Gavin Drake, who has long campaigned on behalf of abuse survivors and whose late wife Jill Saward became the first rape survivor in Britain to waive her right to anonymity, has resigned his position on the Church of England’s governing body. He explains what has led to the decision


Why is the Archbishops’ Council so against an independent inquiry into safeguarding? What are they worried that an inquiry might uncover?

Those questions were put to me by a victim of church-based abuse after I resigned from the General Synod this week.

I stood down after the Archbishops’ Council and the Synod’s Business Committee conspired to prevent Synod members debating a motion that would have led to an independent inquiry into Church of England’s safeguarding structures.

Trust in the CofE’s safeguarding functions is at an all-time low after the decision to disband the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB). It was set up in 2021 as a direct result of recommendations made by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

The Archbishops’ Council is the charity which manages most of the national functions of the Church of England, including the National Safeguarding Team. In late 2020, it announced the creation of the ISB to provide independent safeguarding scrutiny. The announcement was welcomed by many, but some of us questioned how the Council could create an ISB without giving it legal powers to have access to information and to direct action. Our concerns weren’t answered.

The Council appointed three independent contractors to serve as the ISB. But they were not a board, and they were not independent. The Council retained in control and blocked an attempt by its own Audit Committee members to investigate how the ISB was set up. They were told they had no power to audit an “independent” ISB – a statement that was later corrected when it emerged that the ISB was not independent but legally part of the Archbishops’ Council.

The first Chair of the ISB, Dr Maggie Atkinson, stood down before resigning after the Information Commissioner ruled that she had breached data protection legislation three times.

The remaining ISB members, Jasvinder Sanghera and Steve Reeves, set about their work and began building trust and relationship with survivors. People who had expressed no trust or confidence in the national safeguarding structures finally found, in Jasvinder and Steve, people they trusted.

Trust in the ISB dipped when the Archbishops’ Council appointed a new interim Chair, Meg Munn, without consulting the other two ISB members. Meg Munn already chaired another national CofE safeguarding body and was a member of another.

Many victims and survivors complained of a conflict of interest and said that their data should not be shared with her. Jasvinder and Steve continued their work, publishing critical reports, completing one case review and commissioning a further ten.

On 21 June, the Archbishops’ Council announced that the ISB was to be disbanded. The public announcement came less than one hour after Jasvinder and Steve were told, despite requests from them for victims and survivors they were working with to be informed ahead of a public announcement.

Last weekend, as the General Synod met in York, the Archbishops’ Council made a “presentation” setting out its reasons for disbanding the ISB. Many Synod members felt unease at what they were being told. Jasvinder and Steve were watching from the public gallery. We wanted to give them a right to reply, but various “points of order” to allow them to speak were batted away by the Archbishops’ Council’s lawyer, who was on the platform advising the Synod chair.

After 36 minutes Synod members began slow hand clapping. It was clear we did not want to be frustrated by legalistic shenanigans. The Chair used her own ingenuity to suspend the sitting. This gave the space for Jasvinder and Steve to speak. We heard of attempts by the Archbishops’ Council to frustrate the ISB’s work, even cutting off their telephone. When the Synod resumed, the panel had gone. There would be no reply to what we were told.

Before the Synod gathered, I tabled a “following motion”, with the support of a number of Synod members, calling for an independent inquiry into the Church’s safeguarding structures and processes.

The Archbishops’ Council and the Synod’s Business Committee did all they could to block the motion, initially ruling it “out of order” on spurious grounds before placing impossible conditions for a debate - including a timeslot of less than 15 minutes.

Synod members supported the motion and 175 voted in favour of continuing the debate, with just 69 voting against; but the Machiavellian shenanigans of those in power meant that the vote required 75 per cent support and despite the overwhelming support of Synod members, the motion fell.

I was elected to the General Synod to make the Church a safer place and to improve safeguarding practice. But I do not want to waste my time pretending to make a difference. There is no point being on General Synod if the Archbishops’ Council and Synod Business Committee will use their power to prevent proper scrutiny and debate.

Today, the Church of England is not a safe place. Despite its efforts, this week the General Synod were frustrated in its efforts to make it safer.