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Lead Bishop for Safeguarding shares Smyth victims’ frustrations as review delayed again

02 July 2024

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

The Church’s lead bishop for safeguarding, the Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell, addresses the Synod in London, in February. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York can be seen in the background

The Church’s lead bishop for safeguarding, the Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell, addresses the Synod in London, in February. The Archbishops of C...

THE way in which the Church of England commissions and completes safeguarding reviews into past cases must be “done differently” in future, to avoid repeated delays that are retraumatising survivors, the Church’s lead safeguarding bishop has said.

The Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell, was responding to a statement from Keith Makin, the author of the long-overdue report on the violent abuse perpetrated by John Smyth, which confirmed that a publication date for his review would not be set until the end of the summer at the earliest.

Since Mr Makin was commissioned by the Church to review the Smyth case in 2019 (News, 16 August 2019), there have been 15 announcements about delays to the timetable, most recently in May, when the report was then due to be published (News, 17 May).

Mr Makin said at that time that the process known as “Maxwellisation” — through which individuals criticised in the review are given a chance to respond pre-publication — had started later than planned because of “a substantial change to a contribution to the review, at the final stages of completion”.

In March, a survivor of Smyth, known as Graham Jones — after seeing a draft of the report for fact-checking under a non-disclosure agreement — had withdrawn his co-operation, saying that the draft represented a “mere shadow” of the case (News, 15 March).

On Tuesday, Mr Makin said that this representations process was “progressing”. “Those named and criticised in the review report have been given the opportunity to comment on the extracts which are relevant to them. Once their responses have been received and considered and any amendments arising from this made, I will hand the report to the Archbishops’ Council for subsequent publication.

“This is unlikely to be until the end of the summer as my priority is to ensure that this final stage is carefully conducted, recognising the impact on all those affected. I confirm this will be done as soon as practically possible.”

Responding, Mr Jones said: “These further delays are making victims increasingly frustrated and angry. . . Victims have been told consistently that all Maxwellisation letters had to be sent out simultaneously, whereas it appears they have been sent out in dribs and drabs over at least five weeks, and it is unclear whether all letters have now actually been sent. This cannot continue.”

He concluded: “This review should be taken out of the hands of Keith Makin and handed to a competent KC or independent person to get this published as soon as possible.”

In a statement that was also released on Tuesday, Dr Grenfell said that, while she was “deeply disappointed” by the further delay, she was “aware of the complexities and demands of this review, originally commissioned in 2019, on all involved. . .

“I understand and deeply regret that victims and survivors are now experiencing further trauma because of this latest delay in the revised timetable. Colleagues in the National Safeguarding Team are equally frustrated by this further delay, and are engaging regularly with the reviewer on this.

“At this point, given the complex nature of the review, the existing investment of time, and the constraints of data handling, we believe that the best option is still to continue and to wait for the revised timeline for completion. However, we continue to review all options available to us.”

Last year, Andrew Graystone, an advocate for the survivors of Smyth’s abuse who has written a book about the case, Bleeding for Jesus (Books, 1 October 2021), said that the review had been hampered, in part, by a lack of resources (News, 11 August 2023).

He said: “The Church decided that the task of reviewing a case lasting over 40 years with more than a hundred victims could be handled by one part-time reviewer contracted for just two days a week, with a part-time assistant. The Church either didn’t recognise the scale of the review it was launching, or simply didn’t care.”

Dr Grenfell concluded: “We need to ensure in the future that the commissioning of reviews is done differently and according to the timescales and good practice set out in the Safeguarding Practice Review Code agreed at General Synod last year.”

Last month, the Church’s national director of safeguarding, Alexander Kubeyinje, in response to grievances aired by survivors still awaiting church reviews (News, 21 June), said that, “As a result of the genuine concerns raised by victims and survivors, I have personally sought assurances around the outstanding reviews.”

Mr Jones said on Tuesday: “These are just meaningless words when the Makin review is delayed by at least 1500 days, and with no publication date suggested until at least the end of the summer.”

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