On 30 November, 2013, under a headline of "Sex complaint row threatens church split", the story broke that "Guernsey may leave the Diocese of Winchester in a protest move, it has emerged."
This was a statement made by the Vice Dean, who said that Guernsey would follow Jersey if a current dispute with the diocese resulted in "divorce". As the Guernsey Press reported it:
"Vice-Dean the Rev. Kevin Northover acknowledged tensions were high between the Jersey church and the diocese following an investigation into how a sexual misconduct complaint was handled by the Jersey Deanery. If the relationship cannot be patched up, it has been suggested that Jersey might look to withdraw from the diocese, potentially moving to one in Europe. While neither Mr Northover nor the Dean, the Very Rev. Canon Paul Mellor, wanted to speculate on the potential pullout, the former said the Channel Islands would in all likelihood stick together. 'If, for example, Jersey chose to go in a certain direction it would be silly for us not to as well,' Mr Northover said."
This provoked some interesting comments.
"Dani" said that: "My gut reaction is irrespective of the practicalities of staying with Jersey it is better reputation wise we distance ourselves from the Jersey on this one completely. There is nothing positive about sticking together with them or being associated with them on this matter. It concerns me actually our local reverend is taking this stance."
And she came to the core of the complaint, citing almost verbatim the Korris report:
"A vulnerable adult called HG (26) disabled through autism began attending a church in Jersey then began living with the church warden and his wife. The dean of that church had said he had previously spoken to the church warden about the fact he is too tactile, stands too close to women, touches too much/inappropriately. His manner was deemed to be inappropriate to such an extent that he was chaperoned within the church when in close proximity to women."
It is interesting to note the focus on this, because the safeguarding issue about the churchwarden and his inappropriate behaviour - not just with HG, but other women - has been pretty much overlooked in Jersey. The focus of attention there is whether there is any blame associated with the clergy, and the churchwarden does not even seem to have featured in the Steel report, as far as press releases go.
Dani goes on to summarise the case:
"H.G. wrote an email attaching a lengthy, detailed, account of unwelcome and potentially abusive behaviour she had experienced at the hand of church warden. This included emotional manipulation by being described as his "adopted daughter" but then later rejected, and an unwanted and inappropriate physical intimacy. This was sent to the church dean."
"Now how her complaint was dealt with in my opinion completely failed her. She was questioned in an aggressive manner by several church personnel about her account. Now in my opinion as soon as anyone says they have been abused you say I BELIEVE YOU. Not attack them or query them. You then make a police complaint immediately for it to be investigated. This stuff is serious. It took the dean 25 days to tell this heavily autistic person who solely looked to the church to go to the police - and that was only after they had gotten legal advice. Truly disgusting and shocking."
"Anyhow I haven't been keeping up to date with this case but HGs mental state diminished (used later to undermine her accounts) and she ended up being deported to UK and is reported to have been homeless and penniless."
"There are safeguarding procedures issued for a reason to make sure things are dealt with properly. I don't want us to be associated or seen to endorse what happened in Jersey."
Deputy Ellis Bebb made a comment after this:
"I think that the question we should ask ourselves is whether Winchester is the right diocese for Guernsey. I think that what happened in Jersey poses a lot of questions, but I'm convinced that as with any breakdown in relations, there's plenty of blame to go around for everyone. One small correction, the woman wasn't deported but bound over by the Jersey courts; the decision to do so was at the courts discretion & nothing to do with the church. "Regardless of how we got to this situation, I think that it affords Guernsey the opportunity to ask whether the diocese of Winchester is the best fit for the Deanery. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but given that Jersey are looking at the issue, it's logical for us to do the same."
Deputy Bebb seems unaware that while it was the civil courts who made the decision of binding over, it was the clergy who were the complainants, and who supplied statements to the police. So to say it was purely a civil matter is overlooking the wider chain of events.
