5 Dec 2018

Exclusive: Church of England gags abuse victim with NDA

A woman who claims she was abused by a vicar has told Channel 4 News she was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) – before she was allowed to read an official review accusing the Church of England of mismanaging her complaints.

A woman who claims she was abused by a vicar has told Channel 4 News she was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) – before she was allowed to read an official review accusing the Church of England of mismanaging her complaints.

Channel 4 News has seen a copy of the report, which makes a series of damning criticisms of the way a serving bishop handled her allegations.

In an exclusive interview, Jo Kind claimed the Reverend Tom Walker used to insist on stripping off his clothes and wandering round the vicarage in “various states of arousal” when she worked as his PA at St John’s Church, Harborne, in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

Jo Kind said: “He told me about the job and what my duties would be, then said he had problem with his libido and in order to rectify that he had medical advice that he should be without his clothes as much as possible. And that he would see that as God giving him a gift. I nodded my acceptance, because I didn’t know what I was nodding my acceptance to.”

She added: “I became really concerned when he told me not tell his wife. And as the weeks went on he would be walking around in various states of arousal and it was deeply, deeply uncomfortable. My response to that was to shut it down, and to shut down my emotions and just concentrate hugely on my work.”

It wasn’t until nearly 20 years later – after a conversation with a friend in 2008 – that she officially complained. However, when she made a formal complaint to the Church a decade ago, the Bishop of Birmingham failed to properly investigate.

The official review into the failings, drawn up earlier this year, found that the church “fell short on a number of basic standards of complaint handling.” It singles out the Bishop of Birmingham for criticism, saying that when he investigated Mrs Kind’s complaints in 2011, it was “problematic” because “he lacked adequate knowledge of safeguarding and the capacity to manage the process”.

A 2012 inquiry ordered by the then Archbishop Rowan Williams into multiple failures in safeguarding in the Diocese of Chichester concluded: “A confidentiality clause should never be included in any agreement reached with a survivor. It is essential that there is complete transparency about any abuse that has occurred.”

However, despite promises made by the Church of England to abuse survivors not to sweep their claims under the carpet, Mrs Kind had to sign legal undertakings not to make any of the findings public. Channel 4 News is publishing the details and naming the vicar for the first time.

The Reverend Tom Walker was “rebuked” in 2015 and died a year later. The Church has paid Mrs Kind £40,000 after she launched a civil claim against them – but they admitted no liability. In September though, the bishop of Birmingham wrote to her offering his “sincere apologies”.

In an interview with presenter Cathy Newman, Mrs Kind said she suspected the report was shrouded in secrecy to protect the Church and the Reverend Walker’s memory.

This is the first time Jo Kind has spoken out about exactly what happened to her and claims she was warned by a bishop not to talk to the media as it wouldn’t be “very godly”.

She says she has decided to speak out now because: “I have no fear of being ungodly in that way and because I have asked for 10-year for the church to speak up about this and they haven’t, and I thought that they would with this review. And I thought that was the right and proper way to do it. I went through all the church procedures and I think I’ve reached the end of the procedures and so am speaking to you now.”

Today the Church of England, Birmingham told Channel 4 News: “We are deeply sorry for the pain and distress these failings have caused. We have published the lessons learned from this Review on our website. The decision not to publish the full report … related to concerns regarding the safeguarding of the many contributors. Anyone wishing to see a redacted copy of the report can do so by request.”

The family of Reverend Tom Walker also told us: “We acknowledge and regret any pain and distress that Mrs Kind has suffered. Rev Walker was a much loved and respected parish priest, but he accepted that some aspects of his behaviour whilst he had been in poor mental and physical health, had been inappropriate. However, the allegations of sexually motivated behavior were always denied and indeed unproven. The formal Clergy Discipline complaint was resolved in 2015 with the agreement of all parties when Rev Walker consented to a rebuke by the Bishop of Birmingham for his errors of judgement.”