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Regulator delves deeper into Oxford dispute, telling Governing Body to resolve it

26 November 2021

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THE Charity Commission has put further pressure on the Governing Body of Christ Church, Oxford, to resolve its dispute with the Dean, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy.

Mediation between the college and the Dean is currently stalled, awaiting an internal tribunal about a complaint of sexual harassment in the cathedral in October last year (News, 20 November 2020). A church investigation concluded that the incident did not warrant a tribunal under the Clergy Discipline Measure (News, 1 June).

The Charity Commission first approached the Governing Body of Christ Church earlier this year (News, 1 February), after complaints by alumni that the college had spent more than £2 million of its charitable funds pursuing the Dean since a first complaint in 2018 (News, 9 November 2018).

On 4 November, Helen Earner, director of regulatory services, wrote to the Revd Professor Sarah Foot, Censor Theologiae and chair of the Governing Body, requesting a long list of background information about the dispute. This includes Governing Body minutes from June 2018 covering the salaries-board dispute that sparked the original complaint against the Dean; the money that the college has spent on its action hitherto, including payments for legal advice and public-relations support; and details of the mediation process and why it was halted.

Also requested are copies of the emails from senior figures in the college made available to Sir Andrew Smith, who conducted the internal inquiry that exonerated the Dean (News, 21 August 2019). Sir Andrew included them in an appendix to his report, but they were redacted from the version circulated to members of the Governing Body. One email about the Dean read: “I’m always ready to think the worst of him. . . Does anyone know any good poisoners?”

Ms Earner also responds in her letter to two questions by Professor Foot. On the question whether the college could contribute to Dean Percy’s legal costs in the tribunal process, she writes: “Based on what we understand to be the current situation, we would see that it is likely to fall within the range of reasonable decisions that trustees could make.”

Professor Foot’s other question is whether the college could pay for legal advice for individual members of the Governing Body who want to take action for alleged defamation “and/or misuse of private information”. The Governing Body has been disturbed by leaks throughout this process, and Ms Earner’s letter acknowledges that “some members of the Governing Body have identified themselves as whistleblowers.”

Before ruling whether this is a permissible use of funds, Ms Earner asks whether the Governing Body has set a budget or cap on money to be advanced to individual members.

Her letter ends by reminding the Governing Body that it is a criminal offence knowingly or recklessly to provide false or misleading information.

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