It is over six years ago that on Exaro News I worked with seven MPs from all parties to press Theresa May, then home secretary, to launch the Independent inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Now after two general elections only two – Caroline Lucas and Tim Loughton – remain as MPs.
Another Zac Goldsmith is now a government minister and peer. The remaining four Tom Watson, Simon Danczuk, Tessa Munt and John Hemming are Parliamentary history.
At the time with the help of Exaro colleague Mark Conrad, we drafted the letter that went to Theresa May – on behalf of the MPs- outlining the scale of abuse in the UK and citing specific cases and saying what needed to be tackled. She acted.
As Tim Loughton, a former children’s minister, put it at the time:
“Virtually every week, the public is bombarded with new stories about sexual abuse of children coming to light, yet they stretch as far back as the 1960’s.
“Few areas have been left untouched with increasingly alarming stories involving schools, churches, care homes, entertainment, sport and of course politicians and celebrities.
“Most alarming is a consistent theme of the reluctance or, more worryingly, the seeming complicity of police and other agencies to investigate the allegations seriously, and pursue the perpetrators rigorously.”
A lot has happened since – including the sentencing of Carl Beech, a paedophile , who made false allegations against prominent figures – as well as successful prosecutions in North Wales by the National Crime Agency – of paedophiles who got away with it for years.
Now the work of this inquiry has begun to bear fruit – and the publication this month of its over arching report into the Anglican Church and The Church of Wales is its most detailed investigation yet.
The report reveals both some progress and failure to tackle the problem. But I am pretty convinced without the catalyst of the national inquiry the Church would have continued to bury its head in the sand and still not taken half the measures it has.
The history of child sexual abuse in the church is damning. Since the 1940s as the report says 390 people have been convicted as sex offenders.
It goes on:” In 2018, 449 concerns were reported to the Church about recent child sexual abuse, of which more than half related to church officers. Latterly, a significant amount of offending involved the downloading or possession of indecent images of children. The Inquiry examined a number of cases relating to both convicted perpetrators and alleged perpetrators, many of which demonstrated the Church’s failure to take seriously disclosures by or about children or to refer allegations to the statutory authorities.”
As extraordinary are the figures spent on safeguarding children – see below. A pathetic £37,000 was spent for whole Anglican church in 2013 a year before the call for the inquiry . The last year for 2020 is not fully approved.
The report shows failings in the culture of the church which allowed paedophiles to hide and a highly complex devolved hierarchy which meant there are many gaps for allegations of child sexual abuse not to be reported because of the autonomy of different sections of the church. For example cathedrals are not as you might expect run by bishops but the Dean and Chapter. Also although safeguarding has now been highlighted, the people in charge are designated as advisers rather than officers, allowing the clergy the last word on whether action should be taken.
On the plus side it looks as though the Church is taking safeguarding seriously and training its staff about the issue. Newly recruited ordained priests seem to have the most detailed training and the church is at last doing criminal checks before appointing anyone to an important position.
There have been a number of attempts to check back on historical sex abuse allegations. The numbers checked look impressive at 40,000 but only 13 cases were identified as it was mainly a book keeping exercise.
When this was re-examined by Sir Roger Singleton, a safeguarding expert, he recommended: ” An “updated version” of the PCR[ Past Case review} should be conducted in the dioceses of Ely, Lichfield, Rochester, Salisbury, Sheffield, Winchester, and Sodor and Man given “the absence of evidence that the Past Cases Review had been carried out competently in these dioceses”.
This is now being done again and will report in 2022.
The report also includes some rather horrifying cases because the system did not work properly. In one case a person who was claiming compensation from the Church’s insurers for past sexual abuse had his counselling cancelled because a lawyer advised the Church he shouldn’t have it since he was claiming against the Church,
It is also clear that much abuse was not revealed at the time. When the inquiry looked into a past case of Bishop Victor Whitsey, who died in 1987, but was during his career Bishop of Chester, Suffragan Bishop of Hertford at St.Albans and a priest in Blackburn and Manchester, some 19 people came forward saying he abused them including a brother and sister.
