Shame

Author's Note:

This article, along with other articles and films on this website, has been characterised by the Methodist Church as containing

"unfounded factual allegations... they are false, deeply misrepresentative of the true position and rejected in full by the Church and the members of the complaints team... in particular the way in which the complaints procedure was (and is) managed."

 

The reputation of the Methodist Church in public opinion therefore rests on the accuracy of the facts and allegations in this article.

 

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THE MAN WHO SHAMED THE METHODIST CHURCH.

 

 

ABSTRACT

In an inquiry into a dispute in the South East Methodist District, Mr Chris Kitchin, a former magistrate and member of a police authority,  acted in a fashion that produced several instances of prejudicial misconduct.

 

 

INTRODUCTION.

 

No one in Methodist Church House cares to discuss this matter, but a notable name has vanished from the list of people chosen to be members of disciplinary panels.

The name is that of Chris Kitchin, who is the secretary of the Church Council in the Hatfield Road Methodist Church, Saint Albans. There he works under the watchful care of Rev Andrew Prout.

Although this is not a particularly lowly position  in the Church, it does not rival the eminence that Mr. Kitchin enjoyed just a few years ago. Mr Kitchin himself may claim that he has simply retired – he is now 75 years old.  However, there is another version of the story of why he is no longer thought of so highly among senior Methodist circles as he once was. For, just a couple of years ago, Mr Kitchin was a leading voice on the panel for connexional complaints teams. And he made a terrible mistake.

The panel for handling complaints is one of the most influential and powerful groups within the Methodist Church. It comprises some forty members, elected each year by Conference. For a complaint inquiry, three members are chosen from this group. The panel is directly subservient, and therefore often in close contact with, the Law and Polity Committee, which is the most powerful committee within the Church, for it ensures that actions taken by the Church are in accord with the central doctrine of the Church - and therefore compliant with the Methodist Church Act of 1976.

Chris Kitchin has friends on the Law and Polity Committee – in particular one of its most prestigious members - Graham Danbury. Anyone on the panel for connexional complaints teams who is in regular contact with someone on the Law and Polity Committee is a person whose opinions should be carefully listened to when discussing a complaint.

In 2016, Chris Kitchin led the team which considered three complaints by Rev Peter Timms concerning impartiality in the Hastings, Bexhill and Rye circuit.  Kitchin’s  first act was to send Rev Timms a false confession to sign. It prejudged the entire inquiry.

Outside the Church, Chris Kitchin was, at that time,  both a magistrate and a member of the Hertfordshire police advisory board in Hatfield. Most would consider such distinction to be a good enough background to ensure that his judgment could be relied upon. When such a person as Mr Kitchin is also a close friend of a leading member of the Law and Polity Committee, such as Graham Danbury, one might surely rely on his judgement and integrity.

So it was all the more surprising that Mr Kitchin should open an inquiry by issuing a false confession for the complainant to sign.

Chris Kitchin and Graham Danbury both attend the Hatfield Methodist Church in St Albans – and for some years they have been working closely together on the Church Council there. Chris Kitchin is its secretary.

Graham Danbury is a man of great distinction.  Now in his seventy-fifth year and trained as a solicitor, he has been a deputy coroner for Hertfordshire for the past thirty three years.  As such his integrity cannot be doubted.

Graham Danbury is a man so trusted in the Methodist Community that he has been selected as a director of the company which oversees the Methodist Ministers’ Pension Scheme – and the Methodist lay employees' pension trust.  

Could anyone ever imagine that a friend of Graham Danbury could do something such as Chris Kitchin did – demanding that a man sign a confession to a crime of which he knew nothing, and against which he had had no opportunity to defend himself?

Could someone who is both a magistrate and a member of a police advisory board do such a thing?  The executive at Methodist Church House, Rev Alan Bolton, who chose Mr. Kitchin for this role, must surely be forgiven for having made such a disastrous choice.

And when Rev Timms objected to Mr Kitchin’s actions,  surely everyone in the Church hierarchy who heard of his objections must have thought that it must be Rev Timms who had made  a mistake. For a magistrate could not make such a basic unjust error.

 

Many must also have considered that if the leader of the inquiry panel was trusted by Graham Danbury, then there could be no question about his integrity. Anyone trusted by such a distinguished person as Graham Danbury may surely be relied upon.

 

And it is clear that Chris Kitchin was  - and is - trusted by senior executives. In particular, Graham Danbury has known of the Timms affair and the false confession for at least two years. However, he has never expressed any doubts about the rightness of Chris Kitchin’s actions.

 

Moreover, their minister in St Albans , Rev Andrew Prout, has also long known about the Timms controversy. He must have wondered whom he should trust on the matter – Rev Timms, a man of distinction in his own right,  or the two distinguished members of his church council. He has clearly trusted the judgement of the men he knew well, Chris Kitchin and Graham Danbury.

 

Discussion about trust in this affair always comes down to one simple point. A member of the Law and Polity Committee, such as Graham Danbury, a man of the highest integrity, would surely object if anything was wrong in Kitchin’s actions, no matter whether he was a personal friend or not.

 

That is why the Timms affair is now in its fourth year of argument. Surely all the allegations cannot be true - or can they?

 

The problem with trusting someone against all evidence of a misdemeanour is that those who trust become in some way complicit in the original mistake.  Have Rev Andrew Prout and Graham Danbury simply not studied the evidence? Friendship can sometimes make a man blind to the truth.

 

Graham Danbury in particular must be wary of refusing to consider evidence. Such allegations are common against coroners, particularly in cases of accidental death. That is because coroners must apply strict rules of evidence in reaching their conclusions. Graham Danbury knows this well - he has been a coroner for some thirty years.

If the reputation of a man such as Chris Kitchin leads people to trust his judgement  - in spite of apparently damning allegations against him of prejudicial misconduct inside the Methodist Church -  then we must look to his reputation.

 

Chris Kitchin’s reputation is not solely, though mainly, founded on  his experience as a magistrate and serving on a police advisory board. But is any man, who acts as Chris Kitchin has within the Methodist Church, worthy of being a magistrate? Does Chris Kitchin actually  have a false reputation? Can he really be guilty of prejudicial misconduct? It is perhaps the worst charge that any magistrate might be accused of.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE ACCUSATIONS.

 

MR. KITCHIN’S ACTIONS IN

THE TIMMS AFFAIR - 

GENERAL

 

The accusations concerning the actions taken by Mr Kitchin fall into two main sections.

1. He began his inquiry by issuing Rev Timms with a self-incriminating document to sign – a confession to a breach of standing orders.

He did not specify details of the charges of which Rev Timms  had been found guilty. There had been no investigation into such charges, no formal judgement on them made. Indeed, Rev Timms knew nothing of any such allegation until he received the false confession with the request that he sign it. This document, the very first document in the inquiry into the complaints made by Rev Timms,  is worth reading in its entirety.  

Issuing this document was neither just, fair, nor open. These qualities are required not only by the Methodist Church, but also required of our magistrates. But would any magistrate ever think of sending such a document to any litigant in person in his court? That is effectively what Mr. Kitchin did in the connexional inquiry.

Sending the document to Rev Timms was prejudicial misconduct by the leader of the connexional panel of inquiry into the complaints that had been lodged by Rev. Timms.

2. Worse occurred later. When Rev Timms refused to sign the false confession, Mr Kitchin proceeded to try to persuade - and even trick -  Rev Timms in an attempt to coerce him into signing it. His actions eventually led to serious injustice and damage, both psychological and financial, to Rev Timms and his family.  

Coercion of any person dealt with by a leader of a connexional panel of inquiry  in the Methodist Church is prejudicial misconduct.

 

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BACKGROUND.

In making assessment of this affair, one of the problems lies with the standing orders of the Methodist Church.

