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Locks and panic buttons: security measures taken against Dean of Christ Church

17 March 2021

CDM moves to tribunal stage, even though Dean has yet to respond formally to complaint

Church Times

Christ Church, Oxford

Christ Church, Oxford

KEY codes were changed, panic alarms were considered, and staff were told to be aware of the nearest exit at Christ Church, Oxford, all to protect them from the Dean, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, it has emerged.

These precautions are taken from safeguarding documents drawn up on 22 October 2020 after a complaint of sexual harassment was made against the Dean in the cathedral on 4 October (News, 20 November 2020). They were seen by the Church Times this week. It is understood that the Dean disputes the allegation, but he is on sick leave and unable to respond formally (News, 15 January).

There are two documents marked “safeguarding risk assessments”, one for the college and one for the cathedral and choir school. The cathedral assessment, which bears the C of E logo, rates the risk of harassment of the college chaplains and canons as “high”, and talks of changing door codes. Another risk assessed as high is “inappropriate leaks of sensitive and confidential information” to the cathedral congregation and alumni. The risk to pupils of the choir school of “inappropriate or erratic behaviour” is assessed as “low”.

The college assessment states: “There is potential for inappropriate behaviour to take place virtually, by Teams/phone, email, social media. Staff could be unable to carry out their duties effectively if measures are not taken to ensure that they can do so safely.”

Among the measures listed are: “Staff should be aware of exit routes”; “a panic alarm might be considered for staff who routinely work alone”; and “security locks and access to rooms should be checked.”

Housekeeping staff are instructed to enter the deanery in pairs, as are clerk-of-works staff if called to undertake maintenance work. The Dean’s PA is moved to a different office. Staff in the college lodge are considered safe because they work in pairs and “behind a counter and screen”.

David Lamming, a lay member of General Synod who has taken a particular interest in safeguarding issues in the Church, said this week: “Not only are the alleged risks and the steps set out to manage them grossly disproportionate to the single allegation against the Dean, the risk assessments are not ‘independent’.” He said that this was a specific recommendation in the report drawn up by Kate Wood, the independent consultant whose investigation of the harassment allegations triggered the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) process.

The college assessment bears the names of the diocesan safeguarding officer, Richard Woodley, and Ms Wood. This was an error, Ms Wood said on Tuesday. “I have never undertaken a risk assessment in this matter or been party to the assessment of risk in any regard. I have never even seen the risk assessments conducted by the college and cathedral.

“My role was to conduct an initial investigation into the allegations of sexual harassment. This is a very different role to conducting a risk assessment. . .

“I was therefore deeply frustrated to read numerous press articles and social media comments in which my professional competence was repeatedly questioned in relation to having allegedly conducted a risk assessment and not being qualified to do so.

“I asked the college several times to publicly explain the error and to confirm that I had not conducted a risk assessment. I also asked the college to engage with those people who had been most vocal in criticising me on this false narrative. This public correction does not appear to have happened, though I am told that the error has now been corrected on the document.”

A spokesperson for Christ Church confirmed that Ms Wood’s name had been incorrectly included in an early “risk assessment draft”. This was corrected before the assessment was finalised, he said. “The risk assessments have been reviewed regularly and will be again ahead of the new term.”

The spokesperson said that the assessments had been signed off by the diocesan safeguarding officer, i.e. Mr Woodley, who explained on Tuesday that, because this was an “interim assessment of risk” rather than a formal risk assessment, it did not need to comply with the Safeguarding (Clergy Risk Assessment) Regulations 2016, which stipulate, among other things, that the person being assessed be consulted and given 14 days to query it, and, when it involved “certain facts which are in dispute . . . must set out the matter and the nature and the extent of the dispute”.

The forms used for the interim assessments appear to have been adapted from risk assessments for events, and are headed “Activity risk assessment”. More up-to-date versions were requested by the Church Times but refused.

As for what happens next, it was understood that all progress on the complaint was stalled until Dean Percy became well enough to represent himself or instruct lawyers, and respond formally to the complaint. It was reported at the weekend, however, that the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart — to whom the Bishop of Oxford has delegated the processing of the CDM — has decided to proceed to the tribunal stage.

Bishop Urquhart’s statement on Tuesday afternoon said merely: “Having regard to the Statutory Guidance issued by the Clergy Discipline Commission, to which I must have due regard, I can say no more than that a complaint has been made against the Dean and that it is being considered in accordance with the procedures laid down in the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 and the Clergy Discipline Rules 2005.”

It is understood that the complaint will now be investigated afresh by a designated officer, who reports to the president of tribunals, an independent Court of Appeal judge, Dame Sarah Asplin, who will decide the next course of action.

Dean Percy, therefore, faces three concurrent investigations: the CDM; a second core group set up by the National Safeguarding Team; and a second tribunal set up by the Christ Church Governing Body under statute 39, “seeking the removal of the Dean from office for good cause”. In the earlier Christ Church tribunal, to consider a complaint lodged in 2018 (News, 9 November 2018), Dean Percy was exonerated of every one of the 27 charges against him (News, 23 August 2019).

The college authorities last week published details from a review it had commissioned from Sir Wyn Williams, president of Welsh tribunals, stating that its actions against Dean Percy were “entirely consistent with the statute and by-laws” of the college.

Sir Wyn had been commissioned after the Charity Commission wrote to each member of the Governing Body (News, 5 February), warning that it was investigating the decision to proceed against the Dean to see whether it was “a responsible use of the charity’s resources”. The college authorities are thought to have spent more than £2 million in their attempts to remove the Dean. Dean Percy, in his turn, has run up legal bills of more than £500,000, and is relying on an employment tribunal, due later this year, to force the college to reimburse him.

Sir Wyn writes: “There was nothing which can be categorised as unfair or unjust in the way the information was provided to members of Governing Body prior to the making of the complaint.” And he concludes: “I have no doubt that establishing a tribunal is a responsible use of charitable resource and in the best interests of Christ Church.” The review has been sent to the Charity Commission.

On Wednesday, however, The Times quoted from a 15-page opinion commissioned by Dean Percy’s supporters and drawn up by Edward Fitzgerald QC, a human-rights lawyer, and his colleague Paul Harris. This states: “The sustained, repeated and entirely groundless campaign to drive the dean from his job would seem to fall within the definition of harassment in Sections 2 and 7 of the Protection from Harassment Act, 1997.”

Although details of the alleged assault have been published elsewhere, the matter is being dealt with in confidence by the college and church authorities. The complainant wrote to the Church Times last month to counter information about her allegation which had been published elsewhere (Letters, 5 February). She wrote: “Had I not judged the incident to be inappropriate and extremely distressing, I should not have decided to make a formal complaint.”

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