Dani came back - very politely (a lesson to Jersey, I feel) - with this remark:
"Elis, I respectfully disagree but thank you for engaging. First I will say it is always good to continually ask what is the right set up for any organisation and to look at the benefits for the users. Those are the people that matter. In respect of the churches I believe many users can be vulnerable and that they go their to find acceptance, help, support and love from the church community/god/christ. They should be safe. Clearly the Jersey procedures did not work and they resulted in a very poor outcome for a vulnerable person. There seems to be no valid reason to reject these safeguarding principles and this is what it is all about."
"I have heard no other local person ever before speak of wanting a split from Winchester and the reality is the split would in these circumstances be driven from wanting to carrying on in an outdated way in Jersey where concern for the vulnerable is not prioritized. No records were even kept by these people. You would think that was a minimum requirement. It definitely does pose a lot of questions why such a fuss on their part!"
"HGs deterioration in mental health unfortunately led to criminal offences that resulted in her being sent to the UK with no money and no-one to meet her. What kind of experiences bring on mental health deterioration?"
And Dani has evidently been reading Korris, because she cites these paragraphs:
From the independent report: "The Church let H.G. down. Despite the difficulties of her background and disablement, and struggle with some everyday practicalities, H.G. was none-the-less in employment, pursuing hobbies, socializing and wanting to be accepted in the church community. Over the next three years H.G.'s life changed from having no history of being in trouble with the law, to having a police record and being a displaced person, homeless on the streets of the mainland."
Following on how she felt: "H.G. felt disbelieved and publicly humiliated. In reaction to her sense of getting no adequate response to any of the issues she raised she appealed to the higher authority of the Bishop, to Lambeth Palace, and to the media in the form of BBC Jersey, all to no effect."
"I believe it is disingenuous to thus pretend that the church had nothing to do with the outcome of her resulting mental state and actions especially when they have such issue with implementing procedures to stop it ever happening to anyone else. It is incredibly easy to see how this all happened. It is all very much related unfortunately and nasty business."
"As much as it may seem logical to look at the issue in isolation it is not the reality, and will not be perceived as such. It definitely makes me wonder why such eager support is put forward straight away to Jersey with no critique. Very pally - no critical analysis in regards to a move on the face of it."
"Surely as good as it is to stay with Jersey there are other complications from change and aligning with EU institutions. It is not straight forward. None of that was mentioned in this press release. I think it is perfectly valid to stress Jerseys association with child abuse, what has happened and how our churches react should take all of this into account."
"Clearly I agree with you in essence - always best to think about how to move forward but to me. it doesn't look like Jersey is doing that at all. So following them in their path does not look like a good move."
Deputy Bebb replies as follows:
"Dani, I don't wish to engage particularly on this case as I know that there are a number of contentious points & I don't have the full details to make a public statement about the specifics of the case. One thing that I would note, I've heard it suggested even during Bishop Michael's time that Winchester was not the best fit. It would seem that it is even less so under Bishop Tim. This doesn't mean that we have to or should move diocese, but the question is being posed & it would be foolish not to take the opportunity to consider the options. The devil is in the Detail"
A contributor called "Heaven's Eye View?" then makes these points:
Mostly fair comment Elis. but just "One small correction". Ex Metropolitan policeman and Jersey States Member Bob Hill MBE has done a series of very informative blogs on this. Let's not be hiding behind the detail of contrived situations or language, at the expense of the bigger picture.
EVERYTHING that happened to the vulnerable woman IS church related.
-The safeguarding issues,
-the botched complaint,
-the autistic lady's backlash,
-the dubious reporting to police to prevent her potentially making a scene at a church service,
-the alleged mistreatment and further safeguarding issues after attest/snatching from her home,
-the even more dubious refusal of bail for someone of good character on a minor charge potentially engineered to soften up the vulnerable woman & make here loose her job and her home.
..right to the choice she was then given in court go back in to prison or be leave the island ("constructively DEPORTED" should we say) with no money and no home and no provision for her immediate or long term care.
"The first winter was the worst but she has learnt survival and where there is a meal to be had and she is now brightly facing her forth winter on the streets. She is autistic but she is far from stupid as her abusers are finding out to their cost. She sometimes sleeps at friends houses. Because of her Autism compounding the trauma of her mistreatment she is now quite difficult to help beyond this. She says she prefers to sleep outside because being inside gives her claustrophobia and panic attacks because it is like being in a prison cell again. Unsurprisingly she now finds it very difficult to trust anyone. Hopefully she will get better over time because this is not a good situation and could end very badly indeed."
