Church of England safeguarding: Why won’t Gilo go away?

Anyone who has followed the Church of England’s safeguarding fiasco over recent years will be aware of Gilo, a redoubtable campaigner for reform of safeguarding in the Church. Gilo is a victim of abuse. Along with survivor advocate Janet Fife, Gilo co-edited the powerful “Letters to a Broken Church” book in 2019.

Gilo was 16 years old in the late 1970s when a priest, the Revd Garth Moore, subjected him to what a later review would describe as “a tragic catalogue of exploitation and harm.” That harm was exacerbated when Gilo was met with a wall of obstruction from Church officials as he tried to report to them what had happened to him.

Eventually, in 2015, the Diocese of London reached a settlement with Gilo, which included financial recompense and the promise of an independent review into the way Church officials had acted – or failed to act – when he reported the abuse. The diocese asked the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS, now known as ThirtyOne:Eight) to carry out the review, and CCPAS commissioned safeguarding consultant Ian Elliott to conduct it. The Elliott Review was completed in 2016.

So you would think this would be the final word. Financial compensation to the victim and a raft of recommendations for the Church to consider how it can improve its practices going forward.

But no. Instead of accepting the Elliott Report and the criticisms within it, the Church of England allowed its insurers, Ecclesiastical, set about on a campaign of dissembling the report and seeking to cast doubt on Gilo’s credibility.

As part of this campaign, a meeting was held at Church House, Westminster, with senior members of the Archbishops’ Council staff and executives from Ecclesiastical Insurance. The meeting was held to discuss “a joined-up approach to stories and the media”. It was called to work out how to protect and preserve the reputation of both the C of E and Ecclesiastical. Neither Gilo nor his lawyers were aware of the meeting.

Afterwards, Ecclesiastical began to publicly question parts of Elliott’s review. They continued this approach when giving evidence at IICSA – the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. They describing the review as “flawed” and “inaccurate” and they explicitly denied saying that the Church should withdraw pastoral support from Gilo.

For this, representatives of Ecclesiastical were called back to the Inquiry and, tail between their legs, were forced to retract some of their previous evidence.

After IICSA, Gilo submitted a Data Protect Act Subject Access Request to the Archbishops’ Council and others. Through its response, Gilo discovered the earlier reputation management meeting between the Archbishops’ Council and Ecclesiastical.

In attendance were senior members of the Archbishops’ Council staff, including members of the legal office, communications department and, worryingly, the National Safeguarding Team.

The National Safeguarding Team exists, according to the Church of England website, to “manage complex safeguarding cases (involving a number of dioceses) and those relating to senior clergy including bishops and deans” and “for leading on House of Bishops policy and practice guidance, and developing safeguarding training.”

So why is a body responsible for managing safeguarding cases and leading on policy and practice guidance – presumably with a brief to make the Church safe – taking part in meetings discussing reputation management and the possible discrediting of survivors and reviews?

Despite attempts to obtain explanations from the National Safeguarding Team and the Bishop of London, the Church effectively shut Gilo down.

In response Gilo made a formal complaint against William Nye, the Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council. In his role, Nye has overall responsibility for safeguarding in the Church of England and as a result, Gilo complained that he must have been responsible for holding the reputation management meeting.

The Chair of the Archbishops’ Council finance committee, Canon John Spence, was, in effect, Nye’s line manager and Gilo’s complaint was handed to him to investigate. He concluded that there were no further records of the meeting or of what was discussed, and – bizarrely – that those present couldn’t recollect it. Rather than a defence, this should have been the cause of a separate investigation by the Archbishops’ Council, because good safeguarding practice requires proper record keeping.

In relation to Nye’s involvement, Canon Spence concluded that William Nye wasn’t present at the meeting because “he always takes his holiday at that time of year”. Gilo’s complaint was dismissed.

Subsequent letters from Gilo to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Church of England safeguarding leads, and other senior Archbishops’ Council staff were ignored for a year.

But there was an unexpected twist in March 2023 when the then-Lead Bishop for Safeguarding, the Right Revd Jonathan Gibbs, sent a letter to Gilo in which he admitted that the Church of England does have records of the meeting, that William Nye was not only aware of it but had attended it, and that the reputation of the Church of England and Ecclesiastical was discussed at it.

In his letter, Bishop Jonathan admitted that Gilo’s “interests and well-being as a survivor were not as central as they should have been.”

Whether he intended it or not, Bishop Jonathan’s letter reveals the existence of a conspiracy to cover up malpractice. It is worth repeating what I’ve just said: in response to Gilo’s complaint against William Nye, Canon John Spence said that William Nye wasn’t present, that there were no records, and that staff could not recall the meeting.

