The Charity Commission is currently conducting a statutory inquiry into the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain (WTBTSB), which began in May 2014. Its scope includes the creation, development, substance and implementation of the safeguarding policy used by Jehovah’s Witnesses congregational charities in England and Wales and the safeguarding advice provided to those congregational charities. We have noted the progress of this inquiry on previous occasions, most recently here.
The Commission has also conducted a separate inquiry into Manchester New Moston Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (registered charity number 1065201); and it has now published a statement on the results that inquiry.
The inquiry into the New Moston Congregation was provoked by allegations about failures in safeguarding after one of the charity’s trustees, Mr Jonathan Rose, was charged with sexual offences. On 30 May 2014, based on the information it had received, the Commission opened a statutory inquiry into the charity under s. 46 Charities Act 2011. The scope of the statutory inquiry was to investigate:
- the charity’s handling of safeguarding matters, including its safeguarding policy, procedures and practice;
- how the charity dealt with the risks to the charity and its beneficiaries, including the application of its safeguarding policy and procedures and any related policies and procedures, particularly as regards the conviction and release of a former trustee; and
- the administration, governance and management of the charity by the trustees and whether or not the trustees of the charity have complied with and fulfilled their duties and responsibilities as trustees under charity law.
The Commission’s conclusions
The Commission has concluded that the charity’s trustees did not deal adequately with allegations of child sexual abuse in 2012 and 2013 against one of the trustees because they did not:
- identify one allegation as potential child sexual abuse, believing it to be merely ‘a matter between 2 teenagers’;
- properly take account of an earlier allegation of child sexual abuse when considering new allegations made in 2012;
- fully enforce the restrictions the trustees decided to place on Mr Rose’s activities in February and July 2012;
- consider and deal with potential conflicts of loyalty within the trustee body; or
- keep an adequate written record of the decision-making process used to manage the potential risks posed by Mr Rose to the beneficiaries of the charity.
The Commission has also concluded that the charity’s trustees did not deal adequately with a misconduct appeal hearing against Mr Rose in 2014 following his release from prison. That was because victims were effectively required to attend the misconduct appeal hearing and repeat their allegations in the presence of the abuser, and the abuser was permitted to question the alleged victims. Although the trustees did not themselves conduct the hearing, they remain responsible for ensuring that the charity’s procedures do not expose its beneficiaries or others to significant risks of harm, and they failed to do so.
The inquiry concludes:
- that the charity’s trustees did not cooperate openly and transparently with the Commission;
- that they did not provide accurate and complete answers to the Commission regarding the earlier allegation of child sexual abuse and the conduct of the misconduct hearing against the former trustee; and
- that they did not report a serious incident to the Commission.
All this constituted misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of the charity.
The charity now has a written policy on child safeguarding and internal procedures for the handling of misconduct allegations within its congregation, which are used to deal with allegations of child sexual abuse.
The Commission has welcomed the changes to procedures since the launch of its original inquiry. Those revisions improve the charity’s written policy and procedures for handling child safeguarding allegations, including by making clear that victims of child sexual abuse are not required to make their allegations in the presence of the alleged abuser and by providing for protective restrictions to be put in place in all cases where an individual is found to have engaged in child sexual abuse by the criminal courts.
The policy and procedures are common to all Jehovah’s Witness congregations in England and Wales and are being examined further as part of the Commission’s ongoing inquiry into WTBTSB. As part of the ongoing WTBTSB inquiry, the Commission is also examining the practical measures which will be taken to minimise the risk of the issues identified by the inquiry into the New Moston congregation from recurring in other congregations. Issues of particular relevance to this inquiry that will be examined further in the WTBTSB inquiry include:
- the application of the ‘two-witness rule’ (that two witnesses are required to corroborate an allegation);
- how and to what extent in practice victims will be involved in future Judicial Committees and related procedures;
- the practice of requiring victims to confront their abuser during the judicial committee procedure; and
- record keeping and disclosure of information to public bodies and individuals.
Issues for the wider sector
The report sums up the wider lessons for charity trustees as follows:
“Charities that carry out activities with children or vulnerable adults, whether regular or otherwise, need to ensure that they have adequate measures in place to assess and address the risks posed. Even where such work does not form part of the core business of the charity, trustees must be alert to their responsibilities to protect from harm vulnerable groups with which the charity comes into contact. Charities that fund other organisations whose activities involve contact with children or vulnerable adults should also assure themselves that the recipient body has in place adequate safeguarding practices.
Additionally, on occasion charities may be targeted by people who abuse their position and privileges to gain access to vulnerable people or their records for inappropriate or illegal purposes. Trustees must be alert to this risk and take proactive steps to mitigate it. Protecting children and vulnerable adults from the risk of radicalisation should also be seen as part of this wider safeguarding responsibility.
Trustees are under a duty to act prudently and at all times to act exclusively in the best interests of their charity and to discharge their duties in accordance with their duty of care. In consequence, it is essential that charities engaged with children or vulnerable people (a) have adequate safeguarding policies and procedures which reflect both the law and best practice in this area, (b) ensure that trustees know what their responsibilities are and (c) ensure that these policies are fully implemented and followed at all times. Trustees must therefore regularly review the steps that are taken to provide them with assurance on the fitness for purpose of their policies and the extent of compliance in the charity’s practice with those policies.
Any failure by trustees to safeguard children or vulnerable adults and to manage risks to them adequately would be of serious regulatory concern to the Commission and it may consider this to be misconduct or mismanagement, or both, in the administration of the charity.
If a charity is dealing with a safeguarding incident, as well as reporting these to the appropriate statutory agencies, it is important that the charity also reports it to the Commission as a serious incident and does so as soon as possible after they become aware of them. You should make a report if any one or more of the following things occur:there has been an incident where the beneficiaries of your charity have been or are being abused or mistreated while under the care of your charity or by someone connected with your charity such as a trustee, member of staff or volunteer;
– there has been an incident where the beneficiaries of your charity have been or are being abused or mistreated while under the care of your charity or by someone connected with your charity such as a trustee, member of staff or volunteer;
– there has been an incident where someone has been abused or mistreated and this is connected with the activities of the charity or charity personnel;
– allegations have been made that an incident may have happened, regardless of when the alleged abuse or mistreatment took place you have grounds to suspect that such an incident may have occurred.
As well as reporting to us, you should also notify the police, local authority and/or relevant regulator or statutory agency responsible for dealing with these incidents.
The Commission cannot investigate or deal with the incidents of abuse or mistreatment, but it will need to make contact with the other agencies or regulators and follow up on their investigations. The Commission’s role is to ensure the trustees are handling the incident responsibly and going forward where necessary improved governance and controls are put in place by trustees in order to protect the charity and its beneficiaries from further harm.”