Vicar’s child abuse ‘could have been stopped if clergy had listened to victims’
A vicar who abused children could have been stopped sooner if members of the clergy in the Church of England had listened to the victims and their families, a report has said.
The Rev Graham Gregory, who died in prison in 2019, was a “prolific, determined and tenacious abuser of children during the course of his ministry”, the Independent Learning Lessons Case Review said.
Gregory, who had a 30-year career in the Church, was jailed for three years in 2014 after a historical indecent assault of a girl under 13, and was jailed for four years and four months in 2018 for historical indecent assaults against three other children.
Clear and multiple opportunities were missed by the Church to listen to victims, scrutinise Gregory’s behaviour and to take action to protect those children and families involved
The abuses took place in the dioceses of Southwark and Sodor and Man.
Ray Galloway, who led the Jimmy Savile Inquiry at Leeds General Infirmary, carried out an independent review after being commissioned by the Church’s National Safeguarding Team.
Following the publication of his 84-page report on Tuesday, Mr Galloway said Gregory was a “determined and persistent abuser of children who actively sought out and created opportunities to harm his victims”.
He said in a statement: “Arguably the gravest and most regrettable conclusion of the review is that of missed opportunity and the harm done that may have been avoided.
“This was possible because, despite child victims and victims’ parents repeatedly seeking support and protection from members of the clergy, including senior members, they were not listened to nor was action taken.
This kind of cover-up has to stop and the only effective way to prevent it is by mandatory reporting
“This lack of action continued for almost 50 years. Indeed on at least one occasion an allegation was actively suppressed by a senior member of the clergy and Gregory merely moved to another diocese. That allegation contributed to Gregory’s conviction when it was reasserted some 25 years later.
“Clear and multiple opportunities were missed by the Church to listen to victims, scrutinise Gregory’s behaviour and to take action to protect those children and families involved.
“This would have stopped Gregory’s abuse, brought him to justice sooner and shown a demonstrable commitment to the welfare of the vulnerable. It is vital that the Church acknowledges and accepts the findings of this report and makes meaningful and transparent arrangements to address these findings.”
The report points out that the Child Protection Policy for the Church of England was not introduced until 1995, the year of Gregory’s retirement, and that safeguarding “did not benefit from the same level of awareness and profile” as exists now.
But Mr Galloway added there was a “moral and ethical responsibility” to protect children and vulnerable members of the community that was “not acted upon”.
We are deeply sorry and we are aware that the publication today will remind the victims and survivors of the appalling abuse they suffered and the awful breach of trust by many Church leaders
Some recommendations for the national church include a review of the criteria for the suspension of a member of the clergy and a review of recruitment and selection processes, with an emphasis on identification and assessment of safeguarding related issues.
Richard Scorer, specialist abuse lawyer at Slater and Gordon who acted for some of Gregory’s victims, said: “This report yet again demonstrates the urgent need for a mandatory reporting law.
“It is very clear that other clergy knew about or suspected Gregory’s offending but failed to pass on these concerns to the statutory authorities.
“This kind of cover-up has to stop and the only effective way to prevent it is by mandatory reporting, which will ensure that all such concerns are passed on for investigation right away. Only with this legal change can we stop such abuse effectively in the future.”
Lead safeguarding bishop Jonathan Gibbs described the report as a “stark and harrowing reminder” of how the Church failed victims and survivors.
“We are deeply sorry and we are aware that the publication today will remind the victims and survivors of the appalling abuse they suffered and the awful breach of trust by many Church leaders who sought to support Gregory rather than believe their story and on occasions proactively covered up,” he said.
“Where there is criticism of poor handling in the past, the National Safeguarding Team (NST) will be seeking reassurance that current safeguarding practice is up to date and that a very different approach would be adopted now.
“The NST will be considering the findings in the report very carefully in order to assess what further action may be required.”
He added he will be taking the recommendations for a full discussion and response to the National Safeguarding Steering Group.
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