THE dispute between the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Revd Dr Martyn Percy, and the college authorities could continue for another two years.
At a preliminary employment-tribunal hearing in Amersham, on Monday, the two parties were told that a shortage of judges meant that the case was unlikely to be heard until autumn 2021 at the earliest.
Last year, in an internal inquiry at Christ Church, a High Court judge, Sir Andrew Smith, found Dr Percy innocent of all the charges against him. Dr Percy has been reinstated, but the college has refused to repay the estimated £400,000 that he spent in legal fees to defend himself. The college’s legal bill is thought to be in the millions. The employment tribunal is a move to force the college to accept that it has treated the Dean poorly.
The full text of Sir Andrew’s judgment has been kept from all but a few of the college’s Governing Body (News, 11 October 2019); but, at the weekend, extracts of emails cited in the judgment, along with others, were made public. In a letter to the Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Lord Patten, Jonathan Aitken, a Christ Church alumnus, quotes unnamed members of what he calls the “cabal” who attempted to force Dr Percy to resign.
Among the emails is one that declares: “I’m always ready to think the worst of him. . . Does anyone know any good poisoners?”
In his letter, Mr Aitken urges Lord Patten to initiate an independent review of governance at Christ Church. He says that other college heads have expressed concern about what they see as the continued persecution of Dr Percy.
On Monday, the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, described Dr Percy as a “close and valued colleague, widely respected across the diocese and the wider Church”. He said that it was “never too late to begin a process of reconciliation”.
In response to the Mail on Sunday investigation, the Christ Church authorities issued the following statement:
“In response to recent media interest, we can confirm that we are in receipt of two Employment Tribunal claims from the Dean of Christ Church. We are all too conscious that a disagreement over pay and remuneration with the Dean has led, over the last two years, to significantly-heightened tensions between him and Governing Body. Personal relationships have undoubtedly suffered, and we all regret this deeply. We take our responsibilities towards all members of our community very seriously, and believe that we have acted in the best interests of Christ Church, including its students and staff.
“While the specific matters being raised by the Dean should be left to the Employment Tribunal to consider, the Governing Body remains committed to achieving a satisfactory resolution. Christ Church expects members to show respect towards one another at all times, but equally we acknowledge that individuals are entitled to their personal opinions. Frustrations conveyed about – but not to – the Dean, exacerbated by the dispute over his pay, were in the past expressed in some private emails. However, mediation with the Dean, funded by Christ Church, resumed in November 2019 and is now ongoing. We very much hope that we can find a way forward through this process, and avoid considerable further cost.”
Read more on the story in Andrew Brown’s press column