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Synod motion seeks debate on ISB affair and inquiry by a senior lawyer

03 July 2023

Gavin Drake asks for an independent inquiry into the Church’s safeguarding bodies

Max Colson/Church Times

Gavin Drake addresses the Synod in London, in February 2023

Gavin Drake addresses the Synod in London, in February 2023

A GENERAL SYNOD member and survivor advocate, Gavin Drake, has tabled a following motion to ensure that the recent débâcle surrounding the sacking of the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) is up for debate in York.

His motion asks for an independent inquiry into the Church’s safeguarding bodies, policies, and practice — conducted by a senior lawyer, to report within a year, and the report to be debated by the Synod at that time.

It is his second attempt to bring the ISB onto the agenda. His first attempt was ruled out of order because the presentation on the ISB to which it was attached was deemed “free-standing” and not linked to a report.

His new motion, which he confirmed on Tuesday had been accepted, includes a preamble which links his motion directly to the Archbishops’ Council’s annual report, due to be debated on Monday.

It was announced last month that the Archbishops’ Council was terminating the contracts of two of the three board members of the ISB, and was moving to disband the body entirely (News, 23 June). The two members have since denied that this was due to a “breakdown of relationships” and trust, as the Council had suggested. The decision had left them “completely stunned” and survivors unprepared and vulnerable, they later said (News, 30 June).

The ISB was due to make a presentation to the Synod on Sunday afternoon. After the Archbishop Councils’ announcement, the item was rapidly replaced by an “update” on safeguarding and the ISB from the Council.

A background paper from the secretary-general, William Nye, was later published, going further in apportioning blame to the two ISB members for the decision to disband the board (News, 23 June). This paper is due to be presented in the Sunday-afternoon slot.

On Monday, Mr Drake (Southwell & Nottingham) introduced a following motion in compliance, he believed, with the Synod’s standing orders. It states that the Synod “is dismayed” by the disbandment of the ISB and the termination of the members’ contracts, and that the Synod “recognises and laments that any working relationship between many survivors and victims with the Archbishops’ Council has been broken”.

The motion calls on the Council, with its audit committee, “to commission an independent inquiry led by a senior lawyer (judge or King’s Counsel) into the safeguarding bodies, functions, policies and practice in and of the Church of England, to report within a maximum period of 12 months”.

Finally, it “requires that the report of that Inquiry be fully debated by the Synod to enable it to make decisions about future safeguarding in the Church of England”.

After its initial rejection, the motion was extended and updated on Tuesday to ensure that it was accepted, and is now likely to be debated on Monday afternoon.

In addition to the original causes, it asks the Synod to note how the ISB was established and funded by the Archbishops’ Council, and the reasoning given at the time.

It also notes that the Council “did not agree to a request in Autumn 2022 from members of the Audit Committee for an internal audit review into the formation and governance” of the ISB; that “the unaudited expenditure of the ISB for 2022 was £472,000 and that the Archbishops’ Council 2023 approved budget for 2023 included £465,000 for the ISB”; and that the ISB’s creation and operation “does not feature in any detail in the Annual Report of the Archbishops’ Council”.

This is not the first time the Mr Drake has highlighted safeguarding shortcomings. Shortly after the establishment of the ISB in 2021 and the presentation of its first paper to the Synod in February 2022, Mr Drake warned that the ISB model was unsustainable, and called for a full and independent assessment of the work and performance of the NST and the “myriad safeguarding bodies of the Church of England” (News, 18 February 2022).

He alleged several failings, including a lack of key performance indicators for the ISB; a lack of detail to enable the Synod to form a view about its effectiveness; and a lack of provision for any independent external scrutiny. He criticised the “piecemeal approach” being offered through the ISB and proposed a following motion which called for proper debate on these issues.

Instead, the Synod voted by 236 to 75, with 22 recorded abstentions, to move to next business.

Mr Drake writes in a background paper published on Monday that his new motion is “substantially different” from his 2022 one, and concerns recent events. His paper lists the history of the Synod’s consideration of the ISB, including questions and answers concerning its relationship with the NST. It gives examples of “bizarre” bureaucracy and “confusion” over the board’s functions.

He concludes: “It is time for Synod to stop expressing regret. It is time for Synod to act; and this motion provides an opportunity for Synod to do just that.”

In his blog, Mr Drake explains his reasoning for introducing the motion: “Many people have expressed concern, anger, shock and outrage over the Archbishops’ Council’s decision to sack the [ISB]. The decision has generated mixed feelings. Many members of General Synod were equally angered that we were being denied a debate on this important matter. Instead, when the General Synod gathered this weekend in York, we were offered an explanatory paper and a presentation with a question-and-answer session.

“The problem with presentations and questions at General Synod is that Standing Orders do not allow members to make points. Any attempt to veer away from a question and inject a viewpoint, an opinion, or a factual background to a question is likely to result in a gentle rebuke from the Chair and a request that you get to your question.

“The decision to close the ISB, and the manner in which it was done, is a significant decision. . . it should be subject to a proper debate and scrutiny by the General Synod.”

In a letter to the Houses of Clergy and Laity seen by the Church Times this week, another Synod member, Martin Sewell (Rochester), writes that, by voting for next business in February 2022, the Synod “neglected to fulfil its duty to scrutinise what was being put on offer.

“Everyone so wanted there to be an Independent Safeguarding Board in response to the expectations of IICSA [the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse], that most were ready to buy a pig in a poke, and thanks to Archbishops’ Council and the Secretariat, that is precisely what we got and why we are in this mess now.”

Mr Sewell has urged members and others to sign a petition calling on the Charity Commission to intervene with the Church’s safeguarding practice and to ensure independent scrutiny. The petition on change.org was started by Jane Chevous, who is a survivor of abuse in a church context.

She writes that, while church safeguarding has improved, the recent dismissal of the ISB has, for survivors, “caused immense distress and harm and is a serious failure to safeguard by the Archbishops’ Council; they have shown that they are not fit to manage church safeguarding. . .

“Other victim-survivors, allies, and members of Survivors Voices, the survivor-led organisation I co-founded, think it’s time for urgent action. We are calling on the Charity Commission to intervene and ensure that a truly independent body is set up that survivors can trust, without interference from the Church.”

This article was updated on 5 July 2023 to note the extended motion

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