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Abuse survivor let down by the Church multiple times, says ISB safeguarding review

31 May 2023

Independent Safeguarding Board conducts its first case review


Chichester Cathedral was the respondent in the civil case launched by ‘Mr X’ against the Church in 2015. The review focuses on the Church’s engagement with Mr X from this time

Chichester Cathedral was the respondent in the civil case launched by ‘Mr X’ against the Church in 2015. The review focuses on the Church’s engagement...

A CONTINUING lack of communication, no co-ordinated case management, and poor pastoral support have left a “heavy toll” on a vulnerable survivor of abuse, the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) has concluded in its first case review.

The review, redacted for legal reasons and dated March 2023, has been submitted to the Church’s Director of Safeguarding. It was written by Steve Reeves, one of three ISB members, and has been approved by the survivor whose case it relates, known as Mr X. The abridged version has been seen by the Church Times.

The review focuses on church failures to engage with Mr X since 2015, when he launched a civil case against the C of E, with Chichester Cathedral as the respondent. The review does not re-examine the abuse itself (described as being in a church context when Mr X was a teenager), nor his treatment in the 30 years afterwards. Mr X has made 19 points of complaint against the Church, of which seven did not fall into the review’s remit.

An independent investigator, Peter Spindler, a former Chief Officer of Police, was appointed by Mr Reeves to support the review. Mr Spindler met 20 people, and conducted 17 interviews.

Mr Reeves writes that Mr X suffered “prolonged periods of ill-health and mental distress” after reporting his abuse to the police in 2001. This adversely affected his employment, and left him in debt.” Of the 2015 civil claim, he writes: “Mr X found the process to be unnecessarily challenging. The claim was settled in 2017, without going to court.”

During the settlement period, however, a financial offer was made to Mr X by the Church’s insurers which was later withdrawn on further medical and legal advice. A lower offer was then made. Mr Reeves writes: “It is extremely troubling that this reduced offer was made in the full knowledge that Mr X had been admitted to hospital following a suicide attempt and that the case had been identified as the prime stressor.”

Given his mental state, Mr X “had little alternative but to accept the reduced offer”. The case, Mr Reeves writes, “was the eventual catalyst for the creation of the Interim Support Scheme” (News, 9 July 2021). This scheme is also criticised in his review: while established with good intentions, it was “set up in haste . . . without any clear criteria”, he says.

“Misleading” communication later led Mr X to believe that the scheme would cover his debt, which was not the case, Mr Reeves writes. “This decision left Mr X with a very significant challenge, compounding his seemingly intractable financial position and exacerbating his financial dependence on the Interim Support Scheme.”

Through the intervening years, payments amounting to a “significant figure” were agreed and made, the review says. It concludes, however, that “whilst the Interim Support Scheme has paid for Mr X’s therapy there has not been any evaluation of the effectiveness of this provision.” A cycle of dependency on the scheme has “failed to address the root cause of his financial challenges”.

Among the criticisms of the Church in the review, Mr Reeves points to a lack of pastoral support for Mr X since 2015. “The need for appropriate support in this case was actively considered, but the process by which this offer was made was flawed and ultimately led to Mr X feeling alone and badly let down.”

He also says: “At no stage is there any evidence of effective central grip or oversight of the Church’s response to this case despite the numerous red flags.” Nor was there evidence of a centralised case-management system, “systematic problem-solving”, or “any form of exit strategy” or “survivor engagement strategy” from the Church’s National Safeguarding Team (NST).

The review states: “At present there are too many points of contact for individuals with chronic and enduring needs. This results in a, completely justified, view that survivors are ‘pushed from pillar to post’ by the Church.”

Much of the difficulty in the Church’s handling of Mr X’s case could have been avoided, Mr Reeves concludes. The lack of trust built between the cathedral and Mr X through a lack of “coherent” communication over his settlement had not been improved.

“The pursuit of adequate and reasonable responses from the Church has taken a heavy toll on Mr X’s mental health, with him reporting that the handling of his case and his communications resulting in multiple instances of suicidal thoughts and, on occasion, actions.”

The ISB review makes nine recommendations. These include the delivery of a case-management system, with a group to oversee “chronic cases” being handled by the interim support scheme. The terms of the scheme are “not fit for purpose” and should be reviewed, Mr Reeves says.

The Director of Safeguarding should convene an urgent case-management group meeting within four weeks of this review, seek urgent assurances from the Church’s insurers that settlement claims are “survivor centred”, and identify survivors known to the NST who may be experiencing similar difficulties to Mr X, Mr Reeves writes.

The review also recommends a single point of contact for each survivor receiving long-term support.

It has been two months since the review was delivered to the Director of Safeguarding, and it was published on the House of Survivors website this week. A spokeswoman at Church House, Westminster, said, however, that the NST could not comment on the report, as it had not yet been made public by the ISB.

Andrew Graystone, who acts as Mr X’s advocate, said on Tuesday: “The review is coruscating about the Church’s failures over the past eight years. It is also frank about the extent and urgency of Mr X’s financial, pastoral, spiritual, and other needs. The harm that he is suffering at the hands of the Church is real and present, and the relationship that has been imposed on him by the Church in all its forms is continuing to demean and damage him.”

He told the Church Times: “Whilst not formally rejecting the ISB’s recommendations, the Church has completely failed to act on them within the specified timeframe — or, indeed, to take any substantive action — leaving the survivor in an agonising impasse.”

Synod safeguarding motion. A General Synod member, the Revd Robert Thompson (London), has tabled a private member’s motion for the forthcoming sessions in York, in July, concerning the ongoing “controversies” over the independence of the Church’s safeguarding structures.

The motion, which needs at least 100 signatures to be considered for debate, states: “Synod, being deeply disquieted at the continued controversies over the actual independence of Safeguarding structures within the Church of England, does not accept that an internal Church inquiry into the allegations of abuse and cover-up within the Soul Survivor network is either sufficient or right in principle: it accordingly calls upon the Archbishop’s Council to commission, on agreed terms of reference with survivors, a report into those allegations from an independent King’s Counsel without delay.”

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