The end is Nye for the Archbishops’ Council’s safeguarding fiasco

The much-anticipated report by Professor Alexis Jay into the future of independent safeguarding in the Church of England was published at midnight between 20-21 February. Commissioned by the Archbishops’ Council in response to the furore over its handling of the so-called “‘Independent’ Safeguard Board” (ISB), the report sets out recommendations for how safeguarding in the Church of England should be delivered in the future.

Its key recommendations are that the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team and the Archbishops’ Council’s myriad collection of safeguarding bodies would be replaced by two new, completely independent, bodies. These bodies will be established by law. One will deliver all safeguarding activities in the Church of England and the other will provide scrutiny and oversight of safeguarding.

The Archbishops’ Council should hang their heads in shame. That an independent review by a very experienced and highly regarded child protection expert has to recommend the wholesale abolition of current structures, shows that those current structures are not, and were not, fit for purpose. This should not come as a surprise to the Archbishops’ Council, because many people – me included – have been telling them (and telling anybody else who would listen) that the current system is a failure.

That ssystem has failed the Church and, more importantly, it has failed many hundreds of people who have suffered abuse at the hands of priests or others in authority in the Church. And it continues to do so.

If only the Archbishops’ Council and its secretariat, led by William Nye, had “ears to ear” and a real desire to act.

For me, the most important part of Professor Jay’s report is on page four, where she says this: “it is important to stress that the criticisms of the system set out below are not a reflection on individual safeguarding professionals but rather of current structures and processes which need to change.”

In February 2022, when I brought a following motion to the General Synod calling for “a full independent assessment of the work and performance reporting of the NST and the myriad national safeguarding bodies of the Church of England; for this evaluation to be published in full; and for a debate on its contents at a future Group of Sessions to enable the Synod to be fully engaged in the decisions about the future direction and shape of the Church of England’s safeguarding work.”

Debate on the motion was curtailed when Canon Simon Butler, a former member of the Archbishops’ Council, moved a procedural device to end the debate without a vote. In asking Synod members to accept his procedural point of order, he said that continuing the debate would “undermine the confidence of the strong and, in my experience, highly reflective team in the NST who work with us already. My experience is that the NST is the most reflective learning culture in the whole of the Church of England.”


Regardless of what happened in the Synod debate, Professor Jay has now produced a report which, while it is not a full independent assessment of the work and performance reporting of the NST and the myriad national safeguarding bodies of the Church of England, does enable the General Synod to debate and decide the future direction and shape of the Church of England’s safeguarding work.

The report warrants serious reading. It is not a lengthy tome – just 55 pages, including appendices. In those pages Professor Jay sets out the problems and offers solutions. I, and others, will hear within the report our own voices. Professor Jay sets out in a coherent way the arguments that those campaigning for change have been making for years, and she highlights the same problems that we have highlighted: specifically an inconsistent approach to safeguarding across the dioceses and no complaints or appeal mechanism.

Basically, bishops have bene left to get on with it, and no matter how badly they undertake safeguarding, and no matter how far they deviate from official Church of England guidance and safeguarding policy papers, nobody can tell them to stop or take corrective action.

The former Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, had his PTO removed for saying this in public (albeit somewhat clumsily): that safeguarding law doesn’t trump church law. What he meant is understood by those who know the system: as an archbishop he has no authgority to direct a bishop to take a particular course of action in any safeguarding case. He has no power to do so.

The present Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, has said exactly the same to me (less clumsily) in private. In a specific case, he has written to an archdeacon asking them to provide a copy of a document to a victim of Church abuse. The archdeacon has refused to do so. The archbishop can’t compel him.

This lack of proper scrutiny – where actions can be reviewed, challenged and corrected – is probably the biggest problem in the way safeguarding is carried out in the Church. It would not happen in any other organisation, sector or group.

Professor Jay puts it like this: “The Church’s system of operational safeguarding is not compatible with best practices. . . Overall, Church safeguarding falls below the standards expected and set in secular organisations. We concluded that the only way in which this can be addressed is by making safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults truly independent of the Church. Further tinkering with existing structures will not be sufficient to make safeguarding in the Church consistent, accountable and trusted by those who use its services.”

In recommending two independent bodies to undertake safeguarding work, Professor Jay is building in scrutiny and oversight of the body delivering safeguarding activities. As I have said, the lack of such scrutiny is the biggest issue with the current system.

