Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Jimmy Savile

Rarely can a reputation have been trashed as quickly and as comprehensively as has happened with Jimmy Savile. As I write, the police have 400 lines of enquiry, his headstone has been removed, his cottage daubed with graffiti and people are talking of removing his UK knighthood and his papal knighthood even though such honours normally die with the holder.

A number of enquiries and reviews have been launched, and I do hope the government come round to the idea proposed by Ed Miliband of a public enquiry, to tie together all the separate enquiries. There are lessons for all of us in what has happened. Here are some I have been reflecting on:

  1. It can years or decades for survivors of sexual abuse to feel confident enough to speak out and to believe that they will be heard. And the difficulty is compounded many times if the abuser is rich, famous and powerful.
  2. While the effects of sexual abuse can vary, they are often devastating, often resulting in an impaired ability to make normal relationships or trust people. In some cases they can lead to mental illness.
  3. While there are strict rules governing young people who work as performers, there are no special ones for those who take part in one show as a member of the public.
  4. One particularly odious aspect of Savile's behaviour is that he picked on girls known already to be vulnerable, because they were ill, in Leeds General Infirmary, or actually or potentially disabled, in Stoke Mandeville Hospital, or considered criminally mentally ill, in Broadmoor, or young offenders, in an approved school. In all these establishments he seems to have been given the run of the place, with his own set of keys and sometimes a flat reserved for him. This achieved through his highly public activity in fund raising. We can now see it as a cloak for his predatory sexual abuse.
  5. Apparently he is on record as saying that anything wrong he did would be set against the good he did. He seems to have imagined that the one would offset the other. Now, offsetting is a normal procedure in finance, but I do not know that it is acceptable in the field of ethics. Reprehensible behaviour does not cease to be such because there is also good behaviour.
  6. It also does not appear that his fund-raising cost him anything. He seems to have revelled in luxuries, of which the white Rolls-Royce can stand as the symbol.
  7. It is incomprehensible that the then government put him in charge of a task force dealing with problems at Broadmoor, when he had no relevant qualifications or experience.
  8. But most seriously of all, we have to question the culture of the places which allowed him free access, did not supervise him, allowed him unrestricted contact with vulnerable children and dismissed the complaints - for some were made - about his conduct. And here, sadly, the BBC is a particular culprit. They built him up as a celebrity and took no care to protect impressionable young people.
In my sheltered and protected life I had never seen his television programmes and had only just about heard the phrase 'Jim'll fix it'. So I am not a good person to comment on the impression he made before his criminal behaviour became known. But maybe we can all learn to be more vigilant and to challenge inappropriate conduct, however famous the perpetrator may be.

Stephen Barber

Tuesday, 4 September 2012


Last week saw the interim report from the commissaries whom the Archbishop appointed to look into the operation of child protection policies in the Diocese of Chichester. This is the latest stage in the long-running scandal of clerical child abuse in that Diocese. If Anglicans are tempted to feel that this is only a Roman Catholic problem then this should give us pause.

The report makes fairly miserable reading. Some of it is specific to Chichester but the whole report will be looked at nationally by our Joint Safeguarding Liaison Group and no doubt there will be recommendations for all Dioceses. Meanwhile, we shall be considering it here, as we did the report by Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss earlier this year. Here are a few immediate reactions:

  1. The importance of doing simple things properly. This was one of the main lessons from Lord Laming's report into Victoria ClimbiĆ© ten years ago and it remains true. For a Diocese this includes such things as ensuring that all clergy including those with Permission to Officiate have up to date CRB checks and that this is recorded, that references are sought and given, and that only those who are properly authorized are invited to take services or preach.
  2. The need for a regular training programme for all clergy.
  3. The need to make a record of pastoral work.
  4. The need to ensure that if files are weeded, that all information relating to safeguarding is retained. This is as necessary to protect those about whom unfounded allegations have been made as it is to document well-founded concerns.
  5. The need to report all allegations of abuse including so-called historic cases to the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser (myself). I can advise on referrals to statutory authorities or make them myself. 
  6. The need to use the Clergy Discipline Measure in appropriate cases including when a criminal prosecution is not possible or has failed.
  7. The need to reach out effectively to survivors.
Because most things go well most of the time we can be tempted to lapse into complacency. It is so easy to think 'It couldn't happen here'. Believe me: it can.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

I have spent much of the last week helping draft the church's response to the government's consultation on a new version of the Working Together guidance. Working Together to Safeguard Children is the main government guidance document in this field - it is, if you like, the Bible of children's safeguarding. Procedure manuals for individual organizations such as our Safeguarding Handbook are based on it. It is usually revised every few years with the reigning version dating from 2010. However, that was under the last government and the coalition wanted to look at it again. They had two main priorities: one was to incorporate the recommendations of Eileen Munro's review of social work child practice in child protection titled A Child-centred System which came out in 2011, and the other was to reduce the size of the document. The 2010 version runs to 400 pages and there are several ancillary documents.

What is really surprising about the draft revision is not what it says but what it doesn't say. The new versions are only a fraction of the length of the previous ones. The firm statement that 'Safeguarding children is everyone's responsibility' is no longer there. Then the  definitions of child abuse: physical, sexual emotional and neglect have been omitted. These are fundamental to the whole system, are basic in training and have equivalents in other countries. Another omission is the role of the local authority in advising employers when there have been allegations of misconduct by those working with children. These situations can be complicated, as there may be an individual child to protect, a possible criminal investigation and a possible disciplinary investigation by the employer. We have really valued the coordinating role of the Local Authority Designated Officers (LADOs as they are known) when we have had allegations of this kind and I can't believe that no one thinks this important any more. For one thing it brings some consistency into allegations management so that, for example, not every allegation leads automatically to a suspension.

In relation to managing individual cases it suggests removing the national timescales for assessment. This would be welcomed by hard-pressed local authorities. But it would make it harder for children and families in need to services, or organizations referring them for help, to argue their case when assessments were delayed or unsatisfactory. Those who advocate for disabled children, for example, have really valued these provisions.

These are just examples: there are many others. It is of course up to the government to decide what notice, if any, they take of our response and that of others.  No doubt we would all like the guidance to be shorter, just as we would like the world to be simpler. It is always tempting to argue for removing requirements which may seem - and indeed sometimes are - merely bureaucratic. But in the complicated and difficult field of safeguarding children I for one would prefer more guidance rather than less.