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THE CULTURE OF THE

GREY GHOSTS IN THE STAR CHAMBER

 

 

THE JIMMY SAVILE INQUIRY

 

In October 2022 the final report on the Jimmy Savile inquiry  (officially the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex abuse, or IICSA) was published. The Methodist Church was identified as an “example of good child protection practice” in a number of areas, including safer recruitment and internal assurance practices.

Considering that the Church of England and the Catholic Church were severely criticised by IICSA, this was a surprise. After all, Jane Stacey’s review in 2015 had uncovered 1885 cases of people being abused in the Methodist Church.

It seemed to some that there might be a hidden hand in the background of the IICSA review, working to make things easier for the Methodist Church.

  

CONFERENCE 2022

There was some gossip about such hidden influences inside the  Church at Conference this year. Although the final IICSA report had not then been published, rumours about it were circulating.

Conference does not normally create a lot of gossip, but this year it was different. This was because Conference 2022 produced a great mystery that has had those Methodists, who are aware of it, puzzling. It was not just the rumours about the Jimmy Savile review -  the question on the lips of those who have read this website was - what on earth happened about Peter Timms?

You will recall that Peter Timms was removed from the ministry in 2020 because he spoke out against what he considered to be inequalities in the complaints and disciplinary procedures. His supposed “crime” was that he had openly complained about this culture  to Church members in  2018 – and this had provoked others to take up his cause, particularly on this website. In 2021 this controversy went to the very top of the Church.

What happened at Conference has raised rumours that a “hidden hand” has also been at work in the Timms case. There was talk of a group nicknamed the “grey men” and of a “star chamber” in the Church hierarchy -  which operated in secret. Timms had become a victim of the grey men.

 

THE STAR CHAMBER

Nowadays, the term “star chamber” is applied to any legal or administrative body with strict, arbitrary rulings and no "due process" rights to those accused. Peter Timms was, apparently,   judged at Conference by a star chamber.

The original “Star Chamber” was an English court, created in the late fifteenth century. It became synonymous with social and political oppression through the arbitrary use and abuse of the power it wielded. The essential element was that all judgments were decided in secret. The accused could not defend himself.

 

THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND.

The Church of England has recently been accused of operating a “Star Chamber”.

In a letter to the Charity Commission, a group of some 70 eminent members of the Church of England, including several members of the House of Lords and the Bar Association, stated:

“Much of the discontent centres upon the secretive world of the National Safeguarding Team (NST) core groups, which act in ways reminiscent of the Star Chamber, synonymous with the selective use of arbitrary unaccountable power, concentrating effective control of process in the hands of a very few, who exercise wide-ranging discretions afforded by guidelines devised by Church House administrators and issued by the House of Bishops. Such discretion includes ignoring those very guidelines

 

The Archbishop of Canterbury rejected such damning claims. However, within a few months of the letter becoming public,  several changes in the internal systems of the Church of England were quietly  introduced.

Methodists who witnessed events at Conference this year are now wondering if some similar damning accusation might be made against their Church.

JANE STACEY AND METHODIST CULTURE

The suggestion that there is something wrong with the culture inside the Methodist Church is not new. In 2015, Jane Stacey noted:

The number of ministers who have been perpetrators of abuse of power is a strong indicator that the culture does not match in practice what it claims in words.”

The Stacey review  revealed several suspicious anomalies brought about by this growing culture of “Do as we say, not as we do”.

In particular, the review team stated that of the 223 accusations against ministers, 138 of them  - more than half – were considered by the Methodist Church as “private matters” and settled using  internal procedures.

This means that accusations of  criminal activity, involving some 400 individuals in the Church, were deemed as “private”.  

Many questioned how criminal activity, such as sexual abuse,  could possibly ever remain “private” in a Church which has the word “openness” in the over-arching principles to its Standing Orders.

How many members of the Methodist Church suffered the indignity of having their complaints brushed aside - because the sexual abuse they said they had suffered was a “private” matter in the Church?

It seems that some people in the Methodist Church – the type of persons nicknamed in the Church of England as the “grey ghosts” -   wanted to hide the Methodists Church’s dirty linen from public view.

When the Stacey review into abuse in the Church was published in 2015, some concerned members of the Church claimed that some cases of abuse were simply not covered by the report. There are rumours that more cases have been reported since  the review was written.

It suggests that someone might have sifted through the evidence of about sex abuse in the Church and taken out a few names that were deemed too sensitive for publication.

CLAIMS REFUTED.

The infamous charge that evidence of criminal activity was withheld has been refuted. The official line is that there are no “grey ghosts” holding such secret power inside the Methodist Church.  However, as we know from evidence on this website, members of the Church in the South of England are already aware of one particular cover-up. Recent gossip suggests that a “grey ghost” has now actually destroyed the evidence of that case  - which caused a nasty divorce and drove the woman involved to mental ill-health.

If such destruction of Church records actually happened, and since that case is linked with the Timms case, there is now serious speculation that the same “grey ghost” “fixed” the Peter Timms case at Conference this year.

