The Trustees of the Jesus Fellowship Community Trust (‘JFCT’) had intended to publicly release a summary of the findings of an investigation into alleged cover up and collusion by leaders in the Jesus Fellowship Church. This investigation was in relation to incidents of non-recent abuse.
For many months the Trustees have worked to release the findings. Regrettably, it has not been possible to resolve the issues involved. Accordingly, JFCT is now unable to fulfil its previously stated intention.
This statement explains why, and indicates the measures that will be taken instead to create a faithful public record of the past and provide validation for those who have suffered harm because of the Church.
History of the Investigation
In 2017, the then National Leadership Team (‘NLT’) of the Jesus Fellowship Church commissioned an investigation into the handling of non-recent abuse allegations.
The investigation was carried out, under written conditions of confidentiality accepted by all participants, by CMP Resolutions (‘CMP’). It was led by Vicki Lawson-Brown, an expert investigator with considerable experience in safeguarding matters.
The NLT intended to receive the findings of the investigation when it was complete, and then conduct employment-style disciplinary interviews. In the light of the findings, they would hear what was said in reply and then determine what action would be appropriate, based upon all the information available. After that, the NLT would publicize the findings of the investigation and the NLT’s subsequent actions.
Process of Investigation
Vicki Lawson-Brown interviewed all the complainants and witnesses who were willing to participate in the investigation. She returned her findings to the NLT in September 2018. It had taken the best part of 12 months to complete the investigation.
She prepared three documents:
(i) a full report into the investigation;
(ii) individual reports for the relevant people;
(iii) a summary for all participants (‘Participant Summary’).
When CMP released their findings to the NLT, the NLT gave the full report to Northamptonshire Police through the medium of the regular joint meetings that had been established between the safeguarding agencies and the Church’s own central safeguarding personnel.
Once the Police had obtained the CMP material, it was embargoed by the Police so that they could conduct their own enquiries. The NLT could not take the planned internal processes any further lest they imperilled the Police investigations. Throughout this time, no information about CMP’s findings could be released.
This position continued until early 2020, when the Police indicated that they had completed their enquiries.
The Church Closes
In the meantime, however, the members of the Church had voted (May 2019) to dissolve the Church. The NLT resigned following that vote and the JFCT Trustees ultimately inherited the unfinished business of the investigation (which the JFCT had financed).
Renewed Efforts to Publish
In early 2020, once the Police had finished their investigations, the JFCT Trustees were able to act. Despite the intervening measures being taken to dissolve the Church, they wanted to publicize the results of the investigation as had been originally intended.
Given the vote to dissolve the Church and the cessation of leadership roles in the Church, the Trustees of JFCT decided that there was nothing to be gained by conducting employment-style disciplinary interviews, although the Trustees recognised that this would deprive those concerned of the opportunity to respond in detail to the findings, as had originally been envisaged. However, each person would still receive their individual report so that they could understand the findings and prepare whatever form of response they considered appropriate, in the light of the changed circumstances.
The decision was made to release the Participant Summary to all the participants and then to make the findings publicly available. In the light of legal advice, it was recognised that the Participant Summary itself could not be published as it stood, because it contained the personal data of identifiable individuals. A version of the summary, edited so as to be compliant with data protection law, would need to be produced for the purpose of publication.
The Participant Summary and the individual reports were sent out, under conditions of confidentiality, in June 2020.
In breach of those conditions of confidentiality, the Participant Summary was leaked by a recipient to the BBC. This resulted in significant publicity in August 2020. In accordance with its legal obligations, JFCT reported the data breach to the Information Commissioner’s Office (‘ICO’). The ICO soon concluded that there was not enough evidence at that stage of the source of the leak to bring criminal charges in relation to the data breach. ICO confirmed that JFCT had taken all appropriate steps to deal with it.
During this period, considerable efforts were made to produce a version of the summary that could be published without breaking data protection law, which – if it happened – would potentially expose JFCT to claims.
CMP assisted in producing the text of a revised draft for publication. However, it still contained personally identifiable data. Accordingly, the Trustees of JFCT were advised by their lawyers that that summary of the investigation’s findings could not be made public without specific consent from all those who remained identifiable in, or from, the summary. A number of these people have withheld their consent entirely.
Trustees View of the CMP Report
The Trustees take the view that public release of the findings would be the right thing to do. That was what the NLT intended from the outset. However:
• the summary that has been drafted still contains references to identifiable persons, which CMP are unwilling to remove but which would expose JFCT to possible claims if that summary was published;
• a number of those identifiable from it are not willing to consent to its publication in any event; and
• there appear to be no clear public interest grounds that would enable Trustees to lawfully publish the summary without the consent of all those identifiable from it.
While the Trustees believe that publication would be in the public interest generally, they take the view – based on the legal advice they have received – that to publish may expose the Trust to the threat of litigation and/or regulatory penalties, which would not be in the best interests of their beneficiaries. They are unable to bring themselves clearly within any of the categories of public interest exception to the processing of special category data recognised in law, and in the ICO guidance.
The Trustees of the JFCT offer an unreserved apology to every person affected by this situation, especially to those who had been led to expect a fuller publication of the findings of the investigation.
The Trustees accept the essential findings of the investigation, which they believe was carried out in a thorough and professional way. They acknowledge that those concerned may feel aggrieved at not having the opportunity to present a response to those findings, which may provide a fuller picture. The Trustees are disappointed at the impasse that has arisen, and freely acknowledge that this will be deeply upsetting to victims and survivors.
The full CMP report (including the Participant Summary) has been lodged by CMP with the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
Reckoning with the Past: A New Approach
The Trustees strongly believe it is important that an account of the Church’s past is made public. Many people may benefit from a statement which clearly acknowledges wrongs done, and harm caused, to individuals.
To that end, the Trustees are working to produce a public document which will acknowledge the reality of the experiences of those who suffered abuse or harm within the Church.
This statement will be checked with survivors’ representatives for authenticity. It will include reference to the CMP investigation findings but also wider reference to the experiences of victims of abuse or harm, which were not covered in the scope of the investigation alone. It will give specific examples of where the culture of the church was at fault, and was damaging to individuals.
Hopefully, this publication will serve to acknowledge truth and validate the experiences of those who suffered harm as a result of their contact with the Jesus Army/Jesus Fellowship Church.
With this publication, we do not wish to invalidate or diminish the accounts of those who had a different experience and this will be carefully considered so as not to belittle abuse or harm suffered.
This work on a broader public statement is current, with the intention that the statement be issued well before the JFCT finally closes.