"She has been writing 3 blogs over several years now. 2 of these have recently been open to the public. She remains a committed Christian and her main religious blog is showing over 4,000 visitors. Mostly CI & UK and also worldwide CoE/christian countries, to even places like Japan! All from a peripatetic existence utilising ad-hoc Internet cafes and libraries. Awesome. Many people who call themselves "Christian" could learn a lot from her. she has covered many subjects including forgiveness."
"Due to her Autistic nature her blogs are highly variable; They can be odd or insightful, light or heavy going. Guernsey must NOT tether itself to Jersey on this one - bad mistake!"
Deputy Bebb comes back with some interesting points about the peculiar relation between the Channel Island Churches and Winchester:
"I think that we're all agreeing on this one, just with different views. One thing that I'd like to highlight. Guernsey wouldn't tether itself to Jersey any more than it is at the moment. Both deaneries are part of the diocese of Winchester & were one deanery to consider moving, it makes sense for the other to pose the same question. But even if both deaneries were to move to the same new diocese, we would still have our separate ecclesiastical law. We're not tethered, we just may be thinking of moving from the current same field to the same new field. Of course, the grass isn't always greener, but it may be. Worth thinking about."
"It's not exactly following Jersey for the sake of it. Relations between Jersey & Winchester are poor (to put it mildly) and part of this is frustration that ecclesiastical law in Jersey is different to that in the UK. Given that Jersey are looking at their relationship with Winchester it affords us an opportunity to do the same. We're also anomalous to the diocese of Winchester."
"The reason that the diocese of Europe seems to have some logic is that each & every part of that diocese is different; therefore anomalies are the order of the day. This isn't to say that the diocese of Europe is the only answer available or that we should necessarily move from the diocese of Winchester, just that it affords an opportunity to pose the question & consider the options."
A writer called PLP agrees but asks why this case should be the cause of a review:
"A process of constant review is healthy but using a case of alleged abuse in Jersey as a catalyst for that process seems rather a bizarre (and potentially dangerous, not to mention insensitive) way to go about it. Surely the focus should be for the Diocese of Winchester / Jersey Deanery to resolve this case and ensure appropriate support is given to the person involved. Until that happens, the Guernsey Deanery would do well to keep their fingers well clear lest they get burned."
Here Elis Bebb makes a point about the Bishop and his comment is interesting, in that it shows how it is the Bishop's actions in looking at both Jersey and Guernsey that have caused the problems. If he had focused purely on Guernsey, then the issue of a break with Winchester probably would not have surfaced
"This wasn't a choice of the Guernsey Deanery; it was a choice of the Bishop of Winchester to include Guernsey in the process from what I understand. Conclude from that what you may."
Tim South has some rather cutting remarks about Jersey:
"To be frank some of the channel island church leaders and powerful political supporters are displaying small island egotistical mentality, hardly a mention of" HG" the victim. The focus should be about the appalling care of an intelligent, but vulnerable lady whom the church and police thought they had got rid of, by giving her a choice in court after being locked up for two weeks, more jail or a plane ticket and banned for three years from Jersey. She took the ticket."
"Back to the spin. The Dame Heather Steel report has not been released because it is not finished, but Senator Bailhache in Jersey says the Dean has been completely absolved. Which is interesting because not only has the report not been release, it is being kept secret. So how would he have this information?"
"Even more interesting is, why the Dean apologised? if he has done nothing wrong apart part from refusing to take part in the Korris report which found him badly lacking in several areas."
"BBC: Dean Key said: "I regret mistakes that I made in the safeguarding processes and I understand that, upon reflection, it would have been more helpful if I had co-operated more fully with the Korris [safeguarding} Review."
That is a very sharp point. How can the Steel report "exonerate" the Dean to use one headline, or again, looking at the JEP say "Dean cleared" and forget that Bob key himself said that he made mistakes during the safeguarding process, and had not co-operated fully with the Korris review. The actual statement from Winchester notes that:
"What I can state at this point, based on Dame Heather's findings to date, is that I will not be taking disciplinary action against any member of the clergy in relation to the handling of the safeguarding complaint in question or the subsequent review process."
