Patrick Sookhdeo: How Barnabas Aid International handled the sexual assault case

Patrick Sookhdeo outside Swindon Crown Court earlier this year.SWNS

During 2013 Patrick Sookhdeo had survived and emerged victorious from a bruising legal battle with the trustees of Barnabas Fund, who regarded him as a liability to the charity.

However, in March 2014, he faced a fresh storm.

A woman described to Christian Today as a "highly professional, happily married, deeply devout and God-fearing woman, with an acute sense of responsibility about avoiding sin" accused Sookhdeo of groping her at work. Because she did not want to damage the organisation she hesitated for a month before going to the police. After she did, Sookhdeo was arrested in March 2014 and charged in May.

By the time he was charged there were two Barnabas charities operating in the UK: Barnabas Fund UK under the chairmanship of Rt Rev Martyn Minns and Barnabas Aid International, the new charity formed in the wake of the 2013 controversy, under the chairmanship of Albrecht Hauser.

An internal grievance procedure investigation regarding the assault was launched by BFUK and Sookhdeo was advised to take a voluntary sabbatical while it did its work. However, he was reinstated in June 2014 – long before the crown court trial, which took place in February 2015 – after BAI said that the grievance investigation had not upheld any of the allegations against him.

Christian Today has discovered that this assertion is misleading. Furthermore, while BAI backed Sookhdeo's immediate return to work, BFUK did not.

After the completion of the grievance investigation, on June 4, 2014, BAI issued a statement signed by Hauser. It said that the board "expresses its full support" for Sookhdeo and that the grievance investigation "did not uphold any of the allegations of sexual harassment".

However, a statement made to staff by BFUK dated the previous day and signed by Bishop Martyn Minns took a different line. It said that though the BAI board had agreed to his return from his "voluntary sabbatical", a majority of the BFUK Board "voiced strong opposition to this decision".

BAI and Sookhdeo disregarded this "strong opposition" and he returned to work, though some doubted whether he had ever ceased. Christian Today has been told that during his "sabbatical" – it was not a suspension – he continued to visit his office at the Pewsey site and to write and edit articles.

Four trustees of BFUK, including Bishop Minns, resigned in September 2014; Minns was replaced by Rev Ian McNaughton.

But what did the internal grievance report actually say?

Christian Today has been told that far from clearing Sookhdeo outright, it upheld some of the victim's complaints.

This is evident from testimony at the Crown Court trial. When giving evidence the victim said in response to a question from the prosecutor, "the Trustees upheld that he inappropriately touched my breast". Furthermore, she told the court that the panel also upheld a complaint about Sookhdeo's inappropriate remarks about a "dress code". The victim said: "I wasn't offended that he talked to me about clothing and dress codes. I was offended that he talked to me about an employee's underwear."

However, the victim still felt there was a lack of clarity about the grievance panel's judgments. She therefore went to an appeal, which was chaired by McNaughton and upheld the findings of the original panel – which the victim had already said lacked transparency.

BFUK's handling of the victim's grievance procedure is the subject of an employment tribunal set to take place in December. However, it is clear from the victim's evidence at the Crown Court trial that the report did not provide the unqualified support for Sookhdeo and a flat rejection of the victim's complaints that BAI's statement implied.

Patrick Sookhdeo was contacted for this article but declined to comment.

Tomorrow: Intimidating witnesses

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