SPECIAL CONFERENCE INQUIRY

In 2021 the Timms case went to the Methodist Church Council – the governing body of the Church. A special inquiry team of three Council members  was formed to investigate what had happened in Bexhill in 2014.

Seven years had passed since 2014 when this controversy began. It had taken some four years for the affair to reach the Council - since a Church Steward, new to the District, John Troughton, had made a series of complaints against Rev Peter Timms.  John Troughton’s original charges led to disciplinary proceedings which ended with  Peter Timms being stripped of his ministry and his livelihood.

The special Council inquiry team had some difficulties. All the senior members of the Church in the District were new to the area. There was a new District Chair, and a new Superintendent.  They  were only aware of the “official” version of the matter.  The Council inquiry team interviewed Peter Timms, but only via Zoom – and he was now quite frail with his heart problems.

Nevertheless, the three Council members were impressed by him. They had apparently already gained the impression that the atmosphere in Bexhill was very harmful to the Church and even destructive.

They  recommended that Peter Timms should be reinstated as a minister.

The people who had led the attack against Peter Timms in Bexhill were not pleased with the decision. The clear implication of the Council members’ report  was that Peter Timms was not responsible for the atmosphere that festered in Bexhill. Indeed, he had valiantly fought against it. It had caused one church to close and several members to leave. Peter Timms was a victim – in that he had actually suffered a heart attack because of this controversy. The Methodist Care Home where he worked for many years has been put up for sale.

A few elements  of the Council inquiry’s report have since leaked out.  One member of the team, a person of the highest integrity, has been telling friends that the atmosphere in Bexhill  was pernicious. This person had knowledge of  a similar situation some decades ago, but it was nowhere near  as bad as Bexhill. This was a startling opinion and not one that some in the Church wanted.

ENTER THE GREY GHOSTS

So, as Conference began, it seemed that  Peter Timms would be reinstated. The deep wounds that the Church Steward in the District had caused might be healed. Rev Timms had been asked if he would be prepared to forgive and forget and he had agreed to do so.

It is normal practice for recommendations from a special Council inquiry to pass Conference “on the nod”. Not to do so would cast doubt on the competency of the three council members who had complied the report. Indeed, one of the members at Conference telephoned Peter Timms with the good news.

The re-instatement did not take place. A “secret session” was called – the grey ghosts in the Star Chamber held a meeting.

This extraordinary gathering took place when most members at Conference, particularly the Bexhill special inquiry team,  were getting ready to travel  home  - with one eye on the rail strikes.

No one was present at this star chamber who, in any way, might represent Peter Timms. He was not to be heard.

The proceedings were brutal. The decision to reinstate Peter Timms was overturned. The reason for  this was to remain a secret. The grey ghosts simply opposed the reinstatement.

It appalled some of the Council inquiry team who had recommended reinstatement. They had spent many hours of their valuable time on the inquiry. They had tried to be fair, honest and open.  It was a slur on their judgement and an insult to their integrity. They had not been invited to the star chamber "closed session". They were not allowed to defend their recommendation.

The decision in the star chamber had not been taken easily. A member of the inquiry team later heard that there had been arguments – unusual in a secret session. Voices were apparently raised and at one point there was a bang, as if a chair had been overturned.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this is that the Methodist Church is supposed to hold “openness” as one of its guiding principles. In this case however, we can only know the truth about the banishment of Peter Timms from the rumours that are now being spread. Such is the culture of the Methodist Church when the grey ghosts are in power.

Some have looked for an excuse for this outrageous behaviour. The only possible procedure in the standing orders allows a minister, who has been removed from the ministry, to appear in person before the Methodist Council to plead his or her case. It is usually a humiliating process for the minister. The star chamber, however, humiliates the Church. It creates victims out of innocent Methodists.

The procedure for giving the minister a final hearing before the full Council was not followed in this case.  The star chamber did not contain all the Council members;  Peter Timms could not appear before it. His case was not put to his secret judges. And, most importantly, at least three Council members had recommended his re-instatement. But they were ignored. Their opinions were dismissed.

 

NO PROPER PROCEDURE

The grey ghosts appear to have forgotten that there had already been an official Council inquiry into the Timms case. Allowing a minister to plead his or her cause is not necessary when there has been an official Council inquiry with recommendations in favour of the minister.

It is this aspect of the proceedings at Conference  which  has caused some members to question the culture inside the Methodist Church and to call the process a “star chamber”.

 

WHO ARE THE GREY GHOSTS?

So who are the grey ghosts who sit in this “Star Chamber” in the Methodist Church? Where does ultimate power and responsibility lie?

Perhaps one clue concerning the identity of these “grey ghosts”  may lie in certain facts that the Council inquiry team discovered in Bexhill.

At the inquiry team’s initial briefing, a major fact in the case was omitted. The Council members were not  told that Rev Peter Timms’  current complaint was about his treatment at the hands of Mr Chris Kitchin, the lead panel member, during their initial exchanges in the complaints procedures.

