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Archbishops defend appointment of Meg Munn as acting chair of Independent Safeguarding Board

02 May 2023

Survivor advocate describes statement as ‘premature’

Lambeth Palace

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York pictured in 2020

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York pictured in 2020

A STATEMENT from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York personally welcoming the new acting chair of the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB), Meg Munn, has been criticised by both survivors of abuse and the two other ISB board members.

Ms Munn was appointed by the Archbishops’ Council in March and took up the post on Tuesday. She succeeds Professor Maggie Atkinson, who resigned after months of internal disputes concerning her conduct in the post (News, 31 March).

At the time, the two remaining members of the ISB board — the lead survivor-advocate, Jasvinder Sanghera, and Steve Reeves — expressed concern that neither they nor survivors had been consulted about the appointment of Ms Munn until after the fact.

Despite this and further complaints from the board members aired in The Daily Telegraph last week (News, 28 April), a statement from the Archbishops was issued on Tuesday, in which they “affirm our confidence in her [Ms Munn] and her ability to lead the Board’s important work.

“Working with the two existing Board members, Jasvinder Sanghera and Steve Reeves, she has agreed to bring forward options on the scope and terms of reference of a fully independent safeguarding board by the autumn of this year. The process will involve widespread consultation especially with survivors and with others in the Church.

“In addition, the Board have been asked to develop proposals for a process to appoint a permanent independent Chair and additional Board members.”

The Archbishops’ statement speaks of Ms Munn’s “experience of scrutiny of the Church’s safeguarding work in her role as Independent Chair of the National Safeguarding Panel [NSP] since 2018”, and her work as a former safeguarding professional and MP.

But Ms Sanghera told the Church Times on Tuesday that the statement was “premature” given that the Archbishops’ Council meeting is due to take place next week. It was also “not reflective of the majority ISB members. The statement is disingenuous and does not acknowledge survivors at all. We were only notified of it today and asked for it to not be published as it will cause greater harm and distress.”

The issue was not personal to Ms Munn, Ms Sanghera emphasised, but about the “process” of the appointment. The Archbishops’ statement showed a “total disregard” of the survivor community, she said, including the 50 survivors who had now made explicit complaints to the ISB about the appointment.

Ms Sanghera continued: “We have shared in full our concerns and those of survivors and acknowledge a considered letter from the Archbishop Canterbury who wishes to hear our concerns at the Archbishops’ Council [meeting] next week.”

A survivor of abuse told the Church Times that the Archbishops’ statement “flies in the face of a barrage of criticism of Meg Munn as Interim Chair and on the very day that the two remaining Board members are consulting with victims. The Archbishops are tone deaf to the concerns of victims . . . and ignore the blatant conflict of interest.”

The survivor continued: “I for one have formally written to Ms Sanghera and Mr Reeves saying that I do not want any of my data shared with Ms Munn. I have had a lot of contact with the ISB as an independent body and that has been fatally compromised by the appointment of Ms Munn.”

Survivors believe that this conflict comes with Ms Munn’s position as chair of the NSP, which the other ISB board members say is one of the church safeguarding bodies that the ISB was set up to scrutinise. Contrary to this, the Church has said that the NSP is part of the Church’s independent scrutiny, complementary to the ISB, not accountable to it.

A General Synod member and retired child-protection lawyer, Martin Sewell, wrote in a Twitter thread over the weekend that the appointment of Ms Munn “results in her overseeing the NST (creature of the AC) whilst also Chair of the NSP (creature of the AC) which passports her to membership of the National Safeguarding Steering Group (creature of the AC).”

Again, his objections were not personal, he said, but “Historically the Church of England has been shot through with damaging conflicts of interest; it remains so. Archbishops’ Council has just added to the problem.”

The Council had “prioritised expediency over principle”, he suggested, which was “not a position of integrity”. He continued: “If the Church leadership is desperately hiding from scrutiny, it is seriously morally compromised and does not deserve the respect of survivors or the public.”

The Archbishops’ Council confirmed that the ISB members were first informed of the statement on the morning of its release.

Ms Munn told the Church Times on Wednesday that she welcomed the Archbishops’ statement of support. I was surprised to read Jasvinder’s comments. The Archbishops’ Council asked me to take on the role at the end of March so the Archbishops’ statement of support cannot be called premature.  

“I was particularly surprised to read that the other two members say that the role of the ISB includes scrutinising the work of the National Safeguarding Panel. The joint paper to last July’s General Synod set out the roles of the NSP and ISB and made clear that the ISB together with the NSP would work on Phase 2 of the ISB. As Jasvinder is a former member of the NSP, it is surprising that she does not understand its role and remit.”

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