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Charity Commission to quiz Christ Church trustees over Percy tribunal

01 February 2021

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Christ Church, Oxford

Christ Church, Oxford

THE Charity Commission has written to each member of the Governing Body of Christ Church, Oxford, enquiring about its decision to launch a second tribunal to investigate the Dean, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy.

The investigation relates to a complaint of sexual harassment in the cathedral in October (News, 20 November 2020). In agreeing to the tribunal, both the cathedral chapter and the Governing Body judged the complaint to be “supported by sufficient evidence which could, if proved, constitute good cause for the removal of the Dean from office” (News, 15 January).

The reported cost of the college’s action against Dean Percy since a first complaint in 2018 is said to be above £2 million, and prompted alumni such as the Revd Jonathan Aitken, the former MP, to ask the Charity Commission to investigate. Christ Church acts as a charity titled “the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral Church of Christ in Oxford of the Foundation of King Henry VIII”, registered in 2011.

On Wednesday of last week, Helen Earner, director of regulatory services, wrote to each member of the Governing Body, 65 in all, including the members of the cathedral Chapter, each of whom functions as a trustee of the charity.

“To begin with, we will be seeking further information and assurances from the members of the Governing Body about why establishing a Tribunal is: in the best interests of the charity and its beneficiaries; a responsible use of the charity’s resources.

“We will also examine how, when reaching this decision, the members of the Governing Body: took account of our published guidance and previous regulatory advice; and identified and managed any conflicts of interest and/or loyalty.

“This is not an exhaustive list.”

Ms Earner recognises that the Governing Body members took professional advice before proceeding; but she warns: “That does not relieve them, as trustees, of their responsibilities — collectively and individually — for the management and administration of the charity, although that will be considered accordingly. For that reason, we may want to discuss these matters with individual trustees directly.”

In response, the college authorities said that, “as an employer, a charity, and an educational institution”, the college would always treat allegations fairly.

It went on: “Christ Church has followed the formal requirements in our statutes to deal with such an allegation, as well as the Charity Commission’s guidance on ‘Safeguarding and protecting people for charities and trustees’ in the handling of this complaint. On 12 January 2021, we provided a further update to the Commission accordingly.

“We welcome the opportunity to share the process in a transparent way with the Charity Commission and we know they will take as seriously as we do all accusations of sexual harassment. We continue to keep the Commission fully informed and respond to any questions they may have.”

An internal email sent to Governing Body members, leaked to the Telegraph, suggested a less eirenic reaction: “Considerable anger was expressed at Governing Body about the nature of the Charity Commission’s communication and we are taking this up with the Commission.

“However, with regard to the enquiries they seek to make, we should feel confident that we have absolutely nothing to be concerned about.”

The email suggests tactics for Governing Body members approached by the Charity Commission: “If a representative of the Commission contacts you by telephone unannounced with questions, you are entitled to ask to reschedule the discussion at a convenient time and to ask to see the questions in advance.

“You may also ask to have a representative with you and, if it is a formal interview, you are entitled to legal representation. This is unlikely to happen, but we thought it would be helpful to share this advice.”

Dean Percy is on sick leave, and unavailable for comment. He has denied the allegation.

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