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Diocese of Chichester admits error over priest

17 February 2023

David Renshaw was added to the Church of England’s National Clergy Register (of authorised clerics) after his arrest for possessing indecent images of children

Sussex Police

David Renshaw

David Renshaw

THE diocese of Chichester has launched an investigation into why a priest who was last week convicted of possessing more than 20,000 indecent images of children had been added to the National Clergy Register (of authorised clerics) a year after his arrest.

The former Vicar of Holy Trinity and Christ Church, Worthing, David Renshaw, aged 63, was found guilty of eight offences at Hove Crown Court on Tuesday of last week, including three counts of making indecent images of children and of possessing extreme pornographic images involving animals.

Mr Renshaw first came to the attention of authorities in June 2019, after an illegal image was identified on a file-sharing website in New Zealand. The account was attributed to Mr Renshaw via his email and IP address; officials alerted the National Crime Agency, which, in turn, alerted Sussex Police. In August 2020, police seized several devices from his home, on which a total of 22,504 illegal images were discovered. The RSPCA also seized dogs, cats, and chickens that were found in a severely malnourished state.

Mr Renshaw was arrested and charged with the offences, all of which he denied.

Despite this, less than a year later, his name was added to the National Clergy Register — a publicly available list of all active authorised ordained ministers in the Church of England — when it went live in May 2021 (News, 15 January 2021).

Before its launch, the director of the Jill Saward Organisation, Gavin Drake, had warned that a loophole meant that clergy who were suspended, or who had “stepped back from ministry”, could be included in the list before the Regulations prohibiting this came into effect (News, 13 August 2021).

A statement from the diocese of Chichester on Tuesday said: “This was a very tightly managed case, working in close co-operation with Sussex Police throughout. Mr Renshaw was suspended at the earliest possible opportunity and remained so throughout the criminal investigation. It is clear that Mr Renshaw’s name should not have been added to the National Clergy Register when it was launched.

“We are referring this to the Independent Safeguarding Panel as a matter of urgency and have asked if they can investigate how this happened. At the end of every complex case, a review of lessons learned is common practice and in the Diocese of Chichester we welcome this opportunity to learn.”

The diocesan safeguarding advisory panel, to which the statement refers, is independently chaired, but made up of senior church officers as well as safeguarding professionals who are independent of the Church, such from social services, the police, and survivor support advocates. Its task is to “provide advice, scrutiny and, where necessary, challenge to the Diocesan Bishop, the Diocese and Chichester Cathedral regarding the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults”, the diocesan website states.

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