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Gavin Drake accuses Business Committee of ‘manipulating’ Synod and resigns his membership

10 July 2023

Sam Atkins/Church Times

Gavin Drake speaks in the Synod on Monday afternoon

Gavin Drake speaks in the Synod on Monday afternoon

A PROMINENT General Synod member, Gavin Drake, has resigned, saying that “manipulation” of synodical process had prevented the Synod on Monday from hearing a motion calling for an independent inquiry into church safeguarding.

Speaking to journalists that afternoon, Mr Drake said: “I joined the General Synod to make the Church a safer place, and to campaign to improve safeguarding, and it’s quite clear that, even though the Synod wants that, . . . the Business Committee can use the time to prevent debate; they can use the time to prevent the facts being said.”

Mr Drake is the founder of the Jill Saward Organisation, named after his late wife, which campaigns for survivors of abuse; and he is the director of communications for the Anglican Communion Office.

On Monday morning, his motion — which included a call for an independent inquiry into what had happened with the now disbanded Independent Safeguarding Board (News, 3 July) — lapsed, because it narrowly failed to attract the support of three-quarters of Synod members, which was required if the Synod’s Standing Orders were to be suspended to allow it to be debated.

Introducing his motion, Mr Drake had said that it was “not a vote of no confidence in the Archbishops’ Council”, nor was it a call for a wide-ranging inquiry into all safeguarding across the Church of England: he was merely asking for a examination of the overall structures.

He outlined the difficulties that he had encountered. The motion was originally designed to follow an update from the Archbishops’ Council on Sunday about its decision to disband the ISB last month.

During that session, the Archbishop of York had confirmed that the Council had already reported the events relating to the ISB to the Charity Commission, and would be ordering an independent inquiry into what had happened, to report back to the Synod in November.

At the briefing announcing his resignation, Mr Drake said that he believed that his original proposal had been ruled out of order “in an attempt to prevent debate”. The reason given was that it could not be attached to a presentation that did not include a report; but he argued that the Synod paper issued by the Archbishops’ Council, and referred to during the presentation, amounted to a report.

“Sorry to use this word, but it’s a lie to stop the debate,” he said.

Sam Atkins/Church TimesThe installation of ribbons and messages on the York campus, paying tribute to survivors

The motion was extended and eventually heard, in part, on Monday morning, as a following motion to the Archbishops’ Council’s annual report.

Presenting it, Mr Drake criticised the Archbishops’ Council for disbanding the ISB, saying that the decision “and the manner in which it was done” had caused “untold damage to many, many people, and we as a Church have got to stop hurting people. . . While the ISB wasn’t working for the Archbishops’ Council, it was working for victims and survivors.”

The Church’s current safeguarding structures were “too complicated”, he said. An independent inquiry was needed if they were to be improved.

In the debate that followed, Peter Adams (St Albans) said that he shared Mr Drake’s concerns, but that this was not the best way to move forward.

Owing to timed business, Mr Drake’s motion faced the prospect of running out of time before being fully debated.

John Wilson (Lichfield), therefore, moved that the motion be adjourned until after the timed business. Mr Drake accepted the proposal, describing it as “good housekeeping”, and the Synod voted, by a show of hands, in favour of the move.

But when the item returned later in the morning, the chair announced that there was less than a minute remaining for the motion to be debated, unless three-quarters of members present voted for Standing Orders to be suspended.

Martin Sewell (Rochester) accordingly moved their suspension. The importance of Mr Drake’s motion, he said, was that it posed a “fundamental question as to how we proceed: either with an independent route of an inquiry, or saying to the Archbishops’ Council: ‘You organise this’”.

The procedural motion narrowly failed to reach the threshold: 175-69, with 17 recorded abstentions. As a result, Mr Drake’s motion could not be debated further.

“Because of the procedural shenanigans, the voice of the majority was silenced by the machinations of the Standing Orders and the Business Committee,” Mr Drake said afterwards.

“We need to do safeguarding right: we need to decide whether we’re serious about saying ‘We’ve made mistakes.’ But when [there are] opportunities to do something positive about it, they block.”

He continued: “This isn’t about me not getting my way: this is about victims and survivors, because they have said they have no trust in the Archbishops’ Council. The independent inquiry would have paved the way for trust to be rebuilt, with new structures and new systems and so on, and the Archbishops’ Council and the Business Committee have kiboshed that. They’ve basically stuck two fingers up to survivors and said ‘We don’t care.’”

Mr Drake also suggested that the installation of ribbons and messages that had been constructed on University of York campus, and which paid tribute to survivors, had been dismantled at the request of the Council.

Jane Chevous, one of the survivors involved in the project, later clarified that this was not the case, and that it had been taken down voluntarily.

After Mr Drake’s motion had been ruled out, the Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell, who is the lead bishop for safeguarding, confirmed that she had voted for it to be heard, but would have resisted the motion itself.

On Monday afternoon, she released the speech that she would have made had she been called. She wrote: “We have already committed to an independent review of what has happened with the ISB. The rest of what is proposed in the motion would take us back to a re-run of IICSA.”

She explained: “The analogy of laying the track in front of us while we drive the train is sometimes used. Leading safeguarding at the moment can often feel like driving the train while the track behind us is ripped up. And ripped up it should be — there was much that was wrong about it. But if we put all our efforts into further diagnosis and analysis, we run the risk of not only ripping up the track behind us, but of stopping the train.”

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