Divisions over Church Abuse Case

BBC News [United Kingdom]
April 26, 2007

Peter Halliday has been jailed for two-and-a-half years

The revelation the Church of England failed to tell police about a former choirmaster who sexually abused children in the 1980s has been met with mixed reactions.

The Church has defended its decision to let Peter Halliday leave the church "quietly" by saying this was the way things were done in the past.

But child protection experts say the situation was "seriously mishandled" and the police should have been called.

"I think that we make the mistake of trying to read back what we now know and how we now do things"

Bishop David Wilcox

On Thursday, Halliday, a married 61-year-old from Farnborough, was jailed for 30 months after pleading guilty to sexually abusing boys in Hampshire in the late 1980s.

He admitted to the offences 17 years ago, but the Church decided not to call the police on condition he left and had no more contact with children.

Following Halliday's sentencing, the Reverend Mark Rudall, of the diocese of Guildford, said: "I can imagine there is anger on behalf of some of those victims and our heart goes out to them.

"But I think also that in accordance with the way things were done in those days the Church can be seen to have done the best it could."

Child protection experts called his argument a "red herring".

The Churches' Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) chief executive, David Pearson, said: "Although the Children Act 1989 was not implemented until 1991 and most denominations did not establish child protection procedures until some time later, it was well known even then that serious crimes against children had to be reported to the police."

Mr Pearson added the Church had a responsibility to take action to ensure that a known risk was prevented from having any further contact with children whatsoever.

"The Churches, both Catholic and Anglican, have not dealt well with child protection, certainly until very recent times"

Richard Scorer, child abuse lawyer

"In our view this situation was seriously mishandled by the Church and the victims will best be helped now by those responsible making a full acknowledgement of these failings," he added.

Margaret Kennedy, from the organisation Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, said she was stunned by the Church's decision not to report the abuse.

"We have a duty of care to all children in our parishes and in the community.

"You might have wanted to be pastorally caring for the individual victim, but that meant that this guy was out there for 16 years and it's totally irresponsible.

"It's a criminal act and if we knew that somebody had broken into our house and you could identify them, you go to the police."

Child abuse lawyer Richard Scorer said in the past the church dealt with allegations internally but things were improving.

"The Churches, both Catholic and Anglican, have not dealt well with child protection, certainly until very recent times," he said.

"They've always had this attitude of dealing with allegations internally. I think that is changing but it has been a problem for many years. Better systems are in place."

'Lessons learned'

The Church of England though stressed it now has robust policies in place.

Its national safeguarding adviser, the Reverend Pearl Luxon, responsible for child protection issues, said the church had learned from its mistakes.

"In the past, practices varied and we would not react in the way we would have appeared to have done then.

"Police and social services would be told of the matters immediately nowadays, if these things occurred."

In a Church of England statement, spokesman Mark Rudall said: "We are completely satisfied that what was done at the time was the way things happened in those days when child protection awareness was on the cusp of serious change."


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