Thursday 29th October 2020,
North Yorks Enquirer

Hawsker-cum-Stainsacre C-of-E Primary School: Police Called In

Hawsker-cum-Stainsacre C-of-E Primary School: Police Called In

  • Crime & Parliamentary Affairs correspondent TIM HICKS adopts a Christian approach to the child abuse allegations.

~~~~~

I am a practising Christian and write concerning the recent allegations of abuse at Hawsker Church of England Primary School, published in the North Yorks Enquirer.

  • Initial NYE whistleblowing article by Nigel Ward here:
  • Subsequent follow-up article here:

There has been no denial of any of the facts alleged in the article by any party, so far as I am aware.

I would make the following points:

Child Abuse and Christianity

In my opinion, abuse of children is indefensible and incompatible with Christianity, whether it is physical, emotional or sexual, or a combination of all three. This includes any act of abuse itself, failing to confront it, or concealing it.

Past Response of the Church of England to Allegations of Child Abuse

I think the past response of the Church of England has been a disgrace and indefensible, as set out in the articles below:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/15/damning-report-reveals-church-of-england-failure-to-act-on-abuse

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/08/21/church-of-england-warned-bishops-not-to-apologise-too-fully-to-s/

I well remember in 1975, my shock when the Bishop of Llandaff, whom I had met very briefly on a school trip to Llandaff Cathedral as a school boy, resigned having been convicted and fined for an offence of gross indecency. I was also shocked by the more recent case of Bishop Peter Ball, who was jailed for multiple sexual offences. In summary, it is alleged the church ignored victims, cloaked the allegations in secrecy, tried to ensure the police and the media were not informed and appeared more concerned about protecting its reputation than protecting the victims or properly investigating allegations of abuse.

Reform of the C-of-E Response to Allegations of Child Abuse.

As a result, the Church has reformed itself.  An independent inquiry was established in 2013.  BBC report here.

Assurances were given that the church would reform, BBC Report here and new policies were introduced to ensure that allegations of abuse were investigated:

“It is the policy of the Church to ensure that all allegations of abuse are referred immediately to the Police and Local Authority Social Services departments (statutory authorities). We do this in the interests of the vulnerable. To make sure that all information available is shared with those with the legal and professional responsibilities to investigate. In cases where the statutory authorities decide that they will not, or cannot investigate, but concerns remain about the safety of children or adults at risk of abuse or neglect, enquiries will be made by those with responsibility for safeguarding within the Church.”

“All concerns and allegations are taken seriously by the Church, regardless to whom they relate to.  The precise circumstances differ from case to case, but the following information gives an indication of what happens when an allegation is made:

  • Information about the alleged abuse is shared with the Police and Local Authority Social Services as they have a statutory responsibility to investigate.

  • After consultation with the Police and Local Authority Social Services, if the person accused of abuse is a member of the clergy, or is a paid worker or a volunteer, that person will, where possible, be suspended from the role that brings them into contact with children, young people and adults at risk of abuse or neglect.  It is important to acknowledge that these are neutral actions. They are precautionary to ensure that cases can be investigated dispassionately and to protect all parties involved.  The final decisions are made following the completion of enquiries.  It is possible that someone accused of abuse may be re-instated, depending on the circumstances of the case, once the matter is concluded.

  • Enquiries will be made to find out if there is evidence to support the allegation.  Sometimes people accused of abuse are arrested and after full investigations, some may be prosecuted.

  • The Church supports all its members and considers what support a person accused of abuse may need.

  • In seeking to meet the support needs of people accused of abuse, the Church will strive to minimise risks to others. The Church will use a written agreement (known as a ‘worship safeguarding agreement’) to make clear what conditions and restrictions apply to the accused person (e.g. he/she may have to worship in another Church, avoidance of specific activities), as well as what support will be made available.”

[Source:  https://www.churchofengland.org/clergy-office-holders/safeguarding-children-vulnerable-adults/reporting-concerns-and-finding-support.aspx (My emphasis, underlined in bold.)]

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is also investigating abuse within the Anglican Church.

How Has This Policy Been Applied at Hawsker-cum-Stainsacre C-of-E Primary School?

The Hawsker-cum-Stainsacre Church of England Primary School investigation is a test case for the Church of England. It is vital to Anglicans that the Church of England demonstrates it has robust procedures to deal with those few members of the clergy and officers of the church that abuse their positions, and that it has successfully implemented its new robust approach to safeguarding.

If, as the NYE article suggested, the police have not been informed, then the school authorities and the diocese of York are acting in defiance of Church of England Policy, even if they have informed the North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) Human Resources department and the Children & Young Peoples’ Services (CYPS).

The article goes on to state:  “However, the Enquirer is given to understand that steps have been taken to obviate the necessity for calling in the North Yorkshire Police (NYP), though what these steps are, and how they could be legitimate, is unclear.”

Accordingly, I wrote to Acting Assistant Chief Constable (A/ACC) Amanda Oliver, (being the Chief Officer of North Yorkshire Police responsible for Specialist Operations), formally informing her of the allegations and asking her to investigate. I had hoped that her response would be to the effect that North Yorkshire Police had been notified by the authorities of the situation straight away and that either:

  1. It was already under investigation.

or

2.  The investigation had been completed and there was no evidence of a criminal offence.

Instead, I had a prompt and courteous response from A/ACC Oliver as follows:

“Please be advised that your letter has been forwarded through A/ACC Oliver’s Staff Officer in order for enquiries to be made. Once enquiries have taken place a further letter will be sent to you.”

 

[Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Amanda Oliver: Prompt and effective police response to allegations of child abuse]