The report also discloses that there is still much to do . The Church is divided about mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse, with even the Charity Commission thinking they could be flooded with too many cases; the position over insurance and compensation for victims is unresolved and the process of clergy discipline measures needs reform and artificial time limits covering complaints removed. The rules over disclosure of child sexual abuse during confessions needs to change – exempting it from the sacred duty of confidentiality. And record keeping in the Church of Wales needs a thorough overhaul as there is a serious problem there.
The inquiry plans to come back over these issues and rightly so.
But perhaps one of the most chilling and sad paragraph in the report is a description of the Church’s problems with sexuality.
fear and secrecy over sexuality
“There was a culture of fear and secrecy within the Church about
sexuality. Some members of the Church also wrongly conflated homosexuality with the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults. There was a lack of transparency, open dialogue and candour about sexual matters, together with an awkwardness about investigating such matters. This made it difficult to challenge sexual behaviour.
Mr Colin Perkins, diocesan safeguarding adviser (DSA) for the Diocese of Chichester, told us that homosexual clergy may have found themselves inadvertently “under the same cloak” as child sexual abusers, who sought to mask their behaviour “in the same cultural hiding place”.
For those who follow this blog this report signals that I am back keeping a regular eye on child sexual abuse issues. Those who follow me on the fight for 50swomen know I don’t give up easily.
In the early 1980’s a Vicar asked for a meeting with his Churchwardens, and they went to the meeting expecting the Vicar to be running through the agenda of the next meeting and updating them on the search for a new curate to replace the one who had recently departed. What they did not expect was revelations regarding paedophiles in the Anglican Church. To the almost disbelief of the wardens, he said that the previous curate had been moved from the South of England to the North not because he wanted a challenge in the frozen North but the allegations that had been made against him and the man who lived with him. He said he was telling them because the press had the story via another source.
One churchwarden bit the bullet and said you knew about this since day one and a heated exchange took place Then the Vicar said there are powerful forces forces who protect these people and move them about the country. Then he went on to the church has many paedophile rings, many interconnected and they are at some the highest positions in the Church.
One of the wardens, considered he had falling out with someone in the Church and was spreading lies. My father thought it was far fetched, but younger people did think the Vicar was correct, having met two brothers and men belonging to a religious group in Holy Orders, it came as no surprise to me at all. The key question is was it covered up because it would do great damage to the Church or was it covered up because it was endemic in some higher levels of the Church.
When they cover the Roman Catholic Church they need to focus on holiday camps.
Thankyou David you are a beacon of hope trying to highlight and fight the evils of all oppression and victimisaton of innocent people .Best wishes to you ,your wife and family & friends x
It’s so important for children to see justice they keep the horror inside till late in life.
I had an 80 yr old gent call the helpline where I was a volunteer. He said he could not take it to his grave.
Another from a 10 yr old in the house with her abuser when she called and was whispering but had to go off line quick.
The forty plus lady who after some time talking Bought up a politician and GCHQ.
The politicians name came up again in the last couple years. I rang the police thinking they may want to contact The Organisation I had worked for as a helpline volunteer.
The police officer said its historic no point now.
They’re still covering it up.
So far this Inquiry has completely ignored me since I approached them. I suppose I should be grateful that there wasn’t actually any retaliation that time in form of more physical and sexual violence…
I am also in touch with another TI who has actually gone down and testified. The Chairman of said Inquiry (allegedly) made a big point of giving her a masonic hand shake, with the usual big cheesy grin/ psychotic grin on his face. What other possible reason could there be for that, other than to intimidate her? I believe her.
Mandatory reporting? Where the victim is then beaten up by suspected pigyobs and dumped in a mental institution, sometimes to death. Melanie Shaw is just one example….there are many many more who just aren’t getting anywhere near the publicity…and the only journalist that is prepared to speak to her has a gagging order on her, gaoled indefinitely if she tries to speak or goes anywhere near her….this is how it really is! I think you’ve been duped David into actually believing things are getting ‘better’ somehow….
