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UK News

Christ Church given warning by Charity Commission after spending £6.6m on disputes with dean

by Sophie Drew

The charity regulator has issued an official warning to Christ Church in Oxford over financial mismanagement after the college spent millions of pounds in “various actions” related to former Dean, Prof. Martyn Percy.

Christ Church, which serves as both a college and cathedral church for the Diocese of Oxford, has been in a four-year dispute with Percy after a string of accusations regarding safeguarding failures and sexual harassment. 

All initial charges were dropped in 2019, but more accusations would follow. 

It’s believed Prof. Percy was offered £1.2m settlement following the investigations by the church’s governing bodies.

Following the disputes, he accused the Church of “safeguarding failures.”  

The diocese responded by saying it had “expended considerable time and resources investigating claims of systemic safeguarding failure in the Church, again made by Martyn, shown to be unfounded.”

According to the Charity Commission, the back-and-forth resulted in Christ Church spending £6.6m on actions related to Prof. Percy between August 2018 and late January 2022, of which over £5.3m appears to have been approved retrospectively.

Helen Earner, Director of Regulatory Services at the Charity Commission, said: “These long and protracted disputes risked undermining the reputation of Christ Church and harming wider trust in charities.

“It is not for us as regulator to take sides in disputes. Our role is to ensure that charities are governed effectively and that charitable funds are properly accounted for. All trustees must demonstrate sound financial stewardship, regardless of the level of resources available to them.

“We consider that the actions of the trustees at Christ Church amount to mismanagement and/or misconduct, after they failed to manage the charity’s resources responsibly or ensure that the charity is accountable in the context of a costly dispute.”

In response, A spokesperson for Christ Church said: “Christ Church and individual trustees have repeatedly asked the Charity Commission for help to resolve the disputes with Prof. Percy, and explained the ways in which Prof. Percy was unfit to be a trustee.

“In very complex and constantly changing circumstances, Trustees made decisions which, having taken professional advice, they judged to be in the best interests of Christ Church.

“The costs and risks of the series of disputes with the former Dean were a moving target as Prof. Percy behaved in a way that maximised the costs and other damage to Christ Church. 

The church has pledged to “reform its procedures” to ensure a similar issue doesn’t arise again, and will work “closely” with the Charity Commission to implement their recommendations. 

Prof. Percy responded: “We remain deeply grateful for the support we have had throughout this ordeal.  We have now moved on, and sincerely hope Christ Church can come to terms with what has taken place and take remedial steps to reform its present and future operation”.

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