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Church of England
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Church of England
World News

Church of England apologises after Independent Safeguarding Chair told to stand down over data protection breaches

by Donna Birrell

The Church of England has told the Chair of the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) to stand down over breaches of data and confidentiality.

Two complaints have been upheld against Professor Maggie Atkinson that she broke data protection laws.

The ISB was set up in 2021, following the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) which heard complaints about the way the Church of England handled its safeguarding. The ISB's role is to provide external scrutiny and oversight of the Church's safeguarding activity.

In a statement, the Church of England's lead Bishop for Safeguarding, Right Rev Jonathan Gibbs said :

"A complaint to the National Church Institutions from a data subject about a data and confidentiality breach by the chair of the Independent Safeguarding Board, Professor Maggie Atkinson, has been upheld. We have notified the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and the Archbishops' Council has made a Serious Incident Report to the Charity Commission.

"We have apologised to the data subject for the distress caused and the chair has been asked to step back from her role as we await a response from the ICO. We would like to stress that the rights of individuals to protect their data and our duty to use that data properly in any aspect of our work is paramount.

"We are in contact with the other members of the ISB, who will continue in their work and there will be further updates in due course."

Professor Atkinson, who's been in the post since September 2021 is a former Children's Commissioner for England. In a statement to Premier the ISB said :

"The ISB regrets it has been necessary to ask Maggie Atkinson to step aside whilst the ICO investigates. We support their decision. The ISB recognises and is grateful for all the work undertaken to date by Maggie. The ISB acknowledges the importance of keeping personal data safe."

Speaking to Premier, writer and advocate for survivors of church abuse Andrew Graystone said he believes the situation shows that safeguarding in the Church of England still isn't truly independent :

"With safeguarding it's always been the allegation that the church is marking its own homework, that the church is not accountable to anybody outside of itself. And that's led to all sorts of problems in the past.

"It leaves us thinking what possible confidence could victims and survivors of abuse have in taking their information to the Church of England or to its independent safeguarding board, knowing that that information just seems to be shared around fairly freely. So there's a really serious issue for the church to deal with now.

"Why is the church asking the Chair of the independent board to stand aside if the board is independent? What's the church got to do with it? It's a mess.

"The safeguarding functions of the Church of England should be handed lock stock and barrel to a trusted independent organisation that's got real experience in managing safeguarding. And then perhaps we would be able to begin to rebuild the trust that has been completely lost between victims of abuse and the Church of England."


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