They were only told that he had “gone public”, when in fact he had only contacted church members. They were told that he had never sought reconciliation – when in fact he had tried to be reconciled at least a dozen times over his fears about the invidious culture in the Church.

This was particularly ironic - because in 2018, Peter Timms had entered into four hours of reconciliation talks on the very subject of making clear to Methodist members what had been going on. It was based on a complaint by the Church Steward John Troughton. 

An agreement had been drawn up by the Church representative at the talks, and Peter Timms had shaken hands on it.

A month later, the Church Steward, John Troughton,  who had started all the trouble, withdrew his consent to this agreement and complained yet again against his minister. Someone, it seems, had spoken to him. This repeat of Troughton's accusations, it seems, did not go through the proper channels.

Because of this lack of a proper initial briefing, the Council inquiry team did not therefore immediately realise that over the years, this complaint by Peter Timms had grown into  a complaint against the apparently iniquitous and ubiquitous culture inside Methodist Church House.

Peter Timms had seen at first hand, and suffered from, the very same unsavoury culture which Jane Stacey had detected in 2015 when reviewing sex abuse cases.  When the Council inquiry team learned of this, it led them to important discoveries.

DOCTRINE OF RECUSAL

One of the revelations was that a serious mistake was made in Church House when the Deputy Coroner for South Hertfordshire, Graham Danbury, was chosen to lead the disciplinary panel which decided to eject Peter Timms from the ministry.

The special inquiry team discovered that Mr Kitchin and Mr Danbury have been  close colleagues for many years. They worked in adjacent offices in St Albans. They are both members of the Hatfield Road congregation in St Albans – and both have sat together on the Church Council.

This staggering fact had, apparently, been hidden from the Council inquiry team by someone in Methodist Church House.

At least one member of the inquiry team thought that this friendship between judge and accused might be more than simply prejudicial. How could Mr Danbury possibly be asked to pass judgement on his friend? Such a situation should never occur in any tribunal – and yet, it had been done in the Timms case.

This revelation led to a further important discovery. Research revealed that the disciplinary procedures of the Methodist Church contain no element of the ‘doctrine of recusal’. Such a failure in procedure will inevitably lead to misconduct.

On the other hand, it is this very hole in the Standing Orders which allows the grey ghosts to protect themselves. They do as they wish, secure in the knowledge that they may choose their friends as their judges.

This appalling situation was not mentioned in the report by the Council inquiry team. One might understand why.

But how intentional was Graham Danbury’s  failure to recuse himself  because of his friendship with Chris Kitchin? Local gossip in St Albans suggests that some members of the Hatfield Road congregation may have actually noticed that Graham Danbury seemed more than a little perturbed at around the time when this outrageous ‘failure to recuse’  was made public on this website. 

WASTE OF MONEY

Was it just coincidence that these revelations were followed by the expensive legal action against this website? How many thousands of pounds were wasted on that fruitless venture? Church House  could have hardly chosen a more expensive firm of solicitors in this action than Farrers in Lincoln’s Inn, who have acted in the past for the Royal Family. This was a hugely expensive attempt to imprison  the writer of this website.

Was a grey ghost behind this huge expenditure of Church funds? Was it, in fact, not so much an attack on this website as a belated attempt to cover up this huge hole in the standing orders of the Methodist Church? Which supposedly competent lawyer forgot to include the doctrine of recusal in the standing orders?

In addition to that huge legal cost, one might inquire -  what was the cost of the Methodist Council inquiry team which investigated the atmosphere in Bexhill?

It may be that the grey ghosts in the Methodist Council were happy to pay  a huge amount to obtain a report which would confirm their prejudices about Peter Timms. But when the truth about Bexhill  contradicted their  prejudices, they simply threw the report away - because they could do so with impunity.

They did not like the truth that the inquiry had unearthed.

All this is a complete waste of Methodist funds. In the Timms case it seems that the expenditure was designed to protect the reputation of one man – Mr Chris Kitchin in St. Albans. He still refuses to offer any apology for his egregious actions – which some on the Law and Polity Committee now privately admit were a gross mistake in procedure.

No doubt he is comforted in the fact that he has a friend in the grey ghosts who will protect him.

It makes unhappy reading for the ministers currently suffering in the disciplinary processes of the Methodist Church. At least three such cases seem to be going the same way as the Timms case.

STAR CHAMBER AND HUMAN RIGHTS.

Of course, operating a star chamber inside the Methodist Church is completely against the principles of the Human Rights Act – which the Church has committed itself to  “as best practice” in its disciplinary procedures.

It seems that the ridiculous events at Conference this year support Jane Stacey’s view about the damaging nature of the culture within the Church. Like the damning silence on some of the sex abuse cases, the Timms case appears to be,  as Jane Stacey wrote, a: 

“strong indicator that the culture does not match in practice what it claims in words." 

Few would argue with the statement that when innocent victims cannot defend themselves the culture of an organisation is a critical factor in ensuring it is a safe organisation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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