There is no formal investigative process involved in choosing members of panels of inquiry into complaints within the Methodist Church.  Moral integrity and strength of character are essentials – but such assessments must rest on trust and the reputation of a candidate outside the Church as well as within the Church.  The Church tries to involve persons of differing professional backgrounds and experience  – that is why Mr. Kitchin, being a magistrate, was an appropriate choice for dealing with the Timms complaints.

He was also, of course, well known to Graham Danbury who is undoubtedly a trustworthy person and a man of the highest integrity.

However, Mr. Kitchin’s actions in dealing with Rev Peter Timms within the complaints process reflected little of his experience as a magistrate in the Hatfield courtroom. There are a number of points where the two areas of activity and responsibility diverged.

(a) Magistrates must have a basic knowledge of the judicial system. It is a key element of their training.

Mr. Kitchin appeared to demonstrate basic ignorance of parts of the system of justice and of the Standing Orders of the Methodist Church which dealt with complaints. Worse, he passed his views on to his two colleagues on the panel considering the Timms case, who were ministers and not lawyers.  They naturally trusted his erroneous information.  On the key element required of a Connexional panel leader in the Methodist Church, Mr. Kitchin had not done his homework.

(b) Magistrates generally do not accept uncorroborated evidence without question. In the Timms case, Mr Kitchin accepted, without question,  the worst kind of evidence - uncorroborated evidence which was verbal, undocumented  – and at second hand or even third hand. The standards of his courtroom were not followed in his consideration of the Timms complaints. He judged on the evidence of gossip.

(c)  Magistrates must be honest and open in giving their reasons for their judgements. Mr Kitchin hid the truth from the Church authorities concerning some of his actions during the inquiry in order. It would seem that he did so to justify those actions. Not only is this not the standard required of magistrates,  but it is also contrary to the standards required by the Methodist Church.

(d)  Magistrates must be even-handed in their handling of a case before them. Mr Kitchin failed to consider evidence favourable to Rev Timms. This is most clearly demonstrated by his insistence on substituting his own view of the health of Rev Timms while refusing to contact Rev Timms’ own doctor.

(e) A Magistrate must always ensure that the human and legal rights of an accused person are upheld. He must only consider the evidence in the papers  placed before him – and the evidence of witnesses that appear before him.  He may not consider and introduce evidence from any other, earlier,  case that might prejudice the case before him.  

Mr Kitchin did not act in accordance with this in the Timms case. He introduced completely extraneous evidence into the case of Rev Timms. He accused Rev Timms of a misdemeanour, when the case before the panel was based on a complaint by Rev Timms concerning misdemeanours by three ministers in his district. The complainant became the accused.

(f) In fact,  Mr Kitchin made a basic error in the paperwork at the very beginning of the inquiry into Rev Timms’ complaints. He got the two sides in the dispute mixed up.

Rev Timms was the complainant, yet Mr. Kitchin labelled him the "respondent”. In trial terms this is the equivalent of accusing the prosecution of crimes whilst ignoring the charges against the accused,

Such is not the action of a competent magistrate.

 

(g)  Mr. Kitchin made mistakes which a magistrate should not make. Perhaps his worst mistake however, was to determine the rules by which the inquiry was to proceed.

As mentioned above, the Methodist Church has no formal process for dealing with complaints such as those submitted by Rev Timms. One might argue therefore that to compare actions by a connexional complaints team with actions in a magistrates court  has no proper basis.

However, Mr. Kitchin, as leader of the panel, made a basic error which changed the entire way in which the inquiry should have been conducted. He declared that he had chosen to use the judicial system of the “balance of probabilities”. He stated this on three separate occasions, even including the claim in the final report.

To make a comparison between his behaviour in conducting the inquiry and the proper behaviour of a magistrate is therefore valid. The rules of procedure of this particular connexional complaint hearing were set by Mr. Kitchin. He determined that the case was to be judged in the manner in which many a case in the magistrates’ courts is judged.

Mr. Kitchin’s reputation inside the Methodist Church was based in part on his reputation as a magistrate. No doubt his relationship with one of the most experienced coroners in the land - Graham Danbury - enhanced that reputation. However, Mr. Kitchin either did not understand the implications of his choice of judicial system – or he flagrantly broke the rules of that system.

It must be questioned whether his reputation of being a reliable leader of a connexional panel of inquiry,  because he was a magistrate, was deserved.

 

 

PREJUDICIAL MISCONDUCT

 

The actions taken by Chris Kitchin in dealing with Rev Timms were such that, if he had taken the same actions against someone whilst working as a  magistrate, he would, almost certainly,   have been accused of  prejudicial misconduct. There would be calls for him to recuse himself -  and for the case be tried again with a different magistrate.

Mr. Kitchin created the possibility of the same happening inside the Methodist Church by claiming that his panel was operating under the system of the “balance of probabilities”. It was a system that, it seems, he did not understand, even though he appeared to claim that he  knew  what it entailed.

 

At the very least, because of his friendship with Herefordshire deputy coroner, Graham Danbury,  Mr Kitchin should have understood the system of the “balance of probabilities”. Coroners use it in many of the cases which come before them.

 

Furthermore, Mr. Kitchin’s experience and training as a magistrate should have given him knowledge of this system. Although magistrates generally need to operate in an adversarial system, where the burden of proof lies with the prosecution, they also often need to operate with the system of the balance of probabilities.

 

In the light of this, one must accept that when Mr Kitchin declared that  the connexional panel would judge the Timms case on the “balance of probabilities”, then he should have known what that decision meant - both for him and for Rev Timms.

 

Judging a complaints case inside the Methodist Church does not normally require such knowledge or experience of systems of justice. As mentioned above,  there is no requirement of any system of determining a judicial decision in dealing with a complaint. It was Mr Kitchin who took the decision to be specific.

 

There is only one instance in the standing orders where the Church specifies a judicial system.  The Methodist Church requires use of the “balance of probabilities” in  disciplinary cases. However, the Timms case was not a disciplinary case. 

 

Nonetheless, if the leader of a Connexional panel of inquiry declares that he and his panel will work with a particular system of judgment, they may do so. However, of course, they must then work within the rules of that system.

 

Mr. Kitchin’s choice of the system of “balance of probabilities” was very clear in the communication he had with Rev Timms. 

 

In his email to Rev Timms of 15th October 2016 Mr. Kitchin stated:

 

“ The process is not an adversarial one as you would expect in a court of law. It is not the place for speeches. It is a gathering of evidence on which the complaints team makes a judgement based on the balance of probability.”

 

In the panel’s final report, he wrote:

 line 596

“In accordance with Methodist Church practice the burden of proof in this investigation was judged on the “balance of probabilities”.

 

The way in which Mr. Kitchin contrasts the “balance of probabilities” system of judgment with the “adversarial system” in the above extract from his email to Rev Timms, leaves no doubt that he was referring to the system known in our courts as “the balance of probabilities”. This system of delivering finality or justice in a case has its rules. Evidence on the one side of an argument is weighed, or “balanced”,  against evidence from the other side of it.

 

Perhaps the most clear example of Mr. Kitchin’s ignorance of the rules of the system is the matter of the false confession. There was no balance of probabilities involved in this -  indeed, such was impossible, for there was nothing in the case against which to balance the allegation against Rev Timms. This is because Rev Timms knew nothing of the allegation prior to Mr. Kitchin's allegation  and could not, therefore respond or defend himself.

The  "balance of probabilities" cannot work if the person judging the balance does not seek anything to balance the accusation against. 

The Methodist Church’s Standing Orders give no guidance on how the system of the “balance of probabilities” should be used. No such guidance is necessary – because, in the only cases in which it is obligatory, the Church’s disciplinary proceedings, lawyers present the arguments  - and, because of their legal training, they know the rules of the system.

