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Diocese of London accepts coroner’s list of failings in Fr Griffin case

24 August 2021

Friends Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham

Fr Alan Griffin, who took his own life in November 2020

Fr Alan Griffin, who took his own life in November 2020

LAMBETH PALACE and the diocese of London have admitted to a catalogue of errors that led up to the suicide of a former C of E priest, Fr Alan Griffin (News, 23 July).

The coroner who examined Fr Griffin’s death, Mary Hassell, issued a Prevention of Future Deaths report, having discovered that Fr Griffin took his own life after false allegations of child abuse were passed from the diocese of London to the Roman Catholic Church, which were “supported by no complainant, no witness and no accuser”. She gave the diocese and the Archbishop of Canterbury until 3 September to respond.

In a long submission, released jointly by the Archbishop’s office and the London diocese on Tuesday, virtually all the coroner’s charges are accepted. The submission states:

“We accept that the concerns raised in respect of Fr Griffin were unsubstantiated . . . that the information shared by the Head of Operations was not verified with him . . . that good practice around evidence gathering, verification, and evaluation of information prior to action was lacking . . . that there was clarification neither of the term [“rent boy”] used nor of its origin (i.e. by whom it was used) in the meetings that took place . . . that there was no subsequent verification of the information shared by/with the Head of Operations . . . there was not a clear system for tracking progress or assigning responsibility for oversight. This must be corrected.”

In addition, the submission agrees that the introduction of “concerns of possible child exploitation” in Fr Griffin’s record “was [a] mistake and is a matter of regret”. It agrees that no legal advice was sought.

As for passing unverified information to the Roman Catholic authorities, the submission says: “We fully accept that further steps should have been taken to verify this Information before it was shared, even though it was being shared with a trusted safeguarding professional in the Roman Catholic Church. We accept that there was no written record of a risk assessment or of the wellbeing issues arising.”

Regarding the welfare of Fr Griffin, the submission states: “Whilst planning conversations did take place between the Diocese of London and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster prior to the proposed meeting with Fr Griffin to agree the nature of that meeting (which was in part to verify the information which had been passed on), this was not recorded. Opportunities to establish a clear plan for joint investigation and pastoral care between the two denominations were missed.”

It concludes: “The way the information was documented and passed to the Roman Catholic Church is a matter of deep regret for the Diocese of London.” (Although the Archbishop of Canterbury was named in the Prevention of Future Deaths paper, the errors were made by diocesan officers.)

The submission lists the steps that the diocese has taken and intends to take to clean up its act. It was already in the process of setting up a lessons-learned review. In the light of Ms Hassell’s comments, it has revised the terms of reference, appointing “an experienced, independent reviewer, not previously known to or associated with the diocese”.

The review’s terms of reference are to be published early next month. The submission says that the diocese is “engaging with the close family and friends of Fr Griffin who were registered as Interested Parties for the purposes of the inquest”.

The purpose, says the diocese, “is to promote learning and improve practice, not to apportion blame”. The review “will make recommendations about what could be done better in the Church of England to help prevent such a death taking place again”.

In addition to the review, a “case steering group” has been set up, comprising the diocesan general secretary, Richard Gough; the Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell; the interim national director of safeguarding, Zena Marshall; the Bishop at Lambeth, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton (alternate Richard Sudworth); and Tim Bishop, an independent member of the London diocesan safeguarding steering group.

The diocese had already made a “serious incident report” to the Charity Commission. This has been updated in the light of the coroner’s report.

The submission sets much store by the appointment of a new head of safeguarding in the diocese, Martin Goodwin, who began earlier this month, and the increase to the diocesan safeguarding team of another adviser in September, bringing the staffing up to 4.6 full-time equivalent.

One of Mr Goodwin’s first tasks is the development of a robust information referral and triage system, with a casework-management tracking system.

Finally, the submission seeks to clarify an earlier communication with Ms Hassell, which urged her not to include “concerns that may be taken as a criticism of clerics or staff for not filtering or verifying allegations”.

This was not an attempt to deflect criticism, the submission says, but a reference to the recommendations from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) that untrained clergy should not investigate allegations but pass them immediately to the diocesan safeguarding team. “We believe that our clergy and staff acted in accordance with this Guidance and we were concerned that any criticism of them for following it might deter others from the appropriate reporting of safeguarding concerns.”

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