Safeguarding in Birmingham was ‘shambolic’ says top abuse lawyer

The Tablet [Market Harborough, England]

July 20, 2022

By Ruth Gledhill

The Barnardo’s review shows that failures by the Archdiocese, which took place over a period of time, were institutional.

Archbishop Bernard Longley said: “I am deeply sorry for what happened to those who have been harmed by Joseph Quigley.”

A top abuse lawyer has condemned the Archdiocese of Birmingham for safeguarding systems that were “shambolic and wholly inadequate”.

Richard Scorer, specialist abuse lawyer at Slater and Gordon who has acted for numerous victims of abuse in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, was speaking after publication today of an independent review by children’s charity Barnardo’s into the management of concerns about Joseph Quigley, a priest in the archdiocese.

Scorer said: “This report is utterly damning. It paints a picture of a diocese in which safeguarding systems were shambolic and wholly inadequate. Since 2001 the Catholic Church has claimed that all abuse allegations are reported to the statutory authorities. This report clearly demonstrates that this is untrue, and that crucial information about Quigley was not passed on. This has been a systemic problem in the Catholic church and only a mandatory reporting law, with criminal sanctions for cover up, will change this. We need this law without delay.”

Quigley was convicted of child sex offences and sentenced, in January last year, to 11 years and six months’ imprisonment.

The trustees of the archdiocese of Birmingham commissioned Barnardo’s to undertake an independent, transparent review into what had gone wrong.

In a press statement, the archdiocese said: “The Barnardo’s review highlights a number of failures by the archdiocese in procedures, communications, managerial scrutiny and oversight. We accept these failures. The review, which has been shared with those most impacted by Joseph Quigley’s actions, shows that failures by the Archdiocese, which took place over a period of time, were institutional.

“The Archdiocese has learnt much from this case and the report and we are committed to improving our standards and processes. We have restructured our safeguarding team and strengthened management oversight and accountability, ensuring we listen and act on all concerns.”

The archdiocese said that all allegations of abuse, no matter how small, are reported to the police immediately and that reporting is clearly evidenced for transparency and managerial scrutiny.

Archbishop of Birmingham Bernard Longley said: “I am deeply sorry for what happened to those who have been harmed by Joseph Quigley.

“I welcome the report and the reflection that will come from this. All the reflections and responses that we receive allow me and the Catholic Church to better understand our failings and where we need to continue to learn. One reason I welcome the report is that it enables me and everyone else to hear the voices of those who have suffered – the victims’ voices are heard clearly here.

“Looking at the review, it’s clear that those things would not have happened in this way today. Going to the police and the statutory authorities is a natural and regular part of how we respond to safeguarding issues that are brought to us.

“Our professional safeguarding team has expanded and has overseen considerable changes in how we do things today and how we are held responsible.”

He added: “This review does make for difficult reading and I encourage anyone affected by it to reach out for help.”

Quigley, referred to in the review as Q, was convicted at Warwick Crown Court of four counts of engaging in sexual activity with a child, two counts of sexual assault, one count of child cruelty and two counts of false imprisonment. 

Concerns about his behaviour were raised in December 2008 when he was removed from any public ministry and a few weeks later, sent to the US by the Archdiocese for assessment and therapy.

Upon his return to the UK in 2009, his ministerial duties were not restored and he was directed not to have contact with children or vulnerable adults, although it would appear he continued in his role as a school governor. He was moved into a convent as the chaplain where he was permitted to perform mass.

In 2012, concerns about Quigley’s behaviour towards the teenage son of an employee in the archdiocese, were raised. He was directed by the archdiocese not to don priest’s garb or use the title of “father” and he was moved from the convent to a retirement home for clergy.

In December 2018, a therapist working with one of his victims reported to the police what she had been told about the priest’s behaviour towards him when he was a child, and what had allegedly been reported to the Archdiocese of Birmingham in 2012. A few days later, using the crime number given to his therapist, the victim himself contacted the police. The subsequent police investigation in 2019 led to Quigley being convicted of sexual offences against this victim. Another victim was a witness for the prosecution.

The review says: “Their experiences serve to remind us of not only the harm that is caused by the actions of an abusing priest but also how the failure of the Roman Catholic Church to take appropriate action and sensitively respond to those who have been abused by members of the clergy, can add to the hurt and harm already suffered.”