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Church knew about child sex abuse claims against Cornish preacher

jeremy dowling

Published by Emma Carton at 9:00am 25th May 2018. (Updated at 9:17am 25th May 2018)

Church knew about child sex abuse claims against Cornish preacher

A review has revealed the Diocese of Truro knew about sex abuse allegations against a former teacher and lay preacher in Cornwall.

Jeremy Dowling was jailed in 2015, after admitting a string of indecent assaults against youngsters.

He was later convicted of indecently assaulting another child, which happened at a church between 1973 and 1977.

The initial investigation was launched after five former pupils came forward to complain they were victims of sexual abuse.

Dowling became a member of General Synod in 1977 and was communications officer for the Diocese of Truro from 2003 to 2009.

The review has found the diocese knew about the historic claims but failed to investigate.

What did the review find?

  • The diocese failed to instigate an independent investigation upon people within the diocese becoming aware of allegations of child abuse made against Jeremy Dowling. 
  • There was an unacceptable reliance within the diocese on, and probably misunderstanding of, the decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions not to proceed with a prosecution.
  • There was ongoing knowledge of the situation among senior figures in the diocese well into the 1980s.
  • In line with national policy and requirements the diocese has developed child protection and safeguarding policies. This has progressed and developed through the decades to the current situation overseen by the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisory Panel which has significant external membership.
  • Current processes are robust and well thought-out but need continual monitoring and promotion. Senior post-holders in the diocese understand their roles and responsibilities and know how to respond to any allegation of abuse they receive.

What does the panel say?

The Rt Revd Dr Chris Goldsmith, Bishop of St Germans, said: "It was important for us to look into what happened in this situation and consider whether we as an organisation made mistakes at that time, and whether we can learn now ways in which to make the church safer for all.

"It is clear that abusive behaviour flourishes where there is a culture of secrecy, and so it was important that we made the findings of this review widely available. We are committed to being transparent.

"My apology on behalf of the diocese to anybody who has suffered as a result of past failings is abject, sincere and heartfelt.

"It was with a sense of disappointment, sorrow and shame that we read of a failure to act and make any independent investigation of Jeremy Dowling after the initial allegations were made.

"Thankfully, there have been changes in society and attitudes as a whole, changes to the law, and many changes to the structures, culture, procedures and policies of the church, and the Diocese of Truro is no exception.

"We would hope that these days the many policies we have in place, including Safer Recruitment, Safeguarding and Whistleblowing policies and a rigorous, comprehensive, and ongoing, training programme for hundreds of clergy and volunteers will help to make the church a safer place for all, but especially our most vulnerable.

"We have also in the past two years restructured our Safeguarding Committee to become the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisory Panel, which in Nigel Druce has an experienced chairperson who is independent of the church, and also now has a significant external membership. In this way we hope to be open to both advice and scrutiny from people who are independent of us, yet who want to work with us to ensure that the church can continue to be a significant force for good within our society.

"It is important that we learn from the legacy of abuse and use those learnings to build a culture in which every part of the church, from the smallest parish to the cathedral, views safeguarding as being an integral part of our culture. Safeguarding is everybody's responsibility and everybody's business because the more people who are aware and talking about it, the better".

What happens now?

The case review has made six recommendations, all of which have been accepted by the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisory Panel.

The panel also made a further recommendation of its own which has been accepted by the Bishop's Diocesan Council.

It was commissioned by the Safeguarding Committee of the Diocese of Truro and was researched and written by academic and magistrate Dr Andy Thompson.

Dr Thompson lives in Cornwall and has been involved in his local parish church for many years, and became a member of the Bishop's Diocesan Council of the Diocese of Truro in autumn 2016.

He said: "My only real condition when I agreed to carry out the review was that I would be given access to any records that I believed were necessary.

"I was disappointed by what I found, but not surprised. Sadly, we have heard numerous examples of people in positions of power and influence behaving in a different way in the 1970s when it came to dealing with serious allegations. Certainly, it is a way that is entirely unacceptable by today's standards.

"They saw the decision by the DPP not to proceed with a prosecution as meaning that they didn't need to do anything, but my strong point is that they did have a responsibility to investigate. Because they didn't take it any further it enabled Jeremy Dowling to reach a position where he made up his own rules, and his position within the church lent him credibility and authority".

What safeguarding improvements have been made?

Since the research for the review was concluded, the diocese has further strengthened its safeguarding team with the addition of a part-time safeguarding trainer and a part-time safeguarding governance manager.

In recent years, the diocese has trained hundreds of people in safeguarding at different levels, from basic awareness modules available to anybody who attends church, to people who work in or lead and specific safeguarding training for parish priests, others in ministry, and office holders. Senior clergy and staff have also attended bespoke safeguarding training.

St Austell and Newquay MP Steve Double said: "The findings, particularly that there was ongoing knowledge of the situation among senior figures in the diocese, with nothing being done well into the 1980s are concerning".

He added: "It is good to see the report conclude that current processes are robust and well thought-out and that safeguarding arrangements have been strengthened since the review was commissioned".

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