Channel Island churches to be overseen by Salisbury

The former Dean of Jersey Bob Key denied any wrongdoing(Photo: ITV)

Oversight of churches in the Channel Islands is to be transferred to the Diocese of Salisbury following a controversial safeguarding probe into the former Dean of Jersey. 

It marks a historic break as the Channel Islands have been under the Diocese of Winchester since 1569. 

The plans were recommended by the Archbishop's Commission this week following a breakdown in relations between Channel Island churches and the Diocese of Winchester over the 2013 suspension of the then Dean of Jersey, the Very Rev Bob Key. 

The decision to suspend Key was taken by the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Rev Tim Dakin, over concerns that he had mishandled abuse allegations relating to a vulnerable adult parishioner in 2008. 

The complaint made by the woman, named only as HG, was investigated by the States of Jersey Police and Hampshire Constabulary at the time but they concluded that there was insufficient evidence to proceed.

The suspension of Key was controversial at the time, with some questioning its legality, and oversight of the Channel Islands moved temporarily to the then Bishop of Dover, the Rt Rev Trevor Willmott.

Key was later reinstated and in 2016, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby apologised for the investigation, telling him there was "no evidence of problems in Jersey". 

The plans to move oversight to the Diocese of Salisbury are subject to final approval by the General Synod, Church officials on the Channel Islands, and the Privy Council.  

Bishop Willmott, who retired this year, will continue to have episcopal oversight of the Channel Islands until the changes come into effect, no sooner than autumn 2020. 

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: "I welcome this report and its recommendations and am grateful to all in the Channel Islands and further afield who have given of their time, energy and prayer during the consultation.

"The aim of this Commission was to identify an environment in which the church and all who worship in the Islands can flourish together in Christ and within the wider life of the Church of England. I believe the recommendations of the report can allow for this to happen.

"My thanks also go to those who have served on the Commission chaired by Lord Chartres, and especially to Bishop Trevor Willmott for his episcopal oversight of the Islands while the Commission was concluding its task."

The Bishop of Winchester, Tim Dakin, said: "I'm most grateful to the members of the Archbishop's Commission for their work and their recommendations.

"In particular, I welcome the proposal for the Island Deaneries to be given a fresh start with the Diocese of Salisbury.

"I remain committed to the flourishing of the churches in the Islands, and shall continue to pray for God's richest blessing and his grace to be known in the Islands and among their churches."