The Charity Commission has published a report on its inquiry into Bristol Community Church Trust (registered charity number 1044496). The inquiry was opened in December 2011 after the Commission was informed that sexual abuse allegations had been made against the person then serving as the charity’s youth pastor and the initial responses from the charity had raised serious concerns about the adequacy of its safeguarding governance. The report notes that
“In May 2012, the youth pastor was convicted of 2 offences of sexually touching a child and one for voyeurism, receiving a 6-month sentence suspended for 2 years. He was also ordered to sign the sex offenders register for 7 years and attend a rehabilitation programme.”
The scope of the Commission’s inquiry was confined to ensuring that the trustees were complying with their duties under charity law in relation to the handling of the allegations and the adequacy of the charity’s safeguarding procedures and practices more generally:
“Whilst the incidents which gave rise to the allegations of sexual abuse were said to have taken place in 2008 and 2010 and did not occur whilst the youth pastor was acting in his capacity as youth pastor for the charity, the trustees fully acknowledged that safeguarding remained relevant in the circumstances in which the alleged abuse took place.”
Bristol Community Church Trust engaged the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service – an independent Christian safeguarding charity established in 1977 that provides professional advice, support, training and resources for churches and faith-based charities – to undertake a full and independent review of its safeguarding policies and procedures. CCPAS produced a report in July 2012 that identified significant weaknesses. The charity adopted an action plan to address the 54 recommendations from the CCPAS review.
The Commission’s inquiry was kept open to monitor progress by the trustees and implementation of the CCPAS’s recommendations and action plan in order to ensure that the safeguarding risks in the charity were adequately addressed by the trustees. The Commission also provided regulatory advice and guidance to the trustees on their duties and responsibilities and advice on the reporting of serious incidents. Bristol Community Church finished implementing the action plan in 2015 and has more recently undertaken a further self-audit of its safeguarding policy to ensure compliance with legal standards and best practice.
The Commission’s inquiry concluded that there had been misconduct and mismanagement in the administration of the charity because the trustees had failed to take reasonable steps to protect beneficiaries at the time the incidents occurred and that there were a number of deficiencies in the charity’s safeguarding policies, procedures and practice that subjected vulnerable beneficiaries to undue risk. The Commission has acknowledged that the trustees cooperated fully with its inquiry and with other agencies following the allegations and acted responsibly in implementing the recommendations made by the CCPAS review. The Commission does, however, consider that the full implementation of the recommendations should have been done more quickly.
We suspect that there may have been an element of “But we’re Christians – it could never happen here” in the trustees’ thinking (or lack of it). To which the only response is “Oh yes it can – and it does”.