The Devious Trap


In this article, Peter Hill examines in detail the document which has come to be known as “the false confession” in the case of Peter Timms.

Peter Timms has been removed from the Connexion because of his objections to this document.




An unusual email has arrived at the Church Scrutiny office.


It may be the first time that any senior person in the Methodist Church has attempted to explain away the document that Mr. Chris Kitchin sent to Peter Timms in 2016 that caused all the fuss – ending in Peter Timms being removed from the Connexion.


The email addresses the supposed false confession directly. It reads:



"This does not look like a forced admission of wrong-doing to me but a request that he acknowledges that any material sent him in his capacity ( I assume) as complainant shall be treated in confidence and not circulated more widely. It is said that the author had information that previous documents had not been treated in confidence and a failure to recognise duties of confidentiality meant that future documents would no longer be shared.

I see no reason why requiring an acknowledgement of confidentiality undermines unfairness. This is not a whistle-blower case where the subject makes a protected disclosure that cannot be the subject of domestic disciplinary measures.”



Is it this kind of thinking that has led Gareth Powell, Jonathan Hustler, Graham Danbury, Donna Ely, John Hellyer, John Troughton Louise Wilkins and most of the Methodist Executive  to support Chris Kitchin - the man who composed and sent this document?


Until this email arrived in the office, it seemed that no one in the Methodist Church cared to attempt to offer an explanation for the controversial document. The Secretary to Conference, Gareth Powell  had the subject of the false confession  taken off the agenda at the last moment when he called a peace meeting with Peter Timms. At another peace meeting, District Chair John Hellyer  said he was not prepared to talk about the document. He refused to read it and seemed frightened to even touch it.  Both Gareth Powell and John Hellyer appear to be ashamed of it.


Perhaps only now that Peter Timms has been removed from the Connexion does anyone in the Church dare to offer an explanation for this extraordinary document. And that may be why this apparent explanation has been sent to this office. They may feel safe in the thought that Peter Timms' life is so ruined by the argument about this document that he will not reply. 

However, a close examination of the document suggests that it would be easy for Peter Timms to respond,  if he cared to do so. Here is a line by line critique of the document that ruined his life. The original document can be seen elsewhere on this website.


Please read it - for it was sent on behalf of the Methodist Church and thus  in your name.



 A paragraph-by-paragraph critique of this key document.


1.   “I am the respondent in a complaint made against me”.


This is the first misleading line in the document. It is completely fallacious - there was no formal complaint made against Peter Timms. He was not a respondent as the document states. 


On the contrary, Peter Timms was the complainant who had raised three formal complaints against ministers in his district - because he believed that favouritism had been shown in a particular stationing and the wrong procedure had been used in order to stifle his objections and push the appointment through quickly.


This line, which stated that he was the respondent, was  the very first thing that was  communicated to Peter Timms by  Chris Kitchin, the leader of the connexional complaints team.  It was not an auspicious start. Perhaps significantly, his name did not appear anywhere on the document.


Further, it was only when Peter Timms received this document, with the accompanying letter, that he learned that his complaints were at last being actively taken up in the connexional complaints process.


The effect of this paragraph was to completely confuse the issue.

Peter Timms was bewildered by it. The document came from Methodist Church House. Any complaint against him would initially have gone to his local complaints officer. He had heard nothing about a complaint about breach of confidentiality from the local complaints officer. Yet that is the only way in which such complaints can be raised.


His initial reaction to this was that Methodist Church had confused two separate complaints.  He thought that someone else in the Church had had a formal complaint raised  against him and the documents had been handed to Chris Kitchin, along with Peter Timms’ address. In short, it was all a mistake.

This mistake caused great delay - for which Chris Kitchin blamed Peter Timms.



2. “I understand that the Connexional Complaints Team has reviewed the evidence it holds and has determined, in accordance with Standing Order 1157, that there have been several breaches of confidentiality by me.”

