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Diocese of London expresses 'deep regret and sorrow' over suicide of vicar wrongly accused of abuse

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The Church of England has responded to a Coroner's report on a vicar's suicide and apologised for its role in the pressures leading to his death. 

After more than a year of being investigated for alleged child abuse, Fr Alan Griffin took his own life in November 2020, despite the allegations never being explained to him. 

Following an inquest into Fr Alan Griffin's death - a Church of England priest who converted to Catholicism in 2012 - Coroner Mary Hassell wrote a Prevention of Future Deaths report which she addressed to the Archbishop of Canterbury. It said that the Church of England had shared a short summary of allegations with the Roman Catholic diocese that contained "inaccuracies" and failed to mention Fr Griffin's earlier suicide attempt "on learning of his HIV status". 

The report goes on to say that "nobody took responsibility for steering the direction of the process from start to finish" and that there was a lack of "coherent, reasoned evidence-based decisions that made sense".

Ms Hassell wrote: "Fr Griffin did not abuse children. He did not have sex with young people under the age of 18. He did not visit prostitutes. He did not endanger the lives of others by having sex with people whilst an HIV risk...There was no evidence he did any of these things."

The Diocese of London and Lambeth Palace have responded to the report to: "express their deep regret and sorrow at the death of Fr Alan Griffin. We acknowledge that there were either poor processes or systems, or mistakes, that led to unreasonable pressures on Fr Alan and we take responsibility for what went wrong."

The Church of England Diocese said it has taken steps towards appointing an experienced, independent reviewer, not previously known to or associated with the Diocese of London to give external scrutiny to its safeguarding systems. 

The Church responds to each of the Coroner's concerns and sets out what it is doing in response, such as the doubts about the truth of the allegations - to which the Diocese responded: "we accept that the concerns raised in respect of Fr Griffin were unsubstantiated."

It admits that: "good practice around evidence gathering, verification, and evaluation of information prior to action was lacking."

However, the Church also asks readers to appreciate the fact that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, including into the C of E, had influenced their response at the time. 

"The implications of these recommendations for the matters considered in this response are important. Both the IICSA recommendations and the existing House of Bishop's Guidance to clergy are strong and clear in their instruction that all safeguarding concerns or allegations should be reported to the Diocesan Safeguarding Team in the first instance and in any event within 24 hours, and that it is those professionals who should decide, independently, whether investigation or action needs to follow.

"This is to ensure untrained clergy are not investigating or using their own judgement, and to establish consistency of process. Although elements of our response to and handling of the concerns about Fr Griffin fell well short of good practice and need improvement, the principle of reporting, without investigation or filtering, of safeguarding concerns to qualified professionals, is one which is well established and one which we defend."

The Diocese continues: "The aim of making this submission to the Coroner was not to deflect criticism away from clergy or staff if they had acted inappropriately."

The Church also apologised for missing opportunities to learn from its mistakes earlier on. 

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