The Church of England’s Interim Support Scheme: opaque, unfair and an invitation to the dishonest to fill their boots

The Church of England has an appalling record in dealing with child abuse.

It formed the subject of one strand of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

The predictable conclusion was that:

The Church of England failed to protect some children and young people from sexual predators within their midst. In the past, the system of child protection was under-resourced. Safeguarding personnel were at times ignored and their advice overlooked, in favour of protecting the reputation of clergy and the Church. During the Inquiry’s hearings, senior leaders in the Church apologised for its actions, recognising that failings identified by this investigation and other reviews were “profoundly and deeply shocking.”

Within the Church, and even before the IICSA’s report was published, there was a laudable desire to make amends for past mistakes.

It would take time to set up a proper redress scheme for victims of abuse, but in the meantime, under the auspices of The Archbishops’ Council (an executive body and charity within the Church of England), the decision was taken in September 2020 to establish an Interim Scheme.

The purpose of the scheme was:

“… to enable the Church to respond in particular to those survivors’ cases which are already known to the Church, where the survivor is known to be in seriously distressed circumstances, and the Church has a heightened responsibility because of the way the survivor was responded to following disclosure.”

I wish I could tell you what the criteria for receiving this support are but I can’t. One thing we do know is that the scheme is not restricted to those complaining that they were abused as children. It is also open to those presenting themselves as adult “survivors” of abuse.

So what happens in practice?

One of the first people to access the scheme we can call AB, as that is how she is known to the world.

We do not know exactly what she told the Interim Support Scheme in her application.

However, we do know the gist of what her complaint was, because in 2020 she made it in a little known ecclesiastical tribunal. She had complained about a priest – Rev William Bulloch, the vicar of St James The Great, Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. Her complaint resulted in Rev Bulloch, or Father Bill as he is often known, being accused in The Bishop of Chelmsford’s Disciplinary Tribunal of “conduct unbecoming a priest.” The main complaint before the tribunal was that:

From late 2016 to early 2017 he, a married man, had a sexual relationship with AB, to whom he had been giving pastoral support.”

There were also two less serious complaints: that he had failed to seek appropriate support or advice as to how to assist her, and that he had used “foul and abusive language” to her. He admitted these lesser charges, though there was considerable mitigation for his use of foul language.

There was no allegation that any sexual contact had taken place without her consent. Nevertheless an accusation that a priest, especially a married priest, has abused his position to carry on a sexual relationship with someone seeking his spiritual guidance is extremely serious.

The Tribunal heard the allegations. I wrote in some detail about the case here, and you can download their judgment here. I should make clear that Fr Bill was represented at the hearing, and the subsequent appeal against his penalty, by my colleague Justin Gau, though he is not in any way responsible for this blog.

If you are familiar with the case already, I apologise for repeating some of the history below, and if you wish to know more details of an extraordinary case I would encourage you to read the judgment itself.

In short, the Tribunal thought that AB was lying.

They found that she was “egregiously” dishonest and her behaviour egregiously manipulative.

The case was long and complex, but what emerged was that AB had pretended to Rev Bulloch to be terminally ill. She was on what she called “a palliative care pathway.”

That was found to be untrue.

She claimed she could barely walk.

That was untrue.

She had asked if she could come and live with Fr Bill and his family.

He was not keen on the idea, but he received emails from a psychiatrist called “Julian.” The psychiatrist confirmed AB’s terminal illness and put pressure on him to look after her. There was no suitable hospice. It was midwinter and her heating had broken down. “Julian” said that he had been in touch with AB’s “lead consultant” who said she was suffering from “huge internal bleeding.” “The end,” said Julian, “is close.”

He was persuaded that the Christian thing to do was to let her stay with him and his family for a couple of weeks.

In fact “Julian” did not exist. The Tribunal found that she had invented him and created the fake emails in order to manipulate Fr Bill.

She claimed that while she was staying with him, with his wife asleep upstairs, he had had sex with her.

The Tribunal found that to be untrue.

After she left, she returned to her own home. She said, Fr Bill continued to visit her at home and sexual intercourse took place.

That was found to be another lie.

Astonishingly, AB persuaded Fr Bill that he should “break the news” to her 7 year old daughter that she – AB – was dying and would soon be in Heaven. The tribunal found this manipulation, involving as it did the cruel [ab]use of a child, “a particularly chilling aspect of the case.”

Eventually Rev Bulloch and his wife started to have suspicions. These were heightened when – quite by chance – Mrs Bulloch and her daughter saw AB in the grounds of their local hospital, walking without difficulty, and then breaking into a run to try to avoid them.

