Tuesday, 19 March 2013

A Cloud of Witnesses or a Fog?

How accurate can witnesses be, and how can we be sure they are telling the truth? Are reports to be taken at face value, or do they present any bias, implicit or explicit? This is the problem we face with the recent "Independent Review of a Safeguarding Complaint for the Diocese of Winchester".

For the most part, we have accusations made against the Dean by a distressed woman, whose mental state is, however, very volatile, and whose perspective of the church seems to verge towards a state of mind in which the church was conspiring against her. But her state of mind could not be verified, only surmised, because no one knows her present whereabouts. This is problematic.

The writer of the review acknowledges an escalating problem, in which the young woman hit out at various people, including at Autism Support worker, declined to be helped by Social Workers, and whose complaints escalated against many island clergy, diocesan staff, and the former Bishop of Winchester himself, whom she took to ringing up at all hours, and stalking his home even after he had retired.

This is almost certainly the reason for delays in addressing complaints; the complaint against the Dean was buried like a needle in a haystack against other complaints. As presented in the report, it does stand out, because it is made the focus of the report, but as complaints had been made, some withdrawn, some against the former Bishop himself, it certainly cannot have been easy to determine which had merit, and which did not. I note that no review is being made of her complaints against the former Bishop, for example.

"Because of the lack of Jersey recording available this Review relies solely on documentation held by the Diocese. In the course of her complaint H.G. copied to the Diocese a substantial volume of communications made and received by her and this material forms a valuable part of the records available for consideration."

There is clearly a failure on the part of Jersey, including the Dean, to document what was going on, but on the other hand, to rely on one side alone as representing the truth of the matter without independent verification is also problematic.

That is not to say that there were not issues in need of resolution regarding the churchwarden, but in the absence of documentation, it is difficult to know how much of the way in which the Dean's action was perceived was coloured by her mental state. We do not have multiple attestation, and that makes matters difficult, as does the lack of documentation. But it is not clear how much other documentation was kept when for instance, the Bishop's wife talked to the young woman on the telephone.

The report also states that there was considerable resistance on the part of the Dean to take part in the review. This comes up both in an early review which says "the Chief Executive, who was by this point back in post and chair of the Panel, wrote to all involved to invite them to take part in a review the terms of which are stated above."

But in fact there are no precise terms of review in this report; it is simply described as an investigation into events. Until we have the document in front of us, with detailed terms of reference, we don't know exactly how it was presented to the Dean, and the tone in which it was made.

Later, part of the letter of communication by the writer of the report is given as a quotation, but the whole request is not. We do not know how it was phrased. The author of the report gives an indication that it was a simple request, but we don't know. All we have is a quote from the "letter of invitation to interviewees". It seems innocuous, and the Dean's refusal to co-operate seems perverse, but we don't have either the communication sent to the Dean or his reply.

We are told that the Dean was not co-operative, and then it is stated that "I must assume therefore that references made to the 'distress of the alleged abuser', and the 'danger of defamation', were true." This again is problematic; we are relying on one witnesses account. We don't know the precise words in which the accusations were framed. The report takes this as a sharp rebuke by the Dean to the young woman; it could equally be a mild caution against making statements which could be defamatory.

I'm not exonerating the actions of the Dean; I'm certainly not condoning the conduct of the churchwarden which seems wholly reprehensible. All I am doing is pointing out that any report is drawing upon sources, and we can't see all the sources ourselves, nor can we judge how reliable all the accounts by the young woman are, although I have no doubt that there is substance to her initial complaint about the churchwarden.

What is not so clear is how much substance there is against her complaint against the Dean. It seems that he may have wanted the complaint against the churchwarden formalised, and subject to the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical court. At times, the report takes this as a serious option; at other times it dismisses it as a spurious excuse. An independent witness to events would help, perhaps the Vice-Dean in this case, who may have been privy to discussions.

There's also an interesting mention in the review that "There seems to be no spirit of willingness or inquiry in this matter. I found that some of the Island clergy had been actively discouraged by the Dean of Jersey from fully engaging with me and therefore complying with the Bishop's request."

