Independent report

Lessons learnt from events in the parishes of Stowe and Maids Moreton, 2012-2019

Background

In 2017 Peter Farquhar was murdered. His need for an emotionally close relationship had been exploited, and an intelligent, talented man was made vulnerable. Peter was a member of his local church; his strong personal faith featured in the abusive relationship, and his murderer also had roles within the church. There were many complexities in detecting the harm he had suffered, requiring considerable police work and the testimony of other adults to bring about a conviction following a trial in the Summer of 2019.

This was an extraordinary and unusual case. Everyone who came into contact with the murderer, Ben Field, was manipulated by him. He made a pretence of being a committed Christian and gained the confidence of the people of Stowe Parish Church and then, to quote his own words, “I’m gonna become a vicar … just because I can outmanoeuvre the Church.”

The Church and wider society needs to be ever more vigilant of those who can be made vulnerable by the likes of Ben Field, simply because they are elderly or lonely. For this reason, the Diocese of Oxford commissioned an independent review to establish lessons learnt from the events in the parishes of Stowe and Maids Moreton.

The report and a summary guide are published here in the hope that churches, and community groups, are alerted to the risks of elder abuse.

The independent reviewer has also made recommendations relating to diocesan and Church of England processes. We welcome her report and the recommendations it contains (though we do not agree with every observation that she has made about Church governance, structure and teaching). Nevertheless, our commitment to learning and transparency in safeguarding means that the independent report is published in full, along with our response to each recommendation.

We believe this to be the first independent review published concerning this case. As other institutions publish their findings we will provide links on this page.

Redactions and timetable for publication

The independent reviewer, Dr Adi Cooper, OBE, was commissioned by the Diocese to undertake an independent review of this case in September 2019, shortly after the trial had concluded.

Dr Cooper’s report was received and considered on 24 April 2020 by the Diocesan Independent Safeguarding Panel, chaired by Peter Hay, CBE. The report was finalised by the independent reviewer in May 2020 to reflect feedback from the Panel.

Publication of the report was delayed due to COVID-19 and, following news of an appeal by Ben Field, seeking legal opinion on the publication of this report. The recent death of a much-loved minister in the congregation at Stowe further delayed publication of the report.

No redactions have been made to the body of published report, though appendix C, a chronology of confidential records, has been withheld from publication.

This web page has been shared with all members of the church congregation by email and sent to all parish safeguarding officers in the Diocese of Oxford.

Seven-minute briefing

The independent chair of the Oxford Diocesan Safeguarding Panel has prepared a briefing document outlining seven themes arising from the independent report. This is to ensure that the observations and recommendations from this review are widely available and accessible.
Please note that this seven-minute briefing is referred to as ‘Appendix E’ in the full report.

  1. The need for emotional intimacy is universal.
  2. Volunteers must be supported and monitored.
  3. Screening of people exploring ordained ministry is recommended.
  4. The Diocese needs to review how it shares information.
  5. It is important to have difficult conversations with people.
  6. We need to build on work to support parishioners and clergy to recover from trauma.
  7. Inclusivity is key to a safer church.

Full report

The Independent Safeguarding Review: lessons learnt from events in the parishes of Stowe and Maids Moreton, 2012-2019, may be downloaded below. Please refer to the note on redactions and timetable for publication in the page introduction.

This report was commissioned by the Diocese of Oxford to review the circumstances highlighted by the trial and conviction of Ben Field and identify learning to improve the safeguarding of potentially vulnerable adults attending church.

The report is based on records provided by the Diocese and interviews undertaken by the independent reviewer between September and December 2019. A list of acronyms along with a glossary of terms that may be unfamiliar to readers is included at the bottom of this web page.

If you are affected

If you or anyone you are in contact with are affected by themes contained in the publication of this report and want to talk to someone independently please call the Safe Spaces helpline on 0300 303 1056 or email safespaces@victimsupport.org.uk The Diocese has also made special provision for the congregations in Stowe and Maids Moreton. If you would like to speak to an authorised listener, or are in need of pastoral support, then please get in touch with the incumbent, who will provide you with confidential contact details.

