Our post on 17 October York Minster Bell Ringers reported the statement released by the Dean and Chapter of York and delivered by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, concerning the axing of all 30 volunteer ringers at the Minster. On 12 December, Chris Mew, President Central Council of Church Bell Ringers (CCCBR) issued a statement; today, 16 December, York Minster has published an update of the situation. Both of these are reproduced below.
Ringing at York Minster – 12 December 2016 Statement by CCCBR President
Ringers will be aware that the Dean and Chapter at York Minster are now inviting non-Minster ringers to assist in ringing the Minster bells over the Christmas period. Whilst this may be attractive to the community it has raised varying reaction from ringers approached to help and from the wider ringing fraternity. When I met with the Dean on 17 th November, the option of interim arrangements for Christmas was certainly discussed with the longer-term objective of reviving a local York band. Having awaited an announcement by the Minster authorities as to their chosen course of action, events have overtaken that expectation and the Council is, therefore, making this brief comment.
The complex nature of York Minster operations and relationship with the ringers is not a matter for public debate. It is, however, a pity that some of the former ringers could not have been suitably passed through the latest processes for volunteers including, where appropriate, DBS checks since this could have been achieved between October and December. That there is a genuine desire to re-establish ringing at the Minster is without question and the Dean and Chapter together with the Yorkshire Association are working to that end. In the meantime, ringers invited to “substitute” at the Minster must follow their own consciences but I would counsel against any extreme comments or actions taken whether in the media or against individuals.
Chris Mew, President CCCBR
Update: York Minster Bell Ringers
Posted on Friday 16 December
The Chapter of York is required by the law of the land and Church of England national policy to take its safeguarding responsibilities seriously.
The Church of England’s Practice Guidance: Responding to Serious Situations Relating to Church Officers states that a serious safeguarding situation may relate to a church officer (someone who is paid/unpaid) who has:
- behaved in a way that has or may have harmed a child or adult;
- possibly committed a criminal offence against or related to a child or adult; or
- behaved towards a child or adult or presented him or herself in a way that indicates they may pose a risk to children or adults.
Earlier this summer, it was necessary for Chapter to take action relating to a member of the bell ringing band on safeguarding grounds. The matter dates back to 1999/2000 and 2014 when an individual was the subject of a police investigation into allegations of indecent assault against young girls. The 2014 allegations were the subject of a multi-agency investigation involving the police, social services and the Church of England’s safeguarding authorities.
The case went to court in December 2015. The judge decided that no sanction would be imposed and the person concerned made certain undertakings.
In line with the Church’s guidance and national law, Chapter commissioned a detailed risk assessment of the individual to decide whether or not Chapter’s safeguarding requirements for children would be fully met if the person was reinstated. Following a detailed review of the matter and with guidance from national agencies, Chapter felt that the person presented an ongoing risk and that the potential severity of the risk meant they could not be reinstated.
This decision was not accepted by the bell ringing team. There was a reluctance to recognise the Minster’s concerns despite briefings with staff including our safeguarding officer. This culminated in Chapter’s decision to disband the team in October.
Bell ringing leaders from other parts of the county and country have been in contact to explore options for ringing in the next few days and months. We have also been approached by individuals keen to help and who are supportive of the action Chapter has taken.
However we have learned that many of these kind people have been subjected to intimidation on social media and in the local press. At least one member of the clergy who has offered to help has been threatened with legal action.
Given the Church’s recent history and safeguarding concerns now emerging in other sectors, the Chapter of York remains resolute that it will maintain the highest standards of welfare and safeguarding for all.
Chapter’s strong preference had been to remain silent on these matters to protect the privacy of those affected. Given the ongoing interest, however, Chapter has felt it necessary to make this statement.
We are exploring options for ringing at Christmas. As we continue to do this, we hope that people will be able to approach us impartially and without fear of intimidation.
This week, the Church of England’s Daily Digest carried the story, first published in the York Press, that the ringers of Leeds Minster (and others) have turned down an invitation to ring York Minster’s bells at its Christmas services, in what was said to be an “act of solidarity” with York’s ringers. Today’s communication from the Minster places the focus back firmly on safeguarding issues.
We agree with the CCCBR that “the complex nature of York Minster operations and relationship with the ringers is not a matter for public debate”, or for that matter, for comment in the social media. Our post on the general issues raised, Volunteers, Safeguarding and the CofE, quoted the CCCBR Guidance on Tower Safety and Risk Management which stresses the joint responsibilities of ringers and clergy
“You may think that, because you are not working when you are in the tower, health and safety law does not apply. This is incorrect. The law covers any workplace and any person going into that workplace. A church is a workplace for clergy and others and is, therefore, covered.
Ringers who enter the church are protected by the law and it is the responsibility of the person in control of the church to protect them. Whilst this means the church authorities (vicar and churchwardens, dean and chapter etc.) carry the legal responsibility, we can hardly expect them to have sufficient understanding of ringing to be able to bear that responsibility alone.
We, as ringers, should recognise that we are usually the best people to advise the church authorities on tower safety to enable them to meet their obligations.
Beyond the legal responsibilities, we should also recognise that we have both civil and moral responsibilities. We would be failing in our Christian duty if we did not adequately protect ourselves, each other and any visitors to the tower. We should also expect that, if we were to be negligent in caring for someone, resulting in injury, we could be liable under civil law.”
We suggested that the sentiments expressed in relation to health and safety are equally applicable to safeguarding. Today’s publication of the IICSA’s internal review, which includes its investigation of child sexual abuse in the Anglican (and Roman Catholic) Church, places in context the Church of England’s extreme sensitivity to issues of safeguarding.