The Revd Michael Hall

Independent report

Background

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 then vicar raised serious concerns with the diocesan safeguarding team about the past behaviour of a previous incumbent, Revd Michael Hall, towards members of the congregation including the deceased.

There was subsequently a thorough investigation of Revd Michael Hall's conduct, led by a former police detective. His investigation included reviews of documentation sent to Thames Valley Police and to the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO). Both confirmed that no further action is being taken by them. The reasons why the police decide to take no further action in particular cases are many and varied. 

The investigation by the Diocese of Oxford 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.

As part of our commitment to learning and transparency in safeguarding, and independent learning review was commissioned by the Diocese of Oxford to examine our practices and responses during Revd Hall's time at St Margaret’s Church. As part of the review, an independent telephone line was set up with Thirtyone:eight to enable others in the church and local community to come forward.

The findings of the review are published in full here so that we can learn from what happened and use these learnings to inform further improvements in our practice and policy.

Download the 7 minute briefing (PDF)

Download the Learning Lessons Review (PDF)

 

Comments from Lord Harries, former Bishop of Oxford, in response to the independent learning review:

"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."

Comments from the Bishop of Buckingham, in response to the initial investigation report:

“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 ..."

Summary of recommendations & how the diocese is responding

Since Reverend Hall’s retirement in 2000 the Church of England and the Diocese of Oxford has made significant changes to systems and practice that considerably improve the prevention, recognition and reporting of, and response to, abuse. These include changes to discernment, training and recruitment processes, improved oversight of clergy, and significant investment in safeguarding and associated formal systems. This means that the diocese is in a much better position to detect and prevent abuse.

Further work, however, still needs to be done on recognising and responding to spiritual abuse. This includes raising awareness of spiritual abuse in church communities, in particular recognising its characteristics, which include psychological and emotional abuse, grooming, seduction, manipulation, the use of power and the creation of dependency.

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Reviewers’ recommendation

Diocesan observation/action

1

To raise the awareness of congregations of spiritual abuse consider offering a briefing session to congregations and encouraging parishes to use Safeguarding Sunday to talk about spiritual abuse. Consider promoting Safeguarding Sunday on the diocesan website and offer parishes resources, for example, a poster to display on church notice boards about spiritual abuse.

We agree that there needs to be understanding of spiritual abuse among congregations and are producing a 7-minute briefing which will cover issues raised in this review.

Every year the diocese promotes Safeguarding Sunday on the website and encourages parishes to use the resources produced by 31.8.

Safeguarding Sunday will be promoted in Safeguarding newsletters as well as within other diocesan publications.

Safeguarding Sunday will be published on the website.

A Parish Safeguarding Officer (PSO) service will be held at Christ Church Cathedral on the afternoon on Safeguarding Sunday in 2023 where there will additionally be a workshop held by Spiritual Abuse expert Lisa Oakley. The workshop will be recorded to be disseminated to PSOs and clergy.

2

To encourage people to come forward about abuse, and to limit the risk of barriers to reporting, clarify that under the diocesan Dignity and Respect in Ministry and at Work policy anyone can bring a complaint.

The diocese continues to work with parishes to promote positive safeguarding cultures which will break down barriers to reporting abuse.

A poster to be created to be disseminated to PSOs in autumn 2023 which can be used in parishes to inform congregations who they can report concerns to.

We agree that that the complaints process needs to be clearer to indicate that it applies to clergy and church officers and the process to be easily navigable on the website and this is now being adjusted.

3

In relation to role descriptions, mentoring, and one to one support, reflect on the type and frequency of support and guidance needed for the effective oversight of clergy and review how resources can be allocated and sustained to meet this need.

Since Jan 2011, with the introduction of Common Tenure, the accountability of clergy in the Diocese of Oxford has been strengthened through a number of processes. The annual Ministry Development Reviews (MDRs) are an opportunity for clergy to reflect on their ministry with the support of an independent (skilled and trained) bishop’s MDR reviewer. Furthermore, clergy start their ministry in this Diocese with clergy orientation and ‘Flourishing in your new role’ sessions, where expectations and support available are shared. Clergy are also encouraged to have ‘spiritual directors’ and when needed ‘ministry accompaniers’ who support individual clergy in post. 

