Further penalty imposed on a clergyman by Bishop’s Tribunal
On 1 November 2017, the Church of England Document Library posted Huntley 2, the Decision and Penalty of the Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal for the Diocese of Durham between Mr Andrew Thurston (Complainant) and The Reverend David George Huntley (Respondent). This followed the Tribunal’s earlier Decision, May 2016, and Decision (Appeal) and Order in August 2016, which concerned the same clergyman but on a significantly different matter.
In May 2016, the decision between the Venerable John Stuart Bain (Complainant) and the Reverend David George Huntley (Respondent) before the Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal for the Diocese of Durham was reported. Sir Mark Hedley, the Deputy President, prefaced the proceedings with the explanation that discussions about a voluntary penalty had been inconclusive because the Respondent and the Bishop differed significantly about the conduct involved, although the conduct itself was admitted [1.1]. The Deputy President was satisfied that there was a case for the Respondent to answer before a disciplinary tribunal and formulate a charge as follows [1.2]:
“That the conduct of the Respondent … was unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a Clerk in Holy Orders within Section 8(1)(d) of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 in that, whilst vicar of St Lawrence Horsely Hill, he has had a sexual relationship outside wedlock with a member of the congregation, CG, whom he instructed and prepared for baptism in 2014, and who has become pregnant with the respondent’s child”.
The Tribunal concluded  that the admitted misconduct was a more serious matter than conceded by the Respondent. Its assessment of the gravity was in line with that of the Bishop having regard for the penalty he had proposed in 2015 to the Respondent. The Tribunal agreed with the Complainant’s perception that it is inconceivable that the Respondent could continue his ministry at St Lawrence’s and his continued aspiration to do so was another manifestation of his failure to comprehend the gravity of what has happened and the hurt done by it. Since he declined to resign from his preferment, it was necessary for the Tribunal to order that he be removed from office.
The Tribunal also considered that the misconduct alleged should be marked by a period of prohibition from exercising ministry  and its members were unanimous in their conclusions and saw no reason to depart from the penalty suggested to the Respondent by the Bishop of Durham of 2 years’ prohibition from exercising the functions of his Orders .
On 4 August 2016 the Church of England published the decision regarding an application by the Reverend David George Huntley: for permission to appeal out of time against a decision of the Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal for the Diocese of Durham on 5 May 2016, reported here; and an application for leave to appeal against that decision.
The Chancery Court of York concluded:
. The Applicant did not receive written reasons for the Tribunal’s decision until 7 May 2016, three days before the time expired. He therefore had only a very limited time within which to formulate his grounds for seeking to appeal, and in those circumstances the designated officer accepts, as do we, the rule 9(7)(a) [Clergy Discipline Appeal Rules 2005 as amended by the Clergy Discipline Appeal (Amendment) Rules 2013] is satisfied. Nor is there, nor could there be, any suggestion that rule 9(7)(c) stands in the Applicant’s was. However, for the reasons we have already given, there is not a real prospect of success on appeal or any other compelling reason why the appeal should be heard, and therefore rule 9(7)(b) is not satisfied.
By an order dated 25th February 2016, Sir Mark Hedley, Deputy President of Tribunals, referred for hearing a complaint against the Respondent dated 12th October 2016 made by Andrew Thurston, Durham diocesan secretary. Sir Mark was satisfied that there was a case to answer and formulated the charge [Italicization in original]:
“The conduct of the Respondent, the Revd. David George Huntley, was unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a Clerk in Holy Orders within section 8(1)(d) of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 in that having been removed from office as the Vicar of St Lawrence, Horsley Hill, by a bishop’s disciplinary tribunal on 12th April 2016 for misconduct, he made a fraudulent claim under an income protection policy by falsely claiming that that he had been made redundant as the result of a re-organisation of parishes within the deanery and, in support of his fraudulent claim, relying on the letter he had forged, which letter purported to be from the Bishop of Durham dated 21st April 2016”.
The management of the case is described in paragraphs  to , the chronology of events in paragraphs  to  and the deliberations of the Tribunal in paragraphs  to . The forgery came to light when the insurers sought to verify that the Bishop had sent a letter to the Respondent informing him that his post had become redundant. On the basis of legal advice, the Diocesan Secretary informed the insurers’ claims department that a copy of such a letter could not be supplied without the Respondent’s consent, which he refused [29 to 31]. However, the insurers persisted and sought confirmation of the authenticity of the letter purporting to come from the Bishop on which the insurance claim was made. The forgery then became apparent since there had been “no reorganization of parishes and certainly no redundancy” ; “On the contrary, the Respondent’s ministry had been terminated as a direct result of the penalties imposed by the earlier disciplinary tribunal” .