 

In the Timms case, the manner of the use of the system of the balance of probabilities was determined solely by Mr Kitchin. To say the least, his interpretation was idiosyncratic. No trial judge would be allowed to break the rules of this system as Mr. Kitchin did.

 

This confusion, which Mr. Kitchin created, is at the heart of the Timms case.

 

Outside the church, in civil law, the rules of the system are well known – and that is how the ordinary person, including Rev Timms, has a right to interpret the term “balance of probabilities”. It is the only possible definition of the term. It is a definition established in law.  The Methodist Church cannot have its own definition of how the system should be operated. If it were to try to do so, it would need to inform the person on trial very carefully. That was no done in this case.

 

Rev Timms was, of course, very familiar with the system of the “balance of probabilities”. As a leading Prison Governor, he had needed to use such a system when there was any dispute or other such incident in a prison where he was in charge.

 

In most cases, the adversarial system of reaching a judgement is simply not possible in a prison, for it gives too many rights to the prisoners involved and is thus open to exploitation. Serious crimes inside a prison by a prisoner will, of course involve the police. But less serious crimes or disputes, that do not merit police involvement, come before the Governor. The Governor's  problem may well be that the participants, the accused and the accuser, will almost certainly be habitual liars, for such is the nature of most prisoners in our gaols. The evidence on both sides must  therefore be weighed very carefully.

 

In such hearings, the only right that an accused prisoner has is the right to have his side of the argument investigated thoroughly – and the evidence weighed against that of the accuser. The rules of the “balance of probabilities” apply – and most prisoners have legal representatives who will ensure that the rules of the system are followed.

 

As a former Prison Governor, Rev Timms had much practical experience of such situations – far more, one might suspect than Mr. Kitchin. As a magistrate, Mr Kitchin would have little experience of dealing with the type of hardened criminal such as those who were in Rev Timms’ care.

 

On the other hand, Mr Kitchin must have used the “balance of probabilities” in his courtroom. Magistrates must sometimes make a decision on how a certain case should be judged and that is one of the options. 

 

So we can be sure that this was not a random decision by Mr Kitchin. He deliberately chose to use that system in the Timms case. He committed himself to the “balance of probabilities” rather than the more flexible process used elsewhere in the Methodist Church.

 

There was an anomaly in this, for the Methodist Church always prefers reconciliation to conflict – and such an aim is contained in the standing orders. When a dispute is to be settled on the “balance of probabilities”, such an element as reconciliation may often play no part in the process. Some would argue that it cannot even play any part at all.

 

One point in this is clear. After Mr Kitchin informed Rev Timms that he was using the system of the balance of probabilities, Rev Timms knew exactly what he should expect, and what he might rely on in the dispute, for the rules on the system of the balance of probabilities are well-established in law.

 

His rights in this were ignored and in doing so, Mr Kitchin committed an act of prejudicial misconduct.

 

It was as if one of the participants in a boxing match  had declared to the other that they  would fight under  the “Queensbury rules” – and then proceeded to fight according to the rules of wrestling or kick-boxing.

 

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THE SYSTEM OF JUDGMENT ON

THE BALANCE OF PROBABILITIES.

 

 

In civil law, when a dispute arises that is to be settled by the system of the “balance of probabilities”, the normal successive stages in the case are:

 

 a)  The plaintiff will deliver a statement of claim setting out the facts on which the plaintiff relies, and the relief sought in consequence.

b) The defendant will deliver a defence which admits or denies those facts and sets out any defences, of law or fact, on which the defendant relies.

c) There then  follows mutual discovery of each party’s documents which may be germane to the resolution of the matters at issue.

 

There may also be an exchange of questions in writing by one side to the other which have to be answered on oath or affirmation – and which can be tendered as evidence at the trial by the interrogating party.

 

d) The culmination is a trial.

 

e) At the trial, the plaintiff presents its case. The plaintiff’s counsel examines each of the plaintiff’s witnesses-in-chief.

 

f) The defendant’s counsel cross-examines each such witness, the plaintiff’s counsel has a right to re-examine.

 

g) The plaintiff’s counsel then ‘closes’ the plaintiff’s case, and the defendant’s case commences, the positions being reversed.

 

h) At the conclusion of the evidence the parties’ counsel address the court and the judge either gives a decision ex tempore or, as very often happens, reserves decision and delivers a written judgment at a later date. He or she must carefully balance the evidence, one side against the other.

 

The plaintiff bears the ultimate burden of proof in the proceeding, the standard of proof being on the balance of probabilities. If the plaintiff does not satisfy that burden, if the evidence for the defence weighs more heavily that that of the plaintiff, then  the plaintiff’s case fails.

 

Although some cases may not require all of these elements – depending on how the lawyers involved present their cases - there are several basic elements in it which are completely missing from the way in which Mr Kitchin worked.

 

In particular, Mr. Kitchin paid little or no attention to probity and provenance of evidence - and opportunity of rebuttal. These are three of the essentials in the system.  He further did not appreciate the simple fact that, as more reliable evidence is produced by one side or the other, so the balance of probability will change between the two sides. The balance is essential to the system.

Because of Mr Kitchin’s statement in his abovementioned email of 15th October 2016, Rev Timms expected this procedure to be how the complaint  was to be handled.  He had a right to expect such – for that is the meaning of the words “the system of the balance of probabilities”. There is no other interpretation of the standard of the balance of probabilities. Rev Timms later explained the system in some detail in one of the addenda to his set aside motion, when reacting to Mr. Kitchin's final report.  He used a story of a lion in Regents Park which he seems to have remembered from his basic training as a prison  governor.

 

In fact very little of the structure of the "balance of probabilities" appeared in Mr Kitchin’s conduct of the case. Instead, Mr. Kitchin appears to have adopted aspects of what frequently transpires in a coroner’s court. Since one of his friends is the leading coroners in his county, Graham Danbury, this may not be so surprising.

 

Many cases which come before coroners, particularly deaths,  begin and end with the post mortem report - with, perhaps, a report from the police.  The pathologist or doctor who conducted the post mortem sometimes  explains the cause of a death in such detail that no further evidence is requested by the coroner. The police may supply whatever further evidence might be needed. Experts may be called, but their evidence may sometimes seem to be superfluous or merely supportive of the post mortem.  

 

If the coroner is unsure on the cause of death, he has the “opt-out” of giving a “narrative verdict”. This is a simple exposition of the facts that he has collected in attempting to determine the cause of death -  but without coming to any conclusion.  

 

There was nothing in the procedure in the case of Peter Timms that was remotely similar to a report by a qualified expert. The burden of proof in the case was taken up entirely by Mr. Kitchin.  His actions were more like those of “juge d’instruction” in the French “inquisitorial” system of justice than in any English system of justice.

 

In an inquisitorial system the judge is very active. Mr Kitchin’s played a very active role in this case. Further, in the inquisitorial system, the judge determines which  witnesses may be called and the order in which they are to be heard. This is precisely what Mr. Kitchin determined to do in the case of Rev Timms. In the end he did not call any witnesses to support or substantiate Rev Timm’s case -  but that was largely because Rev Timms would not accept the condition that Mr. Kitchin would choose all his witnesses. Mr Kitchin effectively took away Rev Timms’ right to call witness evidence.

 

The case management in the inquisitorial system depends entirely upon the judge, who fixes the term for the disposal of a case. Mr Kitchin did exactly that in the Timms case – including, without any consultation,  breaking an agreement to hold the final hearing in January 2017 and holding it instead in December 2016, when Rev Timms was ill.

 

None of this is part of the system of the “balance of probabilities” that Mr Kitchin claimed he was using – and which Rev Timms had a right to expect in the case.

 

However, more importantly -  in the French inquisitorial system, the judge is required by law to conduct extensive investigation and examination of all evidence in order to get to the truth of the matter. This requirement means that the acquisition and disclosure of documents and information about the real facts get priority. None of this was apparent in the inquiry run by Mr. Kitchin.

