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Hundreds support us, say sacked members of Independent Safeguarding Board

22 June 2023

Lack of notice for both them and survivors ‘unacceptable’ they say

Clive Meare/Church Times

The Assembly Hall in Church House, Westminster, with a screen announcing an adjournment in the General Synod’s business. The ceiling is decorated with a quotation from the Salisbury Diurnal

The Assembly Hall in Church House, Westminster, with a screen announcing an adjournment in the General Synod’s business. The ceiling is decorate...

THE two members of the Church’s Independent Safeguarding Board who were sacked by the Archbishops’ Council this week have denied that there was a “breakdown” in relationships.

The pair — the lead survivor-advocate, Jasvinder Sanghera, and Steve Reeves — said separately on Thursday that they had been informed of the termination of their contracts less than one hour before the announcement was made at 1 p.m. on Wednesday (News, 21 June). This lack of notice for both them and the survivors with whom they work was “unacceptable”, they said.

The Council had said in the announcement that the decision had been taken “with regret” because the working relationships between the parties had broken down, and that attempts by the Council to get the work on to a “sustainable footing” had failed.

Ms Sanghera and Mr Reeves deny this. In a series of Twitter posts since the announcement, Ms Sanghera writes: “We have not been removed because of a breakdown in relationships. We intend to share our truths soon & will continue to act with integrity in the interest of safeguarding.”

She continued: “I have advocated for victims & survivors for 3 decades and never experienced anything like this. We were informed an hour before the press release. I’m sorry that we were not given time to prepare survivors, this treatment is unacceptable.”

Both thank “hundreds” of survivors, their advocates, and others for expressing support.

Mr Reeves posted: “It’s overwhelming to see people standing up for independence in safeguarding. It’s been humbling to receive all the messages, in the hundreds now, expressing support for the work that [Ms Sanghera] and I have been doing — with the support of so many others — recently.”

He continued: “I wanted to clear up one point. The @churchofengland sent an email at 12.03 yesterday, advising of the decision taken about the [ISB] and that it would be announced at 13.00. Within minutes we urged a delay in the announcement to allow survivors and others directly affected to be told in a co-ordinated way. We also asked for a copy of the statement. We urged caution as powerfully as we could, expressing our concern of the harm that could be caused to some by learning the news online.

“Given that @churchofengland had already formally notified us, announcing it within 57 minutes hardly seemed more important than providing support to those who needed it. Advisors to the Archbishops didn’t agree. The statement arrived after it had been made public.”

The Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd Julie Conalty, who is the Church’s deputy lead for survivor engagement, was among those who expressed gratitude and support on Twitter. She wrote on Thursday: “Today the church seems less safe. Many survivors trusted [Ms Sanghera] and [Mr Reeves] and the decision by Archbishops’ Council to end their contracts is causing fear, anger and distress.”

She continued: “Today the church is less accountable. To remove, at short notice, the strongest independent voices holding the CofE to account for its safeguarding failings makes us look resistant to robust scrutiny and challenge — which, of course, we are.”

The General Synod was due to hear from the ISB next month. A members’ paper written by its (and the Archbishops’ Council’s) secretary general, William Nye, and seen by the Church Times before its publication on Thursday afternoon, goes further in apportioning blame to the two ISB members for the decision.

Outlining the “recent developments” in the ISB, Mr Nye writes that the dispute-resolution notice served by Ms Sanghera and Mr Reeves to the Archbishops’ Council last month (News, 26 May) was done “unexpectedly”, and that the media had been briefed before the notice had been seen by the Council.

“Since then the Council has nevertheless been seeking to resolve the dispute in line with the Notice in good faith,” he writes. “But the two board members have been reluctant to engage with those discussions, as required under their contract. The two board members have not met with the Acting Chair of the Board since their first meeting in March.”

In a press conference after the Synod papers were released, Mr Nye confirmed that a presentation on the ISB would be made by somebody “on behalf of” the Council, and that there “could be up to an hour” for members to ask questions on this.

He described the recent developments as “an unfortunate situation which we want to move beyond”.

Asked about the timing of the announcement, and the lack of warning given to survivors, Mr Nye said that he could not give a “blow-by-blow” account of how the decision to disband the ISB had been made, but said that it was a “difficult situation” about which the Council had “reflected on for some time”.

He expressed his “regret” with how it had ended, and thanked the ISB board members for their work.

Also on Thursday, Bishop Conalty told Radio 4’s World at One: “I think culturally we are resistant as a Church to accountability to criticism, and therefore I don’t entirely trust the Church, even though I’m a key part of it and a leader within it.”

She was concerned about survivors’ and victims’ feelings about the Council’s decision, “because many of them had built a good degree of trust in the members of the ISB. . . This decision obviously causes them distress and anger and makes them fearful, because they see that a body that was supposed to be independent and to provide robust scrutiny of the Church’s actions has seemingly disappeared before their eyes.”

The ISB, created in 2021 to hold the Church to account on safeguarding, will cease to exist, once the two weeks’ notice served to the Board ends. This includes the post of the acting chair, Meg Munn, whose appointment was the cause of the most recent disputes. Although her contract would also end in the “very immediate future”, the Council said, she would be staying on “to provide business continuity for the remaining business” of phase one of independent scrutiny of church safeguarding.

Dozens of survivors have refused to share their data with Ms Munn, who also chairs the National Safeguarding Panel, because they regard her as having a conflict of interest.

Bishop Conalty said: “I genuinely believe there is a commitment to move forward to have an effective independent safeguarding body. But, right now, we have definitely taken a step back.”

A lay member of the Archbishops’ Council, Allison Coulter, repeated that this was not a process that had been entered into “lightly or easily”. She told Radio 4: “I don’t want to blame anyone, but we, the Archbishops’ Council, felt we had no choice. There had been a dispute, and the Council had been seeking to resolve that in good faith. The two Board members were reluctant to engage in those discussions. So, we had had concerns for some time about how this had been working.”

Asked about suggestions that the Council had interfered with the ISB’s work and objectives concerning independence, Ms Coulter declined to go into the “details of who said what”.

A survivor, Gilo, writing to the lead safeguarding Bishop, the Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell, has told her that the short notice given to the ISB members was “extremely reckless and dangerous practice. Past review recommendations . . . make it clear how dangerous it can be to suddenly remove support without warning.”

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