TWO members of the core group set up to examine accusations of safeguarding breaches by the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Revd Dr Martyn Percy, have been removed after they were deemed to have a conflict of interest in the case, the National Safeguarding Team (NST) has confirmed.
The long-running dispute began two years ago, when Dean Percy criticised the college’s safeguarding procedures. He was then suspended over a dispute about pay, but was exonerated by an internal inquiry conducted by Sir Andrew Smith (News, 6 March). He was reinstated last autumn, but prevented from functioning as head of the college while his employment-tribunal case to recover the £400,000 costs of defending himself is pending.
In May, Private Eye reported that the core group established by the NST of the Church of England earlier this year included two members of the college who had supported complaints against Dean Percy, including the Senior Censor, Professor Geraldine Johnson (News 29 May). The Dean is not represented on the core group, although one of the two college members was reportedly asked to represent him and declined. It is assumed that these are the two members removed from the core group.
In a written question submitted to an informal meeting of the General Synod on Saturday, Martin Sewell (Rochester) asked whether, by including complainants in the core group, the Church had “embraced the concept of ‘unconscious bias’”.
Interpreting “unconscious bias” as a conflict of interest, the Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, who is now the lead bishop for safeguarding, wrote in reply “that the membership of core groups should not comprise those who may have a conflict of interest or loyalty”, but that he could not comment on specific cases. “A core group’s work should be free from bias and we always keep the membership of core groups under review where there is a challenge on the grounds of potential bias.”
A spokeswoman from the NST said on Wednesday that the Dean had been listened to; the group had been reviewed by the chair, and the members removed. She added that it was not unusual for membership of core groups to be reviewed if conflicts of interest were raised.
The only decision that had been instigated by the group before this was to commission an independent investigation into the case. This would likely have been the outcome whether or not the Christ Church members had been on the core group, she said. The group would not be involved in the investigation, but it would probably meet again to review the evidence after the report was returned.