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Independent Safeguarding Board reaches ‘settlement’ with Professor Percy

02 May 2023

David Hartley/Church Times

The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy

The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy

THE Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) has come to “a settlement” in the case brought against it by the former Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, Professor Martyn Percy, a statement published on its website on Friday says.

The ISB was asked by the Archbishops’ Council to conduct an independent review of “the alleged weaponization of safeguarding by individuals and agencies within Church of England perpetrated against Professor Percy” in March 2022. But the review was never completed, and the Council recently removed this responsibility from the ISB (News, 3 February).

In the statement, two ISB board members explain that Professor Percy had “challenged the restricted terms of the draft terms of reference set out by those commissioning the review and the previous chair of the ISB” — Professor Maggie Atkinson, who resigned as chair earlier this year after complaints from survivors that she had breached their data (News, 31 March).

The claim was dismissed because “all parties agreed that the ISB was not a legal entity” against which such a claim could be brought, the ISB statement says.

“The ISB consider that the original review’s published terms of reference would have needed significant amendment to ensure that any independent ISB review had sufficient scope and depth. While the ISB’s review could have made progress, the absence of an Information Sharing Agreement with the Church of England significantly hampered the continuation of the work.”

Last week, the Church Times was informed by the Archbishops’ Council that delays over the agreement stemmed from an issue around data control, and that a standard practice mechanism for information-sharing with an external organisation was not taken up by the ISB (News, 28 April).

The ISB statement continues: “The ISB urges the Archbishops’ Council to act with urgency to ensure that an independent review is commissioned. Professor Percy’s assertion that such a review should be led by a KC or Judge has significant merit and is one with which the ISB concurs.

“ISB members met with Professor Percy, on a without prejudice basis, and had a very constructive meeting. The ISB has agreed to drop any enforcement of a costs order made against him. Professor Percy thanked the ISB for its work and has undertaken to co-operate with it as it develops its approaches to the scrutiny and independent oversight of Church of England safeguarding.”

One of the two remaining ISB Board members, Steve Reeves, said on Friday: “Ongoing legal action between the ISB and Professor Percy was not going to result in the independent review of the issues of concern. Children, vulnerable adults, survivors of abuse, and the public need our focus to be on providing independent oversight and scrutiny of safeguarding in the Church of England.”

The second Board member and survivor advocate, Jasvinder Sanghera, said: “The ISB recognises that Professor Percy has made serious allegations against Church authorities, including that there has been a deliberate weaponization of safeguarding against him. It is right that these claims are investigated without fear or favour.”

Professor Percy commended the two ISB board members for their “independence, thorough determination, and undoubted commitment to ensuring that the Church of England’s safeguarding policies and practices are scrutinised and properly held to account. . . Proper independence in safeguarding is now an urgent matter.”

He added: “Although there was evidence to suggest other senior individuals and bodies did not want the ISB to engage with the issues that have been raised, the board members have showed considerable tenacity, courage, and determination in their work, which bodes well for the future of fully independent oversight.”

On Tuesday, the new acting chair of the ISB, Meg Munn, took up her post. She was appointed by the Archbishops’ Council in March after the resignation of Professor Atkinson. Complaints have been made, specifically that the Council reportedly did not consult survivors or communicate the appointment to the remaining ISB board members until after the fact.

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