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Jesus College will not appeal against Rustat judgment

12 April 2022


Memorial to Tobias Rustat in Jesus College, Cambridge

Memorial to Tobias Rustat in Jesus College, Cambridge

JESUS COLLEGE, Cambridge, will not appeal against the consistory court judgment that refused it permission to remove the Rustat memorial from its chapel (News, 25 March), it was announced this week — although the college council described the judgment as “disappointing” and “fundamentally wrong”.

The Master of Jesus College, Sonita Alleyne, has called on the Church of England to change how it deals with matters of racial injustice and contested heritage, calling its current approach “not fit for purpose”.

The college wanted to remove a memorial to its benefactor Tobias Rustat from the west wall of the chapel, on the grounds that Rustat was known to be involved in the transatlantic slave trade (News, 28 January). But the petition — which was supported by both the Dean of Chapel, the Revd James Crockford, and the Bishop of Ely — was rejected by the Deputy Chancellor, the Worshipful David Hodge QC.

Ms Alleyne said this week that the current process urgently needed reform, as it stood in the way of a constructive and inclusive discussion on sensitive and important issues. “Many students and members of the College community put their trust in the church process, and understandably feel let down by the judgment and its misrepresentation of their views,” she said on Tuesday.

“The consistory court’s decision shows a lack of understanding of the lived experience of people of colour in modern Britain.”

Rustat invested in two slave-trading companies over a period of 30 years. Judge Hodge accepted evidence that Rustat did not make any money from slavery until he sold his shares, but the College insists that this is irrelevant.

“In short, the college is up against a church ruling which believes involvement in the slave trade over 30 years isn’t sufficient to warrant the removal of this celebratory memorial,” Ms Alleyne said.

“The facts about Rustat and his involvement in the slave trade were very clearly proven by the excellent and meticulous research undertaken by the Legacy of Slavery Working Party chaired by Dr Véronique Mottier. Its findings, as well as the position taken by the college, were misrepresented by others in court, and we stand by the work of our world-class academics.

“Having taken advice, and after much thought, the college council has decided not to appeal the disappointing judgment. While we believe the judgment is fundamentally wrong, the time and costs involved in appealing the decision are significant, and the grounds on which we are allowed to appeal are restrictive.

“We will take our time and consider what to do next. The presence of the memorial in our chapel continues to be a serious issue for our increasingly diverse community. We strongly believe that our stance will place us on the right side of history.”

The college’s application has drawn widespread support, including a letter to the Church Times from 160 clergy (Letters 1 April) questioning the decision.

“This judgment demonstrates the inadequacies of the church process for addressing issues of racial injustice and contested memorialisation. It is not fit for purpose,” Ms Alleyne said.

“There is a much overdue debate happening within the Church about how best to face up to the legacy of racial injustice. We will continue to keep up the pressure, because this matters to our students.”

“This was a test case for the Church,” Mr Crockford said. “It is clear that, if the Church of England wishes to take diversity and inclusion seriously, it cannot ignore the implications of this decision for the wider mission of the Church to be a place where all are welcome.”

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