Lessons Learnt Review Statement
Our Commitment to Safeguarding
The Church of England – Birmingham* is committed to safeguarding as an integral part of the life and ministry of the Church. We are dedicated to promoting a safer church for everyone to prevent abuse from occurring, to seek to protect those that are at risk of being abused and to respond well to those that have been abused.
It is therefore crucial to us that safeguarding complaints, particularly those that relate to alleged abuse, are all handled in an appropriate and sensitive manner.
A complaint has been made regarding the way in which the Church of England Birmingham handled and investigated a complaint made by an adult of alleged sexual abuse between 1989 and 1991.
Whilst we investigated the complaint with best intentions so as to honour the complainant’s feelings, and to sensitively communicate with all those involved, we accept that we fell short of achieving those aims.
We want to learn from the mistakes we have made, so as to make improvements to our policies and procedures.
With that objective in mind, the Bishops Safeguarding Management Group authorised an independent Lessons Learnt Review.
The objectives for the learning lessons review were primarily to identify failings in the way that we handled the complaint and to learn from them. To aid us in that objective, the reviewer has been instructed to examine:-
What information was available to us concerning the complaint of abuse by a member of the clergy;
Whether the way in which we responded to that complaint was in accordance with recognised good practice (at the time and present day) and compliant with Church of England policy and legislation as well as statutory policy and legislation; and
Whether any changes and developments are needed within the Church of England to ensure safeguarding work is of the highest possible standard; how complaints and disciplinary processes are managed and any other specific areas of church behaviour and practice.
In addition to making various recommendations (which are identified below), the report has identified various areas where we did not handle the complaint and subsequent investigation as well as we could have done. The primary areas are:-
Acknowledging the uneven balance of power that members of the clergy hold over others, which in the context of spirituality and a powerful church ministry connects with issues of ‘spiritual abuse’.
When it is known that a disclosure about abuse is likely to be made then the venue at which a disclosure about alleged abuse is made must be chosen carefully. A church based venue is not appropriate if the disclosure relates to a member of clergy or church officer.
There should not be an expectation for a complainant to repeat their evidence, before the Church makes a decision to investigate the complaint.
Where a complaint has been made about alleged sexual abuse, timing, responsiveness and open communication are vital. Where appropriate, communication should be face to face, rather than via email.
The complainant should be given the opportunity to speak to someone independent from the Church who has experience in hearing disclosures.
There must be a clear separation of the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) process, from pastoral response and investigation into the complaint (which is to investigate matters of fact).
Both the complainant and the respondent should receive appropriate pastoral care.
There must be a strategy for the investigation, with all potential survivors being contacted to establish whether they wish to make a complaint.
When the respondent is interviewed, all heads of complaint should be provided. The complainant needs to know that the complaint is being fully addressed, but the respondent must also know the full details of the allegations being made.
Records of meetings, interviews and telephone calls should be kept. The blue file (clergy file) of the member of the clergy who is the subject of the allegation must be inspected by the DSA ( Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser). The outcome of the investigation should be recorded on the blue file.
The complainant and/or significant family members should be linked to a support person, who will guide the complainant through each stage of the process, liaise with the church officer dealing with the complaint and ensure that the complainant’s pastoral care needs are met.
Where there is insufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution, the Bishop and Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor (DSA) must make a clear finding of fact, based on a balance of probabilities. The finding of fact is be included within the DSA’s written case summary and recorded on the case file. This must be communicated to the complainant and respondent.If the investigation results in an apology to the complainant, this should refer to the finding of fact and sent as soon as possible after the conclusion of the investigation (subject to the agreement of the Church’s solicitor and insurer).
Checks with other Dioceses should be carried out. If the respondent (who is a member of the clergy) has moved away, the Diocese where they are now resident must be informed.
Clear, impartial and transparent advice should be given to complainants about the use of the CDM, as an option. If the diocesan Bishop cannot conduct the CDM, then this must be delegated to the Suffragan, Assistant Bishop or referred to the tribunal.
Where the respondent denies a complaint of sexual abuse, the Bishop must initiate a formal CDM investigation. The process of negotiation with regards to the penalty decided by the Bishop should be expedited as far as possible to minimise the distress of the complainant.
