THE chair of the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB), Professor Maggie Atkinson, has resigned this week after months of internal disputes concerning her conduct in the post.
This began with complaints by survivors that she had breached personal data, at least two of which were upheld by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
The announcement of her resignation was made by the Archbishops’ Council in a statement on Thursday morning. It makes no reference to these previous disputes and complaints.
Professor Atkinson says in an accompanying statement: “Changing family circumstances and ISB matters have meant that my presence even from a distance has become a distraction and therefore I decided to tender my immediate resignation to the Archbishops’ Council.”
She later told the Church Times that family circumstances were the lead matter in her decision and that the latest ICO case had been closed without further action.
The statement from the Archbishops’ Council, who employ the ISB as independent contractors, makes no reference, either, to their decision back in January to instigate a dispute-resolution process between the three ISB board members: the lead survivor-advocate, Jasvinder Sanghera; Steve Reeves; and the chair, Professor Atkinson.
The Church Times understands that the dispute resolution process had ended before Professor Atkinson’s resignation.
Last July, the Revd Graham Sawyer, a former Anglican incumbent and a survivor of clerical abuse, complained to the ICO that Professor Atkinson broke data-protection rules during their correspondence. This was upheld (News, 22 July 2022).
Within a month, an unnamed individual made a second complaint, this time to the National Church Institutions — which includes the National Safeguarding Team (NST) — about a data and confidentiality breach by Professor Atkinson, and she was asked to step back from her duties (News, 5 August 2022). This was passed on to the Charity Commission and the ICO.
In February, the Church Times learned that the ICO had upheld a third complaint of a data-breach made by a survivor against the ISB in relation to Professor Atkinson (News, 3 February). This paper also understood at the time that, despite being informed of this, the Archbishops’ Council reinstated Professor Atkinson’s access to her ISB email account, against the wishes of the two other ISB board members.
The latest statement from the Archbishops’ Council also announced “the appointment of Meg Munn as the acting chair [of the ISB] until the end of 2023”.
Ms Munn will continue in her current post as independent chair of the National Safeguarding Panel, which she has held since 2018. The Panel is described in its terms of reference as one of the bodies set up to “provide scrutiny and challenge” to the Church’s safeguarding.
The Church Times understands that the two remaining ISB board members were not involved in the appointment of Ms Munn as acting chair, but informed after the fact.
A victim of church-related abuse, who wished to remain anonymous, said on Thursday: “This appointment is disastrous for victims. Meg Munn is not seen as independent and her work at the National Safeguarding Panel is seen as far too close to the Church. She has refused to engage at all with myself and many victims. I do have to ask whether victims were consulted at all on this appointment.”
Ms Sanghera and Mr Reeves said in a statement accompanying the announcement: “We would like to thank Maggie Atkinson for her work and acknowledge this has not been an easy decision for her. While working with limited resources, we have met the various challenges of the past seven months. The work of the Board in raising the voices of victims and survivors has continued.
“We welcome Meg Munn to the role of acting Chair and look forward to our collectively work towards implementing the vision of the ISB.”
The Bishop of Rochester, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, who is both the lead safeguarding bishop and a member of the Archbishops’ Council, said: “I would like to personally thank all three board members for their work so far, particularly their important focus on responding well to survivors. I wish Maggie well as she leaves the Board and welcome Meg as she works with Jasvinder and Steve and builds on the existing work of the ISB. The Archbishops’ Council remains committed to this important principle of independent oversight as the ISB moves to its next phase.”