Additionally, the Diocese of Oxford LGBTI+ Chaplaincy Service offers listening and support, and prayerful affirmation for LGBTI+ people, their families and friends. The service is part of a diocesan-wide commitment to foster an attitude of inclusion and respect across the diversity of sexual and gender identities in our church and in the world. Find out more.

Summary of recommendations
& how the Diocese is responding

The independent review found that significant improvements had already been made in safeguarding policy and practice since the events in Stowe and Maids Moreton. However, there are several areas in the report that indicate further improvements can be made.

“Although the events in the Parishes of Stowe and Maids Moreton were unusual, there is learning from them that can inform improvement in safeguarding policy and practice. The lessons from the harm done by Ben Field presents a challenge for the Church regarding specific themes: the abuse of trust in a religious paradigm, attitudes towards sex and sexuality, and safe recruitment both of clergy and volunteers. “

We do not disagree. We are also mindful of the needs of the congregations in Stowe and Maids Moreton as they begin the long journey of healing. This report will be challenging to read for everyone who knew Peter and everyone who was involved in this case.

Change, and healing, takes time and cannot be done in a room alone. We will support those who wish to to come together to process and work through together the observations and recommendations in this report in a redemptive way, starting this Autumn. The Living in Love and Faith (LLF) learning materials, due for publication by the national Church in November, may also prove timely.

Note: the LLF resources were published on 9 November 2020 – click here to view

The review makes 13 recommendations for improving safeguarding awareness and prevention as well as supporting a shift to a more open culture within the Church of England around safeguarding in all its complexity for parishes. The table below summarises these recommendations, together with our response and we will publish our progress in each of these areas during 2021.

There are several recommendations that apply equally to other dioceses and some of the recommendations touch on national policy and approach across the Church of England. With this in mind, we have shared the report and its recommendations with the Archbishops’ Council.

R#Reviewer’s recommendationOur response
7.1 Improve safeguarding adult awareness and prevention
1Promote safeguarding prevention, especially awareness of the impact of social isolation and loneliness, recognising the need for intimacy, and challenging ageism and attitudes towards homosexuality, and promote this nationally within the Church of England. See glossary at bottom of this page for a description of the term ‘safeguarding prevention’.Safeguarding is the responsibility of everyone, and it starts at Parish level. We will work to raise awareness of ageism, and reduce the safeguarding risk of social isolation, loneliness and attitudes towards homosexuality through

  • the inclusion of social isolation risk factors within our safeguarding training
  • improving pastoral care skills in IME (Initial Ministerial Education) training
  • reviewing the content of skills training for our curates
  • including all of these themes in our training for lay people and pastoral care teams (see also our response to R5).
2Within the Diocese, work on LGBTI+ inclusivity, should focus on raising awareness of the safeguarding risks for some older people and the Diocese should promote this nationally within the Church of England.We have set clear expectations of inclusion and respect towards LGBTI+ people with five key principles, summarised here.

  1. It is the responsibility of all Christians… to ensure that all people know that there is a place at the table for them.
  2. Intrusive questioning about someone’s sexual practices or desires, or their experience of gender, is inappropriate. It is  unacceptable to tell or insinuate that sexual orientation or gender identity will be changed by faith, or that homosexuality or gender difference is a sign of immaturity or a lack of faith.
  3. Nobody should be excluded or discouraged from receiving the Sacraments of Baptism or the Lord’s Supper on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  4. Nobody should be told that their sexual orientation or gender identity in itself makes them an unsuitable candidate for leadership in the Church.
  5. We should acknowledge and celebrate the contribution that LGBTI+ Christians are making to the Church in this Diocese.

We also created a dedicated LGBTI+ chaplaincy service in early 2020. The chaplains will now consider issues of sexuality for older people within the church and report their findings on ministry and safeguarding implications.

We will also encourage parish engagement with ‘Living in Love and Faith’ when the learning materials are published in November.

3Address any culture of ‘secrecy’ and promote an open culture in the context of duties to care and provision of community support for vulnerable adults so that safeguarding concerns can be expressed and addressed and promote this nationally within the Church of England.Silence on difficult issues can be seen as secrecy.  The value of curiosity in enabling the safety of all is crucial. This means a culture of open enquiry and questioning.

