STAFF in the diocese of Durham missed a series of “red flags” highlighting the sexual abuse carried out by a former Archdeacon of Auckland, Co. Durham, George Granville Gibson, an independent review published on Thursday has concluded. His assaults on young men had been passed off as “drunkenness”, it says.
Granville Gibson was jailed in 2016 (News 12 August 2016), and again last year, for a series of sexual offences carried out during the 1970s and 80s. A review was launched into the extent to which the diocese failed to deal with the complaints, and a report, by Dr Stephanie Hill, a clinical psychologist, was completed in 2017. It was not published, however, until this week, owing to ongoing police investigations, and, more recently, the pandemic.
In her report, Dr Hill criticises the diocese for its poor safeguarding practices at the time, though acknowledges that its policies at the time of writing the report had improved drastically.
Responding to the findings on Thursday, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, repeated the apology he made to survivors and victims of Gibson at the time of his conviction in 2016. He described Gibson’s behaviour as “deeply shameful” for the diocese. “Our commitment from the outset was to discover all that we could and to learn from what was found. . . Whilst we were unable to publish the report in 2017 as we had hoped, we have learned from it and undertaken changes in the light of the learning made.”
Dr Hill found six red-flag moments when specific complaints of suspected indecent assault were missed by the diocese. “It was clearly criminal behaviour, and yet no safeguarding action was taken,” she writes.
Before 2001, the diocese had no written record of sexually abusive or inappropriate behaviour by Gibson. It was clear from her interviews with several clerics, however, that there had been “rumours and hearsay” about his behaviour towards younger men “alongside consumption of excessive alcohol”.
Gibson invaded personal space and was physically and sexually inappropriate, Dr Hill heard. Individuals had also described the Archdeacon as “arrogant” and a man who “considered himself able to act with impunity due to his position within the Church”. Dr Hill found that these complaints about him were often “dismissed as drunkenness” with insufficient weight given to its abusive nature. Matters were dealt with at an individual level rather than passed on to the diocesan safeguarding adviser, she said.
It was unclear whether senior clergy were aware of the rumours, she said, but given the diocese’s small size it was “reasonable to assume that at least some of these rumours may have been known to those in more senior positions, and, if this is correct, there are questions about decisions made to promote Mr Gibson”.
In one case, in the early 1980s, she concludes that it was “more likely than not” that the then diocesan bishop, the Rt Revd John Habgood, had been informed about Gibson’s behaviour, but had failed to act appropriately. “There is certainly no record of it,” Dr Hill writes.
Among her recommendations is a call for a clearer focus on victims and survivors and their immediate needs, rather than concern for the longer-term reputation of the Church institution. “Assessment and management of risk needs to be at the heart of processes and decision-making, and not the reputation of the institution or any one individual,” she warns.
The Church should also work on developing a more open culture in which concerns, discrepancies, and disagreements can be aired. It should also review its bullying and whistle-blowing procedures. “Whilst these fall out with the remit of this review, the diocese’s whistle-blowing policy is already overdue for renewal and is very brief, consisting of only one side of A4 to cover what can be complex issues.”
In his response, Bishop Butler also acknowledged that the Gibson report was being published in the light of the recent conclusions of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), which also focus on the issues of culture, clericalism, and deference in the Church. “Our commissioning of this report and our learning from it are part of our ongoing commitment in the diocese of Durham to translate this determination to protect all vulnerable people into action in policy and practice.”