Fr Bill confronted AB with what his wife had seen.

More emails arrived, this time from a “Dr Khokhar,” these too were forged by AB. The fictitious “Dr Khokhar” tried to explain how AB could have been, running despite supposedly being on a palliative pathway to an imminent death and despite her protestations that she could barely walk. He explained that she shouldn’t really have been walking but that she was very brave, she had no bowel or kidney function and was liable to have a fatal heart attack at any time.

All this was untrue, although there was in fact a real Dr Khokhar, a well-respected cardiologist at Southend Hospital who denied having anything to do with the emails.

During the course of the hearing a video emerged of AB enjoying herself on a bouncy castle “in a way completely inconsistent with her claimed physical incapacity.”

Unsurprisingly, in view of the unanimous conclusion of the Tribunal that AB had indulged in “egregiously dishonest and manipulative” behaviour towards Fr Bill, the allegation that she had had a sexual relationship with him was rejected.

She even claimed that she had become pregnant by him and had given birth to a baby which then died almost immediately. She produced a copy of an ultrasound photograph, but for some reason the date of the scan had been cropped. The Tribunal did not find it convincing; indeed it appeared to be yet more calculated dishonesty.

None of AB’s GP records were produced, although the case was adjourned for 6 weeks for that very purpose.

Fr Bill was not exonerated of all blame: he had admitted that he ought to have sought diocesan advice at an early stage, and he admitted losing his temper and swearing at her, after he had become aware of her lies and her attempt to manipulate him. For these – some would say entirely understandable transgressions – the Tribunal banned him from practising as a priest, a penalty that was itself then overturned by the Court of Arches, which substituted a formal “rebuke” and a requirement for him to attend a safeguarding and an anger management course.

The public’s appetite for apparent sex scandals involving priests is insatiable and Rev Bulloch’s case received wide publicity.

On the other hand, throughout this process, and to this day, the identity of AB has been protected by an order of the Tribunal. This was not the automatic lifetime anonymity given by law to anyone who alleges that they have been the victim of a sexual offence. AB’s allegation was not that she was the victim of a sexual offence but that he had abused his position by having a sexual relationship with her.

*** *** ***

Soon after Fr Bill’s appeal against the sentence was announced an online petition was started calling upon the Bishop of Chelmsford:

to refrain from granting Permission to Officiate to Revd William Bulloch until all of the evidence of his abuse of AB has been fully and properly considered.”

The petition alleged that the Tribunal had not heard all the relevant evidence.

The central assertion was that:

The tribunal barely consider AB’s allegation that Bulloch had sexually exploited her.”

This is simply nonsense. The Tribunal considered her allegation in great detail and rejected it.

DNA evidence, recordings and photographs were simply not considered. Witnesses to whom AB disclosed her abuse were not called; medical evidence that she offered was not heard.”

I’ve no idea what DNA evidence was “not considered.” It is true that none was produced to the Tribunal, a remarkable oversight in legal proceedings lasting for many months, if any had existed.

AB produced a selection of covert recordings of conversations between Fr Bill and herself. The Tribunal said that it had listened to them and read the transcripts of them “with great care,” but they did not establish the existence of any sexual relationship. An allegation by Fr Bill that she could have tampered with the recordings was left unresolved.

A photograph of a scanned foetus was produced, but it “appeared to have been photocopied from a scan in a frame” and the date was cropped off. Another photograph of AB with a baby in a hospital was referred to, but not produced. She had shown it to another priest who was, as the judgment put it, “suspicious of its provenance.”

Two witnesses to whom AB had disclosed her abuse” were indeed not “heard,” but statements from them were considered, and it may well have been to her advantage that they did not give oral evidence. For example, to one such witness she had originally made a vague complaint of sexual misconduct by an “Anglo-Catholic” priest but had then said that it was not Fr Bill but another priest altogether.

It is perfectly true that AB was not independently represented at the Tribunal hearing – just as a complainant in a criminal case is not independently represented in a Crown Court hearing. It is also true that even a demonstrably dishonest and manipulative witness such as AB might on occasion be telling the truth.

*** *** ***

The fact that the Tribunal had found her to be dishonest would not in itself preclude a claim by her for damages, although given the evidence heard by the Tribunal it is vanishingly difficult to see how any such claim could possibly succeed.

Nevertheless, she would have the right to make it.

However, thanks to the generosity of the Church of England Interim Support Scheme AB has not needed to prove that she was abused in order to obtain compensation.

AB was amongst the first ten applicants to the scheme.

