|All members of the General Synod
former member of the General Synod (Laity, Southwell and Nottingham)
|24 January 2024
Dear Members of the General Synod,
As I am sure you will know, I resigned my membership of the General Synod in July last year over the failure of the Church of England to properly get a grip with its continuing safeguarding failings, and the persistent efforts of the Archbishops’ Council to block proper debate and scrutiny of safeguarding by the General Synod, including through the misuse and incorrect application of the Synod’s Standing Orders.
I write to you know because further grave mistakes are about to be made. You need to be aware of these and ensure that, when you gather in London next month, you are armed with the knowledge necessary to prevent what I predict will be further serious safeguarding calamities.
When we gathered in York in July last year, there was a presentation by the Archbishops’ Council on the disbanding of the so-called “Independent” Safeguarding Board. In that presentation, the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said: “we think there should be a review of what has happened, an independent review, and a report back to Synod in November, and we intend to put that in process.”
Many of us thought that a review and report in time for the November group of sessions was unlikely – there wasn’t the time to turn it around. And so it proved to be: But Sarah Wilkinson’s report was published in December and I hope that you will get the opportunity to review and debate it in full next month.
Let me be candid: I didn’t hold out much hope for Sarah Wilkinson’s review, and – despite requests from friends – I declined to engage with it. I felt that the terms of reference for the review, set by the Archbishops’ Council, were too narrowly focused and would prevent a report that would be any use to anybody.
I was wrong, Sarah Wilkinson has done an excellent forensic examination, providing a new timeline for decision making which differs from what has previously been said publicly. The Wilkinson Review does not apply blame anywhere; but as you read it and see what decisions were taken and when, and who knew what and when, and who didn’t know what and when, you can join the dots to see where blame lies.
The apportionment of blame was not part of her terms of reference. Some people take the view that lessons learned reviews shouldn’t seek to apportion blame – they are about learning lessons, not retribution. And while I agree, in part, with that, it is also important that where a person or individual is consistently the cause of problems, then that person is identified so that further training, supervision, or other action – including removing responsibility from them – can be taken to prevent those same mistakes continuing to be made, in case after case, year after year, despite countless other lessons learned reviews.
Please do read the Wilkinson Report. It will no doubt be sent to you with the Synod papers, but it is too important a document for it to be skim-read within the two-to-three weeks you usually get before a Group of Sessions to scrutinise the agenda and supporting papers.
It is available to download now from the Archbishop’s Council website.
The Outline of Synod Business for February shows that two separate sessions – one on Saturday morning and the other on Saturday afternoon – will be held on “Safeguarding”. Despite my previous requests to the Business Committee to provide a little more detail in these Outlines of Business, no further information is available. But it is almost certain that the Wilkinson Review will be covered in one of them.
There is another substantial piece of work currently awaited. Like the Wilkinson Review, this one is also past its due date. This is the review into the Future of Church Safeguarding by Professor Alexis Jay OBE. This was also set up after the disbanding of the ISB to propose a new structure for independent scrutiny of safeguarding in the Church of England.
In July 2023, a press release announcing the establishment of the Jay Review said that: “a report will be presented to The Archbishops’ Council . . . containing a clear recommendation for a model for independent safeguarding. Professor Jay will publish this report herself to ensure transparency in her work.”
It went on to say that “the Archbishops’ Council, House of Bishops and General Synod will all be invited to consider the final report recommendations with decision making belonging to the appropriate bodies.”
The Jay Report is not yet available. The review website has recently been updated to say that it will be published “by early 2024”.
But already, without sight of the report, the Archbishops’ Council has moved on its next steps.
An update was published on the safeguarding pages of the Archbishops’ Council website early yesterday morning (23 January), announcing the creation of a “Response Group” for the Wilkinson and Jay reviews. This announcement was not included on the “Daily Media Digest” nor was it sent to journalists.
The update says that: “following the publication of Sarah Wilkinson’s Review into the ISB and in light of the forthcoming Future of Church Safeguarding review from Professor Jay, the Archbishops’ Council has set up a group to consider how to respond and plan next steps.”
Legal responsibility for safeguarding in the National Church Institutions rests with the Archbishops’ Council, as trustees.
Legal responsibility for safeguarding in the wider Church of England, including its parishes and dioceses, rests with the General Synod, as the legislature with power to pass Measures, which have the status of Acts of Parliament, which can set out the requirements for parishes and dioceses to follow.
