THE Secretary-General of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye, has defended the ability of the new Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) to carry out a lessons-learnt review of the Church’s involvement in the dispute at Christ Church, Oxford.
Martin Sewell, a General Synod member, had questioned the ISB’s competence and capacity to investigate what became a long and protracted dispute between the college authorities and the former Dean, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy (News, 24 June).
In a letter to Mr Sewell, sent on Wednesday of last week, Mr Nye clarifies the limited nature of the ISB review. Having been asked by the Archbishops’ Council and the diocese of Oxford to look into the church safeguarding aspects of the Christ Church dispute, “the ISB agreed that it would undertake a review of these safeguarding matters, as part of its oversight remit, in order to learn any lessons. This would include looking at whether these issues should have been dealt with as safeguarding matters at all. This is entirely consistent with the ISB’s remit.”
Mr Nye writes that it would not undertake a comprehensive review of the whole dispute; nor would it address complaints made by Dr Percy of the Church’s handling of safeguarding matters.
In the letter, Mr Nye also accuses Dr Percy of launching “a series of personal attacks on the professional standing and competence of the chair of the ISB, extending to contacting other clients of her work, with a view to discouraging them from employing her”.
Approached for a response, Dr Percy called the accusation “baseless”, but declined to comment on an allegation made to a third party and not directly to him.
Mr Sewell said on Tuesday: “William’s letter really doesn’t answer many of our questions, and we are pressing him again. I am happy, however, to explain why nobody should be surprised that a measure of frustration and anger has crept in, at the end of lengthy correspondence between Dr Percy and the ISB.
“It has completely ignored his most significant complaints and failed to answer reasonable process enquiries. This comes on top of four years of intensive bullying by College and Church alike. The Church and its agents are alleged to have actively promoted a false narrative of serious risk which was abandoned on the day after settlement.”
In a written reply to Mr Nye, a draft of which has been seen by the Church Times, Mr Sewell again suggests that Professor Maggie Atkinson, who chairs the ISB, does not have the experience to lead such a review: “The College has turned to a highly experienced Safeguarding organization (Ineqe) and a former Attorney General to help it extricate itself from this controversy. [The] Archbishops’ Council has not. The Church suffers considerably in the comparison.”
He notes “the complete absence of Dr Percy’s actual complaints in the record for the [ISB] Terms of Reference — not least those concerning the Church’s lawyers’ conflicts of interests”, and asks: “If the ISB does not touch these concerns, how are these complaints to be addressed?”