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‘Promise not to tell’: review reveals lapses that left Graham Gregory free to abuse children for 30 years

15 February 2022

ALAMY

St Ninian’s, Douglas, where the Revd Graham Gregory served as Vicar

St Ninian’s, Douglas, where the Revd Graham Gregory served as Vicar

THE Church of England missed “clear and multiple opportunities” to scrutinise the behaviour of the late Graham Gregory, a priest who abused children over a 30-year period: the Church repeatedly failed to listen to his victims and to take action, a highly critical independent review has concluded.

The lessons-learnt review, published on Tuesday, was conducted by Ray Galloway, who led the Jimmy Savile inquiry at Leeds General Infirmary, and was part of the Church of England’s Kendall House review team (News, 19 February 2016).

It finds Gregory to have been “a determined and persistent abuser of children who actively sought out and created opportunities to harm his victims”. The children he abused included his own vicar’s daughter, the daughter of a family relative, and daughters of congregation members — including one whose visually impaired parents had trusted him with her safety when in his company.

Over the course of his ministry, Gregory worked in the dioceses of Southwark, Chichester, Sodor & Man, Southwell & Nottingham, and York, and their individual reports of how the allegations were handled have informed Mr Galloway’s review.

Victims and their parents repeatedly sought support and protection from members of the clergy, the review finds. “They were not listened to nor was action taken.” On at least one occasion, an allegation was actively suppressed by a senior member of the clergy, and Gregory was moved to another diocese.

The Church’s fundamental moral and professional duty to protect children “was not met when and where it was needed”, Mr Galloway says. The Church must acknowledge and accept the review’s findings and “make meaningful and transparent arrangements to address them”.

The review does acknowledge that attitudes and structures relating to safeguarding have developed “positively and significantly” since the first Church of England child-protection policy was published in 1995. But it makes clear that in no way does this excuse “the dreadful abuse for which GG was responsible”.

It goes on: “It is the institutional structures of the Church, and deference from within the community to those holding roles within it, that, at least in part, created the environment in which such abuse could be perpetrated and was not positively acted upon when it became known, notwithstanding the societal culture that prevailed at the time.”

Because the events spanned five decades, access to and availability of records and witnesses was frequently very limited, the review acknowledges. The limitation was “exacerbated by the absence of diocesan records that should, by any reasonable expectation, have been made at the time and then retained, with due diligence”.

Gregory was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in 2014 on two counts of non-recent indecent assault on a girl under 13 years, and was further convicted in 2018 of three non-recent indecent assaults on three separate victims, all children, and was sentenced to four years and four months in prison. He died in prison in 2019. The review was commissioned by the C of E’s National Safeguarding Team (News, 27 May 2021).

 

GRAHAM GREGORY began his ministry as a curate in Southwark in 1966. He was married and had three young sons. His first identified victim was the seven-year-old daughter of the vicar of the parish, referred to in the report as Victim A.

The abuse included a period of several days when, at his own suggestion, Gregory stayed at the Vicarage during the parents’ absence to look after the girl and her brother. Her accounts of his behaviour include his clapping his hand over her mouth when she was screaming as he tried to touch her.

She eventually disclosed to her father, but, the report says, “The disclosure was not embraced positively by her father. He acted as if he had not heard what his daughter had said to him about being touched, although she has no reason to believe that he did not do so.”

Further disclosures, supported by her brother, led to more angry rebukes from her father, “which served to inhibit her from telling anybody again, prior to GG leaving the diocese to move away to Hastings”.

As an adult, Victim A decided to challenge Gregory’s behaviour. She traced him through Crockford, but he denied responsibility for the abuse. After the Jimmy Savile publicity in 2012, she contacted a diocesan safeguarding officer in Canterbury, who encouraged her to report her experience to the police.

The Revd Graham Humphries, Gregory’s successor, was himself convicted of sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl in 1972.

The question how two separate curates could thrive as abusers of children, both within the same parish, managed by the same vicar, over such a prolonged period of time, never seemed to have been addressed, the report says.

Victim B contacted the diocese of Southwark in 2006 to report Gregory’s abuse of her. She eventually received an apology from the Bishop of Southwark, and also received a written letter of apology from the Archbishop of Canterbury, both of which she valued.

