Former sexual abuse inquiry chairwoman to lead work on Church of England safeguarding

The Church of England has drafted in the former head of the child sex abuse inquiry to get its safeguarding “back on track” after a row which saw a panel of experts sacked last month.

A campaigner on ending sex abuse has warned this is the church’s last chance to get things right.

Professor Alexis Jay (pictured), the former chairwoman of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) for England and Wales, has agreed to develop proposals for a “fully independent structure to provide scrutiny of safeguarding” in the church.

In June, the church announced it had ended the contracts of the three experts on its Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) after efforts to resolve a dispute between board members and the Archbishops’ Council failed.

The ISB was set up in 2021 after a damning report by IICSA concluded the culture of the church had “facilitated it becoming a place where abusers could hide”.

The situation which led to the panel’s sacking has previously been described by a church official as sad, difficult and unfortunate.

Prof Jay insisted safeguarding in the church must have “genuine independence in order to be fully effective” and vowed to withdraw from her role “if I detect any attempt to interfere with or to hinder my work”.

She said: “I have been just as clear with the Archbishop of Canterbury and with the Archbishop of York that this programme of work must be entirely independent of the Church too for it to succeed.

“I would like to assure everyone that I mean what I say. My team will not include anyone employed by the church, nor will we hold meetings or conduct any business on church premises.

“I have explained that if I detect any attempt to interfere with or to hinder my work, I will withdraw from this programme of work immediately.”

Prof Jay and her team, including former secretary to the IICSA, John O’Brien, will produce a report recommending a model for independent safeguarding in the church.

This is expected to be presented to the Archbishops’ Council by the end of the year.

Lucy Duckworth, ending sexual abuse campaigner, said: “For the thousands of adult church abuse survivors this is the last chance for the Church of England to get this right.

“There have been so many church-led inquiries, resulting in empty promises from the church’s senior leadership but today I am grateful that with their track record of independence and rigour, both Professor Alexis Jay and John O’Brien have agreed to take on this programme of work, which if truly implemented by the church will protect the many children still at risk from clerical-based abuse today.”

Prof Jay has pledged that her work will be “fair, impartial, objective and rigorous” and said one of her team’s first tasks will be to hear the views of victims and survivors of church abuse.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Justin Welby and Stephen Cottrell, welcomed Prof Jay and her team’s commitment to take up the role which will “ensure we move quickly towards objective, independent, credible and resilient oversight of safeguarding in the Church of England”.

They added: “This work will be entirely in their hands and fully external and independent; we will welcome the scrutiny and challenge that rightly comes with that.

“As Archbishops we pledged to work as quickly as we can to get independent oversight of safeguarding back on track. We continue to reflect on recent events and this development is an important part of our safeguarding work with victims and survivors, children and vulnerable adults, as we make the Church a safer place for all.”

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