Lessons from the case of Rev Peter Timms.



In this article, journalist Peter Hill analyses the tactics used by the Methodist Connexion in the case of Rev Peter Timms.


Anyone who becomes involved in the Connexional procedures for complaints may find themselves confused by the nature of the system.


A Quasi-judicial system?


At first glance, the standing orders appear to present a quasi-judicial system. There is a panel of three persons; there is an initial stage and then a full consideration. There is disclosure and help from the panel in obtaining such. Witnesses can be presented by both sides and weighed one against the other. There is reference to an appeal system.


A System of Reconciliation?


There is also repeated reference in the standing orders to reconciliation. This is even written into the guiding principles of the system – SO 1100 states: 

The Church seeks to enable healing and reconciliation to take place through that accountability whenever possible.”

There are some 40 references to “reconciliation” in the standing orders, so it is easy to assume that this is how the system works - each side sees the evidence of the other -  and the inquiry panel members, as mediators,  organise a middle position to which both sides might agree.


Evidence from the case of Rev Timms suggests that the system is neither of these two possibilities.

Although the connexional panel told Rev Timms that they were operating with the judicial system of the balance of probabilities, they did nothing of the kind. Rev Timms did not have the opportunities available to either a litigant or a defendant in a judicial system such as happens in civil law. He was given a false confession to sign, yet the leader of the complaints panel insisted that the process was not  adversarial and that Rev Timms  did not need to have a lawyer!


The rights that he should have had were not granted.  His requests for vital documents were ignored and not disclosed. He was denied  witnesses of his choice – and, in the end, spies were set upon him in order to attack his case.


As for reconciliation, the local ministers against whom he complained refused to enter into reconciliation talks  – and when the connexional panel became involved, he was flatly refused any form of  reconciliation during the panel’s proceedings. This was a common occurrence in spite of the central aim of the Methodist Church being reconciliation rather than conflict.



In fact, the procedures of the system of complaints in the Methodist Church, as illustrated by its methods, is a negotiation. One can say this with certainty, for the Church’s favoured tactic is  “leverage” – and that is a tactic only used in negotiation. It is generally frowned upon, or even barred, from other systems for settling disputes.

Leverage is a political and business tactic that goes back at least as far as ancient Rome.  Machiavelli was also a great believer in the efficacy of leverage. He believed that  it is better to be widely feared than to be greatly loved. That involved leverage – a tactic in negotiation which has attracted much study over the centuries.


In negotiations, the principle of loss aversion is usually the key to negotiating. Loss aversion is the tendency to prefer avoiding losses rather than acquiring equivalent gains. A simple example of this is that a person  who stands to lose £100 and avoids the loss, will have more satisfaction than if he were instead to potentially gain £100. It is better to be safe - than sorry.

Loss aversion is the basis of the card game poker. The objective of a player is usually to suggest, perhaps by bluff,  an adversary’s possible loss in order to persuade him to “fold” and give up the “pot”. The fear of losing more money overcomes the desire to win more.


Some studies have suggested that adverse losses are psychologically twice as powerful  as potential gains in negotiation. So if one party in a negotiation is able to demonstrate or bluff  his opponent that there is more to lose than to gain, leverage is being applied.

There are two types of leverage – positive and negative.

Positive leverage is based in the ability of one party to satisfy the needs of the other party – the power in this comes from the opportunity to provide or withhold the needed item or action unless the opposition gives in.  Half a loaf is better than none.


Negative leverage is a threat-based form of leverage. It is more common.  It is similar to blackmail. It  uses the power of one side's ability to make the other side worse off. The power of negative leverage relies wholly on loss aversion. Machiavelli’s  belief, that it is better to be widely feared than to be greatly loved, shows that he understood that negative leverage is more effective in negotiation than positive leverage.

The only possible response in any negotiation, when one side uses negative leverage, is for the other side to find some response by using leverage, either positive or negative in order to balance the negotiation.

Picketing in labour negotiations is a common example of modern negative leverage. Such threats to stop all work in order to win an argument which has little or no connection to the alleged reason for the strike,  became so common during the last decade that the government ordered an inquiry into industrial disputes, including "leverage" tactics by unions. Anti-union legislation is usually an attempt to damper the potential effect of negative leverage.


The leverage used by the Connexion in the Timms case is negative leverage – and the loss aversion it offers is clear to see.

The Timms case demonstrates how the Methodist Church is willing to use its great power, rather than rational argument in reconciliation, to win a dispute.   In some contexts, such negative leverage is called “extortion”.   The Timms case has several examples of this technique.


a) When Rev Timms complained to the Connexion in London,  he was immediately  issued with a false confession to sign. This confession alluded to a totally unproven - and indeed fictitious - claim that he had  breached confidence in another matter.

