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Archbishops agreed to ‘unanimous decision’ to disband ISB, spokesperson confirms

08 July 2023

Church House quash suggestions that Canterbury and York had voted against the move

Sam Atkins/Church Times

The Archbishop of Canterbury on Friday afternoon

The Archbishop of Canterbury on Friday afternoon

THE Archbishops’ Council’s decision to disband the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) was unanimous, a Church House spokesperson said on Saturday, quashing suggestions that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York had voted against the move.

On Friday, Archbishop Welby had responded to a question about how he and Archbishop Cottrell had voted by saying that “both Archbishops had wished to wait a bit” before making a decision to sack two of the members of the ISB, Jasvinder Sanghera and Steve Reeves (News, 21 June).

But, on Saturday afternoon, the spokesperson said that “The Archbishops supported the unanimous decision to terminate the contracts of the Independent Safeguarding Board members,” and that “the decisions of the Archbishops’ Council, as with any board of trustees, are collective.”

“The Archbishops, like the whole Council, would have liked more time and really wrestled with this question, but took the view that there was no choice in order to continue moving swiftly towards a new safeguarding scrutiny body that is fully independent of the Church,” the spokesperson said.

The first Synod Questions session on Friday afternoon was dominated by enquiries about the Council’s decision to disband the ISB.

Before answering the question how he and Archbishop Cottrell voted in the meeting when the decision was made, Archbishop Welby sought advice on whether he was permitted to answer, and was told “the advice is that you respond in writing after receiving advice.”

He asked whether he could reply now anyway, as he wanted to do so, and was told that he could. “Both Archbishops wished to wait a bit,” he said.

In response to a question about the timing of the decision, Archbishop Welby suggested that the need to prepare Synod papers had been part of the need for haste.

Mr Reeves and Ms Sanghera had been due to address the Synod on Sunday; instead, members will hear a presentation from members of the Council.

Other questions on the ISB focused on the timing of the announcement that the board was being disbanded, which was made roughly an hour after Mr Reeves and Ms Sanghera had been informed.

Dr Jamie Harrison (Durham), who answered several questions on behalf of the Council, said that the communication of the decision to survivors had been delegated to the National Safeguarding Team, and so he was unable to give further details.

Phil Johnson, who chairs Ministry and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (MASCAS). told the Church Times on Friday of last week that he had been first notified at 1.08 p.m.

It is understood that this was roughly simultaneous with the publication of the statement on the Church of England website, and the informing of the media.

In a paper published online on Wednesday, Mr Reeves and Ms Sanghera state that they received an email at 12.03 p.m. informing them that their contracts were being terminated. They write that Mr Reeves replied to the email at 12.22 p.m., asking for the announcement to be delayed: “I did want to take the opportunity to urge caution in making any announcement so imminently when the staff of the ISB and ISB members themselves are unavailable.”

In a further email, at 12.42, Mr Reeves reportedly said: “I am urging caution as powerfully as I can. The harm could be significant, and the announcement isn’t urgent.”

The Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell (London), who is the lead bishop for safeguarding, said in an interview last week: “I think there is a lot that can be done to improve communication,” and that, when she attended a forum with survivors last week, they had made their views “really clear”.

Dr Grenfell said that persisting with the ISB was not in the “best interests of independence or scrutiny or survivors” (News, 4 July).

Survivors and advocates gathered outside York University Central Hall, where the Synod meetings are taking place, to express compassion for victims of abuse and to call for independent safeguarding in the Church of England.

Peope attending the Synod were invited to tie a ribbon to the railings next to the lake in the centre of the campus, and to leave messages.

Several bishops with particular responsibility for safeguarding spoke, before a letter from survivors was read.

The Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd Julie Conalty, who is the deputy lead bishop for safeguarding, said that survivors were “currently feeling unsafe, and they’re feeling angry”.

The chair of the National Safeguarding Team, Alex Kubeyinje, said: “I know the road has been really difficult and there’s no trust in the system, but we’ve got to find a way.”

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