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‘ISB 11’ express hurt at delays to their reviews

21 June 2024

Survivors of church-based abuse still waiting, a year after Board is disbanded

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SURVIVORS of church-based abuse who were awaiting reviews by the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) have said that little progress has been made since it was suddenly disbanded a year ago.

The group, known as the “ISB 11”, have remained in contact with one another. At a recent meeting, one member said that waiting for action to be taken in his case was like “banging my head against the wall, and it fucking hurts”.

Last September, Kevin Crompton was appointed “interim commissioner of independent reviews”, charged with taking forward reviews of those who were already in the system (News, 22 September 2023).

Nine months on, substantial steps towards a review have been taken in the case of only one of the survivors who was in the ISB’s system — and on Thursday, after the Church Times had gone to press, she received the news that her reviewer was no longer available, leaving her further back in the process than she had been at the point when the ISB members Steve Reeves and Dame Jasvinder Sanghera were sacked (News, 23 June 2023). The latter was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the King’s Birth­­day Honours list last Friday.

The survivor in question, Jane Chevous, said on Thursday that finding out that she was back to square one in the process was “devastating”. There had been issues in agreeing an independent reviewer, and in getting the Church to sign a data-sharing agreement, she said.

“If the ISB hadn't been sacked, if alternative arrangements had been sorted last year, my review would have been completed and published by now,” Ms Chevous told the Church Times. 

A statement from Mr Crompton’s office last week said that he had “been in conversation with a number of survivors regarding a case review. Issues of data protection arose from those conversations, which needed to be resolved before survivors would consider their case review going forward.”

Mr Crompton also acknowledged that there were concerns about how independently he was able to operate. “The initial arrangements that were put in place needed to be strengthened,” the statement said. “This required the drafting of an amendment to the contractual arrangements giving the Commissioner the right to independently commission reviews whilst using Archbishops’ Council monies.”

Some of the members of the ISB 11 have chosen not to engage with Mr Crompton, because they have concerns about his independence. They say that they have been told that there are no alternatives: if their review is to be progressed, it has to be through him.

Others have engaged, but have been unhappy with the range of reviewers on offer. They were originally limited to diocesan safeguarding-panel chairs (who are independent contractors), or, if the abuse occurred during childhood, people from the NSPCC as potential reviewers. After pressure from survivors and their advocates, this has been broadened to include the safeguarding charity Thirtyone:eight.

Ms Chevous emphasised that the review being planned was not of the abuse itself, but of the way that it was handled by the Church. “The way that we’ve been re-abused by the Church in the way they have dealt with, or not dealt with, our abuse, is the issue,” she said.

Before it was disbanded, the ISB oversaw a case-review for a survivor known as Mr X. He said at the meeting that having his review finished was a “moment of hope after such a long time”. This has been undermined, though, by inaction on the recommendations included in his review, he said.

His review, which was prepared by Mr Reeves, makes a number of recommendations, including changes to be made to case-management practices, and to the C of E’s Interim Support Scheme.

The scheme, Mr Reeves wrote, was “not fit for purpose”, and members of the ISB 11 said last week that the help they were being offered was inadequate. One said that all he had received recently was a £20 token so that he could purchase a self-help book.

The Church’s response to Mr X’s review was criticised in Dr Sarah Wilkinson’s report on the demise of the ISB (News, 15 December 2023). She wrote: “The absence of any mechanism or agreed process for ISB case-review recommendations to be implemented has caused significant distress to Mr X, and has impeded agreement over the successor case-review procedures, because there was no ISB policy stating what complainants could expect by way of outcomes from their reviews.”

The lack of certainty about whether recommendations would be acted upon undermined the sense of closure that they hoped to achieve in having their cases reviewed, the survivors suggested at the meeting.

Some in the group were angry at the way that they felt they had been treated. One described the treatment of survivors as “perverted, godless, and evil”. Another complained that communications from the National Safeguarding Team were sometimes “cursory and callous”.

A third said: “The Church wants to punish people who raise any concerns. They don’t want people to be safeguarded. They don’t like anyone who speaks out. They persecute.”

A report by the clinical psychologist David Glasgow, published in January, said that the disbanding of the ISB had “serious and adverse consequences” for the survivors who had been interacting with the board (News, 19 January 2024).

“In most cases the impact reached a threshold of significant harm,” he wrote, and noted that the trust built up by Mr Reeves and Dame Jasvinder had “once again been replaced by disappointment, distress, doubt, and mistrust” of church safeguarding.

A common complaint among the ISB 11 was that they were not being heard, and suffered from a “power imbalance” with the Church’s safeguarding staff.

One, whose grievance relates to a safeguarding case which he describes as being “weaponised” against him, said that the system left him with “no way to break through the barrier and put facts on the table”.

The Church of England’s national director of safeguarding, Alexander Kubeyinje, apologised on Thursday. “As a result of the genuine concerns raised by victims and survivors, I have personally sought assurances around the outstanding reviews.

“I am sorry when victims and survivors feel they are not heard or experience delays in safeguarding. I am also aware that members of the National Safeguarding Team work very hard to meet the needs of our survivor communities. We are very open to feedback as this informs our ability to learn and adapt wherever possible.”

He referred survivors to the Interim Support Scheme, set up in 2020 to respond to victims and survivors in more urgent need of help (News, 2 October 2020). The scheme has previously been criticised by survivors, who said that its administration had caused “stress” and “anxiety” (News, 9 July 2021).

Its Terms of Reference had since been “strengthened”, Mr Kubeyinje said“More than £2 million has been given out in support since the scheme started. Each application is looked at on its own merits by a panel with clear transparent criteria. I would urge anyone who feels they have not been heard to make direct contact with the scheme. This is an important piece of safeguarding work that we carry out on behalf of the Archbishops’ Council.”

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