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Report on demise of ISB is ‘partial’ say sacked members

15 December 2023

Sam Atkins/Church Times

Jasvinder Sanghera addresses the General Synod in July

Jasvinder Sanghera addresses the General Synod in July

THE sacked members of the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) have described as “partial” a report on the demise of the ISB, and defended their decision not to take part in the review.

Speaking on Tuesday, Jasvinder Sanghera, who served as the “survivor advocate” on the three-person board, described the report, published the previous day (News, 11 December), as the “Archbishops’ Council marking its own homework”, and said that the terms of reference had been decided by the Council without consultation with survivors or the ISB members (News, 11 September).

Ms Sanghera and Steve Reeves, the other member of the ISB who was sacked in June, engaged with the reviewer, Sarah Wilkinson, a barrister, on the subject of the terms of reference, but eventually decided not to participate further, expressing concern that the review would not be sufficiently “thorough and independent” (News, 24 November).

Issues that they wanted to be explicitly included in the terms of reference included consideration of a dispute notice that they served on the Archbishops’ Council in February 2023, and the impact of the ISB’s demise on survivors of abuse who were awaiting reviews.

Several pages of the report are given over to outlining the correspondence between Ms Wilkinson and the ISB members. Ms Wilkinson said that she regarded such matters as falling within her interpretation of the terms of reference, but it would be unfair to other participants to amend the terms of reference formally.

In the report, Ms Wilkinson writes that “it is very likely that the account of the ISB’s history would have been more detailed and nuanced if I had had the benefit of [Mr Reeves and Ms Sanghera’s] evidence.”

Asked why she and Mr Reeves asked for the terms of reference to be formally amended, Ms Sanghera said that she did not believe that the Archbishops’ Council were “honest brokers”, and so wanted amendments made “in black and white”.

On Wednesday, Mr Reeves defended the decision not to take part in the review. “Our engagement with a narrowly drawn inquiry would not have transformed it into the independent and thorough review that survivors, General Synod, and the general public had a right to expect,” he said.

Ms Wilkinson’s recommendations were “reasonable”, he said, and the report “provides an insight into the levels of incoherence, mismanagement, and lack of consideration with which we were faced with on a regular basis”.

Sam Atkins/Church TimesSteve Reeves addresses the General Synod in July

But the recommendations made also demonstrated that “the Archbishops’ Council is an outlier in the practice and governance of safeguarding”.

The report sets out in detail the process by which the decision to terminate the contracts of Mr Reeves and Ms Sanghera was taken, contradicting previous accounts in statements from Church House.

During the July meeting of the General Synod, the Archbishop of Canterbury said, in response to a question about how he had voted when the Archbishops’ Council decided to sack the ISB members, that “both Archbishops had wished to wait a bit.”

The next day, a Church House spokesperson said in a statement: “The Archbishops supported the unanimous decision to terminate the contracts of the Independent Safeguarding Board members” (News, 14 July).

Paragraph 567 of Ms Wilkinson’s report, however, suggests that the decision was not unanimous, after all: “The Archbishops’ Council decided by eleven votes to four (four members did not vote) to proceed with the termination of the ISB contracts on 21 June 2023.”

Church House has been approached for comment.

In their comments to the Church Times, Mr Reeves and Ms Sanghera both sought to draw attention to those who had been waiting for the ISB to review their case when the decision to disband the board was made public.

One of them, Jane Chevous, wrote on social media that “the Wilkinson report is good as far as it goes. But it means nothing unless a way forward is agreed for our reviews.”

In September, an “interim commissioner of independent reviews” was appointed (News, 22 September), but, on Tuesday, Ms Chevous suggested that, despite this, there was “no prospect of our reviews being completed”.

She wrote of her personal response to the review, saying that it “re-triggered the awful pain of hearing the devastating news of the sacking, with no hope that it will ever be resolved”, and said that she was “hugely disappointed that [there was] only one page on the impact on survivors, and nothing on the way forward for those of us left in limbo, because of the narrow terms of reference”.

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