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Abuse survivors criticise Bishop Urquhart’s appointment as Bishop to the Archbishops

09 March 2023

His record of handling safeguarding allegations should have been considered, they say

Birmingham Churches Together

The Rt Revd David Urquhart, a former Bishop of Birmingham

The Rt Revd David Urquhart, a former Bishop of Birmingham

ABUSE survivors have criticised the recent appointment of the Rt Revd David Urquhart, a former Bishop of Birmingham, as Bishop to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York (News, 3 February), because of his record of handling safeguarding allegations.

Bishop Urquhart, who is 70, was appointed to his new post on 2 February — succeeding Dr Emma Ineson, who was the first holder of the post when it was created in April 2021 to replace the post of Bishop at Lambeth (News, 23 April 2021).

On 28 February, the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) published its review of safeguarding at Lambeth Palace (News, 3 March). The document includes 21 references to the part played by the Bishop to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, which it describes as having “leadership responsibility for wider strategic issues such as the safeguarding culture as it relates to bishops”.

In 2018, Bishop Urquhart was criticised in a Learning Lessons Case Review, which had investigated the way in which the Church had handled allegations made by a survivor, Jo Kind, against Canon Tom Walker, over a ten-year period. Mrs Kind was a personal assistant to Canon Walker at the time of the abuse from 1989, when she was 22, to 1991. Canon Walker was the Vicar of St John’s, Harborne, in Birmingham, at the time. He habitually appeared naked in her presence in “various states of arousal”.

At the time that the heavily redacted review was published, Bishop Urquhart apologised to Mrs Kind and her husband “for the upset and anguish that you both have suffered as a result of the mistakes I have made in the handling of your complaint.”

Mrs Kind, who received a £40,000 settlement from the Church without an admission of liability, told The Times on Saturday that she had been “really upset” when she had heard about the recent appointment of Bishop Urquhart. “The Church talks about changing the culture, but this shows their actions are not following their words. This concern is nothing personal about David Urquhart, but about the Church. Lambeth Palace deals with complaints about senior clergy; so his role is key.”

Bishop Urquhart was also criticised in the independent report on the Church’s handling of allegations against the late Hubert Victor Whitsey, a former Bishop of Chester and serial abuser (News, 23 October 2020). Published in 2020, it found that Bishop Urquhart, when he was Bishop of Birkenhead, had not responded appropriately to a verbal disclosure of abuse made to him about Whitsey, nor followed this up with support for the complainant; it was described by the reviewer as “a missed opportunity”. Bishop Urquhart has not publicly responded to this review.

The SCIE review of Lambeth Palace is dated 30 January — before Bishop Urquhart’s appointment. The Palace informed The Times that it was decided before his appointment that safeguarding would no longer be part of the position of Bishop to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. Safeguarding is to be the responsibility of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s chief of staff, the Rev Ijeoma Ajibade, supported by a full-time safeguarding manager.

A survivor advocate, Andrew Graystone, said on Tuesday that survivors “who have been on the wrong end of David Urquhart’s safeguarding failures are very angry”.

He said: “Lambeth Palace told the auditors that the office of Bishop to the Archbishops was central to its safeguarding processes, and that they would be part of the National Safeguarding Steering Group. Then they decided they wanted to appoint a bishop with a poor record on safeguarding. So they changed the plan to get their man. It looks like the ‘good chap’ theory of safeguarding is still at work.”

It was now “completely unclear” what safeguarding procedures were in place, he said. “It is chaos. And predatory abusers thrive on chaos.”

Lambeth Palace later clarified Bishop Urquhart’s responsibilities.

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