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Survivors’ complaint against Church of England secretary-general stalls

04 October 2023

Sam Atkins/Church Times

A sign calling for independent scrutiny of church safeguarding is displayed on the York University campus during the July meeting of the General Synod

A sign calling for independent scrutiny of church safeguarding is displayed on the York University campus during the July meeting of the General...

A COMPLAINT brought by abuse survivors against the secretary-general of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye, over his management of church safeguarding has stalled, a letter hosted on the House of Survivors website says.

The open letter to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, published on Tuesday of last week, is signed anonymously by an advocate writing on behalf of a group of survivors of church-related abuse. This was their second letter, after one in June which alleged “an extensive catalogue of frequent failings, gross incompetence, misconduct, corruption, deception and cover-ups” in church safeguarding, before making a formal complaint against Mr Nye.

The complaint primarily concerned the sudden disbandment of the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) by the Archbishops’ Council this year (News, 21 June), and the aftermath, including confusion and “silence” over how current and future safeguarding reviews would be handled, and by whom. An independent review of what happened has since been set up (News, 15 September).

The first letter holds Mr Nye “ultimately accountable” — describing him as having “direct operational control” over several church bodies — and accuses him of “manipulation of these key instruments of accountability and scrutiny”, meaning that “bonds of trust between bishops and their clergy, laity and the wider public have been severely damaged, if not irrevocably broken.”

The second letter sets out how the formal complaint against Mr Nye has progressed: namely, that the Head of People for Church House, Westminster, Christine Hewitt-Dyer, had explained that, while “a complaints process for senior church officers existed, uniquely this did not apply to Mr Nye. But we were nonetheless assured that an ‘independent’ barrister would be appointed to conduct some process of investigation.”

A barrister was selected, but dismissed on a perceived conflict of interest; a second was selected, then withdrew; a third barrister was proposed, but “at no stage were terms of reference shared with persons who wished to complain about Mr Nye. These terms of reference were drawn up by people who worked directly under and report to him,” the survivors’ letter alleges.

The lead complainant was given just one week to submit evidence, the letter says, which was extended, owing to a family bereavement.

“However, the barrister subsequently stated that no other complainant would have access to this process, since he deemed that only one person was making any complaint about Mr Nye, thereby excluding many persons from filing grievances in their own right.

“So the complaints process is now stalled, and it will not be able to go ahead until it is possible for all individuals to submit their own evidence. Meanwhile, Ms Hewitt-Dyer insists that Mr Nye cannot be suspended from any of his duties, so he continues to enjoy operational oversight in safeguarding, despite objections and desperate pleas by victims.”

The letter also raises other safeguarding concerns.

First, that a question posed by Martin Sewell at the July meeting of the General Synod was “subjected to substantial alteration without his knowledge or consent” by church lawyers.

Second, that claims by the Archbishops’ Council that victims and survivors were being supported after the disbandment of the ISB, and that they were consulted before Kevin Crompton was appointed to oversee ongoing cases (News, 15 September), were “completely untrue”.

Third is the “absurdly slow progress in reviews” of a number of safeguarding cases. One of these reviews — looking into the abuse perpetrated by John Smyth — is now more than 1500 days overdue (News, 11 August), while another, the letter says, “had key information deliberately withheld from IICSA [the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse] by some senior bishops (current)”.

On the Church’s national redress scheme for survivors of church-related abuse, due to start next year (News, 23 June), the letter proposes that all donations to the Church of England — including parish giving — should be suspended until the scheme is running.

“As the donations directly fund the incompetent, unjust and corrupt culture you are unwilling to address,” the letter tells the Archbishops, “we think it is high time this was arrested.”

The letter says that, “with no conflicts-of-interest policy” for the national church institutions (NCIs) or Archbishops’ Council, a “systemic culture of corruption and nepotism remains unchecked, and so sustains the underlying despotism.” It calls for all Council members, church legal officers, Church Commissioners, and senior church officers “to provide fully transparent Declaration of Interests” to the General Synod by February.

A spokesperson for Church House said on Wednesday of last week that the complaint against the secretary-general was being handled and investigated under the NCI External Complaints policy, which applied to the behaviour of individuals working in or on behalf of the NCIs. It did not allow for a complaint to be made by an individual representing a group of other unnamed individuals, the spokesperson said. Others could make complaints under the NCI Complaints Policy, or the independent investigator appointed could seek input from others as part of the investigation.

No further comment could be made on the details of the investigation, the spokesperson said.

Relating to redress, the spokesperson said that the Archbishops’ Council had not delayed, but was progressing “as fast as it can”; and that, after support for ongoing redress work at the July group of sessions, including a speech from a survivor (News, 14 July), two further Synod sessions were required to complete the legislative process before its parliamentary stages.

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