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New church safeguarding regulator appears on the block, anonymously

14 July 2023

Sam Atkins/Church Times

Posters on the York campus call for independent safeguarding in the Church

Posters on the York campus call for independent safeguarding in the Church

THE general confusion at the General Synod over safeguarding was compounded by a notice announcing a new independent safeguarding regulator for the Church of England.

A press release distributed on Monday afternoon outlines plans for an “Independent Safeguarding Office” (ISO), to begin work this autumn. A Church House spokesperson was aware of the announcement, but it was clear that there had been no involvement by the Church’s authorities.

Instead, it appears that Dr Martyn Percy, a former Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, has been involved in initiating the project, although the Church Times understands that he will not be involved in its operations or act as a board member.

The press release quotes an unnamed spokesperson for the ISO as saying: “The Church of England does not seem to have an easily understood mechanism to provide scrutiny, accountability and any form of independent external oversight. We urgently need a regulatory agency that will act without fear or favour.”

The ISO, it says, will “function like other self-regulatory authorities and agencies within most industries and professions”, and specifies ten functions, which include receiving complaints from “survivors and victims of abuse”, as well as from “respondents to abuse claims . . . who are often denied due process”.

Other functions listed in the statement include “reviewing safeguarding standards and publishing adjudications, breaches of compliance and issue public warnings”, but “not have powers to issue fines”.

The ISO would, the statement avers, “be completely and totally independent of denominational control or undue influence in order to avoid conflicts of interest and ensure optimum compliance”.

Initial funding, described by one source as a “decent five-figure sum”, has been provided by donors, whose identities have not been disclosed.

On Tuesday, a Church House spokesperson said: “We’re aware of this announcement. The Church of England is committed to full independent scrutiny of safeguarding as soon as possible.”

The ISO press release was distributed by Keith Arrowsmith, a solicitor for Counterculture Partnership LLP. When contacted on Tuesday, Mr Arrowsmith said that he could not name his clients, but that more details would be released soon.

“What we want to do is to be as open and transparent about the plans as we can, and let people know that this work is under way,” he said. He hoped that the news would provide “some comfort”.

In a follow-up email on Wednesday morning, Mr Arrowsmith wrote that the “core steering group” of the ISO included four people with a legal background, four with a background in safeguarding or regulatory work, and four survivors of abuse.

Members of the Synod were represented in each of the categories, and “more details will be made available to assure interested parties of the integrity and independence of the steering group/ISO Board in due course.”

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