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Put us first, survivors tell Archbishops’ Council after Professor Jay’s appointment

24 July 2023

Sam Atkins/Church Times

Jane Chevous, speaking at the General Synod earlier this month

Jane Chevous, speaking at the General Synod earlier this month

SURVIVORS of church-based abuse have criticised the Archbishops’ Council for announcing a project to develop independent safeguarding structures before plans have been put in place to complete reviews on past cases.

On Thursday morning, it was announced that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, on behalf of the Archbishops’ Council, had appointed Professor Alexis Jay, the former chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), to develop a new model for independent safeguarding in the Church (News, 20 July).

The move follows a month of uncertainty after the disbanding of the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) (News, 21 June).

Some survivors and survivor-advocates have criticised the timing and manner of Professor Jay’s appointment, saying that the focus should be on completing reviews of past cases and implementing the recommendations made in the review of the case of Mr X (News, 31 May).

On Friday, Jane Chevous, one of the survivors whose review was halted when the ISB was disbanded, said that the uncertainty about whether ongoing reviews would continue had caused survivors significant harm.

“I’ve gone back to a place I’d moved on from after years of therapy,” she said. She went on to say that no attempt had been made to contact the ten individuals who were waiting for case reviews.

She called on Professor Jay to pause the new programme of work until these reviews were back in progress. Until they were, Ms Chevous said, “I don’t think that it’s right, and I don’t think there’s any point, in talking about the future.”

A Church House spokesperson said: “We are aware that the former ISB members had promised to undertake a small number of reviews and look into particular complaints.

“We are proposing to have a package where survivors, if they want to continue in this way, can choose from a variety of possibilities to look at their review or complaint.

“We recognise that the current uncertainty is causing anxiety for survivors, but it is important that proposals are developed that can command their confidence. Conversations are taking place and we expect to make details available later this month.”

Asked what would be an acceptable option, Ms Chevous said that she wanted her review to continue with the same independent reviewer with whom it had begun, and for Steve Reeves, one of the former members of the ISB, to continue to oversee the process.

“I don’t think I could cope with starting again,” she said, and highlighted how traumatic it was for survivors to have to repeat the details of their abuse afresh to a new reviewer.

Jasvinder Sanghera, who along with Mr Reeves was part of the ISB, also emphasised the extent to which the uncertainty around the future of the reviews was taking a toll on survivors.

“I’ve had to talk [two survivors] down from suicide ideation because they’ve been left in limbo . . . It’s appalling, it’s not good enough,” she said on Friday.

Both Ms Chevous and Ms Sanghera made it clear that they did not object to the appointment of Professor Jay, whose professionalism and stated commitment to independence they welcomed. But they said that the Church’s focus was currently wrong.

“They’re so busy pulling a rabbit out of the hat that they haven’t given a thought to us,” Ms Chevous said, adding that survivors should have been consulted on the appointment of Professor Jay and the terms of reference of the new programme.

Instead, some were informed, via a survivor-engagement email list, about an hour before the announcement of Professor Jay’s appointment.

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