That is interesting because I have been told on good authority that following his meeting with the clergy, they have effectively been "gagged", prohibited from making any comment on matters while a new investigation takes place. The Bishop, however, has the freedom to make such statements as he will. That, of course, has not leaked out in any report.

Whatever is going on at a surface level about a churchwarden, and a complaint made by the Dean over safeguarding suggests that there may be a strong undercurrent below the surface about the measure of the Bishop of Winchester's jurisdiction over the Dean of Jersey. That is not to say that the Dean can act as he likes, but part of his authority derives from the Queen (and her representative the Lieutenant-Governor), and part from the Bishop of Winchester.

In other words, regardless of any mistakes made by the Dean in his actions, it may be that they are a suitable pretext for asserting the primacy of authority from Winchester over that of the Queen. For a full explanation of the complex lines of authority, see the excellent analysis at:


in which he states:

So we come back to the fundamental question - who is the Dean of Jersey's boss? The two positions being argued can broadly be summarised as follows.
- The position of the Diocese of Winchester is that the Bishop, by virtue of the Commission that he gives the Dean after being informed of the Letters Patent from the Crown is the Dean's boss in all matters ecclesiastical. This means that the Bishop has the right to suspend the Dean in matters like safeguarding issues.
- The position of many in Jersey is that whilst the Bishop issues a Commission to the Dean to act on his behalf in Jersey, ultimately the line of authority is through the Letters Patent to the Crown. In practice this would be to the Lieutenant Governor who is the Queen's representative on the island.


James said...

For the most part, we have accusations made against the Dean by a distressed woman, whose mental state is, however, very volatile, and whose perspective of the church seems to verge towards a state of mind in which the church was conspiring against her.

You either haven't read the report properly, or you have twisted it. One of the key issues is exactly that the accusations against the churchwarden were made by a women who was rational, polite and well-behaved, in spite of her autism. It was the failure of response that turned her into a stalker. This is evidenced by records from both the Diocese and Autism Jersey who were providing a level of support.

Against this the Diocese say that the Dean claimed to have no records. If that is true, the Dean is a fool - the whole point of keeping adequate records is to be able to stop the crazy conspiracy theorists from taking over the asylum. But then this is Jersey, where there is no adequate culture of public record. People here got away with running things that way for a long time: it won't wash now.

Tom Gruchy said...

Where are the archives of the papers of ALL the crown officers of the Channel Islands?
Whatever happened to this most important historic records from the Lt Governors, Bailiffs, AG etc and when are we allowed to inspect them now, or 20, 50 or 100 years...?

TonyTheProf said...

There seems to have been a transition between her being polite and well-behaved and not, and what the report lacks is clarity as to when and how this transition occurred.

Certainly her initial complaint in the email was as you say polite and rational; but we don't know if she was as polite and rational in her meetings with the Dean. That's part of the problem.

I myself may express myself much more freely in my opinion of States members in conversations than I would do online.

I certainly agree that proper records were not kept, and that is part of the problem.

One of the methods of analysing historical sources is to look at multiple attestation, and that's what we don't have at the moment. From the point of view of historical reliability, the picture is biased towards the documented record in emails, and I am simply drawing attention to the fact that is less than complete, and may be less than adequate. The "defamation" remark being a case in point. We don't have a contemporaneous documentation of this from the Dean, and so we have to take one point of view, which may be adequate but may not.

What we are given in a good deal of the report is selected snippets and interpretation; the Dean's refusal to co-operate being a case in point.

The selected sentences can hardly be the whole reply; why not print the whole so we can assess exactly why he refused to comply and whether those remarks have been taken out of context making him look belligerent?

TonyTheProf said...

Tom, I have no idea, but I can tell you that a lot of Church records from Grouville perished in a fire at the Rectory, and they had not modern firefighting equipment at the time; they had to use liquid sileage.

You may say that stinks, if you like.