 

Further, when such documents and statements  are acquired, they undergo intense scrutiny as to their provenance, probity and admissibility. There was no suggestion of anyone trying to do this in the Timms case.

 

In such circumstances, how could Mr Kitchin claim to be operating with the system of the balance of probabilities? The simple answer is that he re-wrote the procedure of how this system is applied in this country. He drew up his own definition of it.

 

Given that he had asserted to Rev Timms that he was using this system, his deviation from it was potentially prejudicial misconduct. It certainly deceived Rev Timms.

 

Mr Kitchin’s summary of his system of judgement in this case, his idiosyncratic version of the “balance of probabilities”,   appeared in his letter of 16th November 2016:

 

We already have your statements on each of the related complaints against Revs Ian Pruden, Rose Westwood and Dr. Philip Luscombe. If there is any new supporting information you wish to provide before your interview, please let me have a succinct statement of no more than two A4 pages in total by 12 noon on Thursday 24th November 2016”.

 

Where in this extract, is there any reference to documentation which Mr Kitchin had access to – and disclosure of which Rev Timms had requested?

 

Where is there any reference to  the witnesses  Rev Timms wished to call?

 

Where is the ability of Rev Timms to rebut the testimony or evidence of the opposing  parties in the dispute?

 

In fact, where is there any sign of Mr Kitchin, who was judging this matter on the balance of probabilities,  wishing to hear from any  witnesses speaking for Rev Timms? And where is there any sign that Mr. Kitchin was seeking the greatest amount possible of admissible evidence to the truth on both sides of the dispute -  so that he could weigh the one side against the other?

There was no proper weighing of evidence done in this case. How could there be, when Rev Timms was so hampered by his judge?

And as for the two pages of A4 which Mr. Kitchin  required in the above extract, – was this to cover all three of the complaints being considered , or was each complaint allotted two A4 sheets? Mr Kitchin omitted to inform Rev Timms on this, even though he was asked.

 

The only system of judgement in England that might possibly allow for such omissions is that used by coroners such as Mr. Kitchin’s colleague at the Hatfield Road Methodist Church – Graham Danbury. A coroner may take such action – but the outcome will inevitably be a narrative verdict  with there being no decision in any way. No finality on the question of culpability for the death or other event such as fire is included in a narrative verdict.

 

Mr Kitchin did not make use of the system of the “balance of probabilities” as he had claimed. He used an adjunct to that system which is sometimes used by coroners when there is insufficient evidence to determine a case. Yet Mr. Kitchin determined finality and found against Rev Timms.

 

This was his main mistake in the matter. It emanated from his apparent ignorance of the system of justice and his mis-use of words.  He seems to have failed to understand the system of the “balance of probabilities”  - and by telling Rev Timms that this was how they would proceed, he mis-led  him.

 

Was this duplicitous? Was this a conspiracy to deceive? Or was it simply a "cock-up" resulting from a misunderstanding? Or was there perhaps an underlying suggestion to the complainant that, as a magistrate, Chris Kitchin was superior in knowledge and experience to the Rev Timms, who should therefore submit to his will?

 

One should perhaps always allow for the cock-up rather than the conspiracy.  But that would entail accepting a certain level of ignorance about the judicial system in Mr Kitchin – a level which no magistrate ought to descend to.  

 

It seems quite clear that Mr. Kitchin was unaware of the requirements placed upon the judge in a case being tried on the system of “balance of probabilities”. Not only should this have disqualified him from ever leading a complaints panel in the Methodist Church, but it should even have disqualified him from sitting as a magistrate.  No doubt some of the recipients of judgements he handed down  in the Hatfield Magistrates Court would agree with this.

 

No doubt the Deputy Coroner for Hertfordshire, Graham Danbury, would agree with this opinion.

 

And yet Mr Kitchin was made leader of the connexional complaints panel considering the Timms complaints  - in part because of his reputation as a magistrate.

 

Distinguished members of the Methodist Law and Polity committee, such as Chris Kitchin's fellow committee member, Graham Danbury, who now know the truth, have so far made no comment on Mr. Kitchin’s conduct. They must therefore take some of the blame for the prolonged nature of this affair. They have taken part in the  actions which have caused Rev Peter Timms and his family so much anguish over the past four years. Rev Andrew Prout, the minister closest to Mr. Kitchin, has also made no comment on the matter.

 

 

 

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The consequences of Mr Kitchin’s

prejudicial misconduct.

 

 

The consequences of Mr. Kitchin’s ignorance of the system of the “balance of probabilities” is the cause of the two main instances of prejudicial  misconduct in the Timms affair – for which Mr Kitchin must surely be responsible.

 

These incidents of prejudicial misconduct lie in two main areas of the process which he chose to operate:

1) The false confession, and

2) Admissibility of Evidence.

 

 

DETAIL OF PREJUDICIAL MISCONDUCT

I

 

 

 

THE FALSE CONFESSION.

 

The false confession was the very first document generated by  the connexional inquiry panel into the complaints against three ministers, which Rev Timms had submitted. 

The proper procedure in the initial stage of a complaints procedure is laid down in standing order 1123(5):

The initial assessment to be made by the lead member is an assessment of whether or not the complaint:

(i) ought to be dealt with under an alternative procedure specified in clause  (6) below instead of under the complaints and discipline process; or

(ii) ought to be summarily dismissed on a ground specified in clause (7) below.

No complaint referred to the connexional Complaints Panel by a local complaints officer may be dismissed summarily. In other cases, no complaint may be dismissed summarily without consideration of whether or not any reconciliation between the complainant and the respondent is or might be possible.”

 

Nothing of this nature appears to have been done in the initial stage of the investigation into Rev Peter Timms’ complaints. Nor of course is there any reference in the above to any document such as the false confession.

 

Of course, there would be no need for any of the above if the complainant ( Rev Timms) were to have a change of mind and drop his complaints. The panel could then write up their report and end the inquiry.

 

However, such an occurrence would probably,  according to the Standing Order, lead to a reconciliation process. Nothing of that nature occurred in the Timms affair.

 

For this reason, the first document written by Mr. Kitchin in the inquiry deserves careful consideration. Please note the following words:

 (Para 1)  the term “respondent” is applied to Rev Timms. Rev Timms was in fact the “complainant”.

(Para 2.)   “The connexional team has reviewed the evidence

The head of the complaints system has never released the date when Mr. Kitchin was appointed as leader of the panel. However, according to the extant evidence, it seems that the connexional team may not even met when this document was issued. That is not surprising, for there was no evidence for them to review concerning the allegation in paragraph one. The evidence Mr Kitchin used to support his words only surfaced some two months later, after repeated requests from Rev Timms.

Mr Kitchin’s decision to issue this document with this judgement  was  taken without him even having seen any documentary evidence to substantiate the claim. The document was issued without him informing Rev Timms that such a claim had been made. It was issued without allowing Rev Timms any opportunity to respond to any such charge.

 

There is no aspect of the system of the balance of probabilities which denies one party in the dispute any or all right of reply. Even if Rev Timms were indeed the respondent – as Mr Kitchin claimed – this would still be completely contrary to the procedure that Mr. Kitchin claimed to be using. To issue this document was not only misconduct, but the action and subsequent dealings following on from it, prejudiced the whole inquiry.

 

 

DETAIL OF PREJUDICIAL MISCONDUCT

II

COERCION

 

Within the false confession was this paragraph:

(Para 2)  – “in accordance with Standing Order 1157 that there have been several breaches of confidentiality by me

There may have been a technical error here which might have needed to be settled separately, for Mr Kitchin stated that he was acting under SO 1157. That standing order had not been in force when the complaint had begun in 2014. Was it right to change the rules in the middle of the procedure? He was asked, but Mr Kitchin never cleared this point up.

