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Methodist Church in abuse apology

Published 28/05/2015

The Methodist Church in Britain said it wanted to be open about the past and to have stronger safeguarding procedures in the future
The Methodist Church in Britain said it wanted to be open about the past and to have stronger safeguarding procedures in the future

The Methodist Church in Britain has apologised for failing to protect children and adults following nearly 2,000 reports of physical and sexual abuse within the institution dating back to the 1950s.

Publishing a 100-page report today, the Church said it wanted to be open about the past and to have stronger safeguarding procedures in the future.

The NSPCC accused the Church of refusing to listen while victims "endured appalling experiences".

Rev Dr Martyn Atkins, general secretary of the Methodist Conference, said: "On behalf of the Methodist Church in Britain I want to express an unreserved apology for the failure of its current and earlier processes fully to protect children, young people and adults from physical and sexual abuse inflicted by some ministers in Full Connexion and members of the Methodist Church.

"That abuse has been inflicted by some Methodists on children, young people and adults is and will remain a deep source of grief and shame to the Church."

An NSPCC spokesman said: "This is a horrifying catalogue of abuse that the Methodist Church has revealed by confronting the dark side of its history.

"It clearly indicates that a vast number of victims must have endured appalling experiences while the Church refused to listen to their pleas for help.

"While many of these incidents took place decades ago it is clear abuse was still being inflicted in recent years.

"Having had the courage to come clean about the extent of abuse they must now have measures in place to ensure there are no more such incidents and all children they have dealings with are given the protection and support they deserve."

One victim recalled how he was abused at a Methodist school.

"I just hated every minute of it," he told the BBC.

"The teacher involved would come into my dormitory in his dressing gown and shout my name and I would be taken to his room where I was probably there for 15, 20, 25 minutes per time.

"I tried to put everything in the back of my mind and disbelieve what happened."

The independent review, which has taken three years and was led by former Barnardo's deputy chief executive Jane Stacey, considered all safeguarding cases for which there were written records and those recalled from memory by ministers and members of the Church going back to 1950.

These included cases that occurred within a Church context as well as those which were reported to the Church as a matter of pastoral concern, but which occurred away from the Church.

Mr Atkins said it was "deeply regrettable" that the Church had "not always listened properly to those abused" nor had it always cared for them.

He added: "In respect of these things we have, as a Christian Church, clearly failed to live in ways that glorify God and honour Christ.

"I am certain that the Methodist Conference will want to resolve to do all in its power to improve its systems to protect children, young people and adults from abuse within the life of the Church and on Church premises, and to review them diligently on a regular basis."

In each identified case, the Church's response was reviewed on whether it had been safe, pastorally appropriate and compliant with current legislation and policy. Where possible and appropriate cases have been referred to the police or other remedial action has been taken.

The Church said the aim of conducting the review and writing the report was "to learn the lessons of the past so that safeguarding work within the Methodist Church is of the highest possible standard and the Church is safe for all".

The review identified 1,885 past cases, which included sexual, physical, emotional and domestic abuse as well as cases of neglect. In approximately one quarter of these cases (26%), church ministers or lay employees were identified as the perpetrators or alleged perpetrators. In 61 of these cases there was contact with the police and there are six ongoing police investigations as a result.

A law firm representing a group of individuals taking action against the Methodist Church welcomed the apology.

The claimants allege they were abused by a church missionary in Africa during the 1980s.

Nichola Marshall, head of international abuse at law firm Leigh Day, said: "It has taken my clients over 30 years to have the courage to come forward with their allegations of abuse against the Methodist Church.

"They welcome this public acknowledgment by the Methodist Church as they have faced criticism and disapproval from members of the community for speaking out in the past.

"It must never again be the case that the reputation of institutions take precedence over the welfare of society's most vulnerable.

"Faith-based organisations have a huge responsibility to ensure the trust they demand of followers is not misused by those who seek out positions of responsibility to prey on the vulnerable."

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