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Tribunal clears former Sub-Dean of Christ Church of misconduct regarding Percy case

26 March 2024

Diocese of Llandaff

The Very Revd Richard Peers

The Very Revd Richard Peers

THE former Sub-Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Revd Richard Peers, has been cleared of charges under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) about statements that he was alleged to have made about the former Dean Dr Martyn Percy.

The chair of the tribunal panel, Lynsey de Mestre KC, announced the outcome of the proceedings on a public video call on Thursday morning. In her introductory remarks, she said that she hoped that the judgment would “bring a full stop to what has been a hugely damaging saga”.

“An unedifying picture of unkindness and immaturity has emerged as part of the background to this case,” she said, which did “serious discredit” to those involved.

Dean Peers, who left Oxford in 2022 to become Dean of Llandaff (News, 23 September 2022), was the respondent in a CDM case in which it was alleged that comments that he had made about Dr Percy in relation to an allegation of sexual harassment brought against him (News, 19 November 2020) had been “unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders”.

Dr Percy was involved in a protracted four-year dispute with Christ Church, which ended in 2022, when he agreed to quit, receiving a “substantial sum in compensation” (News, 4 February 2022).

Dean Peers arrived at Christ Church shortly before the harassment allegation was made against Dr Percy. A senior judge concluded that the allegations were not serious enough for the case to proceed to a tribunal (News, 1 June 2021).

At the tribunal concerning the claims made against him, Dean Peers said that he had been attracted to the post at Christ Church partly because of the opportunity to work with Dr Percy. When he arrived, however, he “found the college was divided to an extent I’ve never encountered”.

The tribunal considered several complaints that comments made by Dean Peers about Dr Percy amounted to misconduct. Six witnesses gave evidence, including the former Conservative Cabinet minister the Revd Jonathan Aitken.

Mr Aitken, the panel concluded, was a “combative” and “pugnacious” witness, and assessed that his evidence “consists of a mixture of some kernels of truth mixed with some statements which were not said”.

Dean Peers, on the other hand, was described by the panel as an “impressive and truthful witness”, who “gave reflective, thoughtful and candid answers” and was “not prone to overstatement or exaggeration”. The panel said that he was “plainly expert and highly experienced in matters of safeguarding”.

The panel concluded that only one comment that Mr Aitken reported — that Alannah Jeune, who had made an allegation of harassment against Dr Percy, had been “traumatised by the Dean’s misbehaviour” — was “unfairly imbalanced”.

The comment, however — which Dean Peers admitted to making — amounted to a “minor and isolated incident of misspeaking”, and, while “inapposite”, it “lacked any elements of reprehensibility or disgracefulness” and did not, therefore, amount to unbecoming or inappropriate conduct.

Other statements that, Mr Aitken said,t Dean Peers had made, including one that “Ms X’s complaint was immensely serious” and “extremely damaging to the Dean”, were not actionable, as they were statements of fact, in the context of the long-running dispute between Dr Percy and Christ Church, and were not intended to be evaluative of the allegations made by Ms X against Dr Percy, the tribunal concluded.

The judgment on Dean Peers’s case was made unanimously by the five-person panel, which heard evidence across five days in early March.

The complainant, Karen Gadd, gave evidence on three occasions during the hearing. She was recalled after it emerged that she had passed confidential papers to people advising her.

Mrs Gadd “clearly cared deeply about Christ Church”, the panel concluded, and had “clear and sharp recall of some aspects of the case”. But, overall, it found her evidence “prone to exaggeration and lacking in balance and occasionally simply untrue”.

The panel said that there was “a strong sense of hostility towards [Dean Peers] flavouring Mrs Gadd’s evidence”, and her claim that she did not know Dr Percy well and had little contact with him was contradicted by evidence from other witnesses.

In instances where Mrs Gadd’s account of what Dean Peers said in conversation with her differed from his, the panel found the former Sub-Dean’s version of events more compelling.

The panel concluded that statements that she attributed to Dean Peers, including “The Dean is lying about the incident,” and “There is a list of people who must be sacked after this is resolved,” had not been said.

In her written evidence, Mrs Gadd complained that Dean Peers had made “obscene allegations” about Dr Percy. This, the panel said, was not supported by the evidence, and it suggested that her allegation was “made with the intention of slurring the Respondent and of adding weight to her complaint”.

In cross-examination, Mrs Gadd revealed that the idea of launching a CDM against Dean Peers arose after the finding, by an Appeal Court judge, that the complaint made by Ms Jeune was insufficient to warrant a tribunal.

Mrs Gadd admitted that she had had help in launching the proceedings from two retired lawyers: Martin Sewell, a General Synod member for Rochester diocese, and a former General Synod member, David Lamming, both of whom Dr Percy had introduced to Mrs Gadd.

After the delivery of the tribunal judgment on Thursday, Dean Peers’s legal representative, the barrister Justin Gau, suggested that the case amounted to a “weaponisation of the CDM”.

His client, Dean Peers, however, did not want to pursue charges of perjury, but “wants this all to stop”, Mr Gau said.

The dispersal of confidential material relating to the tribunal was a concern, he said, which he wanted to raise “as a matter of public interest”.

Ms de Mestre said that some action had been taken, and that those who were known to have received confidential material had made undertakings not to disseminate it further.

Reform of the CDM is before the General Synod (Synod, 14 July 2023). A Draft Clergy Conduct Measure, to replace the CDM, is currently with the revision committee.

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