This again was confusing. The wrong standing order was quoted. it is SO 1104 (7) that determines whether or not there has been a breach of confidence.  SO 1157 determines the consequences of such a breach.


It was a minor point - but it clearly demonstrated that the writer did not have the grasp of standing orders that he perhaps should have had. Significantly, it was a lay person who had sent the document, not a minister. A minister would not make such a mistake. It left Peter Timms with little confidence in the opinions expressed elsewhere in the document.


Apart from this error, this is one of the key paragraphs of the document. Peter Timms was well aware of the complaints procedures  as laid down in Standing Orders. He knew that there needed to be an initial investigation by the leader of the team into whether the complaint might be dealt with in some other manner, perhaps by another office. Another consideration would be whether or not this was a trivial complaint and could be dealt with as such. There was also the question of reconciliation to consider.

None of these actions were mentioned, it seemed that there had been no  initial investigation at all.

It seemed that this again was a mistake by the writer.

None of the standing orders about the complaints procedures suggested that the leader of the team could investigate beyond such initial steps.  Yet, the complaints panel leader, Chris Kitchin, apparently, had done so.


Most importantly, when the leader of the complaints panel made such initial steps in the process, he was supposed to contact both the respondent – and the complainant.


None of this had happened – and yet the document stated that


the Connexional Complaints Team has reviewed the evidence it holds and has determined,”


Peter Timms had not even been told the names of the other two members of the complaints panel. Yet they had apparently met - and judged him on some unknown charge!


Once again his initial reaction to this was that it must surely concern someone else – the afore-mentioned “respondent”.


But what if it was genuinely meant for him?  Peter Timms considered the procedures of the complaints system.  If  the “Connexional Complaints Team”  had already met and considered evidence, they must first have collected such evidence.

That must have taken weeks – so surely, since he had only just been told that the process was beginning,  there had not been sufficient time in which to take such action?.


And surely, in this period, the connexional complaints panel  would have put the accusation to Peter Timms himself for his explanation? That had not happened. Yet, according to the standing orders,  it should have happened.


This was yet another reason to believe that the document was a part of a different case and meant for someone else.


The next paragraph became more serious – yet once again suggested that it was aimed at someone else.



 3. “I acknowledge that I was told in writing and orally that any breach of confidentiality could result in disciplinary action being brought against me.”


On one reading, this was somewhat innocuous. There are not many ministers in the Methodist Church who have not been told in writing – and possibly orally – that such is the case. The rules on confidentiality are  contained in SO 1104 – particularly clause 7.


So why was this reminder needed at all?  Was the real respondent perhaps  someone who was not a minister and not aware of the detail of standing orders?

The next paragraph was similarly strange – because,  again,  it stated something which was common knowledge to all Methodist ministers:


4 “I am familiar with the Constitutional Practice and Discipline of the Methodist Church with particular reference to Part II which deals with complaints and Discipline.”


This was somewhat  pedantic.  After all, which Methodist minister is not familiar with the Constitutional Practice and Discipline of the Methodist Church? It is required reading for all who are engaged in pastoral work.


This sentence seemed so superfluous, that Peter Timms thought that there had to be some reason why the writer had inserted such trivial points. Chris Kitchin, the panel leader, appeared to be laying down the groundwork for something.


That became clear in paragraph 5.


And it is here where the great controversy begins - for it was Peter Timms' objections to this next paragraph that led -  after some six years of argument - to him being removed from the ministry.




 5 “I accept that if I fail to sign this undertaking or refuse to do so and return it by 14 October 2016 I will lose the opportunity to receive further documents and information relating to the complaint.”


This is the paragraph that has has so damaged the reputation of the Methodist Church.


It is the paragraph that the Secretary to Conference Gareth Powell wished had not been written. It is the paragraph which District Chair John Hellyer was scared to touch, never mind read. It is the paragraph which some senior members of the Law and Polity Committee, among others,  have labelled “ a mistake”.