Another issue is the conflict of interest: complaints are often investigated, in the first instance, by an archdeacon; and it is likely that the alleged abuser is known to the archdeacon. They may even be friends. Professor Jay says: “Parish priests and bishops are responsible for their parish or diocese and the potential for them to have a conflict of interest, for example, through knowing the accused person or the complainant or to have a personal interest in the outcome of a safeguarding decision, is significant. This is not a fair or proper way to investigate or adjudicate on safeguarding.

“While many people we spoke to were at pains to say that their bishop or their priest would step back from any safeguarding case and not be involved if they had personal knowledge of anyone concerned, this seemed to rest entirely on the person’s attitude, rather than on a specific process. It also seemed to lack provision for appealing against the continuing involvement of the individual concerned.”

Professor Jay also highlights the fact that terms of reference for independent reviews – such as those conducted previously by SCIE (the Social Care Institute for Excellence) – were set by the Church itself. “We were not made aware of any issues concerning the terms of reference or problems with the audit process, but such is the overall lack of confidence in the system that many viewed with suspicion the fact that SCIE had not been recommissioned for a second round of audits,” Professor Jay said. “These audits provided an important assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the service and made recommendations for change, but there appeared to be no system for tracking or implementing their recommendations nor holding any individuals to account for any failure to do so.”

Again, this is something that I have repeatedly highlighted during “Questions”, when I was a member of the General Synod. The Archbishops’ Council response to requests for a table listing recommendations, whether they had been accepted, and progress on implementing those that had been adopted, was “it is too difficult”.

The new model

Setting out the rationale for the proposed new model, Professor Jay says: “The shortcomings which have been identified with current safeguarding arrangements in the Church are so widespread and ingrained that it is clear that confidence in the system amongst victims and survivors has fallen steeply, particularly since the dismissal of the ISB in June 2023.

“Further changes to the current system will not be sufficient to rebuild trust that the Church is a safe place and a complete change of culture is needed to restore trust and confidence in Church safeguarding.

“This can only be achieved by the creation of two fully independent bodies for the operational delivery and scrutiny of safeguarding in the Church of England. There must be a complete transfer of responsibility from the Church to these bodies, whose advice and decisions should be final and not merely advisory.”

General Synod will debate the report on Saturday.

But the Archbishops’ Council have already decided – even before they had sight of Professor Jay’s report – what the future will be. The motion tabled for debate says:

“That this Synod thank Sarah Wilkinson and Alexis Jay for their work and request that the process set out in paragraph 12 of GS 2336 for forming a response to, and considering any necessary implementation of, their recommendations be pursued as a matter of priority.”

The process referred to is for two teams to kick the proposals into the long grass.

The first, an “internal team”, would “run deep engagement with Diocesan Safeguarding Advisors / Diocesan Safeguarding Officers and others in dioceses and cathedrals to unpick reactions on different elements and develop detailed proposals; develop a survey-style tool that would permit engagement and responses from parish safeguarding officers and other parish volunteers; [and] engage with other stakeholders across the church including in the General Synod and hear views.”

The second, “a survivor and victim focus group” would “hear the views of victims, survivors and their advocates on the proposals.”

I hope that General Synod will reject this way forward. Consultation has already taken place. We now have proposals. It is time for delivery.

I hope that General Synod members will move and pass an amendment to the motion as follows: to leave out all words after “request that” and add: “the Archbishop’s Council to (a) instruct independent legislative counsel to prepare a draft Measure giving effect to Professor Jay’s proposals; (b) to publish the draft Measure for consultation by April 2024; and (c) to bring that draft, together with a report setting out responses to the consultation, for first consideration at General Synod in July 2024.”

This would enable the Synod to take charge of the process and wrest it away from the Archbishops’ Council which has proved, time and time again, to lack the competence required to deliver effective safeguarding functions.

In a further blog post, which I will publish later today, I will explore some of the safeguarding papers presented to Synod members for their meeting which begins on Friday. I will show how these papers and reports clearly demonstrate the obfuscation and, yes, I will say it, lies, that the Archbishops’ Council and its staff deploy to mislead Synod members and the public (and, by default, the Charity Commission, who are the regulators of the Archbishops’ Council) on the effectiveness and activities of the national safeguarding structures.

The Archbishops’ Council and its staff must not be allowed to delay or tinker with the implementation of Professor Jay’s proposals. Many of the recent safeguarding crises facing the Church have the fingerprints of William Nye, the Archbishops’ Council Secretary, all over them.

Synod has the power to legislate by Measure. It has been given this devolved power by Parliament. It must now use it to take charge of this crisis and deliver a future that will properly serve victims and survivors of church-related abuse and not allow the process to be hijacked or derailed by the Archbishops’ Council or its staff, including William Nye.

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