4

To facilitate early recognition of, and action on, matters of concern ensure that anonymous complaints, and complaints from people wishing to be anonymised, are included in the diocese’s monitoring process;

Anonymous complaints are retained to form part of our monitoring process.

Low level concerns are also retained and help build a chronology of behaviours.

In 2022, under the guidance of the House of Bishops, the Diocese of Oxford set up the informal and formal procedures for handling complaints against clergy that do not meet the threshold of the Clergy Disciplinary Measure. This is in operation. Here is the link to the formal procedure .

5

Particularly where the physical and psychological safety of congregations is at stake, ensure that the diocese leads and supports a culture of dealing directly with clergy whose conduct falls short of expected standards and that procedures are persisted with irrespective of the nature and force of countermeasures and tactics employed by the perpetrator of abuse.

Where harm is being committed the diocese puts measures in place to protect people. Senior clergy work alongside parishes and lead on the approach, whether that be disciplinary action or another route such as mediation.

6

Consider what support can be given to someone personally facing libel or other legal action as a result of acting in the best interests of the safety of a Church of England parish congregation.

Senior clergy and employees of the Oxford Diocesan Board of Finance (ODBF) have public liability insurance provided. Support through HR and the Employee Assistance Scheme is in place for colleagues dealing with litigious individuals. In the main, clergy should refer matters to ODBF staff and senior clergy. Where appropriate, the diocese may provide support from discretionary funds.

7

Whilst systems may be in place to deal with abuse, preventing abuse requires constant vigilance. Continue to support and nurture a culture that makes safeguarding for both children and adults a priority.

The diocesan safeguarding team continues to support parishes in preventative safeguarding through the use of safer recruitment, training and support of PSOs as well as helping parishes understand the need for culture change where everyone in a church community sees safeguarding as their business.

8

To encourage people to come forward about abuse, and to limit the risk of barriers to reporting, consider replacing references to “vulnerable adults” with “adults experiencing or at risk of abuse”, where appropriate. Review the Church of England website information to clarify the position on victims bringing complaints under the Clergy Discipline Measure.

The recommendation will be referred to the National Safeguarding Team.

9

Consider whether there is sufficient guidance to ensure that bishops assess and monitor the risks when they come to a decision to set aside a recommendation from the discernment and training frameworks. Consider whether any penalties should be applied to a bishop who disregards a recommendation not to ordain, where the recommendation is subsequently shown by the ordinand’s behaviour to be justified.

The recommendation will be referred to the National Safeguarding Team.

10

To raise awareness of spiritual abuse and appropriate responses consider including examples of spiritual abuse in the main body of the Guidance on Penalties document issued by the Clergy Discipline Commission, together with a steer on penalties.

The recommendation will be referred to the National Safeguarding Team.

11

To reinforce the Clergy Code of Conduct and to ensure a consistency of penalties across dioceses, consider publishing the names of all clergy to whom penalties have been applied under the CDM, including some detail of the nature of the misconduct.

This is currently in operation In accordance with paragraph 312 of the CDM Code of Practice, with effect from 24 October 2022, the following details are published: the name of the respondent, the date penalty was agreed or imposed and the statutory ground of misconduct. This will appear both on the Diocese of Oxford website and the Church of England website where the name of the diocese will also be published. 

 

We have also referred this recommendation to the National Safeguarding Team.

12

Consider introducing a requirement for all clergy to hold and pay for professional indemnity insurance as a prerequisite for practicing ministry. This may help reinforce the need to meet the required standards of conduct.

The recommendation will be referred to the National Safeguarding Team.

13

To raise awareness and understanding of spiritual abuse, to reduce the likelihood of complicity with it, and increase recognition and reporting of it, provide spiritual abuse training for all diocese and parish clergy and volunteers which includes psychological and emotional abuse, grooming, seduction, manipulation, the use of power and the creation of dependency.

