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Independent Safeguarding Board serves dispute resolution notice to Archbishops’ Council

24 May 2023

Board members say Council has frustrated their work and threatened their independence

Sam Atkins/Church Times

The survivor-advocate Jasvinder Sanghera addresses the General Synod in July 2022. Meg Munn can be seen behind her

The survivor-advocate Jasvinder Sanghera addresses the General Synod in July 2022. Meg Munn can be seen behind her

THE Independent Safeguarding Board has served the Archbishops’ Council with a formal dispute resolution notice, saying that the Council is continuing to frustrate its work and threaten its independence, while failing to put survivors first.

The notice was served on Wednesday afternoon in a letter sent by two of the three ISB board members: the lead survivor-advocate, Jasvinder Sanghera, and Steve Reeves. Its contents have not yet been made public. In it, they complain that the Archbishops’ Council has repeatedly blocked their work, compromised their independence, and refused to listen to both them and to survivors.

The Council employs the ISB as independent contractors.

Ms Sanghera and Mr Reeves told the Church Times on Wednesday: “We’re asserting that the Council has interfered and, at times, become too involved in the operation of the ISB, compromising its independence. We acknowledge and appreciate that, while the Council wishes to support the ISB, at times the level of involvement has not been enabling.”

Their letter refers to the recent appointment of Meg Munn as acting chair of the ISB (News, 31 March), which Ms Sanghera and Mr Reeves repeat had been decided without consultation with either them or survivors. Ms Munn also chairs the Church’s National Safeguarding Panel.

More than 70 survivors and survivor advocates have since objected to the appointment, including over what they see as a conflict of interest. Fifty survivors have asked that their data are not shared with Ms Munn. Her appointment was ratified by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York (News, 5 May).

Ms Sanghera and Mr Reeves told the Church Times: “On 21 March 2023, the Council informed the Board members that it had made several decisions which compromise the ISB’s independence and terms of reference. These decisions related to the appointment of an acting ISB chair, and the level of engagement permitted with survivors of church abuse. The decisions were in direct contravention of the terms of reference of the ISB, which were unanimously approved at the outset of the ISB’s work by the Council itself.”

They went on to complain of “a pattern of conduct” by the Archbishops’ Council which has restricted the workings of the ISB.

As survivor-advocate, Ms Sanghera said that she had been “prevented from carrying out her duties, and these actions have been questioned by those whose experiences she is responsible for advocating and incorporating into safeguarding policy and practice frameworks.

“These decisions have resulted in a profound loss of confidence in the ability of the Council to ensure competent safeguarding practice. The Council’s actions have caused concern to, protest from, and distress to many survivors of Church abuse.”

Last week, Ms Sanghera announced a victim-and-survivor consultative panel “towards establishing greater independence” from the Church. A link to an expression of interest form was posted on the ISB website, and 15 responses gathered. It was later taken down however, the Church Times understands, at the request of Ms Munn.

A new link has been posted elsewhere with a deadline of 11 June for submissions. The idea has been welcomed by the House of Survivors — a website created by survivors promoting resources for both survivors and the Church.

Ms Sanghera and Mr Reeves maintain that they have spoken at length with the two Archbishops, the Archbishops’ Council, the General Synod, and the House of Bishops about the importance of ISB independence.

The dispute resolution notice — which was also used by the Council to address internal disputes concerning the conduct of the previous chair, Professor Maggie Atkinson (News, 3 February), who later resigned — is the only power the ISB have to stand up to the Council under their contract, Ms Sanghera told the Church Times.

“This has not been an easy decision, but we cannot allow our independence to be compromised,” she said. “I hope those in power listen and respond. My worry is that they may decide to call it a day on the ISB and those who have waited for so long will be back where they started.”

A survivor of church-based abuse, Matthew Ineson, is among those who have objected to their personal data being shared with Ms Munn. “It is never good when there are conflicts of interest in any situation,” he said on Wednesday. “That is the issue here.”

It was also about perception, he said. “There is a lack of trust. [Ms Munn] must step aside. If not, victims are being ignored again, and the ISB will lose all credibility in their eyes. This is not personal; it is simply getting something in place victims can trust in and making it work.”

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