However, whether or not his use of SO 1157 was legal or not, this  was somewhat irrelevant,  for on one aspect of this we might well be certain. That is  that SO 1157 was not designed to coerce complainants into signing a false confession, thus handing the decision in the dispute to the person against whom the complaint had been laid.

SO 1157 was designed to give order and discipline to the complaints system. If a participant enters frivolous material, or delays the process without proper cause, then the timetable of the inquiry must be in some way defended. Similarly the confidentiality of the proceedings must be maintained.

Rev Timms’ reply to the false confession consisted of two main parts. First he expressed surprise and denied that he was guilty of any breach of confidentiality. Secondly he affirmed that would abide by the terms of SO 1104 - and that he had done so up to that point.

Might the "frivolity" aspect of SO 1157 apply? It was not possible. There had been no frivolous efforts by Rev Timms. There had been no efforts at all, because the process had only just started. And of course, there had been no unnecessary delays at that point either.

Breach of confidentiality comes under SO 1104, not SO 1157. This latter is used only to deny help to someone if a breach under SO 1104 has been established by due process within the standing orders.

No due process had taken place – except in Mr Kitchin’s mind.

Mr Kitchin’s intent in this was contrary to the guiding principles of the Standing Orders. Any person of fair and sound mind would surely recognise this.  

 

 

DETAIL OF PREJUDICIAL MISCONDUCT:

III

ADMISSIBILITY OF EVIDENCE.

 

When, after two months, Mr. Kitchin finally produced “evidence” to back up the accusation in the confession document, it was from a man who was not involved in the inquiry, who was not  a respondent, nor mentioned in Rev Timms’ complaints.

The “evidence” was sent to Mr Kitchin unsolicited by  someone who should not have known details of the inquiry, nor even the name of the leader of the inquiry.  

Someone, it seems, trusted by  Mr. Kitchin, had been trying to “dig up dirt” on Rev Timms. And Mr Kitchin accepted this “evidence”  as true, and indeed inculpatory , without any question concerning its provenance.

The admission of such evidence is not allowed under the rules of the system of the “balance of probabilities.” The person making the “balance” must always know the provenance of evidence in order to determine its admissibility and weigh its probative value.

The wisdom of such a ruling was later demonstrated in this particular case -  when the truth about the accusation came out.

The “proof of culpability” that Mr Kitchin produced, after some two months of requests for it by Rev Timms, was an email written by Rev Timms. It was addressed to John Troughton, a senior Church steward in the Bexhill area. Troughton had apparently breached confidentiality by sending it to Kitchin.

The matter of this email and its confidentiality was eventually raised at a meeting in Bexhill in March 2018 between John Troughton and Rev Timms. The chairman was Rev Graham Hindle, a senior member of the Methodist Church, who convened the meeting on behalf of the Methodist Church.

Rev Hindle stated in his report:

(page 2 penultimate para)

“John accepts Peter’s rationale for sending the correspondence to him as Senior Circuit Steward.”

In other words, sending the email was perfectly proper, yet Mr. Kitchin had, somewhat rashly, introduced it as incriminating evidence which justified the sending of a document containing self-inculpating statements.

It seems that, when he had begun the inquiry by issuing the false confession, Mr. Kitchin had not considered the possibility that Rev Timms’ action had been totally proper. His first reaction to it was to compose and issue a false confession – and he never changed his mind.

He found Rev Timms guilty of a breach of SO 1104 without there having been any due process in the decision.

It was that action which completely prejudiced the inquiry by the connexional panel. At that point in the inquiry there was no proper way of proceeding further. The inquiry should have been abandoned, and begun again with a different panel. Not to do so was prejudicial misconduct.

Furthermore, while using the power supposedly granted to him by SO 1157, Mr Kitchin  ignored clause 4 (iii)  of that same standing order:

“when a new person becomes the conducting officer, he or she may decide to vary any exercise of the powers by a previous conducting officer, but may not do so in a way adverse to the complainant;”

 

Mr Kitchin ignored all of this. He was actually a new conducting officer – yet his first action was to use his power in a way adverse to the complainant.

He never retracted his demand for a signature to the false confession. In a letter of 8th October  he again pressed Rev Timms to sign the false confession.

(page 2 last line)

Sign and return the written undertaking;”

 

In fact Mr Kitchin persisted with this request even into mid-November 2016. In a letter dated November 16th he wrote:

 (page 2 last line)

"sign and return the undertaking about confidentiality as requested in my letters dated 12th September, 1 & 8 October 2016”

 

So, even after some ten weeks of argument, he still had hopes of extracting the confession out of the hapless minister by means of coercion. Such coercion is no part of the system of the balance of probabilities. It is no part of the Methodist Church's standing orders. Mr Kitchin, may try, but he will have difficulty in arguing, that it was anything other than  prejudicial misconduct.

 

The nature of Mr Kitchin's words was quite clear. This same letter again made the point  that if Rev Timms refused to sign “the undertaking”, (page 3 )  sanctions under SO 1157 would be applied.

As mentioned above, this was a twisting of the intention of the Standing Order. The Church admits that Standing Orders are not designed to punish people in such a fashion.

SO 1157 may only be used if there is a reasonable request from the leader of the connexional team and an unreasonable response from the respondent, or in this case, the complainant. This would normally involve undue delay or matters of a frivolous nature. There is no hint of frivolity in Rev Timms' reactions to what was happening

 

Mr Kitchin began his mis-use of SO 1157 in early September 2016 - at the very start of the inquiry he was conducting.  He continued with this coercion  for a further three months. Beyond the rules of the system of the balance of probabilities, this form of persuasion or coercion is completely contrary to the principles of the Methodist Church’s standing orders. SO 1157 was not designed to coerce someone into signing a false confession.

 

Moreover, it would be unthinkable for a competent magistrate to try to extract material to support the accused person’s defence in this manner. Yet, when he stepped away from his courtroom, this is what Mr. Kitchin did. Worse, Mr. Kitchin actually carried out his threat by not giving Rev Timms any of the documentary evidence he requested.

 

 

 

DETAIL OF PREJUDICIAL MISCONDUCT

IV

 

The use of SO 1157

 

The denial of documentation by Mr. Kitchin was not a frivolous matter. Rev Timms had requested some documentation to support his complaint and bring out the truth.

 

In 2014 Rev Timms had relied on SO 1100 and its call for “openness” to press his claim. In 2016, when he finally obtained a copy of SO 1157, he realised that it might give him the right to press harder for the disclosure of documents. 

 

As mentioned above, Mr Kitchin was a “new” conducting officer of the complaint, having taken over from the local complaints officer in Bexhill. His use of SO 1157  to refuse documents, was clearly adverse to the complainant – Rev Timms. It was something that was specifically denied by SO 1157 4 (ii).

 

Rev Timms’ requests included, in particular, an email which had been produced at the contentious circuit meeting of 2014, where the complaints had been started and which led up to the connexional inquiry of 2016. The email was from Rev Hellyer to Rev Rose Westwood. It had been alleged that this email authorised the minister holding it to stop Rev Timms making a significant contribution to the circuit meeting, by restricting the amount of time that he could take. 

 

This email had started the whole dispute -  and was therefore crucial to the argument resulting from that meeting. It was clearly in the possession of the Methodist Church – in the district headquarters in Crawley. However, Rev Timms’ requests for it were ignored by Mr. Kitchin.

 

There seems no doubt that Rev Timms had a right to a copy of this document. It was clearly “best evidence”. It would weigh heavily in the balance on the question of whether he had been incorrectly silenced at the meeting by the minister who had been holding the email. (note)

 

However,  the connexional inquiry panel denied him access to this evidence. As a magistrate, Mr. Kitchin knew that in the “balance of probabilities”, the judge must always seek “best evidence” – it is an essential requirement. To deliberately refuse to introduce the document which began the whole affair was prejudicial misconduct.

