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Child Abuse inquiry begins public hearing into Church of England safeguarding failures

Posted on: March 5, 2018 5:31 PM
Senior Counsel to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in England and Wales, Fiona Scolding QC, addresses the Inquiry today as it begins public hearings into the Diocese of Chichester.
Photo Credit: IICSA

The statutory inquiry investigating institutional responses to child abuse in England and Wales has begun a public hearing into the Church of England’s Diocese of Chichester. The Diocese is being investigated as a case-study in the “Anglican Church” strand of the inquiry’s investigation into the Church of England and the Church in Wales. Today, Senior Counsel for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), Fiona Scolding QC, began the hearing by setting out the structures of the Church of England and a history of cases involving the diocese, from the 1950s onwards.

“A series of allegations came to light from the late 1990s onwards, and then engulfed the diocese in the first decade of the 21st Century,” she told the inquiry. “The role of this hearing is to examine what happened and what it demonstrates about the response of the Church to child sexual abuse.

“It is also to ask about the Church’s ability to learn lessons and implement change from that which it has already largely acknowledged were mistakes. This hearing will also seek to examine how the Church dealt with those who, having been abused as children, came to speak to the Church as adults, to tell their stories, and of the inadequacy of the response by the Church to those disclosures.”

She explained that much of the evidence that the inquiry would hear was already in the public domain, either through earlier criminal and civil court cases or the Church of England’s own published serious case reviews. “What is different is that the focus of this investigation is upon the themes and issues which emerged from the reviews and trials, to seek to draw them together and synthesise them, to examine the extent to which the Church has been able to change many of the deep-rooted structural, governance and cultural problems identified in those reviews.”

Scolding told the Inquiry panel, chaired by Professor Alexis Jay, that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, asked the Home Secretary to establish the statutory inquiry. In a letter to the Home Secretary, Archbishop Justin wrote that “Public authorities all need to be open about our own failures and not to be perceived to be hiding in the undergrowth of other institutions’ shortcomings” and that “such failures need to be faced in order to move forward and to have more effective institutions in setting a better path for the future,” she said.

In his opening remarks to the Inquiry, the C of E’s lead counsel, Nigel Giffin QC, said: “That children have been abused within the communities of the Church is, indeed, shameful. We agree . . . that the voices of those children are not to be marginalised and the future prevention of such abuse is, and must be, a very high priority.”

After summarising the C of E’s position, he concluded his opening remarks by saying: “I end, as I began: with an unqualified apology to those children whose lives have been damaged by abuse, and who did not experience from the Church the love and the protection that they should have done.”

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Senior Council for the Archbishops’ Council, Nigel Giffin QC, sets out the C of E’s position to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse this afternoon.
Photo: IICSA

The Anglican Church in England and Wales is one of 13 investigations being carried out by the Inquiry. Last week, it published a report into Child Migration Programmes – one of a number of individual case studies that form part of its investigation into the protection of children overseas.

The report criticises the British Government’s policy of child migration and recommends that all child migrants are financially compensated through a redress scheme. The report also recommends that organisations involved in implementing the migration programmes – including the Church of England Advisory Council for Empire Settlement and the Children’s Society – offer apologies to child migrants, where they have failed to do so.

Chair of the Inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay, said: “Child migration was a deeply flawed government policy that was badly implemented by numerous organisations which sent children as young as five years old abroad.

“Successive British governments failed to ensure there were sufficient measures in place to protect children from all forms of abuse, including sexual abuse. The policy was allowed to continue despite evidence over many years showing that children were suffering.

“We hope that this report offers acknowledgement to those who experienced abuse resulting from the child migration programmes.”

Responding to the report, the C of E said in a statement that inquiry’s findings “make distressing reading”, adding: “we are truly sorry for any part the Church of England, through its Advisory Council for Empire Settlement, played in supporting the Government’s migration programme.

“We renew our apology to the children and their families who were affected by this scheme. . . We pay tribute to the courage of the former child migrants who came forward to share their stories providing detailed accounts of how unaccompanied children sent abroad, supposedly for a better life, often suffered appalling hurt and abuse.

“While there is some evidence of reporting back to CEACES, we accept that this was not enough to provide detailed information on how the children were being treated abroad. Although the migration programmes are closed, we hope that the conclusions of IICSA’s report will be widely read to ensure that this never happens again. As a Church we accept the recommendations and will be considering the detail of the report’s findings.”

The current hearings into Chichester Diocese are expected to take three weeks. The Inquiry will hear from a range of witnesses, including survivors and clergy, including Archbishop Justin Welby.

  • Click here for the C of E’s dedicated IICSA web page.