This also is the paragraph which has ruined the life and career of one of the Church’s most devoted ministers – 92 year old Peter Timms. It has cast a shadow of doubt over the competency of the executives of the Methodist Church who have dealt with the matter. It has even cast a stain on the reputation of the Methodist Church.


In fact the wording of this paragraph was a trap – and a fairly disingenuous one at that. It was a devious attempt to persuade Peter Timms to agree to both a true statement and to a false statement at one time - with one signature!


Let us be clear about this.

Peter Timms was quite willing to sign an undertaking to abide by SO 1104 (7). However,  if he signed this particular document, he was also signing that he agreed that he had already committed a breach of that same rule – yet he knew nothing about any such breach. The reader will recall that paragraph 2 of the document contained the words:

" I understand that ..... there have been several breaches of confidentiality by me.”


He was being asked to agree that he had already breached confidentiality. That would inevitably lead to restrictions on how he could present his complaint. It might even kill his complaint before he even began his arguments.

The document was a trap


He was ejected from the Ministry before he was too smart to fall into it.

In spite of all the pedantic bland repetition of standing orders in earlier paragraphs,  this was a false confession that he, the complainant,  was being asked to sign.  Worse, it demanded an acceptance of guilt to having committed a misdemeanour of he knew nothing – and which had certainly not gone through the proper procedures of the complaints system.


Since Peter Timms needed disclosure of certain,  hitherto withheld,  documents to finalise his formal complaints, and since this particular document contained the threat of a deadline, he thought it wise to query the document immediately and consider what was behind it.


For the next two months (and well beyond the arbitrary deadline) Peter Timms received demands from Chris Kitchin that he sign the document. Meanwhile all cooperation  regarding his complaints was withheld. Indeed, the panel never offered him any cooperation and further restrictions were even imposed upon him. He never got the documents  he had requested. He never got the witnesses he wished to call.


Over the next couple of weeks, Peter Timms realised that the demand for his signature was serious. There had been no mistake, the document was intended for him.


He wondered how such a captious, threatening, document might have come to be written. It seemed to him to be completely contrary to the central doctrines and ethics of the Methodist Church.


In fact, as all true Methodists, Peter Timms lived by the words of John Wesley. He believed, as did Wesley,  in fundamental rights that are universal in their application. He was happy to abide by the standing orders, but he nevertheless argued, as  Wesley had in "Thoughts on Slavery", that:

"Notwithstanding ten thousand laws, right is right and wrong is wrong. There must remain an essential difference between justice and injustice, cruelty and mercy."


Of course, he wondered if, after all his years as a minister, he had somehow misinterpreted the standing orders on procedure.

What is termed the “initial stage” (or ‘initial steps’)  of a formal connexional complaint inquiry is covered in Standing Order 1123. It was introduced partly to avoid wasting valuable Church time in considering ill-researched, trivial,  or facetious complaints. It sorts the wheat from the chaff.

There are  certain limitations to actions in the initial stage. The complaint must  be important to the Church. So the leader of a complaints panel must determine that the case is not a trivial one.

SO 1123 (7ii) states that a complaint may be summarily dismissed if:

the matters complained of are so trivial that further steps would be inappropriate

Of course, Peter Timms did not consider his complaints were trivial. At the heart of his complaint was an allegation that favouritism had been shown in a particular stationing.  He considered that favouritism usually led to disillusionment in the system and bringing  the Church into disrepute.

However, the three ministers he complained about certainly did consider his complaints to be trivial. They had refused to even enter into reconciliation talks with him about them.

If the respondents considered the complaints to be trivial – could they not be asked for their arguments – and the complaints  be dismissed on that ground alone? The panel leader had the right to do that. But, it seemed, he had not done so.


The leader of the complaints panel must also determine in the initial investigation exactly which Standing Order the respondent may have breached. The confession document mentioned SO 1155.


But of course, Peter Timms was not the respondent. And, although he had his presentation of argument prepared, he, the complainant, was never asked to explain the basis of his complaints with regard to the standing orders pertaining to favouritism. Perhaps he should have been asked - for favouritism is a somewhat nebulous term and is not directly addressed in the standing orders.

