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UK: 'Abusive' vicar victims fear cover-up, as church officials gain advance access to conduct report

UK: 'Abusive' vicar victims fear cover-up, as church officials gain advance access to conduct report
Emmanuel Church will have a copy of a report it commissioned into allegations against the Rev Jonathan Fletcher a month before publication

By Gabriella Swerling, Social and Religious Affairs Editor
22 January 2021

Details have emerged of the allegations against the Revd Jonathan Fletcher, who was Minister of Emmanuel Ridgway Proprietary Chapel, in Wimbledon, from 1982 to 2012, and an influential figure among Evangelicals in the Church of England.

Source: https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2019/5-july/news/uk/fletcher-faces-allegations-of-naked-beatingsThe Rev Jonathan Fletcher in 2016. The allegations against the Rev Fletcher stem from his time as Minister of Emmanuel Church in Wimbledon, from 1982 to 2012 Credit: Moore College

Victims of an "abusive" vicar unmasked by The Telegraph fear a church cover-up, as it emerges officials will have a month to scour the investigation into his conduct before its publication.

In June 2019 The Telegraph revealed that Rev Jonathan Fletcher, one of the Church of England's leading evangelical figures, was banned from preaching after "spiritually abusing" vulnerable adults.

Six months later, The Telegraph told the stories of his alleged victims for the first time. Five men who claim that they were spiritually, psychologically and physically abused by the former vicar spoke out amid calls for a criminal investigation.

The men, who all spoke on condition of anonymity, detailed how the former vicar allegedly subjected them to repeated sexually inappropriate comments and questions about masturbation, intimate massages, beatings, ice baths, bullying and intimidation over a number of years.

"I felt like a neglected and abused dog," one man said.

As a result of the public scandal, Emmanuel Church, in Wimbledon, south-west London, commissioned an independent review concerning Rev Fletcher, 78, and the church, to be undertaken by the safeguarding organisation, Thirtyone:eight.

He was vicar of the church from 1982 to 2012.

However, the credibility of the Christian charity's investigation has been called into question after it emerged that it had agreed that the church will receive an advance copy of the report a month ahead of publication for the general public.

The decision has sparked fury from Rev Fletcher's alleged victims who deemed it "repugnant and traumatising" that the Church would have a month to scrutinise the report.

It also heightened fears that Emmanuel Church will continue trying "to manage the truth about Fletcher".

Responding to the publication delay, one alleged victim, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: "I trusted the review enough to share my experiences of Jonathan Fletcher.

"That was not easy and not without personal cost. The things victims have told the review would be enough to have any normal minister banned from ministry.

He added: "It is long past time that the men who supported Fletcher for decades and benefited from his patronage, stop trying to manage the truth about Fletcher.

Another alleged victim added: "The independence of the review, and indeed Thirtyone:eight, is called into question when it secretly favours their commissioning clients with 28 days to read the report in advance.

"With its financial muscle, Emmanuel Church is continuing to exercise its control in order to manage its reputation, rather than seeking to put the vulnerable first."

It is highly unusual for those who are critcisied in an independent investigation to have a month to look over the review ahead of publication.

There is the legal practice of 'Maxwellisation' that allows persons who are to be criticised in an official report to respond prior to publication, based on details of the criticism received in advance.

However, a month is unusually long. Furthermore, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) sends letters of warnings to people and legal teams after it has held public hearings, during the writing of the report and ahead of publication.

"Authentic Christian leadership should have nothing to fear from bringing things into the light. Jonathan Fletcher's victims and survivors want this situation reversed in order to demonstrate Emmanuel's repentance."

The charity is now under pressure to assure alleged victims this is not the case, or to provide a list of recipients if it refuses to back down.

Responding to the possibility that Emmanuel Church should receive the report and not publish it for a month, a clergyman who has contributed to the inquiry added: "Church leaders should always speak out for those who suffer unjustly.

"Any delay between the report being delivered and it being published in full will only add to the pain of each survivor."

In response, Justin Humphreys, CEO of Thirtyone:eight, said: "We seek to maintain the balance of an appropriate level of openness and transparency with the need to operate within justifiable and necessary limits on confidentiality.

"This is absolutely essential in work of this nature and we believe to be in the best interests of all concerned.

"Learning from the lessons of other reviews of a similar nature and focus, we seek to operate in a way that listens to the views of victims and survivors and is realistic in terms of what a review of this type is able to achieve."

He added: "We appreciate the broad and significant public interest in this review and continue to be mindful of the impact that waiting for the publication of the report can have for some.

"We ask that our professionalism and independence is trusted and that we are given the opportunity to conclude this work to the best of our ability so that any findings and recommendations can be made available as soon as possible."

A spokesperson for Emmanuel Church added: "At every stage, the independent review into Jonathan Fletcher and Emmanuel Church Wimbledon has been, and continues to be, conducted fairly, openly and appropriately by an independent safeguarding organisation.

"Emmanuel Church will at no time be able to 're-write' the report, and the findings of the report will be presented transparently and in full when the report is published.

"Thirtyone:eight is carefully and sensitively overseeing the review process, with the involvement and scrutiny of an Independent Advisory Group, including its victim representatives.

"The steps that will be taken to finalise the report, including Emmanuel Church's involvement for a short period prior to its publication, were agreed by all parties at the outset. This is normal practice for any report, enabling the necessary fact-checking to take place, with the aim of making the report as robust and accurate as it can be.

"Any suggested changes of factual accuracy for inclusion in the report made by Emmanuel Church will be vetted by thirtyone:eight, and will take place within this period of report finalisation, and will not delay its publication or change its findings or recommendations.

"Emmanuel's trustees and church elders continue to be committed to an open, transparent and honest process of sharing the report findings with victims and the public as soon as possible, alongside the Church's response to the report and our commitment to implementing any changes that need to be made."


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