Child protection (or the lack of it) in the Diocese of Chichester

Bishop John Gladwin and The Revd Chancellor Rupert Bursell QC have published a damning interim report on their visitation in relation to safeguarding in the Diocese of Chichester.

The BBC News report explains that visitation arose out of concerns surrounding the cases of Colin Pritchard and Roy Cotton. Pritchard, Vicar of St Barnabas, Bexhill, was arrested in 2007 and in 2008 pleaded guilty to sexually abusing two boys and was jailed for five years. Cotton was ordained in 1966 despite having a conviction for indecently assaulting a choirboy in the 1950s and, it was alleged, went on to abuse at least 10 boys from Eastbourne – but  the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was not enough evidence to charge him and he died in September 2006. In January 2012 Pritchard and Cotton were the subjects of a historic cases review by Baroness Butler-Sloss, former President of the Family Division. She recommended, inter alia, that

“it should be clearly understood that the decision of the police not to pursue an investigation or not to investigate at all or of the CPS not to prosecute does not relieve  the Diocese of its duty to assess, on the civil standard of proof, any potential risk to children in the Diocese and to act appropriately” (9.2).

In addition to the historic cases, three retired priests resident in the Diocese are currently facing charges of sexual offences against children.

Bishop Gladwin and Chancellor Bursell were appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury on 21 December 2011 as commissaries for a visitation of the Diocese of Chichester with the following mandate:

(i) examining progress made in implementation of and actions taken upon the Diocesan Safeguarding Guidelines (The Care and Protection of Children, 2009), the current House of Bishops‟ Guidelines (Protecting All God’s Children, 2010) and the recommendations made by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss in her report of 19 May 2011; and

(ii) making such further recommendations as may appear necessary and expedient.

They describe the Diocese as “dysfunctional” and conclude that

“… the authorities in the diocese were very slow to recognise what was happening and did not act with the rigour and expedition vital to all safeguarding work. A whole series of investigations and reports across nearly two decades bears witness to a profoundly unhelpful and negative culture in parts of the diocese that led to its failure to take the action needed”.

In short:

“… the history of safeguarding in the diocese of Chichester has in the past fallen woefully short of what should be expected of any institution with a ministry and care for children and young people”.

They make a series of detailed recommendations, the most important of which is that the governance of the diocese should be reconsidered. Though the commissaries recognise the necessity of delegation:

“If final responsibility for safeguarding rests finally on the diocesan bishop – involving as it does appointments, the conduct of clergy and the policies in the parishes – it is essential that the bishop’s authority is both recognised and effective throughout the whole of the diocese. In these circumstances we have no doubt that the area scheme should now be reconsidered; indeed, we believe that this is essential for the well-being of safeguarding throughout the diocese.  In the context of the history and culture of the diocese we believe the new diocesan bishop should in any event resist taking on an area of his own; it must be recognised that the whole diocese is his own episcopal area”.

Responding to the interim report, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that it

“… confirms that there have been many and longstanding failures in implementing a robust and credible safeguarding policy in the Diocese of Chichester.  The guidelines laid down by the national Church and the agreed standards of best practice have not been consistently followed and the flaws in safeguarding practice have put children and others at risk.

In the last couple of years much has been done to improve the situation but there remain several areas of concern.  In the light of this, I have decided that the visitation should continue and that both safeguarding and appointments matters should be conducted under the supervision of this office until uniformly better practice can be assured” [emphasis added].

Watch this space.

4 thoughts on “Child protection (or the lack of it) in the Diocese of Chichester

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