THE findings of the first ever report into safeguarding at a palace in York have been published. 

The independent audit by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) of Bishopthorpe Palace’s safeguarding arrangements has been published today (January 31).

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It was the first ever audit of safeguarding in a palace and province of the Church of England and at the time of the audit, the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, was still very new to the role. 

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York Press: The Archbishop Stephen Cottrell The Archbishop Stephen Cottrell (Image: Duncan Lomax)

Safeguarding is about making sure an organisation is run in a way that actively prevents harm, harassment, bullying, abuse and neglect and the audit process involved reviewing a range of documentation as well as talking to staff members and focus groups to gain a greater understanding of the policies and culture of safeguarding that exists at the palace.

The palace is on the River Ouse in Bishopthorpe and is the official residence of the Archbishop of York, but it also houses the administrative centre of the Northern Province of the Church of England as well as the private apartments of the Archbishop and a small number of palace staff. About 30 people work at the palace.

York Press: Kieran DelaneyKieran Delaney (Image: Kieran Delaney)

The report states: "The auditors were struck by the potential obstacles for any lay person who wishes to raise the past behaviour of a cleric.

"Examples shared indicated a mixed picture in terms of the support being provided to (abuse) survivors. Perhaps more pertinently for this audit, any role for the Archbishop in providing scrutiny and challenge of such provision is not included in the current CDM Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) process.

"Positively auditors were told of a CDM complaint in response to a complaint which proceeded smoothly (albeit slowly), in which the survivor felt completely believed, was kept well informed and was supported throughout the lengthy process.

"The outcome was completely acceptable to the survivor concerned. The auditors saw one attempted CDM complaint in which the complainant obviously had had no support, possibly because they were unaware that any was available. As a result, the survivor lodged their complaint (about the behaviour of a senior cleric two decades ago) before marshalling the evidence. Despite some extra time being allowed (ten days) by the President of Tribunal, the survivor was unable to submit in time and the CDM complaint did not proceed as a result. Whilst the decision of the President of Tribunal was correct in terms of the legal process, it did not feel reasonable from the complainant’s viewpoint and left the safeguarding issue unaddressed at that point, although it was addressed subsequently.

"The recent departure of the previous Archbishop, and subsequent arrival of the new Archbishop, have inevitably been accompanied by changes in perspectives, style and culture. The auditors were told about some of the changes by both staff and survivors but did not actively seek evidence of this other than what was indicated in documents and case files examined.

"We recognise this had not afforded the previous Archbishop the ability to respond. The auditors did not speak to the previous Archbishop as part of the audit."

The SCIE audit was part of a national programme covering Church of England dioceses, cathedrals and palaces in cluding Lambeth Palace - the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The audit seeks to support safeguarding improvements across governance and leadership, policies and practice guidance, case-work, recruitment and training, ensuring that all offices have the best possible practice in place.

The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said: “We welcome the report following the SCIE audit at Bishopthorpe Palace. They have identified many areas where staff and systems are working well but also areas where we can improve, all with a focus to ensure that survivors are listened to and supported.

"Publishing the report has taken longer than we had hoped as it was necessary for us to ensure staff who have moved on since the audit were afforded the opportunity to discuss the report with the auditors. In the meantime as a team we have considered the report and today publish our action plan showing where we have already made developments and where further work is being considered. We welcome every opportunity to learn and improve our approach to safeguarding.”

Kathryn Smith, CEO of SCIE, said: “Since the audit, the Archbishop of York and his team has had time to progress and reflect on the safeguarding arrangements and practice of Bishopthorpe Palace. New arrangements for joint working between the two palaces have also been developed. This means that areas that will be raised in the Lambeth Palace audit report, once it is published, are likely to be relevant to Bishopthorpe.”

The Bishopthorpe report and action plan can be read in full here.