It therefore appears to me that North Yorkshire Police had not been informed of these matters by either Hawsker Primary School, the Diocese of York, NYCC HR, or NYCC Social Services. Whilst the response of North Yorkshire Police can only be described as prompt and effective and the police are now making enquiries, this situation still causes me a great deal of concern.

In my view, when these allegations surfaced in mid-September 2016:

  1. The police should have been informed immediately.
  2. A partner agency strategy meeting with all agencies involved should have been convened.
  3. An investigation should have been conducted by the police.
  4. Parents should have been informed immediately so they knew what was going on and any other victims could be identified so they could come forward to provide more evidence to the police.
  5. If the investigation found that there was no evidence of a criminal offence, then police involvement could cease.

I remember, from my school days, three teachers who were routinely violent to children. They did not focus on one boy; they were violent to several boys. I am therefore concerned that if indeed there has been criminality at the school, only an investigation by specialist police officers trained in child protection will get to the truth and the full extent of it.

In my view, school governors, human resources managers and social workers, are not competent to impartially conduct a sensitive criminal investigation into allegations of child abuse, involving a colleague. The Police are. That is why the policy requires that they are involved straight away and that is why I contacted them.

I also contacted the Diocese of York and NYCC and asked for a press statement.

No statement has been received from NYCC.

As yet, the response from the Diocese of York and the subsequent associated correspondence also causes me concern.

Press Statement from the Church of England Diocese of York.

The day after my request, I received the following press release, not from His Grace Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu or a member of his staff, concerning a grave issue of public concern locally, but from a public relations consultant:

“Hawsker-cum-Stainsacre CE Primary Statement

The Diocese of York can confirm that a complaint has been received against Mr Carl Hardwick, the Headteacher at Hawsker Cum Stainsacre Church of England Voluntary Controlled Primary School. Mr Hardwick has been suspended by the Governors of the school pending an investigation of the allegations relating to his professional conduct towards staff and pupils.

There is no allegation of sexual abuse against Mr Hardwick”.

Whilst this does at least break the code of “Omerta” that has so far apparently been implemented by the authorities over this affair, statements from PR consultants are always interesting for what they don’t say, rather than the information they do impart. So, being persistent, I followed up with the following request for additional information:

“Thank you for your prompt and helpful response.

Whilst I acknowledge that there is no allegation of sexual abuse against Mr Hardwick.  Nevertheless in my request for a press statement I asked:  “Please can I ask for a press comment on the case confirming the accuracy of the allegations and if there is an allegation of criminality, why the police have not been notified.”

Your comment does not fully address my request for information.

Church of England Policy on these matters is clear and it is as follows:  “It is the policy of the Church to ensure that all allegations of abuse are referred immediately to the Police and Local Authority Social Services departments (statutory authorities). We do this in the interests of the vulnerable. To make sure that all information available is shared with those with the legal and professional responsibilities to investigate. In cases where the statutory authorities decide that they will not, or cannot investigate, but concerns remain about the safety of children or adults at risk of abuse or neglect, enquiries will be made by those with responsibility for safeguarding within the Church.”

According to the article, the allegation is of physical abuse.  Therefore please can you confirm:

  1. The exact date that Mr Hardwick was suspended.
  1. Was the above policy of the Church of England followed in full?
  1. If there is any allegation of physical or emotional abuse of a pupil?  If this is not the case, then I will publish a correction to the article immediately.
  1. If the members of staff were male or female.
  1. Who will be conducting the investigation you speak of?
  1. Are the allegations are potentially criminal in nature.  If so, have the police have been informed and if not why not?
  1. Why have parents not apparently been kept fully informed?

Best regards,

Tim”

This elicited the following response, again from the PR Consultant:

“Thank you for your emails. The Diocese of York will not be expanding on its statement at this time.”

My key observations are that the press release does not deny or confirm if allegations of criminal offences have been made, or if safeguarding procedures have been ignored.

The article by Mr Ward states:  “Parents have expressed a significant loss of faith in the ‘Christian beliefs and practices’ and ‘Christian values’ trumpeted in the school’s Ethos Statement, chiefly on account of the blanket of secrecy that has been thrown over the present affair.”

For me this is a private matter for each individual Christian, so I will not comment on the personal religious views of other Christians.

I will however make the following observations:

  • I find it incredible after all that has happened and all the assurances that have been given, that the Diocese of York will neither confirm or deny if it has followed Church of England policy on child abuse or not, or if one of its officers has been accused of a criminal offence against a child.
  • The school website makes no mention of the situation, or that the school no longer has a head teacher and still holds out that Mr Hardwick is in place:  http://www.hawskerschool.com/staff
  • I think it is wrong that the Church of England will issue a response through a PR Consultant immediately to me because I am a journalist with a background in exposing child abuse, whilst the parents are apparently not being kept informed for months now. Quite apart from the fact they have a right to know what is going on, it is only by informing parents and ascertaining if there are any other pupils making allegations, that the investigation can identify the full extent of what – if anything – has gone on.
  • Despite local concern following local press comment, neither the school, the Church of England nor NYCC will issue any comprehensive statement to allay public fears.
  • It appears the only agency that has responded properly to this situation is the police and they were apparently excluded, even though there is a duty to inform them.

In summary, it appears that the church has ignored the possibility of other potential victims, cloaked the allegations in secrecy, tried to ensure the police and the media were not informed and appears more concerned about using PR consultants to protect its reputation than protecting the victims, properly investigating allegations of abuse, or following its own safeguarding policies.

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