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The Waterside Churches
Cornwall church St Feock pic.jpg
The Waterside Churches
World News

Cornish church in 'serious safeguarding breach' after allowing teenager to accompany convicted paedophile

by Donna Birrell

The Diocese of Truro is investigating a "serious breach of safeguarding" at one of its churches after a teenage organist was hired to work alongside a convicted paedophile.

The church of St Feock, near Truro, had previously allowed 75-year-old Michael Copeland to join its choir despite him being banned from churches in Yorkshire because he posed a threat to children.

He had been jailed twice in the 1980s and 90s for indecently assaulting boys he had mainly met through the church in the north of England. 

Last year, he was jailed for 16 years after admitting 15 charges of historic abuse against a young boy between the ages of eight and twelve.

In a statement to the Premier, the Diocese said the parish had hired a teenage boy despite being aware that a safeguarding agreement was in place for one of the congregations. 

"The Diocese was not notified of this appointment by the parish. Had proper protocol been followed, the Diocese would have taken action at that point. As far as we knew, there continued to be no children in the church."

The acting diocesan Bishop of Truro, Rt Rev Hugh Nelson, has suspended a churchwarden for a serious breach of safeguarding practice over the incident.

Jasvinder Sanghera, a former Church of England's now-disbanded Independent Safeguarding Board member, told Premier she wasn't surprised by the church's response. 

"The majority of the cases I was involved in concern vulnerable children who were abused between the ages of seven and 14. I heard their experiences and them saying, 'Look, we do not ever want to be in a position where we can risk sitting alongside a potential paedophile or a convicted paedophile.'

"Now this is a strong voice, and I hear what people say when they say, 'do the Christian thing, walk alongside people.' But if we look across institutions and we think about safeguarding children and young people - the most vulnerable - we should not be allowing convicted paedophiles to enter any institution, and that includes the church. 

"In fact, the church should be strong in demonstrating leadership in this space to protect the most vulnerable because many vulnerable people go to church."

The Diocese of Truro says that in 2018 it was notified by the Diocese of Sheffield's safeguarding team that Copeland had returned to Cornwall and wished to worship in church. It says a worship agreement (safety plan) was implemented following a safeguarding review and a risk assessment.

The Diocese of Truro says former police officers currently staff its safeguarding team. The plan was rescinded when the team told Copeland was again under investigation for historic offences in Sheffield.

Sanghera continued: "Is it an extreme case? We don't know. If a convicted paedophile was allowed to sit alongside young people in any church, how do we know this is not happening across other churches? I can't say with conviction, as somebody who worked in safeguarding as a survivor advocate, that the policy is not to allow paedophiles to sit and worship in church. 

"This needs to change. There should be a relationship with the church and the police in terms of the likelihood of offending. I'm not aware that the church has this conversation with the police.

"This never should have been allowed to happen. It has been allowed to happen and this person has been allowed to go on and abuse again, because of the lack of leadership."

A review of the case is now being undertaken by the Diocese of Truro and the Church of England alongside an independent safeguarding consultant. 

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