A further consideration in the "initial steps" is that the panel leader  must also take note of the standing of the person being complained about - with regard to the reputation of the Church. Does that person have any ranking in the Church? The situation to consider was, it seemed from the confession,  that there had been a complaint against Peter Timms. Was his reputation worthy of consideration?


Peter Timms  was a long-serving minister, an O.B.E. – a friend even of Princess Anne. He was the Chair of several important national charitable Trusts. This aspect of the initial stage  does not appear to have been considered at all by the leader of the complaints panel.


And yet the panel had done a lot of work. The false confession stated explicitly “the Connexional Team has reviewed the evidence.”  In spite of all this work, they had not considered the standing and intellectual powers of the complainant. This was a bad mistake.


"Reviewing the evidence"  must have taken up several weeks of work -  yet Peter Timms had heard nothing of it. The normal legal term for such a secretive judicial practice is “star chamber” – a relic of medieval judicial history.


In general, what had actually occurred was well beyond the extent of the investigative powers allowed in the “initial steps”.  S.O. 1123 (12)  lays down those limits:


In taking the initial steps provided for by this Standing Order, the complaints team must not come to any conclusion on the facts or merits of the complaint except to the extent necessary to reach the decisions required.”


The complaints team had not even discussed the facts and merits of Peter Timms’ complaints.  Instead they had come to a conclusion on the facts and merit of some unknown secret evidence. And Peter Timms  was being asked to agree to his guilt in this. For him to do so would effectively kill his formal complaints about favouritism.


This secretive extension, or re-interpretation, of the initial stage seemed like a breach of SO 1123 (12) to Peter Timms.


And what about this supposed “breach of confidentiality” mentioned in the false confession? Was that perhaps “trivial”? Had Chris Kitchin even considered dismissing it as a complaint against Peter Timms?


When Peter Timms  later learned of the evidence behind this  alleged breach of confidentiality, he wrote a paper on why this complaint against him was essentially trivial. But by then, it was too late to stop the complaints panel. He had already been found guilty and punished.




The threatening style of the document as a whole is best exemplified in the final paragraph.

As with earlier paragraphs, the writer merely repeats standing orders. The wording, however,  is unusual


6. “I therefore agree to provide this written acknowledgement that all documents and information already received or hereafter received in connection with this complaint or other complaints or charge are confidential and I give this undertaking to comply with standing order 1104 (7) at all times. I acknowledge that if I breach this undertaking disciplinary action will be taken against me.”


The legal style of language of this paragraph might seem to be quite overbearing. Some may find it intimidating – and, some might say bullying.


 “I therefore agree” is reminiscent of a legally-binding document from an earlier period in our legal history, as does  “I give this undertaking”. In plain language they mean  simply  “I agree”.


The paragraph  also uses captious open-ended phrases, reminiscent of catch-all  phrases used in legal documents such as contracts.

Such  open-ended terms as  “hereafter received” ? and  “other charges”  - actually allow the leader of the panel the ability to fill  in the terms after the document is signed.


Peter Timms was being asked to sign a blank cheque.


Ultimately this legalese is used to present the threat  in the paragraph:

disciplinary action will be taken against me”.

One can only wonder why,  when the point had already been made several times, the writer considered  it right to insert  this line. It is a terrible threat, for “Disciplinary action” in the Methodist Church is conducted in the complaints system by an entirely separate set of procedures and by an entirely different panel. It deals with really serious breaches. A minister can be removed from the Connexion after disciplinary action is taken against him.

In the Timms case, a minister was, indeed, removed from the Ministry.

Is this really the manner in which one Methodist speaks to another?


The reader will recall that the letter sent to the Church Scrutiny office stated:


This does not look like a forced admission of wrong-doing to me but a request that he acknowledges that any material sent him in his capacity ( I assume) as complainant shall be treated in confidence and not circulated more widely.”

“I see no reason why requiring an acknowledgement of confidentiality undermines unfairness.”


