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Complaint made to Charity Commission about Church of England's safeguarding failures

by Cara Bentley

Lawyers, abuse survivors and clergy have signed a complaint letter to the Charity Commission about the Church of England's handling of safeguarding issues, calling for external intervention. 

The 65 signatories - including Lord Carlile, the barrister who conducted the review into the abuse of Bishop George Bell - argue that the justice process is open to conflicts of interest and bias, and that the Church's own standards for fair procedure are not lived up to. They also claim that recommendations made about improving safeguarding from previous reviews are slow to be implemented and that the Church prioritises 'saving face'. 

They write: "Within such a complex structure, it is extraordinarily difficult for aggrieved parties to secure redress of individual grievance, for questions to be raised, or for policy and its implementation (or lack thereof) to be challenged."

The letter aims to involve the Charity Commission, saying: "the continuing flow of cases of injustice leads us to seek early intervention from the Charity Commission. We do this with reluctance, having tried and failed to secure redress through multiple complaints across the structure."

The Church's lead safeguarding Bishop Jonathan Gibbs said in response that some of their complaints seem to be based on misunderstandings about what is involved and that clarifications about the process are being made to prevent these. 

He said the Church had failed victims in the past but that no one gets special treatment.

The signatories of the complaint letter include Lord Carlile; David Lamming, a member of General Synod and retired barrister; Martin Sewell, also a member of General Synod and retired Child Protection Solicitor; Rev Jonathan Aitken; and David Pearson, founder of Christian safeguarding charity thirtyone:eight. It is also signed by Graham Sawyer, a victim of Peter Ball; 'Graham’, a Iwerne Trust/John Smyth survivor; Revd Canon Rosie Harper, contributor to ‘Letters to a Broken Church’; and nine others referred to a 'victims'.

Martin Sewell told Premier: "We [the Church] do not do justice to the complainants. We do not do justice to the respondents. And throughout this there is a very worrying feature that the interest of the Church is primary - 'We must not have a scandal'. Everything else gets sacrificed to that."

One source of criticism is the 'core groups' who manage the process of each case and include relevant church staff, such as safeguarding officers or church wardens. 

Mr Sewell said many have reached the end of their patience: "We don't doubt that reform is perceived as necessary - that's fine. Where the problem is, is while we wait for it, there are dreadful abuses happening in core groups and this is outrageous because the Church is supposed to love justice, do mercy, and walk humbly with God. What we find is that there is justice that's being ignored, people are turning away when people are suffering and there is a lot of pride. They will not say 'we have got this seriously wrong'."

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