 

Indeed, so silent has the Church been on the matter of this email that Rev Timms has sometimes wondered if the email actually existed at all – or if the minister, supposedly holding it, had simply held up a blank sheet of paper. Because of Mr Kitchin’s actions, we still do not know the truth.

 

The truth about this document was an essential element in the assessment of the balance of the probabilities.

 

In  fact, after all Rev Timms’ requests for access to key documents,  the only document ever presented to him  was the source of the accusation behind the false confession document. That eventually was sent as a facsimile (page 4 )on November 16th   It was totally irrelevant to the complaint against the three ministers in Rev Timms’ complaints.

 

 

 

DETAIL OF PREJUDICIAL MISCONDUCT

V

PROBITY OF EVIDENCE.

 

Perhaps the worst aspect of Mr Kitchin’s conduct during the Rev Timm’s inquiry was his attitude towards the standards of probity of evidence in the case.

 

Witnesses and documents.

 

As mentioned above, Mr. Kitchin determined that if any witnesses were called, he would decide who those witnesses were and how they should give their evidence. This applied to witnesses supporting Rev Timms’ complaints.  It goes without saying that this procedure is contrary to the rules of the “balance of probabilities.”  In that procedure, both sides may offer their witnesses. The only witnesses that the judge is likely to choose are the expert witnesses.

This was a clear denial of rebuttal opportunity. 

The case involved accusations by Rev Timms concerning the conduct of ministers at the circuit meeting in Bexhill in September 2014. The best evidence would probably be the handwritten notes, and the subsequent document containing the minutes. One of Rev Timms’ allegations was that the minutes of the 2014 meeting had been unjustly edited.

After that, the next best evidence might well be statements from the forty to fifty persons who were in the room that evening.

 

Rev Timms asked Mr Kitchin for guidance and disclosure of each of these sources of evidence.

 

In a letter dated 24th November 2016 (page 1) , Mr Kitchin wrote:

 

“You are entitled to the documents produced by the respondents and, in their turn, they are entitled to yours. You are not entitled to any other documents which the team may hold.”

 

In other words, if the respondents did not care to produce documents from Methodist Church files in their possession which might tend to harm their defence, those documents need not be produced.

 

As for witnesses, there was the problem that there were some forty or  fifty potential witnesses. Rev Timms wished to call two or three, but Mr. Kitchin insisted on having the entire list of persons at the meeting - from which he might choose to hear those he wished to hear from.

 

This was not practical, since no names had been taken on the evening in question. Rev Timms was working from letters he had reeived from persons who had been present on the night in question. However,  Mr Kitchin appeared to deny that Rev Timms had any right at all to call any witnesses to give evidence.

 

In a letter dated November 16th 2016, Mr Kitchin wrote  (page 2 para labelled 2) :

 

The team has the authority to decide whether or not to hear from them and, if so, either by written statement or by interview.”

 

This was a clear affirmation that Mr Kitchin and the panel were in sole control  of Rev Timms’ case. To Rev Timms, whose entire career and reputation had come to rest on the outcome of this affair, this seemed  somewhat unfair. But that, it seemed, was how Mr Kitchin considered the system of the “balance of probabilities” was to be operated.

 

It is clear that Mr. Kitchin ignored Rev Timms’ rights under the rules of the “balance of probabilities”, the system by which Mr. Kitchin himself  had declared he was using to decide the issue. This was prejudicial misconduct.

 

Further, in an email to Rev Timms’ friend Peter Hill, dated  6th December 2016 – when Rev Timms was again in hospital – Mr Kitchin wrote:

 

“I have tried to explain to Peter Timms that we have all the information we need. He contained it in his original complaint. He does not need to bring witnesses and documents to prove every point he is making. He continues to challenge the interpretation of the standing orders of the Methodist Church and this seems to be causing him additional work.”

 

Of course there was nothing in what Rev Timms had written in his original complaint about the allegation mentioned in the false confession, so that was, clearly, not to be discussed.  And indeed, Rev Timms had first written his initial complaints some two years before the dispute reached connexional level. Things had moved on since the original complaint.

 

The above extract from Mr. Kitchin’s letter suggests that his view of the system of the “balance of probabilities”  is naïve.

 

The system of the “balance of probabilities” is not confined to one side giving its versions of events, the other side objecting to that version – and the judge deciding,  without seeking any further evidence, that one side is probably right. That might be termed "judgment by hunch".  Yet that is how Mr Kitchin appears to have understood the system.

 

Mr. Kitchin did not welcome it when Rev Timms wished to produce more evidence, nor when he requested the disclosure of further evidence. Nor did Mr Kitchin appear to be ready to offer any rebuttal to Rev Timms against some of the outrageous allegations made in the responses that the three respondent ministers had written in their defence against the original complaints.

 

In a letter dated 16th November 2016 (page 2 paragraph labelled g)   Mr Kitchin wrote:

 

“The team will not enter into further communication with you about the nature and process of this investigation. We have told you about the process we will be using and will determine our own procedures within the standing orders of the Methodist Church. Further correspondence must be confined to the practical arrangements for your interview.”

 

He again confirmed that he was using the system of the “balance of probabilities” – however, he now claimed that he had decided how the system of the balance of probabilities should be interpreted.  This was three months into the dispute. He stated that there was to be no objection to his somewhat idiosyncratic and truncated version of the system.

 

It is clear from this that Mr. Kitchin had no real consideration of the provenance, the probity and even the admissibility of the evidence that might be placed before him and his panel. He seemed to have no idea of what might constitute “best evidence”.

 

This is not what we should expect from a magistrate. His actions in this continued his prejudicial misconduct in this connexional inquiry.

 

 

 

 

 

DETAIL OF PREJUDICIAL MISCONDUCT

 

VI

 

The spies in Bexhill

 

Perhaps no episode in this case illustrates Mr Kitchin’s relaxed attitude to the requirements of a judge under the system of the “balance of probabilities” than an unusual incident which occurred in Bexhill in November 2016.

 

During the inquiry, Rev Timms had been in hospital with heart trouble – and, as a consequence, the hearing of his case had been delayed until mid-January 2017.

 

A few weeks after coming out of hospital, in November 2016, he decided to try to give a talk which he had long been booked to give. It took place in one of the churches in Bexhill. He only managed to speak for some five to seven minutes – and then he had to sit down.

 

After a while, he got into his car to drive home, but, feeling a little better, he decided to divert slightly across Bexhill to an old people’s home. He wanted to inform them about his health – that it would be some time before he would be well enough to take up his normal duties there.

 

Within a very short space of time, details of his movements around Bexhill had reached the ears of Mr. Kitchin. He sent Rev Timms a letter, dated 16th November, in which he wrote

(page 1 para 2)  

You are now well enough that you were able to fulfil your commitment to speak at the Monday fellowship at Sackville Road Methodist church on Monday 7th November 2016 and to visit the MHA Richmond care home

There was no indication of how Mr. Kitchin had acquired this information, nor any request for Rev Timms to give an explanation.  

Mr Kitchin then changed the date of the final hearing back from mid-January to  the original date in early December. There was no consultation or discussion over this.

 

Rev Timms objected. He offered to allow Mr. Kitchin to consult his (Timms’) doctor for a report on his health. Mr Kitchin ignored that offer and went ahead with the hearing without any further investigation.

 

Such actions alone might be considered reprehensible, and prejudicial, in the conduct of someone in the position of Mr. Kitchin.  However, the initial point about this, for present purposes, is the source of the information that Mr. Kitchin acquired.

 

Only a few persons were privy to such detailed information about the Kitchin inquiry – and, in particular, how Rev Timms' health was affecting the progress of the inquiry.  These persons were Rev Timms, the panel of inquiry and the three respondents. Yet the evidence of the letter suggested that some other people in Bexhill beyond this group clearly knew that Rev Timms’ health was important to the progress of that inquiry.

