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Psychologist reports ‘significant harm’ after closure of Independent Safeguarding Board

17 January 2024

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A PSYCHOLOGIST has suggested that survivors of church-based abuse suffered “significant harm” as a result of the decision to discontinue the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB), and the manner in which it was disbanded.

The clinical psychologist David Glasgow published a report this week based on interviews with some of the victims of abuse who had been awaiting a review of their case when two members of the ISB were sacked, last June (News, 23 June 2023).

Mr Glasgow’s report follows the publication last month of a review by a barrister, Sarah Wilkinson, which said that a “complex matrix of reasons” contributed to the Archbishops’ Council’s decision (News, 15 December 2023).

Ms Wilkinson’s report includes a section on the “impact” of the decision, reporting complaints from survivors that it amounted to a “re-traumatisation or a re-abuse” — views which were aired at the time and in the months after the ISB’s disbanding (News, 23 June 2023; News, 28 July 2023).

The psychologist’s report goes deeper into the effects of the decision and the manner in which it was communicated. Mr Glasgow writes: “The termination of the contracts of the independent members of the ISB had serious and adverse consequences for all C of E victims interviewed. . . In most cases the impact reached a threshold of significant harm.”

He quotes several survivors, including one who said that when they heard the news: “I felt my whole world had collapsed.”

Mr Glasgow suggests that it is “not an exaggeration to state that in some cases this acute exacerbation of symptoms risked life-threatening consequences”.

A Church House spokesperson said on Tuesday: “We are committed to hearing and responding to the testimony of all victims and survivors, which is crucial to the Church’s ongoing work to learn and improve its safeguarding practices.

“The Archbishops’ Council is discussing the independent report on the ISB, prepared by Sarah Wilkinson published last month, which highlighted the need for a trauma-informed approach in all matters. Work to implement this recommendation has already begun. This feeds into the ongoing work to develop proposals for fully independent safeguarding scrutiny of the Church, led by Professor Alexis Jay” (News, 21 July 2023).

On Wednesday, a letter was sent to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, signed by 20 members of the General Synod. The letter called for “the immediate suspension and subsequent investigation” of the secretary-general of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye.

The letter, written by Synod member and safeguarding lawyer, Martin Sewell, accuses Mr Nye of failing to heed a request from Steve Reeves, one of the sacked members of the ISB, to delay the announcement of its termination so that survivors could be informed privately rather than learning via the media.

Ms Wilkinson’s report quotes an email from Mr Reeves to Mr Nye, in which Mr Reeves writes: “I am urging caution as powerfully as I can. The harm could be significant and the announcement is not urgent.”

The letter alleges that Mr Nye “rejected that advice and chose to take the risk; it had foreseeable and foreseen consequences . . . avoidable significant harm towards the vulnerable people to whom he owed a duty of care.”

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