The Church of England is being accused of obstructing the work of its own safeguarding panel.
Jasvinder Sanghera and Steve Reeves who sit on the board of the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) have told the Telegraph that the Church has refused to share data with the panel and has denied them their own computers. They also claim there has been 'clear interference' with their work. They describe working with church officials as ‘an uphill battle and unnecessarily challenging.”
The ISB was set up in January 2022 to scrutinise the work of the Church’s National Safeguarding Team (NST), as well as holding the Church to account on safeguarding matters. It follows recommendations made by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).
There have been long-running claims by survivors that the ISB isn’t sufficiently ‘independent’ from the Church – claims which have been exacerbated by the recent appointment of former government minister Meg Munn as its Chair. Ms Munn already holds the post of chair of the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Panel.
Victims and survivors of clergy-based abuse have told Premier that they believe her appointment creates a significant conflict of interest and are calling for her to stand down. In a letter to the Archbishops and members of the Archbishops’ Council - seen by Premier - a child victim of church-based abuse said the ‘unsettled situation’ had affected survivors.
Ms Sanghera also described Meg Munn’s appointment as the “final straw” and said more than 40 victims have come forward to the ISB to raise concerns.
In a statement to Premier, Martin Sewell who is a member of General Synod said :
“These latest revelations confirm the serious concerns that I, survivors, and members of General Synod have repeatedly raised about the lack of independence in the Established Church’s responses to the IICSA enquiry. I thank the two ISB members for bravely aligning themselves with those of us calling for a comprehensive and open debate of this scandal on the floor of Synod.”
Tweeting about the situation, Richard Scorer, a lawyer who works with victims of church-based abuse, wrote : ‘The whole Independent Safeguarding Board saga reveals profound bad faith at the top of the Church of England.’
In a statement to Premier Bishop Joanne Grenfell, the Church of England’s lead safeguarding bishop said:
“The Independent Safeguarding Board was set up to provide important external scrutiny for the Church's safeguarding work and it is vital that the right structures are in place to do this.
We look forward to working with them as they begin the next phase of their work to scope out what these structures are and to having conversations about concerns they have raised including from the survivors and victims who have come forward to the ISB to share their experiences. We are committed to hearing their voice. An acting chair was put in place until the end of the year to ensure continuity and I look forward to working with all three Board members.
We welcome their annual report (being published tomorrow) and note their comments around their work to date and desire to continue with this independent scrutiny of the Church’s safeguarding. It is vital that we have independent scrutiny as this informs the core responsibility for all in the Church of ensuring good safeguarding in all our parishes and settings across the country. This important work goes on every day of the year. “