A whistleblowing policy (supplemented with training) should be implemented.
Survivors of abuse should be given the opportunity to take part in preparations for a service of repentance. The feelings of others involved should be taken into account. There should be clarity about whether the service will be open to the whole church. The service is part of an ongoing process of healing and restoration.
Care and consideration must be given to the role and engagement of any external organisations that might assist a church which has been affected by abuse.
Build on links between the national safeguarding team and regional Dioceses.
We have accepted that our mistakes have caused pain and distress for the complainant, the respondent and their families,for which we have apologised.
What is important now is to ensure that we have learnt from those mistakes so that they are not repeated going forward.
We are committed to addressing and resolving those mistakes by taking on board and implementing various points, as set out below in the action plan.
Action plan in light of recommendations
The independent reviewer has produced a report, based on their findings.It takes into consideration the arrangements and procedures which have already been put in place which are targeted at strengthening safeguarding of vulnerable adults and children. It reflects on areas of good practice and lessons learned. However, most importantly it has enabled us to learn from mistakes that we have made.
The report makes 21 recommendations, 10 apply to the Church of England Birmingham, 7 to the local Church involved and 4 apply directly to the national Church of England.
This statement will highlight and address each of the 10 recommendations which apply to the Church of England Birmingham. The 4 recommendations have been provided to the National Safeguarding Steering Group for consideration and action (where deemed appropriate). The recommendations for the local Church concerned have been understood by the relevant PCC and it is in the process of addressing those.
In view of how serious our commitment is to learning from this review, whilst certain aspects arising out of this review affect a specific Church in question, we will ensure that the lessons learnt from this review will be applied across the entire Church of England Birmingham.
The recommendations made by the reviewer are in underlined italics and our responses are below in plain text.
1. An apology should be issued to the survivor and their partner for the mistakes that we have made in the handling of the complaint and for any harm caused by those mistakes and failings
We have taken on board the areas identified in the report where we have made mistakes. We are extremely sorry that those mistakes and failings have caused the survivor and their partner distress and hurt. We acknowledge that, in the way the complaint was handled, we fell short of our commitment to responding well to those that have been abused, or those that make a complaint about abuse.
With regards to the failings by the Bishop of Birmingham in the handling of the complaint, identified by the reviewer, an apology has been issued by the Bishop of Birmingham to the survivor and their partner in respect of this.
2.The survivor and their partner should be afforded the opportunity to meet with a representative of the Bishop of Birmingham to discuss the findings of the review, should they wish to do so.
This proposal has been accepted by the survivor and their partner.
3.The Bishop of Birmingham should arrange a workshop with an external facilitator for all clergy and church officers involved in this case and/or with other safeguarding responsibilities in the Diocese to consider the lessons from the Review relating to, for example, changes which may be needed to local policies and procedures, improvements to services which may be indicated, additional training for staff and changes in attitudes and culture to ensure that safeguarding work, with complainants and generally, is of the highest possible standard.
Our policies and procedures have improved dramatically from the time when this complaint was made and initially handled. We now have a comprehensive training programme for clergy and all those who may be involved in safeguarding matters. Matters affecting safeguarding continually evolve and we commit to continual review and learning to ensure our policies and procedures reflect present understanding.Learning from the review has been incorporated into diocesan Safeguarding training to ensure all clergy and church officers, including those involved in this case, are aware of the findings
One important issue that this report highlights is the cross over between harassment and bullying and safeguarding. We anticipate that our policies will be improved to include all areas of complaint such as harassment, bullying and safeguarding.It is important to us to ensure that all complaints are handled in an appropriate way. As such we are working on developing a pastoral grievance process, which we hope will be implemented.
Another important issue that has been identified by this review is the uneven balance of power that members of the clergy hold over others, along with the interplay this has with “spiritual abuse”. Working with the National team, we will be updating our training to focus further on this particular issue.
4.The Diocese should arrange specialist training for clergy on receiving disclosures of sexual abuse.
