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Several bishops ‘failed to act’ after Devamanikkam abuse was disclosed, review finds

11 May 2023

Cover of the Devamanikkam review

Cover of the Devamanikkam review

A LONG-DELAYED review into the abuse perpetrated by a priest, the late Trevor Devamanikkam, has concluded that several bishops “failed to act” on multiple disclosures of this abuse made by the survivor over a decade. Nor did the Church offer support for the survivor at those times, it says.

The review was finally published on Thursday afternoon, after years of delays. But the Revd Matt Ineson — the survivor who brought the original allegation of abuse against Devamanikkam — has not contributed. He is not named in the report but has previously waived his right to anonymity.

A statement from his solicitor, noted early in the report, says: “The victim who complained to the police about being raped by Trevor Devamanikkam wishes to disassociate himself on the grounds the Church refused to abide by his terms of participation which was that the investigator and writer of the report would be appointed completely independently. The Church refused to his request.”

In 2019, a former director of adults’ and children’s services, Jane Humphreys, was commissioned by the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team (NST) to carry out a lessons-learnt review of the handling of allegations relating to Devamanikkam (News, 29 November 2019).

She writes in her report that she is “confident she has not received all of the information that could have assisted her”. A section sets out in detail her attempts at making contact with the survivor and alternative methods of gathering evidence.

Devamanikkam raped the Revd Matthew Ineson when he was 16, in Bradford in 1984 (News, 29 July 2016). A review was originally proposed in September 2017, shortly after Devamanikkam was charged with three counts of rape and three counts of indecent assault of a child. Devamanikkam took his own life the day before his trial (News, 16 June 2017). The failures that led to his death are also explored in the report.

Mr Ineson has complained repeatedly about the way in which his case has been handled in the past, naming four bishops and the former Archbishop of York, Lord Sentamu. Shortly before the current reviewer was appointed, he said that he would not contribute to any review commissioned by the Church of England, declaring that the review process was “worse than useless” (News, 2 August 2019).

His case was covered in detail by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). Mr Ineson gave evidence to that Inquiry, from which the Church’s review draws much of its information, alongside testimonies submitted by Mr Ineson to previous the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) proceedings. He objected to one diocese’s sharing of his information with the reviewer.

 

THE report gives a detailed timeline of events, both of the rape in 1984 and of known disclosures of this abuse to church leaders during the past decade. This includes verbal disclosures to bishops between 2012 and 2013, and a written letter to Lord Sentamu in 2013. Repeated disclosures were made between 2014 and 2016.

In 2015, the survivor reported the rape to the West Yorkshire Police, who carried out investigation, lasting more than two years, which led to Devamanikkam’s eventual arrest.

The reviewer notes that there was significant statutory legislation and safeguarding guidance at the time of the disclosures, alongside the Church’s own guidance.

Of the letter to Lord Sentamu, the reviewer writes: “No Church law excuses the responsibility of individuals not to act on matters of a safeguarding nature.” As the survivor had said “clearly” in his letter that he had already disclosed to the Bishop of Sheffield and that the Bishop had not acted on this, she “cannot see how the Archbishop of York could have believed the Bishop of Sheffield would act on the survivor’s disclosures of abuse, given he had not previously”.

Lord Sentamu describes this conclusion as “odd and troubling” in his written response to the review, also published on Thursday.

The reviewer adds: “The Archbishop of York should have sought advice from his Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser at the time as to how to proceed with the letter sent from the survivor. The survivor’s allegation that he disclosed his abuse to the Archbishop of York, and he did not act on this, is substantiated.”

Lord Sentamu rejects these last points outright. He writes that safeguarding was solely the responsibility of the diocesan bishop and safeguarding officer, and that, by responding to the letter with prayers and assurances, he had not failed to act. Lord Sentamu gave the same evidence to IICSA, he writes, and this was also the conclusion of the internal NST investigation.

He writes: “I am saddened that a report that rightly seeks to review the workings of the Church in order to learn lessons has demonstrated a lack of necessary understanding regarding the operation of dispersed authority in the Church of England.”

The then Bishop of Beverley (the Rt Revd Glyn Webster) was copied into the letter to Lord Sentamu, but told the reviewer that he had taken pro bono legal advice at the time that “he had no jurisdiction in the matter and that the Bishop of Sheffield had responsibility for dealing with the letter.” The reviewer, however, “could not see any reason why the Bishop of Beverley could not have written back to the survivor to clarify what action he wanted him to take, if any”.