Those bodies, and the House of Bishops (which is established by law as just one of three Houses of Synod) will discuss the reports of the reviews. Until you, as the Synod, have had the chance to read, study, consider and debate the reviews and their recommendations, what is the point of a new “Response Group”?
Who will set its terms of reference? What will its task be?
If its task is to set out new structures for independent safeguarding in the Church of England, then what is Professor Jay doing?
If its task is to decide which of the recommendations by Sarah Wilkinson or Alexis Jay will be carried forward, then what is the Archbishops’ Council and the General Synod doing?
In the update, the Archbishops’ Council says that it “has publicly committed to learning lessons for the future delivery of independent safeguarding oversight noting the vital importance of this for all who come into contact with the Church but particularly for victims and survivors who will play an integral part in this work. The response group, chaired by the lead safeguarding bishop, will consider the important lessons to be learnt highlighted in the Wilkinson report and once published will look at the recommendations in the Jay report.”
I am sorry, Synod members, but another promise of a commitment to “learn the lessons” is meaningless. Victims, survivors and their advocates have heard this all to often. And the lessons are never learned.
May I remind you that the Archbishops’ Council have twice refused my request to publish a list of recommendations from recent lessons learned reviews together with progress towards implementation, on the grounds that it is “too difficult”.
One of the things that Sarah Wilkinson highlights in her review is the “over-complex, hard-to-navigate structures, bodies and boards at national, diocesan and other levels” in Church safeguarding. Instead of looking at these and simplifying the structure, the Archbishops’ Council’s response is to set up yet another new group.
What is the point of the groups that already exist?
But this “Response Group” isn’t the only new body. Because the update says that “alongside this, it is envisaged that a survivor and victim focus group will also be set up” and that “the response group will consult with it in order to ask questions on specific areas.”
It says that “the response group will meet regularly and will consider what wider consultation and further reflection is needed around both Reviews before a final response is considered and made by the AC which will go to General Synod for debate.”
In other words, rather than you – the General Synod – being given the opportunity to debate the Wilkinson and Jay Reviews in their entirety, you are instead being promised the opportunity to debate the Archbishops’ Council’s response to them.
Members of Synod: the safeguarding fiasco in the Church of England is caused entirely by the Archbishops’ Council and its senior staff. In July last year you were promised independent reviews, independent recommendations, and a future shaped by the Synod.
Instead, the Archbishops’ Council are working to take the Wilkinson and Jay reports from you and offer you their own proposals.
If you want an example of why this won’t work, take a look at my new blog: churchabuse.uk. I have published an update on Gilo. You will all have heard of Gilo, but how many of you know about his case and why today, ten years after he reached a settlement with the Diocese of London, he is still fighting for answers from an Archbishops’ Council that misled him, his lawyer, and IICSA. You can read the update here.
There is more on this story on the Thinking Anglicans website.
If the Archbishops’ Council really want to be trusted with safeguarding, they should start by being open and honest with victims and survivors (Gilo is not alone), admit their mistakes, and give people a chance to move on.
The Wilkinson Review’s account of what happened with the ISB paints a different picture from what Synod was told as the ISB was being created and established. It paints a different picture from what Synod was told in William Nye’s report (GS Misc 1341); and it paints a different picture from the Archbishops’ Council members told Synod on that painful Sunday afternoon in July.
It shows that the Archbishops’ Council was inept and incompetent when it established the ISB and misled Synod and others.
The Archbishops’ Council has demonstrated that it can’t be trusted. It should not be allowed to create new groups to review independent reports until and unless you, the Synod, ask them to do so.
And it should not invite people to join a working group in an announcement that includes the text “the terms of reference will be drawn up in due course”.
The establishment of this Review Group is a ham-fisted attempt by the Archbishops’ Council to put the brakes on the journey towards independence in safeguarding. Please do not allow them to do it.
Make sure that you – the legislative body of the Church of England – read, study, consider and debate the reviews and their recommendations and decide for yourselves what the future of Church safeguarding looks like.
The Archbishops’ Council had the opportunity to do this. They failed. And in doing so they acted in a way to protect the reputation of the Church rather than the wellbeing of survivors – ignoring professional safeguarding advice in doing so.
This created the worst example of corporate re-traumatisation of survivors that I have seen. It cannot be allowed to happen again.
Please, Synod, take control of safeguarding back from the dysfunctional Archbishops’ Council. The Archbishops’ Council is not up to the job. Don’t let the Archbishops’ Council lead the Church towards another serious safeguarding calamity that will need to be reviewed in a few years time.