And yet here, the Lead Bishop for Safeguarding had access to records which showed details of the meeting and which confirmed that William Nye was present. It is not believable that those present – including lawyers who are notorious for writing down copious notes – had no recollection of it.

Gilo’s lawyer, Richard Scorer, wrote to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in July 2023 asking why the complaint against William Nye had been dismissed. Clearly, Nye wasn’t on holiday, as Canon Spence had said, because he was at the meeting.

More worryingly, as IICSA investigated the Church’s handling of Gilo’s case, as part of its investigation into “The Anglican Church”, the suppression of documents related to this meeting is potentially a criminal offence under section 35 of the Inquiries Act.

Richard Scorer has chased the Archbishops for a response. And so have members of the General Synod. In November 2023, in a written response to a formal question by a General Synod member, the Archbishop of York said that an external firm of auditors had been engaged to conduct a “targeted” review.

If that is the case, why have they not written to Gilo or to Richard Scorer to explain this and to invite them to contribute to the review?

The Archbishops’ Council may wish that Gilo would “go away” – that they didn’t have to keep responding to a case that, at its core, dates back 40 years to the late 1970’s.

A settlement was reached in 2015. Why are we still discussing this?

Why is Gilo’s case still a thing?

It is still “a thing” because, like so many other victims, the Church is continuing to re-traumatise Gilo by the ongoing fresh systematic abuse.

The Church should have accepted the Elliott Review and implemented its recommendations.

The Church should have met to discuss how to right the wrongs; how to improve its practices. It should not have met to discuss how to protect its reputation.

The Church should have been open and honest about the 2016 reputation management meeting.

The Church should not have dismissed Gilo’s complaint against William Nye; and should not have protected Nye by lying about him being on holiday.

The Church should not require external auditors to tell it what it already knows – who was at a meeting, what was discussed, why the meeting was held, what happened as a result. If the Archbishops’ Council itself doesn’t know what it is doing and what it has done, then how can it claim to be doing the right thing when it comes to safeguarding?

(Spoiler alert: the Archbishops’ Council is not doing the right things when it comes to safeguarding. The Archbishops’ Council convinces no one other than themselves when they claim that they are learning the lessons.)

Archbishops’ Council can still do the right thing. It can stop lying to Gilo. It can respond to his solicitor. And they can suspend William Nye while they investigate his ongoing meddling in safeguarding issues, meddling that has caused, and continues to cause, so much damage to so many people.


Reaction

Last week, a number of people including Gilo, his solicitor Richard Scorer, the Independent Reviewer Ian Elliott and several members of the General Synod issued comments reacting to the ongoing mistreatment of Gilo by the Archbishops’ Council. This is what they had to say:

Gilo
Survivor and co-creator of the House of Survivors website:

“It has taken me nearly four years and many emails, many blanked by senior people, to begin to get to the truth of all this. The obfuscation and blanking has been systemic. Archbishops’ Council really wanted to hide this. I think it inevitable that William Nye, the Secretary General of Archbishops’ Council must now go, and the Audit Committee call time on Archbishops’ Council handling of this and much else of their misconduct. Church House and Archbishops’ Council now require complete overhaul and reboot with change of leadership culture at the top of the Church so that transparency becomes the standard and not the exception.”

Andrew Graystone
Survivor-Advocate and Campaigner:

“I was present at a meeting in 2020 with a member of the Archbishops’ Council, who was charged with considering Gilo’s complaint. We were told that there was no evidence that William Nye had any awareness that a meeting had taken place between Ecclesiastical Insurance and the National Safeguarding Team (NST) at which the management of the reputation of the church and Ecclesiastical (the Church’s insurer) was discussed. We were told in terms that Mr Nye was not present at the meeting, and that he could not have been present, because he is always on holiday at that time of year. That turns out to have been untrue. Mr Nye was present at the meeting, though he appears to have informed the reviewer that he was not. The result is that Gilo’s complaint was dismissed on the basis of an untruth.

The lack of transparency and integrity on display here is not trivial. Casual dissembling causes further distress to people who have already been damaged by the church. Survivors of church abuse like Gilo have little enough reason to trust church officers. When a complaint against the Archbishops’ Council is handled with smoke and mirrors, how can the church expect to rebuild that trust?”

