THE review of the handling of safeguarding issues relating to the former Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, Dr Martyn Percy, will no longer be conducted by the Church’s Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB), the Archbishops’ Council has agreed.
“All parties have been informed of this decision and next steps will be announced in due course,” a statement on Wednesday said.
Early last year, the ISB had agreed — at the request of the diocese of Oxford and the Archbishops’ Council — to undertake a review of the quality of earlier safeguarding investigations into what became a long and protracted dispute between the college authorities and Dean Percy (News, 24 June 2022). The Secretary-General of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye, later defended the ISB’s ability to do so, after its competence and capacity to investigate were questioned by a General Synod member, Martin Sewell (News, 1 July 2022).
Last October, however, the ISB “paused” its review indefinitely because it was not confident in its own independence and resources (News, 21 October 2022).
On Wednesday, the Archbishops’ Council announced that the Christ Church review “should be led by another person” — the day after the Church Times reported that a third complaint of a data breach had been made by a survivor against the ISB, and that this had been upheld by the Independent Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The complaint concerned an email exchange between the survivor and the chair of the ISB, Professor Maggie Atkinson.
The Archbishops’ Council points in its statement to an earlier complaint against the ISB. This was made to the National Church Institutions — which includes the National Safeguarding Team (NST) — and again, concerned a data and confidentiality breach by Professor Atkinson. She was asked to step back from her duties at that time (News, 5 August 2022).
This complaint was subsequently passed to both the Charity Commission and the ICO. In November, after 90 days, the ICO concluded that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate a criminal offence. Professor Atkinson’s access to emails was reinstated by the Archbishops’ Council, though she remained stepped back.
In a similar statement to the one issued to the Church Times earlier this week, the Archbishops’ Council confirm that the three ISB board members, who include Professor Atkinson, have been instructed to enter into a conflict resolution process under the terms of their contract.
“Due to ongoing concerns about current working relationships and the conclusion of the ICO investigation into the Chair the Council also agreed at its January meeting that the three ISB members should enter into a dispute resolution process to ensure this important independent work can continue with effective collaborative working between its members. This will enable the ISB to reach decisions including on outstanding work and to provide services to the Church agreed in its contract.
The statement concludes: “The Independent Safeguarding Board, ISB, was set up to provide vital scrutiny of the Church’s safeguarding work and we remain committed to this principle and would like to thank members for their work to date.”
On Wednesday night, the two remaining ISB board members issued a statement expressing their disappointment at the news, saying that they had only been informed that morning. Their statement goes on to claim that “the prolonged delays with this review are not due to the ISB but the Council who have been kept appraised of the fact that the ISB requires an Information Sharing Agreement [ISA] to progress.”
It explains: “Entering into the ISA allows the sharing of information and in turn enables the ISB to undertake its work. It has not been possible to commence the Christ Church review because the Council has not yet released the ISA to the ISB for the board members’ signatures.”
This agreement had been “requested on numerous occasions”, the statement says, and the previous issues of “finite resources and current workload” had been resolved.
On the position of the chair, the ISB board members’ statement says: “The ISB awaits hearing from Archbishops Council about the proposed arrangements for a meeting with the Chair. To be clear, as far as the ISB are concerned the issue relates solely to three alleged data breaches, two of which we understand have been upheld by the regulator. The ISB operate Standing Orders and expect all its members to operate according to these Orders. The recent ICO ruling against the ISB regarding a data breach is related to the conduct of the Chair.”
The ISB had “made a recommendation” to the Archbishops’ Council regarding the chair which had resulted in the Council’s request for all three ISB board members to enter a dispute resolution process.
The statement concludes: “We intend to publish an ISB Annual Report this month. We are working towards developing Phase 2 to ensure the ISB continue to provide vital scrutiny of the Church’s safeguarding work and we remain committed to this principle and would like to thank the Archbishops Council for their commitment to date.”