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Church accused of failing to report child abuse allegations - our Child Abuse Solicitors discuss

The former Archbishop of York has been accused of failing to report serious allegations of child abuse by a senior clergyman, Robert Waddington. Waddington was the former Dean of Manchester Cathedral and was once the General Synod’s most senior education official in charge of Church Schools.

He also had close links with Chetham’s School of Music which is the subject of an on going investigation into abuse at the School. Please see here for more information relating to the investigation into abuse at Music Schools.

Eli Ward, a former choirboy has spoken out saying that he has never got over being abused by Waddington. Mr Ward met Waddington as a child, when he was part of the cathedral choir at Manchester and was asked to help clean the railings at the high altar. This was the start of a lengthy grooming process and Mr Ward was frequently singled out and given special treatment. Waddington subsequently invited Mr Ward to stay at his house and regularly subjected him to sexual abuse.

It has been uncovered through a joint investigation by The Times and The Australian newspaper in Sydney that Lord Hope of Thornes, who was Archbishop of York from 1995 – 2005 and at the time the second highest ranking bishop in the Church was made aware of the allegations. Waddington was headmaster of St Barnabas School in Australia during the 1960s. Another victim, Bim Atkinson, made allegations, of sexual abuse against Waddington, which took place when he was a member of the choir at the school. Mr Atkinson made a complaint to the Church in Australia in the late 1990s which was then referred to Lord Hope of Thornes, the Archbishop of York. Lord Hope of Thornes was also made aware of the allegations in 2003.  

It has now been revealed that Lord Hope of Thornes responded to the North Queensland diocese indicating that Waddington’s actions had been “misinterpreted” and that there was “no question of any such behaviour occurring again.” He ordered internal investigations into Waddington, interviewed him and revoked his permission to officiate in church. However, Lord Hope of Thornes failed to report the alleged abuse or the potential continuing threat to children to the police or child protection agencies.

He has now admitted that he was wrong not to report the matter, however, he has denied any cover up saying that he followed the Church Child Protection procedures in place at the time which did not oblige him to report the matter to the police.

We are concerned at the decision not to report this matter to the police and relevant agencies at the time. This case is another example of why mandatory reporting, as recommended in the recent HMIC report in relation the Savile case is necessary. This would have ensured that the matter would have been reported to police and relevant child protection agencies earlier. It is suggested that there may be other victims and if the matter had been allowed to be properly and thoroughly investigated at the time, and indeed whilst Waddington was alive, further abuse may have been prevented. We support the recommendations for mandatory reporting which are a step in the direction of protecting the vulnerable against abuse.  

Since the abuse, the victim, Mr Ward’s relationship with his family has broken down. Sadly, this is common in cases of abuse. Mr Ward has said that he finds it hard to believe that his family allowed him to go away with a man in his late 50s and questions why people did not question anything at the time. Waddington, similar to others in positions of trust was able to use his position to groom victims and some are also able to manipulate and deceive the victim’s families. It must however be remembered that the perpetrator is highly manipulative and has abused their position of trust and power.  

The Archbishop of York has now announced that he will be setting up an independent inquiry into the allegations of sexual abuse and will specifically look into the issues surrounding the reports. The findings of the inquiry will be made public.  

A review by Baroness Butler-Sloss into the Diocese of Chichester’s handling of abuse criticised the Church’s handing of child abuse allegations. The Bishop of Chichester also recently admitted to victims that there had been deception and cover up. There is also an on going criminal trial into the alleged abuse by Canon Rideout in Sussex. See more information regarding this here.

Mr Ward is currently pursuing a civil claim in relation to the abuse he suffered and Mr Atkinson has since received compensation but no admission of liability. We hope that the Mr Ward is successful in his civil claim and hope that he obtains the justice he deserves.  

If anyone would like to discuss this article or has been the victim of abuse, either within the church or elsewhere and would like to speak to a member of our specialist abuse team we are more than happy to speak to them free of charge. Please contact a member of our team on 020 7657 1658/1653/1502. Any communication will be dealt with in the strictest confidence. 

Click here for more information on Child Abuse Claims.