She claimed to be in need of “immediate support”

She was assisted in her claim by an independent organisation called “Minster and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors,” or MACSAS for short.

A MACSAS committee member acted as her advocate. MACSAS also bought her a car. It then claimed the cost of the advocacy and the car back from the Scheme. But that was only the beginning of the money that now started to flow directly from the Church to AB.

Not only was MACSAS assisting AB with her with advocacy, but another MACSAS Committee member, was actually sitting on the Support Scheme panel.

Of course the ISS is not a court of law, but it claims to make decisions “fairly and equitably.” One of the most fundamental rules of natural justice, and fairness, is that a person cannot sit in judgment on their own case. This was the equivalent of having the senior partner of a solicitor’s firm sitting as a judge in a case where the claimant is represented by another senior partner in the firm. No doubt the MACSAS Committee member on the panel did their best to approach AB’s application fairly and dispassionately, but it is an arrangement that gives rise to a glaring risk of bias.

In the end, in the summer of this year, after making two separate applications both of which were approved, AB was awarded tens of thousands of pounds by the ISS.

Amounts paid in her first application included:

£1500.00 for “advocacy”

£8,000 towards a new car

£3,000 for therapy

£2,000 for a holiday

£3,700 for the repayment of debts

£1,500 income per month for 6 months, described as “subsistence.”

Some months later she made a second application, which again resulted in her receiving further large sums of money.

Even if everything AB said had been true she was not claiming that she had been the victim of any criminal offence, and probably not even of any civil wrong that would have entitled her to any compensation anyway.

How could it be that a woman who was found in 2020 to have been egregiously dishonest and manipulative by the Tribunal was found to be deserving of such largesse in 2021?

I asked the Interim Support Scheme if they could confirm that AB did in fact receive tens of thousands of pounds.

You will appreciate,” replied Zena Marshall, the Interim Director of Safeguarding, I am unable to disclose the specific details of any application or award.”

However, the Panel does,” Ms Marshall assured me, “have eligibility criteria within the terms of reference, which are discussed in each case, to ensure this is met.”

These eligibility criteria and terms of reference are not publicly available.

Could she supply me with a copy, or indicate where they could be found? She could not, or at least she has not done so since I asked on Monday 25th October.

What of the apparent conflict of interest, with senior MACSAS officials acting, in effect, as both advocate and judge?

Within the terms of reference of the scheme there is a clear definition of what would constitute a conflict of interest for a panel member.”

Could she supply me with copy of those terms of reference?

She could not.

So I thought I should ask MACSAS. Surely a survivors organisation, the very purpose of which is to “support survivors by advocating for them,” would have a copy of the rules of the Scheme. After all, it can’t be easy to advocate for money for “survivors” if you don’t know the criteria the panel will use to decide what the payouts should be.

Perhaps David Greenwood would know. Mr Greenwood is a member of the MACSAS executive. He is also a celebrated child abuse lawyer and head of the Child Abuse compensation department at Switalski’s, one of the most well-known firms of solicitors in the north of England. He is a Fellow of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, an Executive Member of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, the Claimant Personal Injury Lawyer of the Year in the Eclipse Proclaim Personal Injury Awards 2017. If there is a single person in the country more likely to have a copy of the rules or terms of reference for the Interim Support Scheme on his laptop, or at least to know exactly where to find them, then – with the possible exception of Zena Marshall herself – I cannot think of one.

Did Mr Greenwood have the rules or terms of reference under which the ISS operates?

No.

Did he know where I might find them?

No he did not.

I do not have this information.”

But Mr Greenwood, trying to be helpful, did have a suggestion:

I can only suggest you contact the scheme direct. The e mail address I have is SupportScheme@churchofengland.org.”

Which of course is takes us back to the almost equally reticent Zena Marshall, who had already declined to provide them.

What about a Freedom of Information request?

Unfortunately the Church of England is not considered a “public authority” for the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and has the support of the law in routinely declining such requests.

So much for transparency.

What are the criteria for awarding money?

No-one outside a tight circle – which seems likely to include MACSAS, albeit apparently not Mr Greenwoodknows or is willing to say.

As long ago as April the secretary-general of the Archbishops Council, which is ultimately responsible for the Scheme admitted that “the lack of published criteria makes applications difficult.” Yet in the 6 months since then it has done nothing to remedy the position.

We can glean a little more about the scheme from a February 2021 advertisement for Panel members.

The successful applicants for membership of the panels are paid £250 per day, and work remotely. The scheme “is designed to be user-friendly and survivor-supportive.” Reassuringly it says:

panel decisions are guided by agreed criteria and parameters and regularly reviewed to ensure panel decisions are fair and equitable in all cases.”

