Further Concerns over Independent Safeguarding Board’s Independence

Further Concerns over Independent Safeguarding Board’s Independence
Appointment of Chair “Too Cosy”

Church abuse campaigners have criticised the Archbishops’ Council appointment of Meg Munn as interim chair of the Independent Safeguarding Board as being “too cosy”. Ms Munn, a former Labour and Co-operative MP, already holds safeguarding posts in the Church of England.

Ms Munn, who has served as a junior minister in the Foreign Office under Gordon Brown, is already chair of the CofE National Safeguarding Panel and a member of the Church’s National Safeguarding Steering Group. The Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) was set up to provide vital scrutiny of the Church of England’s safeguarding processes. As a member of these national bodies, Ms Munn is part of the safeguarding system within the Church, yet as ISB chair, she is responsible for providing independent scrutiny of the system.

One victim advocate told the Sunday Telegraph that the arrangement was “too cosy”.

Church abuse victims voiced their concerns anonymously to the newspaper. “The appointment shows that there is not a hair’s breadth between the CofE hierarchy and the Independent (sic) Safeguarding Board. Meg Munn… is about as ‘institutional’ as they get, and victims fear the ISB will be subsumed with the swamp of CofE mediocrity,” said one.

Another victim gave this assessment, “I’d be hard-pushed to think of anyone in the country less appropriate to take on that role than Meg Munn.”

Ms Munn is to serve as Acting Chairman to the end of 2023. She said, “I am pleased to be asked to take up the role of Chair of the Independent Safeguarding Board. As I know from my work leading the National Safeguarding Panel, independent scrutiny and oversight is a vital part of the Church’s national safeguarding work.  I look forward to building on that and the work of the Board to date.”

Ms Munn’s appointment was announced following the resignation of Dr Maggie Atkinson as ISB Chair. Professor Atkinson had faced complaints about her handling of confidential documentation. Three of these allegations were upheld by the Information Commissioner’s Office. She stated her reasons for resigning: “Changing family circumstances and ISB matters have meant that my presence even from a distance has become a distraction and therefore I decided to tender my immediate resignation to the Archbishops’ Council.”

When Dr Atkinson’s appointment to General Synod was announced a year earlier, in February 2022, Lead Safeguarding Bishop Jonathan Gibbs hailed the ISB as “fully independent”.  However, a job advertisement for an ISB Project and Administration Officer posted online on 31st March 2023 states, “The Independent Safeguarding Board currently exists within the structure of the National Church Institutions with oversight from the Archbishops’ Council.”

It is understood that an earlier advertisement of this nature had been labelled “misleading” by the Advertising Standards Authority. The Authority ruled that the position or the purported body could not be called “Independent” as the position was being advertised by the Church of England. Furthermore, during court proceedings with the former Dean of Oxford, Dr Martyn Percy, it was conceded the ISB is not an independent body in law.

In February 2023, English Churchman reported on the concerns that already existed about the independence of the Independent Safeguarding Board, and highlighted that the Board had not been permitted to present a report to Synod members. “The Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) is committed to sharing its thinking and emerging findings. Despite attempts to secure an opportunity to update Synod in person, no time was made available. We do not believe that the importance of ISB work is consistent with a ‘fringe’ activity,” said members of the ISB at the time.

In a paper published before February’s meeting of the General Synod, the ISB accused the Church of England of frustrating its work and hampering its independence: “In its first year, the ISB has experienced multiple instances in which its independence and freedom to operate has been hampered. The ISB does not consider that it is sufficiently independent from those it is responsible for scrutinising. The independent minds of board members need to be supported by an independent body, the operation of which cannot be frustrated by the Church.”

The other members of the ISB are Jasvinder Sanghera CBE, a campaigner against forced marriages and abuse, who is the Board’s Survivor Advocate, and Steve Reeves, a specialist in combatting sexual exploitation and abuse in organisational settings.