Church clears Oxford college dean over alleged safeguarding failures

The Church of England has exonerated the head of a prestigious Oxford college after investigating claims that he failed to deal properly with sexual abuse allegations.

Martyn Percy, the dean of Christ Church and head of its cathedral, had “acted entirely appropriately” in each of four cases referred earlier this year to the C of E’s national safeguarding team (NST) by the college’s governing body.

One of Percy’s supporters described the college’s reporting of the dean to the NST as part of a “black ops campaign” to discredit him.

Following the C of E’s announcement that he had been exonerated, Percy tweeted: “Thank you to everyone for their support and prayers. It is good [to] have a line firmly drawn under this.”

Percy was suspended almost two years ago after being accused of behaviour of an “immoral, scandalous or disgraceful nature”, the wording of the college’s statutes under which a dean can be removed.

His supporters claimed that a small group within the governing body was determined to have him removed from his post after he attempted to modernise the way the college was run. Percy’s detractors insisted the acrimonious dispute originated in the dean’s attempts to secure a pay rise.

The college hired Sir Andrew Smith, a retired high court judge, to chair a tribunal on the dispute. After a hearing behind closed doors last year, Smith dismissed the complaints against Percy and ordered his reinstatement. The full judgment has never been published.

An employment tribunal is expected to hear Percy’s case in public next year.

The dispute has so far cost the college at least £2m in legal fees. It is also thought to have lost millions in cancelled bequests and donations.

In May, 41 members of the governing body wrote to the Charity Commission asking for its help to oust the dean, saying he had shown “unsound judgment and a consistent lack of moral compass”.

The commission ordered both sides to mediate, saying the dispute was damaging Christ Church’s reputation.

In a statement on Monday, Jonathan Gibbs, the bishop of Huddersfield and the C of E’s lead bishop on safeguarding, said: “An independent investigation into allegations that the dean, Martyn Percy, failed to fulfil his safeguarding responsibilities has concluded the dean acted entirely appropriately in each case … At no point was there any allegation or evidence that the dean presented a direct risk to any child or vulnerable adult.”

Percy had been exonerated in relation to four separate allegations, he said, adding: “The NST has no view about, and is not involved in, the wider issues relating to the college and the dean at Christ Church, Oxford and this remains the case.”

Steven Croft, the bishop of Oxford, welcomed Percy’s exoneration by the NST.

“The investigation process was not without pain, and could have been concluded more quickly, but it is entirely right that allegations against clergy and church officers are properly investigated when they are made. This investigation brings full closure to the matter put before the NST, though these continue to be testing times for all at Christ Church,” he said in a statement.

Christ Church said it had an obligation to report safeguarding concerns. “The NST has now informed Christ Church that its report concludes there has been no breach of the Church of England’s protocols,” it said in a statement.

Jonathan Aitken, the former Conservative cabinet minister and Christ Church alumnus, said he was delighted that Percy had been vindicated, saying the allegations against him were “malicious moonshine”.

Christ Church, founded by Henry VIII in 1546, is the alma mater of 13 British prime ministers, 10 chancellors of the exchequer and 17 archbishops.

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