Oxford dean cleared by abuse investigation

Image credit: Diocese of Oxford

By Tim Wyatt 

The embattled Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Rev Martyn Percy, has been cleared by a Church of England safeguarding investigation.

Dean Percy was reported to the C of E’s national safeguarding team in February this year by senior academics at the college of Christ Church, with whom the cleric has been in a bitter dispute for several years.

Dean Percy was alleged to have had failed in his safeguarding duties by not passing on to the police or other authorities several disclosures of abuse by former students.

Safeguarding officials at the C of E ordered an independent inquiry into the claims, which has now come back exonerating the 58-year-old of the accusations.

The Bishop of Huddersfield Jonathan Gibbs, the church’s lead safeguarding bishop, said: “An independent investigation into allegations that the dean, Martyn Percy, failed to fulfil his safeguarding responsibilities has concluded the dean acted entirely appropriately in each case.”

He went on: “The National Safeguarding Team followed the House of Bishops’ guidance when the four separate allegations were referred earlier in the year relating to the dean, a senior office holder. At no point was there any allegation or evidence that the dean presented a direct risk to any child or vulnerable adult.”

The Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft, said: “I welcome the news that the investigation by the National Safeguarding Team has concluded and that Martyn is exonerated. The investigation process was not without pain, and could have been concluded more quickly, but it is entirely right that allegations against clergy and church officers are properly investigated when they are made. This investigation brings full closure to the matter put before the NST, though these continue to be testing times for all at Christ Church. My prayers remain with Martyn and Emma, the Chapter and wider College at the start of this new academic year.”

Dean Percy has always denied he broke any rules around dealing with disclosures of potential abuse, arguing that the alleged victims were adults who asked him to keep their stories private and the alleged perpetrators did not pose any further safeguarding risk.

The resolution of the safeguarding allegations demolishes one plank of Christ Church’s long-running attempt to remove Dean Percy, which dates from 2017.

However, the protracted dispute also includes a row over how much the dean — who holds a unique dual role as head of an Oxford college and the senior cleric in charge of the cathedral of the Diocese of Oxford — is paid, among myriad other issues. Dean Percy’s salary is reported to be £90,900 a year.

The dean’s supporters have claimed that the dons who run Christ Church are desperate to force their leader out because he is trying to modernise how the centuries-old institution is run, particularly when it comes to safeguarding responsibilities.

College academics instead alleged that Dean Percy has repeatedly abused his position, misused college funds for legal expenses and been at loggerheads with his academic colleagues.

The Charity Commission has cautioned that the increasingly bad-tempered row was damaging the college’s reputation and its ability to govern itself and ordered both sides to resume professional mediation to find a solution.

Bishop Gibbs said that while the dean had been “exonerated” in relation to the safeguarding allegations, the team he leads “has no view about, and is not involved in, the wider issues relating to the college and the dean at Christ Church, Oxford, and this remains the case.”

Meanwhile, Dean Percy is awaiting the start of an employment tribunal he launched against Christ Church in an effort to recover hundreds of thousands of pounds of his own money he spent on legal costs to defend himself against disciplinary proceedings issued by the college.