 

THE abuse, the review states, happened at the vicarage of St Aidan’s, Bradford, where the survivor had been staying with Devamanikkam for several weeks as “a period of respite” organised by the survivor’s grandmother, who turned to the Church for help with family issues. He had just turned 16. The report, drawing on existing testimony, says that the survivor believed that his grandmother had disclosed the abuse to the then Bishop of Bradford (when Bradford was a diocesan see, the Rt Revd Robert Williamson), who subsequently told the survivor to leave the vicarage without an explanation.

The Bishop told the reviewer that he had no recollection of meeting the survivor or knowledge of the allegations, only that Devamanikkam’s mental-health issues were known to the parish and that the appropriateness of his having guests at the vicarage was raised in a meeting. Churchwardens and deacons in the parish at the time were also interviewed by the reviewer about their knowledge of Devamanikkam and the survivor. A CDM was brought against the Bishop in 2016. The CDM investigation concluded that there was no case to answer.

Another CDM was brought against the Bishop of Doncaster between 2016 and 2018 (the Rt Revd Peter Burrows). The review says that the survivor has said that he told the bishop about the abuse in July 2012 after a PCC meeting where a safeguarding complaint at the local school was being discussed. Also that, contrary to what the Bishop said in the meeting, the police had not been called nor the matter resolved.

In his interview with the reviewer, the Bishop of Doncaster denied that this disclosure was made, that he made these comments after the meeting, and that safeguarding was why the PCC meeting was called.

The school safeguarding issue was also part of a CDM complaint made against the then Bishop of Sheffield (Dr Steven Croft), also in 2016. The survivor said that he had raised the school safeguarding issue with the Bishop in a telephone call in which he also disclosed his own abuse, naming Devamanikkam.

The Bishop confirmed the disclosure in his interview with the reviewer but did not believe that the survivor had wanted him to act on it. The review writes: “The Bishop did not follow the policies and procedures in place at the time. He recognised he should have done so and that he should have attempted to see if the survivor wanted to discuss the disclosures further or needed further support in doing so.”

The same conclusion is made by the reviewer concerning the two subsequent disclosures of the abuse to the Bishop of Sheffield at the time.

Dr Croft is now the Bishop of Oxford. In a letter sent to 700 clergy in the diocese, he writes that the report “most importantly confirms that: the survivor was abused in 1984, when he was just 16 years old, by Revd Devamanikkam; and that I did not act sufficiently on the disclosures in 2012. There are several other observations, but the key takeaway for me is to be reminded (once again) that it is essential to act on every safeguarding disclosure, regardless of what else is going on.”

He concludes: “It is never easy confronting one’s own mistakes and weaknesses. In 2016 I wrote that these events had made me determined and committed to listen well to survivors of abuse and to help the wider Church do so as well.”

The complaints made against Dr Croft under the CDM featured in the IICSA hearings and have been the subject of two police investigations. Neither reached the threshold for upholding a complaint or part of a complaint, charges, or another penalty.

A letter of disclosure was also sent by the survivor to the diocese of Leeds in 2015 before the police disclosure, the reviewer continues. She states that this is the “only written evidence that mentioned Trevor Devamanikkam by name prior to the police involvement”. She questions why no action was taken by the diocese or why further complaints were not made by the survivor about this.

A further section in her report considers the part played by NST core-group meetings in relation to the case, held between 2016 and 2018. While some good practice was observed, Ms Humphreys concludes, “The involvement of multiple Dioceses in the Core Group meetings and the challenges of everyone meeting in person at that time were evident. The Chair of the Core Group had little experience of chairing such a meeting and the resources to support her in her role were limited.”

She continues: “It would appear there was a particular reluctance to apologise to the survivor whilst the police were investigating possible Misconduct in Public office in relation to some Clergy.”

The survivor received no pastoral support from the Church after his initial disclosures, the review states. The offer was made only after his disclosure to the police. Leeds diocese agreed to pay £500 for private counselling.

There was no evidence that the Church had provided Devamanikkam — who was found to have “a significant history of mental health episodes” — with support or pastoral care in a timely manner, either. He had no relatives who could be interviewed and had few friends.

