Charity Commission Warns Christ Church College

Tom Quad, Christ Church; inset: Martyn Percy | Wikipedia, Dmitry Djouce; Eleanor Sanger

TLC staff report

The Charity Commission of England and Wales has warned Christ Church College, Oxford, that it must give a fuller account of £6.6 million it spent to be rid of the Very Rev. Martyn Percy, the former dean of Christ Church Cathedral.

“In the context of a long running and costly dispute with the former Dean, the Commission has determined there has been mismanagement and/or misconduct in the management and administration of the Charity,” the warning said. “This is because the trustees have not: (a) managed the Charity’s resources responsibly (b) ensured that the Charity is accountable.”

The commission orders Christ Church to take these steps to “rectify the misconduct and/or mismanagement”:

  1. “Complete a full independent Governance Review and take all reasonable steps to implement its recommendations insofar as they fall within the trustees’ collective remit.
  2. “To keep the Commission informed of the progress and implementation of the Governance Review at key milestones.
  3. “To ensure that the Charity’s accounts and Trustee Annual Report for the year ending 31 July 2022 comply with the legal requirement to ensure the Charity is accountable.”

The commission warned: “Failure to remedy the misconduct and/or mismanagement specified above may lead to further regulatory action being taken by the Commission.”

The commission said the college spent £6.6m on legal and public relations fees between August 2018 and January in “various actions related to the former Dean, over £5.3m of which appears to have been approved retrospectively.”

In 2018, Percy stood accused of “conduct of an immoral, scandalous, or disgraceful nature incompatible with the duties of the office or employment.”

In 2020, Christ Church made a series of allegations against Percy to the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team. After its independent inquiry, the safeguarding team concluded in September 2020 that the dean had acted appropriately in each case. It stressed that “[a]t no point was there any allegation or evidence that the dean presented a direct risk to any child or vulnerable adult.”

In November 2020, a woman known as Miss X claimed that Percy had stroked her hair in the cathedral vestry. He denied the charge. Police investigated and took no further action.

In February, Percy agreed to a £1.2 million severance, plus about £1.5 million in repaid legal fees. Percy said in May that he would leave the Church of England because it is “an unsafe place to work,” and “lacks transparency, accountability, external scrutiny, and, as far as I am concerned, integrity.”

Church Times reported that Christ Church’s Governing Body presented an 800-page defense, but the commission’s reviewer, Chris Sladen, rejected its arguments.

“In very complex and constantly changing circumstances, trustees made decisions which, having taken professional advice, they judged to be in the best interests of Christ Church,” the college said in response to the commission’s warning.

“Many of the costs were incurred as a result of Dr. Percy’s refusal to settle with a governing body which had lost trust and confidence in him.”

“This is a devastating finding against a charity that was clearly out of control,” Percy said in The Guardian. “It is beyond doubt now that a small group of trustees at Christ Church were determined to get rid of me at any cost. … Alumni and donors will be shocked that £6.6m — money ostensibly earmarked for education — was instead squandered on lawyers and PR agencies. This was then covered up in the accounts.”

Percy writes for various media, including the BBC, The Guardian, and The Tablet, and posts copies of these essays on his weblog, Meander.

He cites his role as an honorary fellow of Harris Manchester College, also of the University of Oxford.

The college website says it was “founded for those who could not accept the beliefs of any particular denomination, and this open spirit continues today. There are no religious tests and never have been — that has given the college a radical dissenting edge, putting inclusivity and diversity at the heart of our values, and enabling us to be bold in our decisions.”

Like many Church of England congregations, Christ Church Cathedral publishes a page of extensive details about what it does to promote a safer environment.


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