Ian Elliott
Safeguarding Consultant and reviewer of Gilo’s case:

“In my professional work as an independent safeguarding consultant, I often meet with an organization that has lost sight of why it exists. They often develop behaviours that are causing great harm to themselves and to others. In my view, the Church of England is such an organization. It is a Christian Church that is supposedly based on a set of values that requires it to act with integrity and to be truthful in its interactions with others. It is required to be good witness for the Gospel. Through my direct experience, I have found that this is not the case for parts of this Church. To hide and deny what you know is true, are the actions of a corrupt body rather than a Christian Church. It is and should be unacceptable to all right-minded people, who are within or outside the Church, and it needs to be ended now.”

Helen King
Member of the General Synod:

“I’ve been copied into emails about the Elliott review and EIG for well over a year and can see for myself how long it takes to get any sort of answers from the Church. The lack of engagement, the repeated delays, the buck-passing, the denials that later have to be retracted, the systemic obfuscation have all given me sharp insight into the deep frustration which too many survivors experience when trying to find justice. It is extremely disappointing that the Archbishops Council and even the Bishop of London continue to prioritize the reputation of the Church over the impact on the individuals damaged by it.”

Clive Billenness
Member of the General Synod and the Archbishops’ Councils Audit Committee:

“Before being elected to the Audit Committee of the Archbishops’ Council 18 months ago, I spent almost 30 years reviewing governance arrangements across both the public and private sectors. I am deeply concerned about the repeated apparent shortcomings in safeguarding within our Church.

Recently we have seen the way that public trust in the Post Office has been undermined by poor governance and the lack of transparency. It is important that our Church works hard to demonstrate that it remains worthy of trust. I will wish to discuss with my colleagues on the Audit Committee what the implications are of both this and other recent safeguarding problems and whether we can use our influence to help prevent further repetitions.”

Martin Sewell
Member of the General Synod and former Solicitor specialising in child abuse cases:

“This is an important story and yet again we see that the Survivor has had to do all the work across nearly four years to drag the truth out of the Church which has responded with dishonesty, diffidence, delay and lack of integrity. The Wilkinson Review referenced the lack of proper minutes of important meetings leaving a deficient audit trail. This appears to be the case here, and the Secretary General is primarily responsible for this. Archbishops Council owe Gilo and also Ian Elliott, a very clear apology for their skewered treatment of the Elliott Review, and for their dishonest handling of a formal complaint. We have to ask of Archbishops Council: “Can we trust these people to ever learn?”

4 Comments on "Church of England safeguarding: Why won’t Gilo go away?"

  1. Guarding against corporate reputational damage is standard practice in most commercial organisations, and a key senior management function, protecting shareholders’ interests. Is it a coincidence that recent decades have witnessed an increasing emphasis on ‘management’ and all that goes with a management model of the Church across several denominations? Working with that model then leads to the assumption in some quarters that an experienced corporate manager would clearly make a good senior bishop.

  2. So much in this article resonates with me in my effort to find justice for a friend who has been falsely accused of sexual touching a chorister. This case has been now ongoing for almost four years and never had any sort of independent investigation.

    A few weeks ago our hopes were raised when the Bishop of our Diocese
    said he would contact the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser with the expression of his “hope that a resolution might be found”. Instead he replied by email and restated ten points that had already had been robustly proved to be wrong in four formal complaints and which were never responded to. It was the DSA who gave him this information he wrote in the email.

    We now know without doubt the fabrications, untruths and false practices are the actions “of a corrupt body rather than a Christian Church” (Ian Elliott). As Martin Sewell quotes from the Wilkinson Review the lack of minutes of important minutes leave ‘a deficient audit trail’.
    We now know my friend’s case is unlikely to be resolved. Another case to add to the other many cases of gross injustice in Safeguarding.

  3. Significantly, I should have added, that since October 2020 the Cathedral Safeguarding Canon and the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser have frequently conspired to withold documented evidence that might have exonerated my friend from the allegation. Although during a CDM we filed against the Canon in April 2023 when both the Registrar and the Chancellor said there was no reason for this information not to be given, it was still refused.

    More recently the Bishop of the Diocese said that although he had seen our detailed evidence he too refused to give it to us saying, “I am not in a position to override the advice I have been given”.

    I think this is strong evidence of the powerlessness of Bishops to intervene in justice for safeguarding. This too,needs serious investigation otherwise there will never be any truth or justice.

    After all we have shown the evidence to this Bishop and he knows the truth. Nevertheless,he has to accede to the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser in a collusion of fabrications to preserve reputations.

  4. Thank you for the mention. However, like Gilo I am both a survivor and a survivor advocate. Like him, my experience of the C of E as a survivor of church abuse is one of denial, obfuscation, gaslighting, and really unbelievable attempts not to deal properly or fairly with my complaint. And I know the same is true of many other survivors, and also those falsely accused. The C of E seems to be incapable of doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with its God.

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