Calls for independent inquiry into Church of England safeguarding

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

The General Synod has today heard a motion calling for an independent inquiry into safeguarding in the Church of England led by a senior lawyer.

Safeguarding campaigner Gavin Drake, a lay member for Southall and Nottingham, moved the motion following a report from the Archbishops' Council to the Synod meeting in York.

As the debate was about to run out of time, members voted to adjourn it and resume it at a later date. Mr Drake supported the adjournment.

His motion expressed "dismay" at the decision by the Archbishops' Council to "disband the CofE's Independent Safeguarding Board (IBS) and terminate the contract of its members".

It noted that "a Serious Incident Report" had been made to the Charity Commission "in respect of this governance decision", and recognised and lamented "that any working relationships between many survivors and victims with the Archbishops' Council has been broken".

In consequence, the motion called upon "the Archbishops' Council, working with its Audit Committee, to commission an independent inquiry led by a senior lawyer (judge or King's Counsel) into the safeguarding bodies, functions, policies and practice in and of the Church of England, to report within a maximum period of 12 months".

It required that "the report of that Inquiry be fully debated by the Synod to enable it to make decisions about future safeguarding in the Church of England".

His motion came the morning after a presentation on Sunday by four members of the Archbishops' Council including the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, giving their side of the story on the disbanding of the ISB. Council member Canon Tim Goode gave a brief history of the ISB since its creation in 2021.

"From the beginning, the Archbishops' Council were concerned by the lack of collegiality expressed within the ISB's working relationship and a lack of clarity of the ISB's priorities," he said.

After members raising points of order asked for the two sacked ISB members, Jasvinder Sanghera and Steve Reeves, to be allowed to address Synod, they were eventually allowed to do so through the suspension of normal standing orders.

Mr Reeves said when the Archbishops' Council talked of independence, they did not mean it in the way that "you and I and the average person in the street means independence".

"They mean semi-detached, not independent," he said. 

Ms Sanghera said: "I now think that we were too independent. We did our job too well and when I'm being told, and Steve is being told, that we are too survivor-led and too survivor-focussed, I feel the Church has a problem."

Mr Drake, communications director for the Anglican Communion, told members: "The disbanding of the ISB – and the manner in which it was done – has done untold damage to many, many people. We, as a Church, have got to stop hurting people."

He concluded his speech: "Synod, please approve this motion which will put us on the start of a journey to a wholesale root and branch reform of our unwieldy safeguarding processes. Today, we can start to make the Church a safer place."

Mr Drake has since resigned from the General Synod after the debate on his motion again ran out of time later in the Monday morning session.

Due to time pressure on scheduled business, a 75 per cent vote of the Synod was required to allow the debate to continue. This was not achieved and so his motion has now lapsed.

Announcing his resignation with "immediate effect" on his blog today, Mr Drake said: "I joined the Synod to make the Church of England a safer place. I have failed, because the central machinery of the Church of England will use all its power to block the Synod from doing what it exists to do."