At the time people kept worries to themselves so there was little opportunity to ‘join the dots’. The congregation at Stowe has developed a much more open culture following the trial and conviction of Ben Field. 

We actively encourage a culture of openness and speaking out about matters of concern. We will include this in our own training of curates, to define the difference between privacy/confidentiality and secrecy, and best practice for dealing with conflict. We will also look at how these topics can be covered within safeguarding training offered by the Diocese and form part of regular Ministerial Development Reviews (MDRs). 

7.2. Parish Support
4Consider developing and adopting a policy or protocol based on a review of what was helpful in this case, learning from Stowe, to provide tailored and targeted support for people affected and groomed by abusers, including Parish communities. This should include visibility of senior clergy, as happened in Stowe, at times of stress and distress to support the Parish and ensure that Parish leadership has the skills and abilities to support local parishioners to recover from trauma is any circumstances, and is tailored to the situation that requires it.Good support is complex to achieve, particularly when working to support people who have been “groomed” or conditioned to accept factors which contribute to the conditions in which abuse and harm are perpetuated.

We are pleased that the review has recognised the quality of support provided to Stowe. The Safeguarding Panel has paid careful attention to recent learning concerning support to parishes where abuse has occurred. We have further developed our approach, including a clearer policy on where senior-level support is needed at key times. We will bring this learning together into a formal Best Practice toolkit.

5Consider how resilience and self-care for licenced ministers and church officers can be improved still further, to be able to cope with traumatic events, through reviewing the provision of mentoring and peer support to maintain their wellbeing after ordination, encourage take up of what is on offer, and advocate for support mechanisms to be identified in clergy training.As office holders, Church of England clergy are not currently required to have what would be termed supervision in a social services setting. Hence, their participation in any wellbeing intervention is voluntary.

Nevertheless, we have long seen clergy wellbeing as an essential component of good ministry and resilience (see oxford.anglican.org/flourishing).

We will continue to communicate to all that accessing support and supervision is a sign of strength. We are also proactive in offering specific interventions during times of trauma.

A new flourishing guide for church officers and laity will be launched at Diocesan Synod in November this year. We are also exploring multi-disciplinary resilience training to improve levels of support and challenge between churchwardens and clergy.

7.3. Improve screening processes for applicants for discernment and ordination
6Consider researching, selecting and [promoting] the use of the most appropriate validated psychometric tools for psychological testing of all candidates as part of the discernment process for ordination and promote this nationally within the Church of England.We welcome this proposal, and it is currently being considered. We are pleased to see that the report highlights good practice in the Diocese of Oxford – see section 5.27 on page 16 of the full report.

The Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO), together with our Director of HR, will be looking at options for more detailed background questioning and will also take advice from the National Ministry Team.

7Consider mechanisms to increase transparency (e.g. publicising the names of people recommended to be trained for ministry) to enable concerns to be raised regarding suitableness of candidates for ordination and promote this nationally within the Church of England.Ben Field was not a strong candidate for training (see page 15 of the report). It is not unusual for inexperienced or unsuitable candidates to put themselves forward for the discernment process only to find that the Bishops Advisory Panel (BAP) does not recommend them to go forward for ordination training.

Rightly, therefore, there is a need for confidentiality while a candidate is considered for ordination training. However, R7, together with in-depth questioning and examination of the candidate’s history could further improve the pre-selection process.

Once a candidate has been to a Bishops Advisory Panel, and has been recommended for training, this will be publicised by the Diocese.

In addition, a new national system of selection is currently being devised by the Church of England.

8Consider how to effectively explore issues of personal relationships and sexuality in the discernment and ordination process, relevant to the future role, to inform an assessment of the emotional capability of a candidate, and consider producing guidance to support such assessment and promote this nationally within the Church of England.In this diocese, interpersonal relationships, sexuality, sexual practice are already areas for discussion with candidates and the DDO. Their responses to these questions are explored as part of the discernment process.

The Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO) is working to systematise and further improve our approach to this recommendation. This will be shared with the wider Church for peer learning and review.