This was clearly negative leverage of the worst kind. The potential adverse loss was great. Rev Timms had much to lose if he refused to go along with the connexional panel’s demands that he should sign the confession. At worst, he could be passed on to a disciplinary panel  - with all that such implied.

 In short - was it worth going on with such a disaster looming?

The reaction among supporters of Rev Timms was to create a counterbalancing leverage - an internet report which developed into this present website.

The Connexion recognised this as leverage - calling it a "campaign" and demanded it be stopped.


b)  When Rev Timms refused to accept the false confession, and cease his complaints about it, he was suspended from all church activities.

This leverage was counter-balanced with a film being made and placed on the website.

The quid pro quo for lifting Rev Timms' suspension was that he should stop his objections about the false confession – and the leverage that his supporters in Bexhill had created.  The Connexion's use of leverage was, however,  not to be stopped. The question of the validity of the false confession was not to be raised. This adverse loss was made clear to him by his District Chair at a meeting in 2017.  

This punishment was published amongst the Methodist fellowship in Bexhill and it severely affected Rev Timms’ reputation there.

The adverse loss was, in part, enacted. He could only stop this and perhaps heal the wounds, if he gave in to the leverage that was being applied to him.


c)  The next attempt at leverage was the introduction of "nuisance grievances". These were a series of totally false, even fictitious, complaints by the Circuit Steward in Bexhill, John Troughton. After three such grievances were dealt with by Peter Timms, a fourth from Troughton  revealed the true intent of all of them. Peter Timms could only settle these grievances if he stopped the supposed the campaign launched by his supporters.


d) When, in answer to the fourth nuisance grievance,  Rev Timms again  pointed out that the publicity of which the Connexion was complaining was instigated by a friend of his and that he himself was contributing nothing to that campaign, he was made the subject of  disciplinary proceedings.


He was instructed not to contact the friend who was publicising his case. In short, it was “Do not talk to him, but shut him up or get out”


At this point Peter Timms gave in to the leverage. He actually asked his friend to cease the campaign. He was in tears when he did so. However, the friend was not subject to the leverage being employed by the Connexion  and flatly refused.  He pointed out that this website is leverage against the Connexion - to balance out the leverage the Connexion had employed against Peter Timms.  It was a question of "fighting fire with fire". It was clear that the Connexion appreciated this - and knew the way out: that was to stop the leverage against Rev Timms and conduct matters in a proper manner. He added that this was all a part of the negotiation that was going on. The Connexion was "playing poker" with him in the hope that he would blink first and "fold".


However, there was a further, and final,  stage.


e) The disciplinary panel then delayed its proceedings and its final report. The proceedings began in 2019 and were still in progress in early 2021. This meant that Rev Timms was effectively gagged, for when he agreed to deal with the disciplinary proceedings he came under SO 1104 (7), the confidentiality clause. This meant that, if he protested in any way outside the confidentiality of the hearing, he could be found guilty of a breach of Standing Orders. If, however, he protested to the disciplinary panel about the delay, they could simply ignore his protest.


This was actually the final leverage, for the only way out was for Rev Timms to give in to everything – accept the false confession, sign it and say nothing to anyone about the terrible tactics which had been used against him.

The potential adverse loss is now total expulsion  from the Methodist Church. This is the ultimate negative leverage that might be used against  Rev Peter Timms. The Connexion wants total surrender - Rev Timms must drop all his protests, accept the false confession and the adverse report - and end the leverage that his supporters have created for him. He must disappear into a sea of shame.

There have been a few "unofficial secret talks" on how the negotiation might come to an end - with all leverage, on both sides, being dropped.  The demand of Rev Timms supporters is that the matter must go back to a point before the false confession was issued  - in accordance with SO 1100 3(vii):

"There should be a means of correcting any errors which may be made"

rather than the clause that follows it (viii):

"There should be a means of ensuring compliance with any decision"

- for this second clause invites negative leverage.

Rev Timms is happy to start again - but this time it would need to be in accordance with standing orders, not by using negative leverage. The adverse report issued in 2017 by the complaints panel should be set aside and the suspension lifted. This website could then be taken down. After that - if anyone cares to do so -   the dispute over the Circuit meeting of 2014 should be settled in accordance with the standing orders.

Readers might be surprised to learn that Rev Timms has not complained about the coercive negative leverage used against him.  Instead, he has concentrated on upholding the central doctrines of the Methodist Church.