The Church of England has today hit back at critics of its child protection record following the jailing of a vicar and choirmaster whose abuse of children had gone unpunished for years.
Somerset vicar David Smith was jailed last week for five-and-a-half years for abusing six boys over three decades, while former Hampshire choirmaster Peter Halliday was convicted last month for abusing three boys between 1985 and 1990. Halliday had admitted abusing one of the boys to church authorities in 1990, but he was merely sacked from his role, and later went on to work alongside children.
Allegations against both men had been made years before their convictions.
On Sunday, charity the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service raised a series of questions over the cases and called for an independent inquiry.
But today, the Church of England seemingly rejected the call for an independent inquiry into Smith’s case, saying it would be reviewed internally.
In a statement, Bishop of Bath and Wells the Right Reverend Peter Price, Smith’s employer, defended current child protection practice across the Church of England: “Today before priests and ministers are appointed they are subject to Criminal Record Bureau checks which are repeated every three years, they have to make child protection declarations, they receive regular training and regular reviews.
“Every parish has a child protection officer and all our policies and practices are overseen by a child protection group which includes senior police officers, including some with child protection experience, lawyers and a professional child protection officer.”
He also countered questions raised by CCPAS about the diocese’s handling of the Smith case when allegations of abuse were made against him in 2001. The complainant refused to make a police statement and Smith denied the charge, though he reached an agreement with the diocese that he would not be alone with children, nor have children in his house.
CCPAS said this suggested the diocese believed the allegation had substance and claimed this should have prompted his dismissal.
But Price added: “Without a formal complaint to police there were no grounds to remove him from his post.”