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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Anglican Church Case Studies: Chichester/Peter Ball Investigation Report

B.6: Complaints under the Clergy Discipline Measure

Decision to issue a complaint against Bishop Wallace Benn

295. By late 2010, the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisory Group (DSAG) was aware of a series of concerns about Bishop Wallace Benn’s safeguarding practice. His actions in the cases of Reverends Robert Coles, Roy Cotton and Colin Pritchard had raised questions about his approach to allegations of child sexual abuse. According to Mr Colin Perkins, his subsequent attempt to conceal Reverend Gordon Rideout’s blemished CRB disclosure evidenced “an ongoing approach to safeguarding casework that had not learnt from previous experience”.[1]

296. Bishop Benn refused to accept the validity of these concerns. Moreover, the DSAG considered that the inaccuracies in his evidence to Lady Butler-Sloss cast doubt not only on his appreciation of safeguarding, “but also his propriety”.[2] The group unanimously agreed that it must not react passively, but instead take proactive steps to address the situation.

297. As a result, the DSAG conducted a formal review of all relevant material held at the Bishop’s Palace. Mrs Kate Wood, independent safeguarding consultant and former Sussex Police officer, was instructed to investigate the key safeguarding cases in which Bishop Benn had been involved.

298. In September 2011, Mr Keith Akerman wrote to the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. He announced the group’s intention to issue a complaint against Bishop Benn under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 (CDM).

299. Archdeacon Philip Jones told us there were no other “courses of action that could reasonably be taken, the Church authorities having concluded that there were no grounds upon which to order that Bishop Wallace be suspended from office”.[3] Mr Perkins explained the decision was not “a pejorative action … it was an attempt at risk management”.[4] On 9 November 2011, the CDM papers were submitted to Lambeth Palace.[5] Mr Akerman described the effect of the submission “as like having dropped a bomb”.[6]

Outcome of the complaint

300. The objective of the CDM complaint was to establish a course of conduct by Bishop Benn over a period of time. However, for discipline to be imposed by way of determination pursuant to the CDM at that time, the subject matter must have occurred within the 12 months prior to the making of the complaint. On the facts of this complaint, the evidence about Bishop Benn related to more than 12 months previously. The President of Tribunals, the Right Honourable Lord Justice Mummery, accordingly dismissed the complaint as time-barred.

301. In March 2012, the DSAG submitted a second CDM complaint that was “more limited and more focused”.[7] It specifically concerned three allegations: that Bishop Benn had not shared information about Coles with Sussex Police; that he sought to suppress Rideout’s blemished CRB disclosure; and that he failed to advise Mr Meekings that Rideout was the subject of a police investigation in 2002.

302. At the same time, a CDM complaint was issued against Archdeacon Reade concerning his actions during the Coles case in 1997.[8] As Mr Perkins stated, Bishop Benn “was not the only one to blame for what happened”.[9]

303. Ultimately, all complaints against both Archdeacon Reade and Bishop Benn were dismissed by the Clergy Discipline Tribunal, on the basis that either they were out of time or they lacked merit. In October 2012, Bishop Benn retired. He issued a statement claiming the complaints against him were without foundation and that he had been exonerated.

304. This process raised several concerns about the effectiveness of the CDM process. Archdeacon Jones observed that its narrow, fact-based requirements and timescales worked against a satisfactory outcome.[10] We question whether issuing a CDM was an appropriate course of action. It is not a suitable tool to deal with ongoing issues of risk management.

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