‘Watershed moment’ as sacked safeguarding board members tell synod what went wrong

Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell negotiates opportunity for Jasvinder Sanghera and Steve Reeves to address General Synod

By Rosie Dawson

The Church of England’s general synod in York witnessed extraordinary scenes yesterday as supporters fought for two sacked members of the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) to address the assembly.

Some members protested by slow clapping when one request to address the synod was turned down on procedural grounds.

Eventually a way through standing orders was found. The formal synod was adjourned so that “an informal meeting” could take place at which the ISB members Steve Reeves and Jasvinder Sanghera could speak.

The intervention came in an afternoon devoted to the Archbishops’ Council explaining the safeguarding debacle, after the sackings caused outrage at all levels and the board’s work collapsed.

The ISB was set up in January 2022 to move the church towards fully independent safeguarding. It comprised Meg Munn, who chaired it, and two members. But the two were sacked last month by the Archbishops’ Council, which cited an irretrievable breakdown in its working relationship with them.

Ms Munn was told that her contract would be terminated in the immediate future once a new safeguarding structure was formed, and she would stay on to provide business continuity.

Mr Reeves told the meeting that the breakdown was caused by the church’s refusal to receive a view about independent safeguarding that differed from its own blueprint.

”It’s clear to me that when the Archbishops’ Council talks about independence they do not mean independence in the way that you or I or the average person in the street means independence,” he said. “It means semi-detached. When they talk about trust, they mean obedience; when they talk about communication, they mean loyalty.”

With rising emotion, Ms Sanghera said they had spent months gaining the trust of survivors but the Archbishops’ Council had ripped it away. “We were too independent,” she said. “We did our job too well. When I’m being told we’re too survivor-focused and too survivor-led, I think the church has a problem.”

Earlier, the synod heard from Jane Chevous, the director and co-founder of the organisation Survivors Voices, about how she responded when she heard that the ISB was to be disbanded. “I felt my whole world crumbled around me,” she said. “I had trusted the ISB. I had hope. Now that hope had been snatched from me and trampled underfoot.”

Ms Chevous’s comments were followed by a panel presentation and question-and-answer session from members of the Archbishops’ Council.

The short straw was drawn by the Rev Tim Goode who was tasked with giving a “short history” of the council’s dealings with ISB and its assessment of what went wrong.

He spoke of a lack of collegiality between ISB members and of initiatives being started and proposed without adequate terms of reference, budget or clarity. He said that as time passed, the ISB focused on individual survivor cases at the expense of its primary objective, which was the scrutiny of the church’s national safeguarding system.

The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, spoke of his “profound sadness” at what had happened. “This is a watershed moment,” he said. “We can’t get this wrong again. We can no longer think that we can deliver these things ourselves … Not only do we need independent oversight and scrutiny of safeguarding, we also need independent help on deciding how best to do it and implement it.”

After the session, ended many people expressed relief that Ms Sanghera and Mr Reeves had been heard.

A member of the Archbishops’ Council conceded that its version of events was unlikely to be the one doing the rounds in the bars, but said they were glad it had been offered. The general mood among synod members was one of quiet, stunned concern.

Afterwards synod voted by 324-0 to approve a new redress scheme for survivors of abuse, offering financial compensation, and therapeutic and emotional support to victims and survivors.

In presenting the scheme, the Bishop of Truro, Philip Mounstephen, said one survivor had told him: “This could change the culture of the church.” And there will be many saying “Amen” to that.


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