The recommendation will be referred to the National Safeguarding Team.

About Revd Michael Hall

  • 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. The allegations made against Michael Hall relate to spiritual abuse, nakedness and sexual activity with some adult members of the congregation, which took place at St Margaret’s church, in the parish rooms and also in people’s homes, where according to survivor accounts, it was witnessed by children and young people.  

  • 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”

  • 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 are affected by Church-based abuse

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 0200 303 1030.

You are also welcome to contact our safeguarding team directly.

Further reading

Defining Spiritual Abuse

"Key characteristics of spiritual abuse identified were coercion and control, manipulation and pressuring of individuals, control through the misuse of religious texts and scripture and providing a ‘divine’ rationale for behaviour" - Oakley & Humphreys (2018) Understanding Spiritual Abuse in Christian Communities.

"A new and deeper understanding of spiritual abuse is crucial for the Church to get the rest of its response system right. The people who have been abused have not simply experienced a physical or emotional attack. They have had the core of their identity, their whole understanding of what life is about, their firmest commitment to God, manipulated and exploited." -  To Heal and Not To Hurt A fresh approach to safeguarding in the Church - Rosie Harper, Alan Wilson

Recommended publications
  • Escaping the Maze of Spiritual abuse published by SPCK explores how spiritual abuse can be prevented, what leaders must do to create safer places, and creating opportunities for spiritual and emotional flourishing.
Our safeguarding journey

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

  • Grown the safeguarding team to 5.8 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 training for the senior team. 
  • In 2022 our safeguarding team handled over 500 safeguarding queries, arranged drop-in sessions for over 200 Parish Safeguarding Officers, and organised training for 7,600+ participants, delivered through over 100 on-line or on-site training events. 
  • We have achieved a culture change in the handling of safeguarding disclosures and 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 the review for this case.

Acronyms

  • CDM – Clergy Discipline Measure
  • DSA – Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor
  • MDR – Ministerial Development Review

Glossary

  • 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. 

  • 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 Chaplain
    Bishop Steven’s chaplain acts as private secretary, attends and assists the bishop at many services, acts as the bishop’s proxy on some bodies and generally ministers to the bishop. The Bishops chaplain liaises with the Registry over legal issues and may be asked by the bishop to support people in distressing situations.

  • 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.

  • Churchwarden
    Churchwardens are elected by the parish. Together with the parish priest, they are responsible for the day-to-day functioning of the parish.

  • Clergy Discipline Measure
    The Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 (CDM) is the current process for dealing with formal complaints of serious misconduct against members of the clergy. It applies to all deacons, priests and bishops in the Church of England, even if they are not in active ministry. If there is sufficient evidence to support the complaint, there are five courses of action open to the bishop the most serious of which is a formal investigation by the Designated Officer, who will determine whether the complaint should be sent to the bishop’s disciplinary tribunal for determination and penalty. Tribunal hearings usually are in private and consist of a legally qualified chair sitting with two lay members and two members of clergy appointed from a provincial panel.

  • Common Tenure
    Common Tenure is a form of tenure for clergy office holders which took effect on 31 January 2011. Clergy and other office holders are still appointed as vicars, rectors, assistant curates, priests in charge etc. All new appointments since 31 Jan 2011 have been on common tenure. Assistant curates, priests in charge, team vicars and residentiary canons on fixed term appointments transferred automatically onto common tenure on 31 January 2011.

    Clergy with the freehold (including incumbents, deans, archdeacons, and residentiary canons not on fixed term appointments) who did not transfer onto common tenure remained on their existing terms, until they choose to move onto common tenure (which they may do at any time) or leave their current post. Team rectors transfer onto common tenure after their current licence expires. Fewer than 30 clergy in the Diocese of Oxford have freehold. 

  • 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.

  • 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 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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 and Essex. In the event of errors or omissions, please contact communications@oxford.anglican.org

Back to Learning Reviews

Page last updated: Wednesday 4th October 2023 2:46 PM
First published on: 21st July 2023

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