7.4. Improve recruitment, support and monitoring of volunteers and volunteering activities
9Work with Parishes asking them to regularly audit their volunteering processes and practices against Church of England and Charity Commission standards regarding safer practices in volunteer recruitment, training, monitoring, support and supervision, including expectations regarding volunteer conduct to establish if proper processes and practices are being consistently delivered and are effective in identifying risks, volunteer support and development needs. (This could include reporting through the Archdeacons visits and peer review processes with other local groups)Following the independent report, we carried out a rapid review of our policies and procedures for volunteers. These are in good order and consistent with national guidance.

Learning reviews, and the accompanying seven-minute briefings, are systematically shared with clergy and parish safeguarding officers. These come with the invitation for parishes, which are independent charities in their own right, to move beyond safer recruitment practices and to consider issues such as volunteer screening and appraisal, and how to handle feedback.

We will ask each Parish to self-assess and gather best practice examples of appraisal and appointment as part of an annual safeguarding review. Area Deans will be trained in what to look for and this process will be built into the regular process of parish inspections.

7.5. Improve awareness of complex needs and impact on safeguarding across the Church of England
10Consider how to improve awareness of the complexities of risks for people with care and support needs who may be at risk of abuse or neglect, in particular:

  • issues of mental capacity and safeguarding adults;
  • issues when carers prevent/hinder access to people they provide care for;
  • having difficult conversations with people who may be subject to harm

and advocate for inclusion of these areas in the national safeguarding training programme.

Churches, like many of the organisations they partner with, offer a lot of support to people with high levels of need. Our safeguarding team already helps parishes supporting vulnerable parishioners with appropriate sources of advice and support.

The national safeguarding training programme for the Church of England focusses on key learning and awareness of abuse. We fully support the inclusion of the themes identified within this report to further strengthen the national training offer.

In the Diocese of Oxford we will also develop a ‘difficult conversations’ module within our own Continuing Ministerial Development (CMD) programme.

7.6. Policies and Procedures
11Review information sharing protocols in the context of communication between Parish and Diocese, including considering how to mitigate the impact of trauma on communities.We will review this as part of the work on parish support in recommendation 4. This will include information-sharing protocols during any police-led investigation.
12Apply the learning from this review, particularly in terms of the specific issues highlighted by this case review, to promoting a broader learning and development approach to safeguarding adults (e.g. use 7-minute briefing for awareness raising and in training and advocate for this to be incorporated as part of the delivery of the national safeguarding training strategy).The seven-minute briefing approach was implemented earlier this year. These are now systematically shared across the Diocese.

An effectiveness review of the Safeguarding Panel has considered the role of the Panel in monitoring the implementation of learning review recommendations. We will review this report and the diocesan action plan and report back to Parish Safeguarding Officers (PSOs) in summer 2021.

The Bishop of Oxford has sent the learning review and associated action plans to the National Safeguarding Team (NST), asking the team to share the learning across the wider Church of England.

7.7 Overarching theme: leadership
13Provide strong leadership in responding to the recommendations of the case review, to ensure that they are delivered both within the Diocese and raised for wider action within the Church of England.Safeguarding is not a separate activity. We see safeguarding as part of the mission of the church, and part of who we are (see next section).

The Diocesan Safeguarding Panel (DSP), independently chaired by Peter Hay CBE, is an active participant in national networks and takes its leadership role seriously. New membership appointments to the DSP are designed to ensure the panel reflects and is shaped by the experience of safeguarding within parish and church life.

We recognise the crucial role of Parish Safeguarding Officers. Themed Panel discussions and Parish Safeguarding Officer (PSO) meetings are part of the Panel approach to applying safeguarding leadership at all levels.

Panel members are actively considering how diocesan safeguarding work can be further strengthened following this report. The panel will consider progress at its next panel effectiveness review.

Our safeguarding journey

Safeguarding is part of the mission of the church, and part of who we are. During the last four years the Diocese of Oxford has…

  • Grown the safeguarding team to 4.5 full time equivalent staff.
  • Ensured the independent chair of the safeguarding panel can, and does, hold the Diocese to account.
  • Systematically trained clergy and church officers in safeguarding, including C4 training for the senior team. In 2019, the team delivered 5,000 training modules (including online training), supported 23 volunteer trainers and provided guidance to 481 parish safeguarding officers.
  • Delivered a culture change in the handling of safeguarding disclosures.
  • Increased our corporate understanding of the nature of abuse and increased awareness of those who are isolated or lonely being at risk of abuse.