But, with the exception of the Southwark diocesan safeguarding adviser (DSA), she was critical of her dealings with the Church and what she perceived as its reluctance to embrace fully her integrity and the impact of the abuse that she had experienced: “I felt that all my dealings with the Church were cagey.”

She specifically wanted to highlight the fact that Gregory was able to move from diocese to diocese “without any sharing of information relating to his abusive behaviour, leaving him free to continue to abuse”.

Other than positive feedback for the [Southwark] DSA when she had assumed management of the case after Gregory’s conviction, no examples of good practice were identified in the review.

Among a long list of failings, the fact that Gregory was allowed unrestricted access to children in his post as a curate, in his home and elsewhere, “rendered them vulnerable to sustained and unchallenged sexual abuse”.

Gregory moved to Hastings in 1971, in the diocese of Chichester. The review found no record of any reference being provided and no basis upon which to believe that his abusive behaviour in Southwark was in any way linked to his move to Hastings.

Shortly after his arrival, he set up the Pathfinders youth club, where “an apparently favourite ploy for him was for him to invite one or more of the young girls to stay behind, purportedly to help tidy up with him. He would then take advantage of the opportunity to abuse them.”

Victim C spoke of welcoming the personal attention that Gregory gave her, as it was something that she was largely starved of at home. After Bible study, he would go into the next room, lock the door, and “feel her intimately as she read to him from the Bible”.

He later persuaded her to have intercourse with him, and suggested that she go on the Pill: information that she confided to someone whom, she felt, she could trust, but who passed the information on to other people in the parish. The next day, she was confronted by Gregory, his wife, her own mother, and the vicar of the parish, all of whom accused her of telling lies.

Her mother sent her away. On her return, she was marginalised from church activities and became “sort of an outcast”.

Victim D gave further evidence from the Pathfinders club. The review says: “Despite the disclosures of the children being made, and becoming known to the parish vicar, the abuse of victim D still continued, with some of the worst abuse occurring at GG’s home, under the guise of preparing her for confirmation. That abuse involved her rape.”

Victim E, the sister of Victim C, also attended the Pathfinders Club. Hers was a shocking testimony. In the first encounter, Gregory took her to a downstairs room and told her to remove her knickers. He put them in his pocket, locked the door, and began abusing her.

The molestation continued every Saturday. Her mother “never embraced what her daughter was telling her, and didn’t believe her”, the report says. Abuse also took place in the belfry, in his car, when she attended bible-study classes at Gregory’s house, and on a week-long Pathfinders trip to Deal, where, in desperation, she disclosed what was happening to the woman who ran the venue, but from which no help came.

She told the review: “He’s ruined my life, all the way through, in the fact that I can never, never trust anybody. He’s basically knocked me down and I feel that’s he’s still knocking me down. . . It hurts all the time.”

The diocesan review concluded that, despite the detail of what was disclosed to him not being definitively known, “on the balance of probabilities, it is reasonable to conclude that the parish vicar at the time, who was also GG’s training incumbent, knew of GG’s alleged abuse of children and took no action to address it.”

Gregory moved to Sodor & Man in 1975. At various times in his 16-year ministry there, he was diocesan youth officer, chaplain to HM Isle of Man Prison, and Assistant Chaplain at Noble’s Hospital.

Church records of his ministry on the island are described in the review as “extremely sparse, with the diocesan archive of his time there being represented by a single page that was held in the Manx Museum, which is the storage facility for official documents on the island”.

No allegations of inappropriate behaviour during this time came to light until 1990, when an allegation of the sexual abuse of a child was made direct to the archdeacon by the father of Victim F. It was actively suppressed by the diocese, the review says, describing Gregory as “clearly a prolific and determined abuser of children whilst serving in the diocese”.

Victim F describes the bishop coming to see them. “And he said, ‘Oh well, that’s an awful thing to happen and he’ll have to go. And will you promise not to tell anybody?’ That was the worst thing, when you think about it now, him telling us not to say anything to anybody. . . I remember him saying that, ‘I promise you, if you don’t say anything to anybody, he’ll be gone within six months.’”

