Former Bishop of Chichester apologises over access to files on convicted priests
The former Bishop of Chichester has apologised for not giving the head of child protection '˜unfettered' access to files that held safeguarding concerns about priests.
The inquiry into sexual abuse in the Church of England also heard an attempt was made to make a ‘significant cut’ to the budget for child protection.
Speaking in London yesterday, Bishop John Hind said the safeguarding advisor Shirley Hosgood was not given easy access to ‘blue files’ on priests at first.
He said: “I think that so much of good safeguarding requires joining up the dots at an early stage.
“I wish now that I had taken an earlier decision to give them unfettered access to all blue files regardless, not simply waiting to look at the particular one they wanted to look at, and I think they would have been helped had that been done earlier.”
A blue file was kept on all clergy, and included details of any previous convictions or arrests if they had any.
Attempts to keep head of child protection in the dark?
Ms Hosgood, head of safeguarding in Chichester diocese between 2007 and 2009, said on Tuesday that senior clergy tried to keep allegations of child abuse from her and police.
She remembered how one priest said a bishop (she did not remember which one) warned him about speaking to her because she would pass allegations to police.
Ms Hosgood said she quit her job after feeling that senior clergy were keeping her in the dark.
Was counselling witheld from victims out of fear of court action?
When asked why better counselling was not offered to alleged victims, Ms Hosgood said she was told: “One was the fear of litigation, it was an acknowledgement of what had happened.”
“I was told that the diocese couldn’t afford to fund counselling, which I did find very hard to reconcile because at that point they were actually doing quite extensive building refurbishments.”
Bishop Hind told the inquiry: “There was a real nervousness that if the Diocesan Board of Finance were to be thought to be paying for counselling, that might be an implication of liability.”
Request for a ‘significant cut’ to be made
He said the chairman of the Diocesan Board of Finance Clive Dilloway wrote to him at one stage asking for a ‘significant cut’ to be made to the amount of money spent on safeguarding.
Bishop Hind added: “I said that it would be utterly impossible without some reconfiguration of work. I have already explained how important I thought it was that the same person oversaw both the training and the interface of parishes and the case work, and so the last thing I would tolerate was any reduction.”
Bishop Hind accepted that there was a ‘failure to respond appropriately to disclosures of abuse by victims and to give them adequate and timely support’.
Looking to the future, he called for the safeguarding of children to be independent from the Church.
He said: “I think I have come to believe that no institution should be allowed to police itself, and I think that some careful thought to how that can be dealt with would be valuable.”
The inquiry continues today.
You can watch proceedings live on the inquiry website.