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Oak Hill and Bishop of Maidstone reflect after Fletcher report

29 April 2021

creative commons

Oak Hill College, in north London

Oak Hill College, in north London

OAK HILL COLLEGE is seeking to return two gifts of £2000 received from the Revd Jonathan Fletcher, a former Minister of Emmanuel Proprietary Chapel, Ridgway, in Wimbledon.

The trustees of the Kingham Hill Trust, of which Oak Hill is part, said in a statement on Tuesday that it had received one gift of £2000 in 2018, and another of £2000 in October 2019, from the FC Charitable Trust (previously named the J. J. M. Fletcher Charitable Trust), of which Mr Fletcher was then a trustee. Allegations about Mr Fletcher’s abusive behaviour had been made public in the summer of 2019 (News, 5 July 2019), and a 146-page lessons-learnt review was published last month, carried out by the independent Christian safeguarding charity Thirtyone:eight(News, 26 March).

“Subsequent to the receipt of the 2019 gift, the College’s internal processes flagged the gift to be reviewed in light of what had emerged earlier in 2019 about abuses perpetrated by Jonathan Fletcher,” the trust’s statement said. “The Oak Hill Leadership Team referred the question to a Kingham Hill trustee (the trustees alone have the authority to return a charitable gift). A decision was taken at that time not to consult the Charity Commission about returning the gift. This was based on informal consultation only, since there was at the time no formal process in place involving all trustees.

“In light of what had been made public earlier that year, we want to acknowledge that it was wrong to receive the gift in October 2019. There was an opportunity to take a private but important stand against the abuses perpetrated by Jonathan Fletcher, and we failed to take it. When these gifts were recently made public, the impression will have been given to Jonathan’s victims that we do not treat his actions or their suffering seriously. We deeply regret and are sorry for the hurt we will have caused and the example we set.”

It is applying to the Charity Commission to return both gifts.

The statement concluded: “We are grateful for external and independent insights into conservative evangelical culture and Oak Hill is committed to making every appropriate change to ensure that the needs of victims are prioritised, that abuses of power do not go unchallenged and that transparency and truthfulness are paramount.”

In a pastoral letter published earlier this month, the Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Revd Rod Thomas, who offers episcopal oversight to parishes under the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the ministry of Bishops and Priests, responded to the publication of the Thirtyone:eight report.

“I am particularly troubled by what the report has to say about a climate of fear among conservative evangelicals, and the existence of closed circles which have inhibited people from drawing attention to misbehaviour, the inappropriate exercise of power, and abuse,” he writes.

“The fact that I have never personally experienced this fear may well be an indication of my own lack of awareness — and I want to do something about that. There may well be things that I have not seen that I really should have seen, and I want to take this matter very seriously.”

Bishop Thomas goes on to write that he, as one of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s suffragans, has written to the Archbishop, “with a full account of how I first came to hear of Jonathan Fletcher’s abusive behaviour in September 2018 and what I did in the months that followed. In my letter, I made clear that if he believed I had acted inappropriately, I would resign.”

In his reply, quoted in Bishop Thomas’s letter, Archbishop Welby thanks him “for writing so fully and openly to me about your knowledge of the events around Jonathan Fletcher”, and says that he is “very glad to learn of the steps you have taken and are continuing to take”.

Bishop Thomas also writes that he intends to pursue recommendations in the Thirtyone:eight review regarding “the sharing of information when a clergyperson’s permission to officiate (PTO) is withdrawn”.

He continues: “This has been the cause of much misunderstanding. The GDPR requirements of confidentiality that apply in these cases mean that third parties seldom hear of the reasons for such a withdrawal — if they hear at all. This situation does not encourage proper adherence to PTO requirements. In my own case, I had pastoral responsibilities at Emmanuel but no safeguarding oversight; this meant that to a substantial extent, I was treated as a ‘third party’.”

Consequently, he is seeking to meet officials in the national Church, including the Interim Director of the National Safeguarding Team, “to explore whether clearer and more effective arrangements can be introduced”.

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