Learning Lessons Review (LLR) for the period 1981 to 2000
In April 2022, the Diocese of Oxford commissioned a safeguarding case review into allegations of spiritual abuse connected with St Margaret’s, Tylers Green, High Wycombe between 1981 and 2000. An initial Church investigation had concluded that on the balance of probabilities that Revd Hall had spiritually abused a significant number of the congregation, and that he had engaged in sexual inappropriate behaviour with members of the congregation, which was witnessed by children and young people. He was described as a bully and used methods including coercion and control, manipulation and pressuring of individuals, through the misuse of religious texts and scripture and providing a ‘divine’ rationale for behaviour.
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In January 2020 a former member of the congregation at St Margaret’s Tylers Green tragically took their own life. On learning of the death, the current vicar raised serious concerns with the diocesan safeguarding team about the past behaviour of the previous incumbent, Rev. Michael Hall, towards members of the congregation including the deceased.
A safeguarding investigation secured statements from a number of witnesses over a prolonged period and included a comprehensive file review of archived documents. On conclusion of the investigation the diocese encouraged other witnesses to come forward and commissioned an independent Learning Lessons Review (LLR). The findings of the review are published in full so that we can all learn from what happened and use these learnings to inform further improvements in our safeguarding practice and policy.
Lord Harries, former Bishop of Oxford has said:
"In all this period there were three factors which made it impossible to lance the boil of this terrible situation.
First, there were to my knowledge no official complaints. People might whisper and speak anonymously, but they were too intimidated to go public.
Secondly, and linked with that, Hall made it clear he would institute proceedings against anyone he thought slandered or libelled him. Together with this was the simmering violence that people sometimes sensed in his personality, which must have been frightening.
Thirdly, he always managed to have a majority of the PCC on his side, no doubt recruiting more supporters as and when previous ones were alienated."
The Rt Revd Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, reflecting on the safeguarding investigation and his meetings with the victims, Bishop Alan said;
“I have heard stories that books weren’t allowed in the church, it was only the word of Michael Hall that carried weight. Anyone who didn't fit in was apparently bullied and cajoled by him until they did, or they walked away.
Sexualised behaviour between some members of the congregation and Hall appears to have been witnessed by children and young people and then spiritualised by him as acceptable.
The people I spoke to described feelings of being trapped and experiencing distorted family lives that persist to this day. I am in no doubt that what happened was wrong and I think that there can be no excuse for Halls actions. I am truly sorry for what happened here in Tyler’s Green."
Revd Michael Edward Hall (b. 1932) was deaconed in June 1969 and served his curacy at St. Margaret Aspley until c. 1973 when he became incumbent of St John the Divine, Bulwell. He was Priest in Charge of St Margaret’s Tyler’s Green from 1981 (later becoming incumbent) until his retirement on 13 April 2000 (see picture). Michael Hall died in June 2021.
The invitation to come forward with information was shared with all three parishes and the diocese was in contact Michael Hall’s family to offer appropriate pastoral support. Please respect the privacy of his family members at this time.
Archive correspondence also indicates “belligerent and unreasonable” behaviour by Revd Hall towards many individuals, including members of the Parish Council and the Residents’ Association. “[Hall] ruled congregants with a rod of iron and a flaming temper”
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Victims of abuse sometimes experience guilt or shame if they did not immediately challenge the behaviour or report it right away. The “freeze response” is a common response to trauma. It is never too late to report abuse or inappropriate behaviour of any kind. If you or anyone you are in contact with are affected by the information shared on this page and want to talk to someone independently, please call the Safe Spaces helpline on 0300 303 1056