There is always more to be done. We see learning as central to the culture of a safe church, which includes learning from this review.

Further reading

Documents and media links related to this case

Acronyms

  • BAP – Bishops Advisory Panel
  • DBS – Disclosure Barring Service
  • DDO – Diocesan Director of Ordinands
  • DSA – Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor
  • MDR – Ministerial Development Review
  • PCC – Parochial Church Council
  • PSO – Parish Safeguarding Officer
  • TVP – Thames Valley Police

Glossary

  • Adult safeguarding review
    See footnote 2 of full report
  • Archdeacon
    There are four Archdeacons in the Diocese of Oxford. Archdeacons are senior priests with responsibility under the bishops for the pastoral care of clergy in the archdeaconry and for ensuring they are performing their duties correctly. Archdeacons are also responsible for making sure that church buildings and their contents are properly looked after, and they have an important role in the appointment of clergy to new posts. The Diocese of Oxford has the largest archdeaconries in the Church of England. For this reason, the Diocese appointed three Associate Archdeacons in 2020.
  • Archdeaconry
    Every diocese is divided into a number of Archdeaconries. In the Diocese of Oxford, these are overseen by the Area Bishop (see below) and the Archdeacon.
  • Bishop
    Each diocese has a Diocesan Bishop. In the Diocese of Oxford, Bishop Steven is assisted by three other area bishops (Dorchester, Reading and Buckingham) who have delegated responsibility for their areas. The areas are coterminous with the four archdeaconries of Oxford Diocese.
  • Bishops Advisory Panel
    The role of the BAP is to rigorously examine a candidate’s suitability and to make a recommendation as to whether that individual should go forward for ordination training. A selection panel typically takes place in a residential setting over a 48 hour period. During COVID-19 BAPs have taken place online.
  • Blue File
    All important and enduring information about clergy is kept on or copied to a confidential clergy file, known as a ‘blue file’. This is the main personnel record of any clerical ministry in the Church of England, and the file will follow members of the clergy if they move to another diocese. These records enable bishops to exercise their ministry of oversight and pastoral care as well as their canonical responsibilities, especially that of commending someone for any particular future ministry.
  • Chalice bearer
    A person who assists the minister in the distribution of communion during a church service.
  • Church officer
    Anyone appointed/elected by or on behalf of the Church to a post or role, whether they are ordained or lay, paid or unpaid.
  • Churchwarden
    Churchwardens are elected by the parish. Together with the parish priest, they are responsible for the day-to-day functioning of the parish. Although reported as such in the media, Ben Field was not a churchwarden. See deputy warden, below.
  • Core group
    Every safeguarding concern or allegation involving a church officer should be managed by a defined core group, convened for the specific situation.
  • DBS check
    A DBS check is a criminal records check obtained from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). A DBS certificate shows certain convictions or cautions and it can also show if the person is unsuitable to work with children or adults. Anyone volunteering for a regulated activity in the church is required to have a DBS check. See also Safer Recruitment.
  • Deanery
    Archdeaconries are divided into deaneries. A deanery is a small group of parishes, one of whose parish priests serves as the rural, or area, dean. Area Deans and Rural Deans provide an important link between the bishops and the deanery. They must report concerns or important information to the bishop and provide pastoral care for other clergy in the deanery.
  • Deputy Warden
    The title of deputy warden is not a formal office in the Church of England and has no legal definition.
  • Designated Officer
    The Designated Officer is a senior lawyer employed by the Church House Legal Office in the event of a complaint made under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) moving to formal investigation.
  • Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO)
    To be considered for selection for ordination training, candidates must have the support of their parish and be sponsored by the area bishop. The bishop is assisted in this by the DDO, who has responsibility for those who are seeking ordination.
  • Diocesan Registrar
    See registrar
  • Diocese
    The Church of England is made up of 42 Dioceses. Each of the English dioceses (and the Diocese in Europe) has a structure of boards and councils responsible for different aspects of the Church’s work including ministry, mission and education. The Diocese of Oxford is one of the largest in the Church of England.
