Ecclesiastical accused of putting its reputation above abuse survivors as mishandling settlement exceeds abuse settlement

Child on a swing

Insurer Ecclesiastical is facing criticism that is cares more about its reputation than child sexual abuse survivors after it paid out more for revealing the identity of survivor than it has for the abuse the survivor suffered.

The settlement for the mishandling of the claims resulted in a payment from Ecclesiastical of £30,000 plus costs. The insurer has also apologised to Gilo, a survivor of church abuse and co-editor of Letters to a Broken Church, for breaching his confidentiality.

However, Gilo told Post it is disturbing that a “three-day data breach” had almost as much value as the abuse settlement.

Gilo said: “It is disturbing that a three-day data breach which we think was likely to be accidental has had almost as much value as the abuse settlement with an impact lasting decades. In fact I took home £3500 more than I did from the original settlement. It shows how derisory the abuse settlements are in the hands of the Church of England’s insurer and lawyers.”

Phil Johnson, who chairs the group Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, added: “It is utterly incomprehensible that the amount of compensation for a data breach that lasted three days can result in the victim receiving more money than they did from a claim that involved very serious sexual abuse and over four decades of suffering its consequences.

“What is more astounding is that these payments are to the same victim and come from the same insurer, highlighting how much more valuable its reputation seems to be compared with victims’ abuse, losses and suffering.”

In 2017, Ecclesiastical, the Church of England’s insurers, which is responsible for compensation payments to survivors and victims of abuse, published Gilo’s surname in a letter online, against Gilo’s wishes to protect their identity.

The letter remained on the insurer’s website for more than two full days before being taken down.

Elliot review

As part of the settlement, Ecclesiastical has also agreed to a mediation on its response to a review into church child abuse.

The review, referred to as Elliot Review, was carried out by Ian Elliot, a safeguarding consultant with the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service, considered the Church’s handling of Gilo’s allegation of abuse by reverend Garth Moore, a former chancellor of the dioceses of Southwark, Durham and Gloucester, who died in 1990, in the 1970’s when the survivor was around 16 years old.

It has exposed that the abuse has been reported on many occasions however no significant action had been taken or record made of the allegations.

The review condemned the Church of England’s safeguarding procedures in cases of reported sexual abuse as “fundamentally flawed”.

Ecclesiastical was accused in the review of providing advice that led to Church of England to cease pastoral care and counselling to survivors of sexual abuse, which the insurer has denied.

The company said at the time: “We did not instruct the Church of England or in any other way advise it to cease pastoral care or counselling.”

However, the internal emails related to the advice it gave the church which were redacted on the basis of client-attorney privilege until that privilege was breached in 2016 when a PR manager at Ecclesiastical read the emails over the phone to a journalist on background.

In 2019, Ecclesiastical conceded the advice it gave to the Church of England related to a child abuse claim could have been handled better.

In the Independent Inquiry on Child Abuse In July 2019, former Ecclesiastical claims director David Bonehill admitted that the advice given to Church of England that resulted in withdrawal of pastoral care from Gilo for two weeks was not good enough.

The IICSA report following the session concluded: “[It] is disappointing that the EIO [Ecclesiastical Insurance Office] was unable to recognise or accept its failings in that case upon the publication of the Elliott review. This was compounded by its failure to provide evidence to this Inquiry in a candid manner, requiring us to recall a witness to explain why the information previously given to us was incomplete.”

Reaction

Gilo welcomed the mediation from Ecclesiastical: “It’s good that Ecclesiastical Insurance is finally coming to mediation over its repeated public dissembling around the Review into my case. The bishop mandated to implement the review recommendations [the then Bishop of Crediton, now the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally] and the secretary-general of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye, remained silent to every question and request for help on this. Eventually a Subject Access Request revealed complicity between the Archbishops’ Council, NCT, and Ecclesiastical, and showed they had sought to work together on reputational management.”

Richard Scorer, head of abuse law team at Slater and Gordon and Gilo’s solicitor in this case, said: “The outcome of this case speaks for itself. Ecclesiastical initially treated the claim as a claim for a minor data breach. But it has now paid substantially more by way of damages than would ordinarily be paid for a simple breach.

“In addition, its CEO Mark Hews has provided an unreserved apology, and it has agreed to a further mediation about the wider issue of its public treatment of the Elliott review. By settling the matter in this way, it has in reality acknowledged that this data breach occurred in a wider context of EIO failings towards survivors, some of which were explored in IICSA, and that those failings significantly aggravated this data breach. I hope that these events will be part of an urgent and radical reshaping of EIO’s behaviour towards survivors, and the full implementation of the Elliott report”.

Ian Elliott, the internationally recognised safeguarding expert and reviewer, said: ”I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge and welcome the agreement to reach a mediated settlement with Ecclesiastical Insurance regarding the dissembling that has marked its response to the review that I undertook of a historic abuse case for the Church of England.

“Over the course of the years since I produced the report, EIO has made comments on national television, on its website, and in evidence to the IICSA, regarding the accuracy of my assessments, claiming that they were flawed. These damaging statements are completely untrue.

“Despite this, they were never publicly withdrawn and no attempt has ever been made by EIO or the Church to set the record straight. Telling the truth is important and when that does not happen, trust is damaged and lost.”

Bishop Alan Wilson who was present at the settlement meeting, added: “In all my dealings with Ecclesiastical I have witnessed its aspiration to be seen as an industry leader. But for that to happen Ecclesiastical has to build an honest relationship with all its stakeholders, including victims and survivors.

“Churches and insurers tend to say that they incorporate survivor experience in their response without actually doing so. The Church produces big rhetoric about engagement while fashioning ‘lessons learned reviews’ that drag on for years without anyone seemingly learning any lessons. Meanwhile our insurer steers well clear of any external independent accountability while parading and hiding behind its Guiding Principles. I applaud survivors like Gilo and others for bringing so much to daylight and evidencing that our insurer needs serious scrutiny in its handling of survivors.”

An Ecclesiastical spokesperson said: “We do not comment on the details of individual claims. We are sorry for the distress caused to the complainant and have apologised unreservedly.”

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