But what these “agreed criteria and parameters” might actually be, or who agreed them and who reviews them remains as opaque as ever.

Other claimants – actual victims of sometimes horrifying Church abuse, who are not liars – have found the Scheme less than “survivor-supportive.” Sophie Whiting, for example, put in an extra claim for the “stress and anxiety” caused by the administration of the Scheme; it was refused.

Teresa Cooper, whose health was permanently damaged by inappropriate drugs she received during the years of appalling abuse, which she unquestionably suffered in a Church run children’s home in the 1980s, was made to wait for months for help, including a nebuliser and a wheelchair.

They stopped all my care needs incl home help as if it was a common cold. They literally just cut me off and left me home alone to rot.They literally just cut me off and left me alone to rot. Senior C of E staff just went on holidays,” she tweeted earlier this month.

Zena Marshall told the Church Times in July of this year:

The Archbishops’ Council is a charity and cannot simply pay over sums where there is no proper legal basis for doing so.”

Yet in AB’s case the “proper legal basis” for paying her large sums of money seems questionable in the extreme.

How was the financial figure arrived at in AB’s case?

Ms Marshall was slightly more forthcoming about the Scheme’s general approach:

The ISS is not a scheme that awards compensation, the Scheme is not intended to provide compensation or restitution to survivors, nor is it a redress scheme. The Scheme is intended to give immediate help and support to survivors whose life circumstances are significantly affected by the abuse suffered, and the response to it. The Scheme is designed to address immediate and urgent needs that help in the short-term to put the survivor’s life back on track.”

If I understand Ms Marshall correctly, the money that has been awarded to AB is not even intended as compensation or redress, it’s just a short term – or perhaps medium term – injection of cash to a dishonest and manipulative woman. This would appear at least to leave open the possibility that she can apply to the final scheme, once it is up and running, or indeed that she can come back and claim for yet more “short-term” help whenever she needs it. How this amounts to a “proper legal basis” is hard to follow.

The amounts of money potentially available are vast. In July of this year “Gilo,” the Fundraising Coordinator for MACSAS, wrote on the survivingchurch.org website:

I believe there are currently about 35 survivors being supported. The current monthly expenditure is likely to be in region of £60k plus additional capital expenditure. And there are perhaps over 10 current applications in process. Maybe closer to twenty. It’s hard to know when the Scheme might reach its first 100 applicants. Perhaps within the next four to six months.”

The Scheme,” Gilo added, “is likely to grow exponentially.”

You can say that again.

A scheme which hands out unlimited sums of Church money, in total secrecy, on the basis of rules that make the election of a new Pope seem a model of transparency, without asking any difficult questions, and which can be accessed again and again even by those found to be egregiously dishonest and manipulative, can, I suppose, be described as “user-friendly.” It is especially user-friendly to cheats, though sometimes stingy in the extreme to the honest. One can well understand that as a result it is likely to grow exponentially. In doing so it has the potential to become a monster that will seriously damage the Church.

But “fair and equitable”?

Whatever benefits it might give to some, it is an obvious milch-cow for fraudsters, crooks and charlatans.

Update November 11th 2021.

On 7th November the Mail on Sunday published a story about the ISS.

According to the Mail story AB received around £40,000.

It quoted a Church spokesperson who said ‘We are aware that a very limited number of payments were made in the early days of its operations which would not now be made.’ It said that changes had been made to the scheme since then.

On 9th November a trenchant defence of the Interim Support Scheme appeared on the Archbishop Cranmer blog, written by the retired child abuse solicitor and General Synod member Martin Sewell.

“No the Church of England did not give £40,000 “gifts” to a fantasist.”

Mr Sewell’s defence of the scheme is  full-throated, but that of the particular payment itself is a little more muted. He appears to concede at least the possibility that a “mistake” was made in paying £40,000 to AB – presumably because it was wrong to give a £40,000 gift to AB if she was fantasist –  but argues that it does not matter very much anyway because “Jesus encouraged promiscuous generosity.”

“Frankly, even if the compensation panel has made a mistake here, is not an error of generosity, an error that favoured the vulnerable, infinitely preferable to decades of hardheartedness? Jesus encouraged promiscuous generosity in a various ways: he took the thief on the cross to paradise; he overturned our thoughts on fairness in the parable of the labourers in the vineyard; he went thoroughly overboard when providing wine at the marriage at Cana. That, too, was a ‘one off’.”