The Bishop of Sodor & Man from 1989 to 2003 was the Rt Revd Noël Jones, who died in 2009. The Archdeacon was the Ven. David Willoughby, who died in 1998.

The parents were never visited again by either the Bishop or the Archdeacon. Gregory remained in his post for a further year, during which the victim’s mother, a regular churchgoer, came into frequent contact with him, “having to listen to his sermons from the pulpit and having to deal with him, directly, to organise the requiem service details following the death of her mother”.

Gregory left Sodor & Man and moved to the diocese of Southwell (as it was then called) in 1991. The “safe to receive” reference that accompanied him was incomplete on his blue file but, “from the content that is available, its tone is clear and unambiguous: that he will be a positive recruit to his new diocese”.

Archdeacon Willoughby, author of the document, refers to having known Gregory for the 15 years that he has served on the island, but makes no mention whatsoever of the allegation of abuse that had been made against him. The reference was wholly positive, and provided no relevant information with regard to the safeguarding risk that he represented.

It refers to his “doing an excellent job in his parish, and the congregation is lively and responsive to his leadership, having gathered around him a committed band of workers”. The review points out that, while there is no evidence of his perpetrating further abuse during his period of ministry in Southwell & Nottingham diocese, his time there included “some behaviour of significant concern’’, notably a drink-driving conviction in 1993.

An allegation was brought to the diocese, however, by a female relative of Gregory (Victim G), stating that she had been the victim of non-recent sexual abuse when she was a child. She embraced the suggestion made by a counsellor that somebody in authority in the diocese where he was now serving should be approached.

An audience with the diocesan Bishop (the Rt Revd Patrick Harris, who died in 2020) was granted, but she was “not afforded any support whatsoever by the diocese following her disclosure of abuse”, the review says. “The allegations made by Victim G to the diocesan bishop were not managed professionally, or with understanding and compassion, and the potential consequences of that abuse did not appear to be recognised.

“It appears that a premature decision to treat the matter pastorally with regard to GG was made by the diocesan bishop. . . This decision appears to have been made without acquiring a full knowledge of the relevant facts. The significant safeguarding risk that GG manifestly represented was neither identified, nor managed, with GG being allowed to continue his ministry in the community.”

No diocesan record appeared to have been made with regard to the allegations, nor had any record been made of any considerations, rationale, or decisions made relating to the allegations, said the review.

Gregory retired in September 1995 and moved to York, where he requested permission to officiate (PTO). It was not initially granted by the Archbishop of York, since Bishop Harris had made reference to Gregory’s history of depression, the drink-driving conviction, and “also made clear reference to the allegation of child abuse made in 1993 by a female relative who is now an adult” and to an admission of abuse that Gregory had made.

The review says: “Whilst it must be appreciated that these events took place in 1996, and the awareness of what would now be termed safeguarding was significantly less developed, there is no clear evidence that the then Archbishop recognised the allegation of abuse by GG’s relative as a safeguarding issue.”

Gregory was able to have his PTO granted on the strength of a written representation from an alcohol counsellor who was working with him. His licence renewals continued first annually and then three-yearly. The first was authorised by Dr David Hope, the last, in 2006, by Dr John Sentamu.

“The primary attention applied by the Archbishop at the time of GG’s initial application for PTO was to the issue of GG’s alcohol abuse, although it should be acknowledged that the Archbishop believed that the allegation of abuse had been investigated,” the review says.

 

AMONG the review’s conclusions are: “The impact of [Gregory’s] abuse has been profound and enduring for many of his victims. He demonstrated classic grooming behaviour, and benefited from the deference that was traditionally afforded to members of the clergy, and social attitudes that meant the children were not often not listened to.”

Also: “Chronically insufficient records were made and or have been retained with regard to Graham Gregory’s 30-year period of ministry within the Church.”

The present lead bishop for safeguarding, the Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, described the review as “a stark and harrowing reminder of how the Church failed victims and survivors over many years, and allowed Graham Gregory to continue in ministry.

“We are deeply sorry, and we are aware that the publication today will remind the victims and survivors of the appalling abuse they suffered and the awful breach of trust by many church leaders who sought to support Gregory rather than believe their story and, on occasions proactively, covered up” that abuse.

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