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Interim Support Scheme has caused more anxiety, abuse survivors report

09 July 2021

A slide from a safeguarding presentation given to the General Synod in February by the lead bishop for safeguarding, the Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs (top right)

A slide from a safeguarding presentation given to the General Synod in February by the lead bishop for safeguarding, the Bishop of Huddersfield,...

SURVIVORS of abuse in Church of England contexts have said that the Interim Support Scheme, set up last year, is failing them.

One survivor, Sophie Whiting, said this week that the scheme had compounded the original abuse; she has put in an additional claim for compensation for “stress, anxiety” caused by the administration of the scheme.

Another, Teresa Cooper, complained that, although the scheme was set up to meet “urgent and immediate needs”, she has had to wait for a panel decision on the cost of a week’s home help so that she can have a Covid vaccination. Ms Cooper suffers from a rare and severe disease traced back to her time in Kendall House, in the early 1980s. Kendall House was a Church of England-run home in Gravesend, Kent, in which teenage girls were routinely sedated, straitjacketed, abused, and given experimental drugs (News, 15 July 2016).

Ms Cooper cannot have a vaccine without supervision, in case of medical complications. She spoke on Monday of the delays: “They’re putting my life in danger.” She heard on Tuesday that her claim, amounting to £3405, had been approved, but said: “It’s so haphazard. The mistakes they’ve made in my case add to my stress levels, which makes my disease worse.” She has been hospitalised on several occasions in the past year.

The interim scheme was set up last autumn (News, 26 September), when it became clear that a lack of financial and pastoral support was endangering the life of one survivor. Run under the auspices of the National Safeguarding Team, its purpose is to meet the needs of survivors and to pilot a fuller scheme, expected in the next two years. The decision-making panel includes survivors; its secretary is Tim Bonnett. Ms Cooper was on the panel briefly, but resigned over what, she says, were “clear conflicts of interest” among other panel members.

Ms Whiting was critical of the interim scheme’s administration. One of her complaints concerned her appointment of Mark Bramah, a former detective, now managing director of Corporate Safeguarding. In January, Mr Bonnett wrote to criticise the claim that Mr Bramah had submitted on Ms Whiting’s behalf: “He has not served you well.”

After a subsequent investigation, the secretary-general of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye, apologised in April, admitting that the lack of published criteria made applications difficult, and that remarks about Mr Bramah had been unprofessional.

His reply contained an explanation of some of the interim scheme’s failings: “We faced a dilemma . . . whether on the one hand to launch the Scheme, in order to start to provide the support that the Archbishops’ Council wished to offer to survivors in distress, while recognising that not every aspect of the scheme would be fully in place and tested; or whether to defer the launch of the scheme until we had road-tested every aspect of its procedures and policies, but thereby delaying significantly the start of the scheme, and put back the date for providing the support that survivors have needed.

“We opted to do the former, recognising that we would need to refine the operation of the scheme during its pilot phase.”

Ms Whiting has since sought £9750 in compensation for her stress and anxiety. Mr Bramah has submitted an invoice for this, including his fees. The sum of £1250 has been paid into Ms Whiting’s account, which, she says, she will use to fund a case in the small-claims court.

On Monday, the national director of safeguarding, Zena Marshall, wrote to Ms Whiting, challenging the claim and asking how the sum had been arrived at. “The fact is that Mr Bramah has taken it upon himself unilaterally to act with no agreement of the Archbishops’ Council and to determine for himself how much he wishes to charge.

“It is usually the position that compensation is not payable to a person arising from the tension or frustration of being involved in a legal dispute. . . The Archbishops’ Council is a charity and cannot simply pay over sums where there is no proper legal basis for doing so.”

Ms Whiting’s brother, Julian, another survivor, attested to his sister’s experience: “I’m horrified by the way we have been treated.”

On Wednesday, a spokesperson said: “The interim support scheme has provided immediate support for 30 survivors, with ten further cases now being heard by its panel. We are sorry if some survivors are unhappy with the process, and we always learn from any issues raised — as we do from the positive responses we have received about the panel’s work.

“While we cannot talk about individual cases, any requests for help that come to the scheme are then processed through the panel, which has an experienced independent chair.”

Mr Bramah said on Thursday: “I feel that the interim scheme was set up too quickly after the Church was severely criticised by IICSA, and they pressed the go-button too soon. The problem is that they’re stress-testing it with survivors, people who are least able to handle the stress of a system with so many faults.

“A significant amount of additional work had to be undertaken to address the damage caused to the survivors of the scheme. I’m a professional working in this field, and I haven’t seen much professionalism from the Church.”

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