This report was published on 17th December 2020 following the conviction of Granville Gibson for two charges of indecent assault in 2016 and again of two charges of indecent assault in 2019.
Dr Stephanie Hill prepared a report looking into the handling of allegations against Archdeacon Granville Gibson. She has produced a thoughtful and detailed report. It is a story of missed opportunities to prevent abuse, poor record keeping and failures to call out inappropriate behaviour.
Ms Hill was given access to documentation from the Diocesan records and has spoken to a number of complainants and witnesses who had contact with Granville Gibson throughout the 1980s to the 2000s.
Ms Hill spoke to three survivors of abuse.
Survivor 1 states Mr Gibson sexually abused him between 1977 and 1985, the period when Mr Gibson officiated at St Clare’s. Mr Gibson allegedly touched the victim’s groin and would kiss and cuddle him, threatening him not to tell. The victim felt as if nobody would believe him and it was only after his father died in 2003 that he thought he should tell someone.
Survivor 2 recalled a troubled early life and being sentenced to Community Service, he thought around the age of 18, which he served at St Clare’s Church in Newton Aycliffe. Survivor 2 also described repeated sexual assaults by Mr Gibson, estimating around 15 in total over a three to four month period. These assaults allegedly occurred in both the church itself and Mr Gibson’s home (specifically in his study). They involved penetrative acts, which would now be called rape but was then termed buggery.
Survivor 3 was a young man in his twenties when he was ordained, with his first placement at St Clare’s Church in Newton Aycliffe around 1981. Within six months, Survivor 3 was approached by a female parishioner who had allegedly seen Mr Gibson kissing a young male Vietnamese man who had arrived in the area and was seeking support. Survivor 3 was clearly perturbed by this and unsure what to do. He described being cautioned by another priest who warned him not to pass on these concerns about Mr Gibson as he would be, ‘hung out to dry.’ Not long afterwards, Survivor 3 described being indecently assaulted by Mr Gibson who wrapped his body around Survivor 3, pressing his erect penis into him. Survivor 3 described shock and confusion and pushed Mr Gibson away who acted as if nothing had happened.
Survivor 3 took the step of asking to see the then Bishop of Durham, the Rt. Revd John Habgood. Survivor 3 found the Bishop’s response lacklustre, although Bishop Habgood did apparently state he would speak to Mr Gibson, which he later told Survivor 3 he had done. It is of particular concern there is no record of any conversations between Survivor 3 and the then Rt. Revd Bishop Habgood.
Following the implementation of the Data Protection Act (1998), an order was received to edit clergy files to remove hand-written entries made by Bishops or Archdeacons describing their personal comments about individual priests’ suitability for candidacy selection or training. There was also
encouragement to reduce the overall bulk of blue files which were thought to hold extraneous material such as routine letters.
Granville Gibson was not a person within the Diocese who could be described as a demure character. Ms Hill was told by a number of clergy that prior to 2001 there were rumours and hearsay regarding Granville Gibson’s sexuality and behaviour particularly at social gatherings. He had a reputation for inappropriate behaviour towards younger male curates alongside excessive alcohol consumption. Invasion of personal space and excessive hugs were mentioned. If any concerns were set down on paper they have not survived editing of his file.
An incident from 2001 was recorded in 2004 on his file of him hugging and stroking the foot of a younger male priest. It had been reported to another priest.
Around this time it was noted that he had been advised he must not mingle with children during a trip to Romania.
Another priest recalls a concern about Granville Gibson’s interaction with an asylum seeker in Darlington. A further priest had mentioned he had seen Granville Gibson touching the asylum seeker in the vestry and that this young man had not been seen since. The same priest reported Granville Gibson had acted inappropriately with boys during the trip to Romania, sitting them ion his knee. This information was not passed to the Diocesan Safeguarding adviser.
In 2004 an allegation was received that Granville Gibson had sexually assaulted a 10 year old in 1982 whilst he was vicar at Newton Aycliffe. This was reported to the police and the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser. The complainant did not wish to pursue criminal proceedings. The police took no action. Minutes of a meeting to discuss the allegation are not available due to storage issues. No risk assessment was carried out. There is no record of this on his blue (personnel) file.
The 2008 Past Cases Review carried out nationally recorded Granville Gibson as having no concerns. This was clearly erroneous given all that was known about him.
In 2009 Granville Gibson completed a self declaration form recording he had an allegation made against him around 1980 by a youth from the Newton Aycliffe detention centre, stating the DP said there was no case to answer. No action was taken on this which was a further red flag missed by the safeguarding system in the Diocese.
In 2012 a complaint was made by a young curate that Granville Gibson was overstepping boundaries with young servers at his church, taking them out for meals and accidental touching of another curate’s bottom. Granville Gibson was interviewed by the DSA and was required to do more training.
In 2014 Granville Gibson invited a pupil from a school where he was mentoring back to his house for tea. This contravened church and school policies. Granville Gibson was using a school issue laptop and pictures of naked men and homosexuality were discovered. This was referred to the police who opened an investigation. He was arrested and subsequently charged and convicted of indecent assaults.
Failures to record and therefore consider Mr Gibson’s behaviour altogether led
to what must now be seen as erroneous decisions to promote and propose him
for other socially responsible roles including involvement with many church organisations and even a school – St Aidan’s Academy.
Earlier action may have resulted in investigation and action to prevent his contact with others via a position with the church. It may have led to earlier arrest and conviction.
The report author mentions church culture as having a role to play in the mistakes made, some of them being:-
- confusion over the boundary between safeguarding concerns and homosexuality,
- forgiveness and repentance as central themes of church life,
- parochialism in church parishes causing a reluctance of individuals to call out inappropriate behaviour,
- Deference to clergy by parishioners and the public,
- the fact that society in general still doesn’t recognise the scale of harm done by child sexual abuse,
- there being little sense in the Diocese of responsibility for safeguarding and
- a desire to extract material from files in 1998 and 2008.
Ms Hill commends the Diocese for its positive responses following Granville Gibson’s arrest and being open after 2015. She is positive about the independent nature of the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser being self employed and so having an element of independence.
Ms Hill recommends :-
- Improvements to recording, requiring meticulous and contemporary recording of incidents.
- Joined up record keeping between all Diocesan systems
- Repeats of Disclosure and Barring Checks (criminal records) and thorough investigations of any concerns newly raised
- A focus on the immediate neds of victims
- A more open culture of sharing concerns
- A review of bullying and whistle blowing procedures
David Greenwood, 17th December 2020