It’s the Dean and Chapter, not the “deacon and chapter house”, David. And they are not independent of the bishop as you imply. The Dean and Chapter run the cathedral on behalf of the bishop. Sorry to give you a Wikipedia link, but this is actually the best summary of the arrangement I could find. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathedral_chapter
If you intend to write any more about this, it would be worth your time to find out how the Anglican church is organised. This website tells you about the leadership and governance of the Church of England. There’s also information on its safeguarding arrangements. https://www.churchofengland.org/about/leadership-and-governance
The Church has been putting in place strict safeguarding arrangements for some years now. As a volunteer at a cathedral myself, I have to undergo regular safeguarding training. The particular role I do doesn’t require criminal record checks, but other roles do.
In my cathedral there have been several prosecutions of senior staff members (though not clergy) for paedophile offences. The most recent was last year, and was for offences committed over the course of 20 years and in more than one cathedral. The person concerned was jailed for five years.
I would caution against making dramatic assertions based solely on a report that has been several years in the making and therefore does not reflect recent changes in church practice.
I may take your point re the difference between chapter and chapter house.
However I think you paint far too rosy a picture of the Church’s record over sexual abuse. This report came out very recently and as you can see the inquiry is going to come back to the Church to see if they implement further reforms to safeguard children. An earlier report examined the case of the late Bishop Peter Ball who managed to cover up an appalling history of sexual abuse against young men and adolescents for years until he was finally convicted and sentenced. One of them committed suicide. The figure on spending on safeguarding in the table I reproduced from the report shows it is only very recently that the Anglican Church has started spending any serious money on safeguarding and only recently introduced widespread criminal checks on newly appointed clergy and officials. For the record I sent the blog to the inquiry and received a positive reception from them, enough for them to distribute it to other members of the team. I am also aware of the role of bishops as I was a member of the Gosport Independent Panel, chaired by James Jones, the former Bishop of Liverpool, which investigated the terrible number of premature deaths among the elderly at Gosport War Memorial Hospital now the subject of a thorough police investigation. The next blog may well be on the inquiry’s findings into the Roman Catholic Church, due to be published next month.
As a person who was involved in the Anglican Church for many years I have had some first hand knowledge of these situations. At a meeting chaired by Dr John Habgood, then Bishop of Durham, to address serious concerns raised by Parishioner’s, Social Services & Educational authority, he expressed his regret that such matters had been raised in a way that was damaging to all concerned, the person involved had resigned and it was that persons own decision. The Church had looked into the concerns raised, but the person had offered his resignation and there had been no police involvement.
I shall not repeat the allegations and the rumours which circulated only to say the person involved had been moved from a location in Bishop Ball’s Diocese to the Durham Diocese, to which Bishop Ball brother Michael was Suffragan Bishop.
Like all organisations there is the visible structure but anyone who has had experience of these type of set ups, know that its hidden or in this case visible networks that are important.
If this was the end of the matter, sadly it was not. A Parish was told after a long wait, it be giving a new clergyman, he had been working in a Diocese already mentioned. Asked why he had come to the frozen North he replied it was God’s calling, I had left the area around this time and some years later returned and I bumped into a member of the congregation. Do you remember X and he said he was an excellent priest, its only when he left did we discover why he had moved here. The man had an attraction to young girls ( I shall not repeat it).
I came to the conclusion taking from above and other information giving over the years, that maybe as a Priest said there was a paedophile network in the Church, or certainly some in the Churches’ hierarchy thought that cover up and relocate was the correct way to deal with the problem. So, I thought God was a Just God? One thing missing it seems was justice for the victim. I think this neatly summed up the Churches position
Baroness Butler-Sloss is said to have told a victim of alleged abuse she did not want the claims to be in the public domain as she ‘cared about the Church’.
For God sake woman you are a Judge, you uphold the Law, and you are withholding information, that’s a criminal offence.
This is very interesting and I suspect more common than we realise. When I was investigating Elm Guest House a Met Police investigation led to the arrest of a Roman Catholic priest who was subsequently tried and imprisoned for child sexual abuse offences dating back to the 1980s. It turned out that he had subsequently been moved from parish to parish when suspicions were raised – rather than any action taken. This sounds similar.