The report states: “One of Trevor Devamanikkam’s friends did confirm to the Independent Reviewer that he had told her that the allegations of sexual abuse against him were true.”

Police and NHS involvement in his mental health are also covered in the report. His mental health was also assessed by approved mental-health professionals of the Oxford local authority. It was recommended by the NST core group that the Oxford diocesan safeguarding adviser enquire whether a Safeguarding Adult Review (relating to Devamanikkam’s death) was being considered by Oxfordshire Safeguarding Adult Board.

 

OF THE general consistency of information sharing across the Church in this case, the reviewer writes: “The lack of organisational memory in some dioceses and the National Safeguarding Team, and changes of personnel, has meant there has been a lack of clarity and understanding as to the events surrounding the survivor and the disclosures he made.”

This spread to a “lack of adequate case management systems and record management”. Individuals whom she interviewed also recounted events for which there was no written evidence. Furthermore, she was “confident she has not received all of the information that could have assisted her” in her investigations. Media articles had not been considered.

The review process and completion has been marred with delays. Ms Humphreys writes in her review: “This Review took far too long to commence and to complete.”

The reasons are listed in the report and include: that the Church had previously appointed a reviewer whose independence was questioned because they were also chair of a diocesan safeguarding panel at the time; that the subsequent reviewer refused the terms of reference set out by the survivor; the pandemic; further objections from the survivor; and intervention from the then newly appointed Independent Safeguarding Board as to whether the review should continue at all.

Ms Humphreys states: “The delay will have had a significant impact on the survivor and for others involved in this Review. It is over ten years since the survivor first disclosed his abuse.”

The terms of reference were eventually published in February 2020. The review was to consider what the Church knew about the abuse and its response to those allegations.

In her conclusion on these questions, the reviewer acknowledges significant recent development of Church of England safeguarding practices and procedures.

She confirms that the survivor was sexually abused by Devamanikkam, and that some senior clergy “failed to act” on disclosures made to them by the survivor. “Whilst the Review has not been made aware of any further allegations against Trevor Devamanikkam, the failure to support the survivor in reporting his allegations to the police in 2012 and 2013 meant that safeguards could not have been put in place to protect others.”

Much of her conclusion focuses on the lack of mental-health support from the NHS and local authorities towards Devamanikkam before he took his own life.

She goes on to recommend that the Church makes a formal apology to the survivor “for their failure to act on his disclosures of abuse and their failure to support him at that time”, and ensure that he has access to the support that he needs to rebuild his life.

Furthermore, the NST should review its approach to how it commissions independent lessons-learnt reviews which involve more than one diocese; a clear timescale should be provided; clearer guidance given to clergy and church officers on dealing with disclosures of abuse and how these should be escalated; and that the NST are “reminded” about record retention and destruction policies, risk assessments, and documentation.

Ms Humphreys said on Thursday that, while she respected the wishes of the survivor not to be involved, “I hope the findings and recommendations in my report give him some assurances that the abuse he suffered and the lack of support he received from the Church have now finally been recognised” and that he now received the right support.

The lead safeguarding bishop, the Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell, said on Thursday that “the Church should be ashamed that a vulnerable 16-year-old in its care was let down by the Church and abused by someone in a position of trust. We are truly sorry for the abuse he suffered and for our failure to respond well. It is important that we now learn from this review.”

The recommendations would now go to the National Safeguarding Steering Group, including comments about the delays, she said. “Our response was not good enough and a new policy going to Synod this July about safeguarding practice reviews should help improve the process.”

Dr Grenfell continued: “We respect the survivor’s decision not to take part. As the reviewer states, the survivor’s invaluable evidence provided to IICSA, along with other documents, helped her reach her conclusions. His voice remains important, as do the voices of all survivors, which must continue to inform our work. We need to ensure that harm is prevented, wrongdoing reported, and victims and survivors heard. As well as better policies and practice, this will mean every member of the Church contributing to a healthier culture with vigilance, competence, and care.”

The current Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, said that he had made personal contact with the survivor. “While safeguarding in the Church has improved enormously in the past ten years, we can never be complacent, and today’s report is a reminder that we still need to learn from how to respond well to those who come forward always being mindful that the effects of abuse are lifelong.”

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