The Tribunal considered the evidence to be overwhelming . It also noted:
“. It is a criminal offence contrary to the Forgery and Counterfeiting Acy 1981 s1. To make a false instrument (such as a letter) with the intention that to should be used to induce someone to accept it as genuine and by reason of so accepting it, to do or not to do some act to [their] prejudice.
. Further, the Respondent by his actions, if proved, was probably also guilty of the offence of fraud, contrary to the Fraud Act 2006 s.1, by dishonestly making a false (i.e. untrue or misleading) representation with a view to gain or with intent to cause loss or to expose to a risk of loss [for the insurers].
“. The tribunal was somewhat surprised to learn that, having been informed of the matter on 22nd August 2016, the Durham Constabulary had considered this a ‘civil matter’, and proposed to take no police action.”
“. The tribunal made the following principal (and unchallenged) findings of fact:
(i) The chronology of events set out…in paragraphs  to  was proved.
(ii) The Respondent forged a letter from the Bishop of Durham.
(iii) The Respondent submitted that forged letter in support of his claim under an insurance policy.
(iv) The claim was fraudulent and in making it the Respondent acted deliberately, deceitfully, and dishonestly.
(v) The conduct was unbecoming and inappropriate to the office and work of a Clerk in Holy Orders under s.8(1)(d) of the 2003 Measure.
The Tribunal considered penalty at the conclusion of the final hearing, no representations having been made from him, or on his behalf, by the Registrar of Tribunals [49-50]. The Tribunal considered this to be grave, indeed criminal conduct, which fell very far short of the high standard of behaviour expected of clergy, involving a high degree of deceit and dishonest, and “a significant, and deeply unattractive, degree of planning and calculation” in relation to the forged letter [54-56].
The outcome of the earlier disciplinary proceedings had been “very seriously, and publically, misrepresented”; “the proximity of the present matter was a significant aggravating feature” . The Tribunal saw little reasonably possibility of his ever being able to resume the normal duties of a Church of England priest, even with pastoral and other support . It unanimously concluded that the appropriate penalty would be one of prohibition for life, and it ordered that the Respondent’s name be entered on the Archbishop’s List in accordance with s.38 of the Measure.
Prior to the Church web site update on 15 November 2017, the CofE page on Tribunal Decisions noted “[t]he majority of complaints that are made under the Clergy Discipline Measure are resolved by the bishop, archbishop, or President of Tribunals, without having to convene a tribunal”. Between November 2007 and May 2016, these involved only 17 respondents, one decision involving two respondents. The recent decision concerning the Revd Huntley is unusual in that it is the only instance that has been reported to date in which action against a Clerk in Holy Orders has been undertaken more than once. As noted above, the Tribunals considered two significantly different matters, although the decision on the penalty in Re Huntley (2) took into account the conduct of the priest following its decision following the appeal hearing in 2016.
It seems likely that the persistence of the insurers’ claims department was instrumental in highlighting the potential fraud; it is uncertain, however, whether the Durham Constabulary might have pursued the matter, had the respondent been successful in his fraudulent actions.
On Wednesday 11 October, Sir Mark Hedley DL, Deputy Chair and Deputy President of Tribunals, delivered the latest London Lecture to the Ecclesiastical Law Society: Practical Aspects of the Clergy Discipline Measure. Although the above cases are not cited, Sir Mark’s lecture provides an excellent overview of the issues that arise in the application of the CDM.
Can the statement of the Diocesan Secretary be explained please?
Unless there is an error in my transcription of the Tribunal’s Decision, I cannot add anything to the reported judgment. However, I did have difficulty with paragraphs 33 to 35 and discerning which letter was being discussed. Although it is not clear from a strict reading of the text of these paragraphs, I came to the conclusion that initially the Bishop sent the respondent a letter to the Respondent informing him of the decision of the 2016 tribunal and his two year suspension, and then the Respondent sent a forged letter to the insurers claiming that he had been made redundant.
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