The parallel between paying out large sums of Church money to a woman found to have given egregiously dishonest evidence, and the miracle of water into wine at Cana may be seen as rather inexact by some, but not by Richard Scorer head of Abuse Law at Slater and Gordon, who described Sewell’s piece as as “intelligent and thoughtful.”

Readers will have to make up their own minds whether this promiscuous generosity to some, though not to everyone, is a strength or a weakness.  From the perspective of current or former lawyers like Sewell and Scorer it is, I suppose, a good thing that a scheme exists which will pay out tens of thousands of pounds to claimants even if they (by which I mean the claimants, not the lawyers) have been dishonest. Others might view this as a weakness.

At least one improvement has come about since the original publication of this blog and the Mail on Sunday article. It has become slightly more transparent.

On 9th November the Church of England quietly published the Interim Support Scheme Terms of Reference.

These are revised Terms of Reference which came into force on 28th September, after AB received her support.  We can now read the eligibility criteria, the rules for remuneration of “advocates” supporting applicants to the scheme, and the rules and guidance  on avoiding conflicts of “interest” and conflicts of “loyalty.”

I don’t want to get too bogged down in an arcane examination of these documents, but it’s interesting to look at the rules about conflicts of interest amongst panel members.

Paragraph 31 of the Terms of Reference says:

“Panel members shall avoid conflicts of interest and loyalty and the appearance of any bias. No Panel member shall take any decision in connection with any application in which they have a conflict of interest or loyalty or where they may reasonably be perceived to have such a conflict.”

That seems reasonably clear (though it does not explicitly say, as it should, that conflicted Panel members should withdraw from Panel discussions as well as decisions).

The Terms of Reference are accompanied by contradictory “Notes for Guidance” which might in fact be better entitled “Notes to Confuse You.”

In apparent contradition to the meaning of Paragraph 31 of the  Terms of Reference, the Notes for Guidance contemplate conflicted panel members not just participating in, but even taking decisions on applications.

Thus paragraphs 24 and 25 of the Notes for Guidance provide:

“24. Where a conflict of interest arises in connection with a personal benefit, the person concerned must withdraw from the meeting and not take part in any discussions relating to it. Where a conflict of loyalty arises, the decision-making panel will consider what level of participation, if any, is acceptable on the part of the conflicted person. However, the normal expectation will be that the conflicted person should withdraw from the meeting during discussion of the item of business in question.” [Emphasis added]

“25. A person need not withdraw from a meeting if his or her interest (whether financial or non-financial) is common to a class of persons and is neither (i) significant nor (ii) substantially greater than the interests of other members of that class. In other words, the fact that a person is a survivor of abuse does not of itself prevent them from acting on a panel but other factors may do so.”

The Notes for Guidance then draw an awkward distinction between a “conflict of interest” and a “conflict of loyalty.” Examples are given of various conflicts of “loyalty.”

But the Notes also define a conflict of interest:

“A conflict of interest is any situation in which a panel member’s personal interests or loyalties could prevent, or could be seen to prevent, the panel member from making a decision in accordance with the requirements of charity law.”

It comes very close to saying that if there is a conflict of loyalty, there is also a conflict of interest. That may indeed be right, but if so the distinction in the Guidance between conflicts of interest (where the panel member must withdraw) and conflicts of loyalty (where they need not) is nonsensical. (And the assumption that panel members will have a working knowledge of the notoriously complex law of charities seems optimistic).

I won’t trouble readers with any more of this. That the rules are finally publicly available is good. Unfortunately, the only thing that is clear about them is that they are a breakfast fit for a hungry St Bernard.

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Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

8 thoughts on “The Church of England’s Interim Support Scheme: opaque, unfair and an invitation to the dishonest to fill their boots”

  1. These pedophiles under the guise of the church are criminals and should be treated as such, not given privileges. They rape children, why isn’t the law about kicking these rapists out of the church and being prosecuted? There is NO excuse! Give us a shout if you need lead to progress this!

  2. I’m unable to become a patron and you don’t have a “like” button, so I’d just like to thank you, Matthew, for another very good read, as usual.

    If it wasn’t all so depressing, I’d have chuckled audibly at this gem: “How could it be that a woman who was found in 2020 to have been egregiously dishonest and manipulative by the Tribunal was found to be deserving of such largesse in 2021?” You certainly have a way with words.

    Two consecutive sayings spring to mind, from Proverbs 17:15&16:
    15 Acquitting the guilty and condemning the righteous— both are detestable to the LORD.
    16 Why should the fool have money in his hand with no intention of buying wisdom?

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