Calls to tackle 'workplace bullying' after senior judge dismisses disciplinary action against Martyn Percy

Martyn Percy is the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford.Diocese of Oxford

A leading campaigner against abuse in the Church of England has called on the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev Steven Croft, to tackle the "workplace bullying" allegedly suffered by the Dean of Christ Church, the Very Rev Martyn Percy.

The call from the writer and child sex abuse survivor "Gilo" comes after a senior judge last week dismissed a clergy discipline action against Dean Percy, head of both the college community for Oxford University students and its Anglican chapel, which acts as the cathedral for Oxford Diocese.

Gilo co-edited the 2019 book Letters to a Broken Church, which draws on the personal experience of church abuse survivors and has been widely circulated among senior clergy and safeguarding officers.

After the ruling by the President of Tribunals, the Church's highest legal officer in clergy discipline cases, Gilo told Bishop Croft on Twitter: "Workplace bullying, psychological & financial bullying, misappropriation of safeguarding, use of toxic process, gaslighting, lobbying of congregation and beyond must be addressed."

Gilo said "real risk remains" in both the college and cathedral communities. In a letter to supporters of Christ Church Cathedral in March, its Sub Dean, Fr Richard Peers, confirmed media reports that Dean Percy is suffering from ill health due to the strain he has been under.

The Rev Canon Graham Ward, Oxford University's Regius Professor of Divinity and a member of the Christ Church Cathedral Chapter, lodged the complaint against Dean Percy under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) last November for allegedly stroking a woman's hair in the Sacristy after a Sunday morning service in October.

On November 18, the Bishop of Oxford announced that Dean Percy was stepping back from both his college and cathedral roles while the complaint was "properly considered".

On the following day, Oxford Diocese issued a further statement: "We are disappointed that those seeking to support the Dean are reportedly trying to downplay the severity of the complaint. Such actions belittle the complainant and only add to the distress of anyone else considering a complaint against someone in a senior position. The complaint, which has been brought to the Church under the Clergy Discipline Measure, will be properly and thoroughly investigated."

This was followed by another statement from Oxford Diocese in January: "Bishop Steven continues to hold the difficult situation at Christ Church in prayer and, where possible, is in regular contact with all involved. We are disappointed that anyone should seek to downplay the severity of the complaint. It is entirely right that allegations against clergy and church officers are properly investigated when they are made, and all parties supported — particularly those who have brought the complaint."

Bishop Croft appointed the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Rev David Urquhart, as the "Designated Officer" to investigate the complaint. The case then went before the President of Tribunals, Dame Sarah Aspin, who is also a senior Appeal Court judge.

She has ruled: "When determining whether there is a case to answer upon which a disciplinary tribunal should adjudicate, I must also bear in mind that the CDM is designed to deal with serious misconduct and that section 8(1)(d) of the CDM should be read in that light. Proportionality must also be borne in mind. Would it be proportionate to refer this matter to a tribunal for adjudication?

"In my judgment, having considered all the evidence including the interviews conducted by the Designated Officer, the answer is 'no'. Although I do not intend to trivialise Ms X's allegations in any way, it seems to me that it would not be proportionate to refer this matter to a tribunal. The incident itself was extremely short, the alleged hair stroking was even shorter and the language and the conduct as a whole was not overtly sexual."

According to Dame Sarah's statement, the Dean denied stroking the complainant's hair but said that he did engage in a conversation with her about her decision to donate her hair to charity, joking that no one would want his hair.

Christ Church said on Tuesday that it was continuing with its own internal investigation into the allegation of sexual harassment made by a "current member of Christ Church staff" against "a senior member in October 2020". The statement said that the tribunal process which the college has set up "in accordance with its statutes" would continue.

"There will be no further updates at this time, nor will Christ Church comment on any separate, external processes," it said. 

Christian Today contacted Oxford Diocese to ask whether its parish clergy would be allowed to invite Dean Percy to take services and preach in their churches now that the CDM action against him has been effectively dismissed. The diocese was also asked how, in the light of the ruling by the President of Tribunals, its leadership now views its previous statements that it was "disappointed that anyone should seek to downplay the severity of the complaint" against Dean Percy. But the diocese has so far not responded to these questions.

According to The Church Times, a spokesperson for Oxford Diocese said Dean Percy's suspension from his cathedral duties would continue whilst the college tribunal is ongoing.

In August 2020, a tribunal chaired by a former High Court judge cleared Martyn Percy of allegations of wrongdoing brought by Christ Church academics. He resumed his duties as Dean after being suspended in 2018 but incurred legal fees reportedly running into tens of thousands of pounds.