 

There were no ministers present at the Church where Rev Timms spoke – no person who might conceivably have been privy to such information. There were, similarly, no persons at the care home who should have known that Rev Timm’s health was a matter of consideration.

 

Yet two people, one at the church, one at the care home, seem to have been ready to watch out for Rev Timms and report on him. How could that be - without prior arrangement?

 

Further, the person, or persons, who saw him at these two venues were all lay persons of the Church – they should not have known anything about the importance of Rev Timm’s health in the inquiry. They should not even have known the name of the leader of the  inquiry. Nor would there seem to be any reason for such a person to take note  of such information and report it - other than if they had been asked to do so.

 

The logical deduction taken from this evidence is that some lay person at each of the venues told a minister of the church that Rev Timms was up and about. They must have been primed to do so, for such is not the normal duty of any such person.

 

The minister gave the information to then passed the information on  - either directly to Mr Kitchin or even to yet another person, such as the District Chairman.  We might well speculate who this might be - for the person who ultimately reported this must surely have been someone in whom Mr. Kitchin had a high level of trust.

 

The quality of this information, its probity and provenance, when Mr. Kitchin became aware of it, was questionable. It was clearly:

a) hearsay,  and indeed  

b) hearsay that was clearly at either second or third hand.

 

The probity of this evidence was therefore low. And yet Mr. Kitchin made no attempt to raise that level of probity.   Significantly, there is no indication in any of the evidence that anyone from the inquiry panel asked for the identity of the original informants , nor whether those informants had been questioned.

The weight of such evidence in the balance of probabilities would therefore inevitably be low - but in fact it was used in a fashion which completely ended the case as far as Rev Timms was concerned. For it was used in a heavily prejudicial manner against him.

This kind of evidence is not firm probative evidence on which to lay the charge which Mr. Kitchin then made against  Rev Timms – that he was telling lies about his health. The proper course of action, if the information were to be acted upon, would be to consult Rev Timms’ doctor in an effort to raise the probative value of the evidence. This opportunity was offered to Mr. Kitchin, but the offer was ignored.

Nor, of course, was the identity of the informants ever disclosed to Rev Timms. As with events prior to the issuance of the false confessor, he was not know who his accusers were.

Indeed, again as with the false confession, Mr Kitchin did not offer Rev Timms the opportunity of answering the charge that was placed against him.

Under the system of the “balance of probabilities”, Rev Timms should have had the opportunity to answer the charges laid by the persons who spied on him in Bexhill. He had a right to rebuttal under the rules of the “balance of probabilities”.  By denying him this opportunity, Mr Kitchin committed a grave prejudicial act of misconduct.

 

Worse, in order to bring the date forward as he did, Mr. Kitchin needed to consult with the two ministers who were on the panel with him. These were  Rev Val Reid and Rev Chris Jones - so, if they were not already involved with the misdeeds that were being perpetrated against Rev Timms, they were now.

 

The affair of the spies in Bexhill  demonstrates how lightly Mr. Kitchin takes note of the strength of the evidence he receives and how he fails to inquire into the probity and weight  of it. Provenance appears to have no bearing on how he considers admissibility of evidence. There is no attempt to raise or attack the probative value of any of the evidence.

 

Such are not the actions of a magistrate, yet Mr Kitchin was leading this inquiry largely because of his reputation as a magistrate and, ironically, on his supposed knowledge of the system of the “balance of probabilities”.

 

Of course, the story of Rev Timms driving around Bexhill on that November morning might have been totally false  –  Mr Kitchin did not seem to have considered that possibility.

 

Of course, if the G.P had given evidence which suggested that Rev Timms had been telling a lie, this might have weighed heavily against him in the balance of probabilities. The converse of this was equally true. But Mr. Kitchin was not “weighing” evidence as he claimed – except in accordance with his own prejudices.

 

This suggests a certain arrogance – for Mr. Kitchin also appears to have considered that his own medical opinion was better than that of a G.P. in Bexhill. Although he was unqualified medically, and never even saw or examined the patient  involved in the dispute, Mr Kitchin decided that Rev Timms was fit enough to attend the hearing some three weeks after the Bexhill sightings. He did not take the opportunity to even have a second opinion from the doctor in Bexhill whose records held the truth about Rev Timms’ health. His own opinion was sufficient.

 

This was another example of the technique he had used with the false confession. He jumped to a conclusion and without any contact with the supposed culprit, he made his judgement based solely on the accusation and nothing else.

 

The extant evidence on the “spies affair” suggests that this was a simple sequence of events. Someone had been alerted to “keep an eye on Peter Timms”. That same person told Mr Kitchin, through intermediaries,  that Rev Timms was driving around Bexhill – and the report was accepted as being true. Rev Timms was immediately punished by bringing the hearing forward.

This manipulation of the date of the hearing is not in accord with the standing orders of the Methodist Church. Not only did Mr. Kitchin know that - but so too did the two ministers on the panel with him, Rev Val Reid and Rev Chris Jones.

 

This whole episode does not suggest any use of the “balance of probabilities”.  More importantly, it is prejudicial misconduct, for Mr Kitchin must have known that such would hinder Rev Timms’ preparation for the final hearing. In fact, Rev Timms was not well enough to attend that final hearing.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

DETAIL OF PREJUDICIAL MISCONDUCT

VII

The final report.

 

 

Worse was to come in this aspect of the affair about the spies in Bexhill.  Mr Kitchin’s explanation, detailed in his letter of 19th November  was that his  reason for changing the date was simply that Rev Timms was fit enough to proceed as arranged earlier – because he had made a tour in his car of Bexhill.

 

However, when it came to writing the report for the Church Authorities about this aspect of the events, Mr Kitchin changed the story.

He wrote:

 

“During the week preceding 12th December 2016 the complainant sent the Team three unsolicited bundles of documents (each over 20 pages long) relating to the complaint. The team therefore believed that, as he was well enough to write, collate and send these documents, he would have been well enough either to speak with us or to answer our much briefer questions in writing.”

 

Where now was the reason for changing the date back from January to December? Was it because Rev Timms was fit enough to travel around Bexhill – or was it because he could produce a lot of documents?

Or was it both – in which case, why was the evidence from the spies in Bexhill about his health not mentioned?

If Mr Kitchin had telephoned Rev Timms’ doctor, as was suggested, he could have discovered the truth about the first allegation and balanced it against the report from the anonymous spies.

He would have learned that Rev Timms  needed a heart pacemaker.

If he had telephoned Rev Timms’ friend, Peter Hill, he could have discovered the truth about the second allegation. For whilst Rev Timms had been in hospital, Peter Hill  had been working through his notes and voice messages (on the telephone from hospital) and it was he  who had finally written and posted the voluminous documents to the inquiry team. One of the reasons why they were “voluminous” was that, given the new time limits laid down by Mr Kitchin, it was impossible to edit them as Rev Timms wished. Rev Timms had not been fit enough to edit them.

 

Mr Kitchin had clearly forgotten that Peter Hill had mentioned this work to him via email - whilst Rev Timms was in hospital. 

So why was the story changed when Mr Kitchin came to write his final report?  Was it, in fact, a lie to the church authorities to cover up the somewhat disreputable covert surveillance on Rev Timms that had clearly gone on in Bexhill?

All of this must have also been considered by the two ministers on the panel with Mr. Kitchin, Rev Val Reid and Rev Chris Jones.  Did they perhaps believe that Mr. Kitchin had good reason for leaving out the original reason for the change of date? Or were they effectively silenced by his impressive reputation as a magistrate?

After all, if they were sure that Rev Timms had lied about his health in early November 2016, this was relevant to the case and should have been in the report. So why was it not mentioned?

