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Safeguarding review group at Archbishops' Council scorned by abuse survivors and their advocates

by Donna Birrell

The Church of England’s announcement regarding a group set up to consider how the church should respond to the findings of two safeguarding reviews, has been described as “ham-fisted” by a former General Synod member.

Gavin Drake, who resigned from Synod last year over what he described as “the failure of the Church of England to properly get a grip with its continuing safeguarding failings", said that “further grave mistakes” were about to be made at the next meeting of the Church’s governing body in February.

The response group has been set up to reflect on the findings of Sarah Wilkinson’s report into the disbanding of the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) last year.  A separate review by Alexis Jay into developing independent safeguarding structures in the C of E is due to report soon.

A statement, released on Tuesday on the CofE's website, says the Archbishops’ Council "has publicly committed to learning lessons for the future delivery of independent safeguarding oversight noting the vital importance of this for all who come into contact with the Church but particularly for victims and survivors who will play an integral part in this work."  The group will be led by the lead bishop for safeguarding, Rt Rev Joanne Grenfell, to consider "what wider consultation and further reflection is needed around both Reviews before a final response is considered and made."  The group's findings will then go to General Synod for debate.

However, survivors say it comes too late and without following church protocol.  Survivor advocate Martin Sewell drew parallels between the way the church is dealing with those bringing allegations of clergy abuse, as similar to “the scandal exhibited by the leadership of the Post Office".

In a letter, seen by Premier, written to all members of General Synod, Gavin Drake described the Archbishops’ Council as “dysfunctional” and said there was "constitutional outrage" that it had acted without first giving an opportunity for Synod members to debate and approve the group's set-up.

He questioned why the group was being announced before the Jay Report has been published and its recommendations known:

“...what is the Archbishops’ Council and the General Synod doing? Victims, survivors and their advocates have heard this all too often. And the lessons are never learned."

He lambasted the move, calling the establishment of the group "a ham-fisted attempt by the Archbishops’ Council to put the brakes on the journey towards independence in safeguarding", and appealing for Synod to block it.

“The Archbishops’ Council had the opportunity to do this and they failed... they acted in a way to protect the reputation of the Church rather than the wellbeing of survivors – ignoring professional safeguarding advice in doing so."

Drake, who has long campaigned for better handling of complaintants, called it “the worst example of corporate re-traumatisation of survivors that I have seen" and said, "It cannot be allowed to happen again.”

The Archbishops’ Council are trustees of the Church's National Institutions and as such they have legal responsibility for safeguarding there.  In local parishes and dioceses, that legal responsibility rests with General Synod.

The current agenda for Synod in February does include time to address safeguarding issues.  The Church of England told Premier the intention is to debate the findings of the Wilkinson review, and that a debate on Baroness Jay's review will depend on whether the proposals are published in time, saying that the outcome will need "full scrutiny at a future Synod".

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