THE Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) has “paused” indefinitely its planned lessons-learned review of the Church of England’s involvement in the dispute at Christ Church, Oxford, because it is not confident in its own independence and lacks resources.
Earlier this year, the ISB had agreed — at the request of the diocese of Oxford and the Archbishops’ Council — to undertake a review of the quality of earlier safeguarding investigations into what became a long and protracted dispute between the college authorities and the former Dean, the Very Revd Dr Martyn Percy (News, 24 June). The Secretary-General of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye, later defended the ISB’s ability to do so, after its competence and capacity to investigate were questioned by a General Synod member, Martin Sewell (News, 1 July).
The ISB’s independence and, by extension, the effectiveness of its scrutiny of church safeguarding practices have also been questioned repeatedly by survivors.
In a statement published on its new website on Thursday, the ISB acknowledges that “the question of independence is quite rightly a regular challenge to the ISB. The ISB does not currently operate as a stand-alone separate legal entity, and this is something actively under consideration ahead of embarking upon the second phase of the ISB’s work in developing a pathway to embedding long lasting independent scrutiny and oversight of safeguarding within the [Church of England].”
The ISB is also under-resourced, the statement says, and has been without a chair since August, when Professor Maggie Atkinson stepped back after a second complaint that she had breached data-protection rules and confidentiality was upheld (News, 5 August).
“The current constitution of the ISB, with the chair currently stood down, places considerable additional capacity restraints on the limited resources of the ISB. The wider ISB work undertaken to date is in part set out in the newly launched website.”
The ISB wished to analyse other independent reviews of Christ Church, the statement continues, “to determine whether the ISB can usefully add to the body of independent work completed to date when weighed against the ISB’s finite resources and its current workload particularly directed towards the survivor community.
“For these reasons the ISB has decided to pause the work on the Review pending consideration of other Reviews and the extent to which the ISB can usefully add to the work carried out by others and recommendations made.”
The lead survivor advocate of the ISB, Jasvinder Sanghera, said this week that the stepping back of Professor Atkinson had been “a moment of reflection” for the board members, and that the new priority was to establish a “clear concrete pathway to independence” in the next three months. The minutes of the next Board meeting, on Thursday, would be published on the new website.
Next month, Ms Sanghera is due to publish a report based on four months’ conversations with victims and survivors and diocesan safeguarding advisers, which will include recommendations on redress and holding the National Safeguarding Team (NST) of the C of E to account.
The ISB was announced by the lead bishop for safeguarding, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, now Bishop of Rochester, in 2020 to oversee the work of the NST (News, 23 October 2020). The board was established the following year with Professor Atkinson as chair and survivor advocate (News, 1 October 2021).