Matters have developed from the time when the complaint was first made. In contrast to the past, all of our senior clergy now attend C4 (Senior leadership safeguarding) training. This training is specialist training, which does cover the receiving of disclosures of sexual abuse. The C3 (Leadership safeguarding training) module training will be developed to incorporate this which will be in consultation with the National team.
We acknowledge that understanding the issue of spiritual abuse is crucial to those who receive disclosures of sexual abuse in the context of the Church or Christian faith.
5.C3 training for clergy in the Diocese should include learning from this Review. Specific training should be provided on (a) the definition of a vulnerable adult and (b) definition of sexual abuse, including non-contact abuse.
Our approach to safeguarding matters generally has improved significantly from the time when this complaint was being investigated by us. Over time, not only have our policies and procedures been refined and enhanced, but we have also been assisted by updates in legislation. This complaint has helped us reconsider our views on the classification of “vulnerable adult” and “sexual abuse”, and we continue to review these. Both definitions are included within all of our training.
In contrast to when the complaint was first made, we now have specific policies and procedures set up for safeguarding vulnerable adults.
6.The blue personnel file with regards to the member of the clergy who was the subject of the complaint made by the complainant should be updated to include information relating to this Review.
For any safeguarding matters, all blue personnel files are updated with the relevant information, which will be the case with this file.
7.The complainant’s safeguarding file in the Diocese should be updated to ensure that it contains copies of all correspondence between church officers and the complainant, along with a copy of the report.
Safeguarding files are now regularly updated to include all copies of correspondence between church officers and the complainant (along with a copy of any lessons learnt review). This will also be the case with this file.
8.A simple leaflet should be produced for complainants outlining the procedure which will be followed in dealing with complaints against clergy
We accept that there are difficulties for complainants to understand the options open to them, to include the role of the CDM.Therefore, whilst we already have leaflets and posters in our churches, which explain who to speak to to escalate a safeguarding concern (e.g. safeguarding coordinators and children’s advocate), we are working on reviewing these to ensure that there is sufficient and clear information provided to complainants on the options available.
In addition to safeguarding complaints, what we have learnt from this review is that there needs to be more clarity regarding the procedure for any non-safeguarding complaints, which may include complaints against the clergy.
As a result of this review, we have identified a need for an escalation procedure which covers such complaints. This procedure is something that we are keen to develop, which we are currently working on.
9.The Diocese should identify a team of people who can act as support person and link person to the complainant and respondent respectively, so that these resources can be mobilised quickly in the event of a complaint.
The Church of England Birmingham has an established listening service for survivors of sexual abuse. There is also a Bishop’s Adviser for Pastoral Care. The Church of England Birmingham is currently developing a team of link and support people, who we can draw on to support complainants and respondents in safeguarding cases. This is something that was identified prior to this review being commissioned and continues to be developed.
10.The Diocese should keep under review the number of hours attached to the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor post. The DSA should be linked with a suitable qualified and experienced professional Advisor.
In contrast to the time when the complaint was first made, we now have a DSA who is experienced in both child and adult safeguarding matters. Our DSA also has clinical supervision, where necessary.
Our DSA meets regularly with other DSAs in the region for continual professional development. We also have support from the National Safeguarding team, if and when required.
We have reviewed the role of our current DSA and are content that the level of experience and hours are sufficient to meet and address safeguarding concerns. This is something that we will keep under review, to ensure that we have sufficient qualified resource to maintain our commitment towards safeguarding children and vulnerable adults.
A redacted copy of the report prepared by the independent reviewer is available for inspection. If anyone wishes to read the report then an application must be made to the DSA, Stephanie Haynes on StephH@cofebirmingham.com in the first instance. Those who wish to view the redacted full report will be required to sign an agreement preventing the misuse of third party information. The full redacted report is not available for publication or distribution but a copy can be viewed, on prior agreement by our Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser, at our offices.
Since the details regarding this case were discussed in the public domain in the Channel 4 News piece on Weds 5 Dec 2018, we have also since made copies of the redacted executive summary available on request.
* Reference to the “Church of England - Birmingham” includes a number of legal bodies, including the Bishop of Birmingham as corporation sole. The lessons to be learned as a result of this review will be brought to the attention of all those relevant legal bodies.