There are six paragraphs in the false confession document.   The first and the second are merely confusing – in that they appear to be concerning someone else, not Peter Timms. The second also shows that there has already been pre-judgment of an issue of which Peter Timms knows nothing. The next two paragraphs are similar in that they simply repeat, superfluously, what is in the Standing Orders. These two paragraphs together  lay out the possible consequences if the recipient does not sign the document.

 The key paragraph 5 builds on the groundwork of paragraphs 3 and 4.

This paragraph 5 contains the trap which the writer has been leading up to. It requires the recipient to sign the document  - admitting guilt to having breached confidentiality. It introduces the pressure of a deadline. The threat to refuse cooperation is repeated.

That this should be all perfectly normal and routine in the complaints procedure is suggested by the boxes at the bottom of the document where the signature is to be placed.

 Look for yourself - does it not look like some kind of official document?

The final paragraph – 6 – is repetition of most of the above. It is framed however in legalised language with the clear threat that should the recipient not sign the document, unspecified disciplinary action will be taken against him. This is subtle coercion.


It must be pointed out that if a prior breach of confidentiality were proved, it  could allow the complaints panel to refuse all cooperation and disclosure to Peter Timms for the whole of the complaints procedure. If he signed the document, that may well have been the consequence. Some might think that it was the intent of the entire document.


Peter Timms  was also being asked to accept that the procedure being used against him was in itself within the rules – including the intimidating language and the threats of punishment. That meant that he would be accepting that the idiosyncratic interpretation of the standing orders by the leader of the panel was perfectly in order.


This is simply duplicitous and captious. Such practices do not appear anywhere in the standing orders of the Methodist Church.

Since the document not only breached standing orders, but actually laid a trap for the poor recipient to fall into, Peter Timms could not accept it. It was captious, calculated and deliberately deceptive.

 Further, if he accepted this procedure there would be  no possibility of appeal if, or when, the panel decided against him. And this document demonstrated that he definitely needed an appeal system.

So, decide for yourself - was the document perfectly in order and within the parameters of the complaints system? Or  was it a deliberate trap to ensnare an unsuspecting complainant?

To return to the recent letter that was sent to this office -  

Was it, as Peter Timms would claim,  a “forced admission of wrong-doing -  or was it merely “ a request that he acknowledges that any material sent him …..shall be treated in confidence.”

Perhaps the best proof of the intent behind the document can be assessed by later events. On October 11th 2016 – a month or so after Peter Timms first saw the document – he sent a letter to Chris Kitchin in which he wrote:


I am happy to affirm here that I will, of course, comply with the restrictions of S.O. 1104. This does not require my signing a clause of confidentiality.”


This did not satisfy Mr Kitchin, who continued for a further month to demand that Peter Timms should sign the document. An affirmation that any material sent to him would be treated in confidence was clearly not the issue. Abiding by SO 1104 was not enough - he had to admit guilt.

By continuing his demands for a signature to the captious document, Mr. Kitchin demonstrated his true intent. He wanted a signed confession in order to refuse cooperation and thus damn Peter Timms.



There is a larger issue in this affair - one which may explain why Peter Timms has been thrown out of the ministry.

Almost every member of the executive that works in Methodist Church House has dealt with this document at one time or another. None of them has ever admitted that it was a trap – a captious  attempt to force an  admission of wrong-doing. One can only ask why.


Why has the leader of the complaints panel, Mr. Chris Kitchin, been so protected when he blatantly breached the standing orders that require all in the Methodist Church to act “with justice, openness and honesty, and ... the need for each of us to accept responsibility for our own acts.” (SO 1100)

This affair must involve something big for such a cover-up to be supported by so many important people. Something more important than the fate of a ninety two year old minister must be persuading them that they should support such a devious policy of entrapment.

The only clue we might have as to what that larger scandal might be is what little is known about the Hailsham Incident.




If you are shocked by the content of this article, please email

Rev Jonathan Hustler at:



for a contrary view.