That's not the same as saying that there were no mistakes made, and the note of triumph in the local press seems to overlook the Dean's own declarations on that matter.
In reply to Tim, Elis Bebb also notes that:
"Just a few corrections. Guernsey's arrangements regarding vulnerable adults are different to Jersey's. The pay of the Rev. Northover is from the Diocese of Winchester along with any healthcare or travel expenditure, that's part of the reason the congregation pays a parish share to the diocese. The Vale rectory is the property of the Church of England & therefore isn't supported by the ratepayers. Apart from the above points, as I've said previously, I don't know the details of the case to make a public comment, but your points make interesting reading, thank you."
And he also summarises why Guernsey has been drawn into the net with Jersey - the Bishop's review:
"You're right that a change of diocese is not usual. But I don't think that there's a hidden agenda. As you'll see from the posts and without going into detail, there's been a breakdown in relations between the Deanery of Jersey & the diocese of Winchester. Both the Deanery of Jersey & the Deanery of Guernsey are anomalous to the rest of the diocese as they have different & independent ecclesiastical law."
"There's a review being undertaken to consider the options for Jersey & Guernsey are being included in the review. There are a number of options available, one of which is to stay in the diocese of Winchester, another is to move to another diocese with the diocese in Europe being one of those options. If you know something else or believe thee to be another agenda, I'm interested to hear it."
"Just to let you know that the ecclesiastical court in Jersey is very different in its formation & functions to the ecclesiastical court in Guernsey."
"Personally I believe the decision to include Guernsey in the general review at this early a stage has led to a lot of confusion over the issues. Maybe we should only have been included at a later point when arrangements in Jersey are more advanced."
"Given that the specific case that has led to this point happened in Jersey and that their arrangements on safeguarding vulnerable adults are very different to those in Guernsey, I don't believe my time is best spent going into the full details of what happened in another jurisdiction and then making public statements on that situation. I look forward to the publication of the Steel report and will continue to work for appropriate arrangements concerning vulnerable adults here in Guernsey."
Which is as good a way as any of a politician saying that Jersey's arrangements were clearly deficient, and Guernsey's are better, although he is also saying that there is always room for improvement.
In conclusion, the general tenor of comments coming from Guernsey are that Jersey and Winchester have a very bad relationship at present, and this is in part because of the case of HG, which highlighted failures in safeguarding - in particular concerning the churchwarden - in Jersey. They don't seem to have a very high opinion of either Winchester or Jersey, and they don't think Jersey authorities - either ecclesiastical or civil - acted particularly well.
The editor himself has just also decided to write about this in the leader comment in the Guernsey Press:
"No one reading the Korris report into allegations by a vulnerable adult parishioner who complained about abusive behaviour by a churchwarden in Jersey can fail to be disturbed by a catalogue of failures by the Church of England there in dealing with the situation. Yet it is being questioned on its role in what is little short of a scandal - the alleged victim ended up being hounded off the island and dumped in the UK with no accommodation or money and is now living rough - that appears to have triggered Jersey's desire to leave the Diocese of Winchester. That the established church in Guernsey is considering siding with Jersey and similarly splitting from Winchester is therefore worrying."
And they ask:
"Can there be any credible reason why Jersey does not demonstrate complete adherence to the safeguarding procedures put in place by the Diocese of Winchester?"
The leader writer of the Guernsey Press even goes so far as to suggest that the only reason for a split from Winchester for the Church of England in Jersey and Guernsey would be to consolidate and hold onto power, and not be answerable to any higher authority. That's something which has not been raised by the Jersey Evening Post.
For all the glowing headlines in Jersey, most of the Guernsey people glancing across the water, see a very different picture from that portrayed in our media, with lots of unanswered questions, failings by church and civil authorities with regard to HG, and a dispute which may well cause a review of their own position with Winchester. And there is a much stronger focus on safeguarding issues as well, and the churchwarden at the heart of the complaint is not forgotten.
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