussed the “reputational risk” posed by Gilo’s case to both the Church and the insurer.

The meeting also considered the decision to cease all contact with Gilo by church figures in 2014 after he began a civil compensation claim, a decision taken by Church House’s legal department, but backed up by EIG.

This eventually, and mistakenly, led to the removal of pastoral support that had been provided by the Church, a decision castigated by the Elliott review and something that both the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler (who was then lead bishop for safeguarding), and staff at Lambeth Palace later said they “bitterly regretted”.

Phil Johnson, who chairs the group Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, said that the meeting unearthed by Gilo was, sadly, typical. “It demonstrates the duplicitous way in which the church hierarchy twists and spins such advice to its own self-serving ends,” he said.

“The Church’s first instinct is to run to its insurer, to consider the financial implications to the institution and not the survivor. It then immediately considers how its image may be impacted and how to ‘manage’ media reporting of such cases.”

A spokeswoman for the C of E said: “The Church has apologised to Gilo and commissioned the Elliot review to look into its handling of the case; we acknowledge the appalling effects of his abuse and we are grateful for his important survivor voice in our ongoing safeguarding work.

“Both the Church and Ecclesiastical had lessons to learn from the Elliott review, and there is ongoing dialogue about cases where survivors have felt let down.”

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