  • Discernment
    The discernment process is the means by which candidates are selected for future ministry with the Church of England. See also Bishops Advisory Panel (BAP) and Ordination
  • Ecclesiastical Lawyer
    The Church of England has a system of law drawn from statute, legislation, common law and the canons of the Church. An ecclesiastical lawyer is a specialist in this body of law.
  • Exhumation
    To remove a body from a grave. Christian burial is final. Therefore an application for a faculty for exhumation must be made by submitting a formal petition to the consistory court.
  • Gaslighting
    See appendix D of full report
  • Grooming
    See appendix D of full report
  • House of Bishops
    The House of Bishops consists of the diocesan bishops, seven other bishops and the Bishop of Dover. The House meets several times each year.
  • Ministerial Development Review (MDR)
    The MDR is a guided discussion framed around an office holder’s ministry. The purpose of the review is to look back and reflect on what has happened over the last year or two of ministry and, informed by that, to anticipate and develop a clearer vision for what lies ahead.
  • Office Holder
    Clergy are not employees of the Church of England but office holders. This means that they are not subject to employment law, but they are granted certain legal rights and obligations. All clergy are subject to the same standards as outlined in the Clergy Discipline Measure and Guidelines for the Conduct of Clergy.
  • Ordinand
    A person who is training to be ordained as a minister.
  • Ordination
    At the completion of training a recommendation is made by the college or course to the sponsoring bishop whether or not a candidate should be ordained.
  • Parish Safeguarding Officer (PSO)
    The Parish Safeguarding Officer is the key link between the Diocese and the parish/s, concerning safeguarding matters. They have an overview of all church activities involving children, young people and vulnerable adults and will seek to ensure the implementation of safeguarding policy.
  • Parochial Church Council (PCC)
    PCC members are trustees under charity law. PCC members work with the minister in promoting the mission of the church, who has a duty to consult the PCC on matters of general concern and importance to the parish. In practice, this includes almost everything to do with the church’s work in the parish, its relationship with the deanery and the diocese, as well as responsibility for the care and upkeep of the church, churchyard and moveable items.
  • PCC secretary
    A PCC Secretary supports the PCC Chair in the preparation and organisation of meetings and to handle all correspondence on behalf of the PCC
  • Province
    Church of England dioceses are grouped into two Provinces, each overseen by the Archbishop of Canterbury (the Southern Province) and the Archbishop of York (the Northern Province).
  • Registry
    The Registry is the legal office of the Diocese. Its officers are appointed, and its work is governed by a large number of statutes and measures. The diocesan registry advises parishes and church officers on the variety of legal matters which arise from time to time in parish life. The registry also gives general advice to hundreds of churchwardens, clergy and PCC members about their various roles and duties.
  • Registrar
    The Registrar is the Bishop of Oxford’s legal advisor as well as registrar of the diocesan synod – the governing council of the Diocese. The role also involves being clerk to the Oxford consistory court – the court that makes decisions on issues including the granting of faculties for the use of/works to churches and churchyards.
  • Rule of optimism
    See appendix D of full report
  • Safeguarding prevention
    Everyone has a fundamental right to be safe. Preventative Safeguarding includes a range of actions and measures such as practical help, care, support and interventions designed to promote the safety, well- being and rights of adults which reduce the likelihood of, or opportunities for, harm to occur.
  • Safer Recruitment
    Safer recruitment practice is an essential part of the Church of England’s approach to safeguarding. Church of England policy and guidance sets out safer recruitment practices for people working or volunteering with children and adults.
  • Spiritual adviser (aka Spiritual director)
    An individual, ordained or lay, who has a ministry of holy listening and empathy. They enable another person to discern God at work in their lives. The spiritual advisor does not lead or decide for another, but accompanies that person prayerfully.

Elements of this glossary were adapted from ‘A guide to the Church of England’ published by Bloomsbury, and online resources from the Ecclesiastical Law Association together with the Dioceses of Guildford, London, St Albans, Ely and Essex. In the event of errors or omissions, please contact communications@oxford.anglican.org