This would appear to be one of the worse instances when Mr. Kitchin's reputation as a magistrate persuaded others that he was in the right - when in fact his actions were extremely questionable. The connexional panel did not give a true account of their reasons for the action taken against Rev Timms.

To say that their reason for changing the date of the hearing was because of the voluminous documentation might well be, in many minds, a lie and indeed, a lie to the Church.

Could any responsible magistrate ever change his account  of evidence when giving a final judgement in a case – particularly if the change he made  covered up his own prejudicial misconduct?

 

This account of actions taken by Mr Chris Kitchin against Rev Timms in the connexional inquiry into complaints made by Rev Timms centre on a weakness in Mr. Kitchin’s character. It makes him unfit to be a leader of a Methodist Church connexional panel of inquiry – in spite of the fact that he was, at that time, a sitting magistrate in Hatfield.   

 

Most notable is his attitude towards the probity and admissibility of evidence. There are several instances in the above when Mr. Kitchin, though invited to seek evidence to the truth, has significantly avoided doing so.

 

This is particularly so when, in the incident of the “spies in Bexhill”, he displayed a nonchalance towards provenance and admissibility by failing to make any checks whatsoever on evidence which he knew  must be at least second, if not third hand hearsay. It came from persons willing to spy on Rev Timms in order to do him harm. For such persons to agree to do this betrayed their bias against Rev Timms. That bias inevitably taints their evidence. Mr. Kitchin appears to have noticed none of this.

 

This evidence of the spies, weak in provenance as it was, actually involved a cover-up of  a breach of the Church’s standing orders.

How did the spies know details of the progress of the inquiry? The evidence must have emerged from a breach of confidentiality – contrary to SO 1104. Mr Kitchin appears not to have cared about that.

 

Mr. Kitchin’s  failure to consult Rev Timms’ doctor on the question of his health and fitness to attend the hearing in December instead of January, demonstrates his nonchalance towards the probity of evidence. The medical advice would have significantly moved the balance of probability one way or the other.

 

The over-riding guidance of the Methodist Church’s standing orders,  within which Mr. Kitchin was supposed to be working. SO 1100 states:

 

“the process should be fair”

“The Church also responds to the call through Christ for  justice, openness and honesty, and to the need for each of us to accept responsibility for our own acts.” 

 

Mr. Kitchin’s asserted several times to Rev Timms that the procedure he was using was the system of the “balance of probabilities”. It is difficult to specify one instance when he actually used that system for determining justice at any time during his inquiry.

 

 

 

THE METHODIST REQUIREMENT

– CHARACTER AND INTEGRITY

 

The Methodist Church has always relied upon the strength of character of those who play any part in its leadership. It works on an assumption that those in charge will have a high level of personal integrity. When a mistake is made, as in the Timms case, it is often because of a weakness of character in someone involved.

 

 Standing Order 1100 requires 

 

“the need for each of us to accept responsibility for our own acts.”

 

Mr. Kitchin remains silent on the question of the prejudicial misconduct that runs through all his actions in his leadership of the connexional panel of inquiry.

 

SP 1100 also states that:  

 

“The Church also responds to the call through Christ for justice, openness and honesty,”

 

 

Does Mr Kitchin’s prejudicial misconduct in this case live up to that requirement? Is Mr Kitchin a fair man? Does he respond to the call for justice, openness and honesty? Mr. Kitchin does not defend himself against such charges.

 

Perhaps more pertinently, does Mr. Kitchin even realise that actions, such as he took against Rev Peter Timms, constitute prejudicial misconduct? If there ever was a reasonable case to dismiss the complaints by Rev Timms, Mr. Kitchin so tainted the case with his inept actions that he ruined it. Is this the type of person that the Methodist Church can rely upon to lead a connexional panel of inquiry into a complaint?

 

The Methodist Church appears to have already formed its own opinion on this.  As mentioned at the beginning of this article, it claims that all of the above are:

"unfounded factual allegations... they are false, deeply misrepresentative of the true position and rejected in full by the Church and the members of the complaints team... in particular the way in which the complaints procedure was (and is) managed."

Actions may often speak more than words. The practice of issuing a confession, or any self-incriminating document, in response to a complaint, is now specifically mentioned in the training of persons who lead inquiries such as Mr. Kitchin did. It is specifically banned from use in the Methodist Church.

 

When an honest man of integrity makes a mistake, he usually apologises for it. Mr. Kitchin has had ample opportunity to apologise for having issued the false confession. He has also had many opportunities to apologise for having pursued Rev Timms as he did, in an effort to persuade him to sign the confession.

He claims that any suggestion that the false confession was not legitimate is "harassment" which will be reported to the police.

Letters have been written to Mr Kitchin, offering to arrange private meetings in confidence to discuss the matter and find a reasonable way out of the problem.

In April 2018 Rev Timms' friend Peter Hill visited Mr. Kitchin at his home. They spoke courteously to each other and Hill suggested that there had been confusion largely because of the fact that Rev Timms had spent some time in hospital during the critical period after September 2016. Mr Kitchin did not take up the opportunity to move towards a peaceful settlement – and instead accused Peter Hill, through officials in Methodist Church House, of harassing him. 

 

Such actions are not those of a reasonable man. They are such that they may lead to prejudicial misconduct by a person who should never need to defend himself against such a charge.

 

Worse, Mr. Kitchin appears to have tried to cover up his misconduct. He seems to have persuaded, or attempted to persuade, senior figures in the Methodist Church to remain silent out about unjust incidents in this affair.

Such figures would include distinguished members of the Law and Polity Committee, such as Graham Danbury, and senior ministers such as Rev Andrew Prout and Rev Alan Bolton.  To these persons we might add the names of Rev Canon Gareth Powell, Rev Jonathan Hustler, Rev Val Reid, and Rev Chris Jones. Their silence on the prejudicial misconduct and breaches of the standing orders in this affair is of significance.  

 

Mr Kitchin has powerful friends who will protect him with their silence and solidarity. They are happy to spend thousands of pounds from Methodist Church funds in solicitors' fees in order to stop any criticism of Mr. Kitchin's misconduct. They threaten legal action to close this website down.

All the Church's action have one aim - to cover this affair up.

Throughout the past four years some forces friendly to Mr. Kitchin in the Methodist Church have attempted to silence Rev Timms by quoting SO 1104 – the confidentiality clause pertaining to complaints. Rev Timms has been  punished for speaking out against the injustice that Mr. Kitchin and his connexional panel did to him. That is yet a further injustice. His District Chair, Rev John Hellyer, suspended him from all church activity until he stopped his protest.

 

These same friends of Mr. Kitchin know that it has been regularly stated in our courts – and may soon become a part of statute law -   that it is not legal to use a non-disclosure agreement to cover up a crime or a misdemeanour within a company or an institution such as the Methodist Church.

The Methodist Church is a church established by law -  the Methodist Act of 1976.  Yet some of Mr Kitchin’s friends in high places  have attempted to use Standing Order 1104 (the confidentiality clause) in order to keep secret his breaches of SO 1100 and his mis-use of SO 1157.

 

Mr. Kitchin’s actions in the Timms affair - and the silent support he has received from various members of the Methodist Church, such as Graham Danbury and Rev Andrew Prout -  are something that all members of the Church should consider. If justice is not done to Rev Timms in this affair, the entire membership becomes complicit in the scandal. And yet the Standing Orders of the Church proclaim:

 

“The Church also responds to the call through Christ for justice, openness and honesty, and to the need for each of us to accept responsibility for our own acts.”  ( SO 1100)

 

The standards set by the Methodist Church  are high. So too are the standards demanded of our magistrates;  knowledge, experience and integrity are the key elements in both. The Methodist Church naturally believed that a man who is fit to be a magistrate would clearly be a good choice to conduct an inquiry into a complaint. However, no person who demonstrates a weakness in his or her knowledge, experience or integrity should be chosen for either of these positions, no matter their reputation.


 


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