The Charity Commission has criticised trustees of the Manchester New Moston Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses after victims of sexual abuse were made to attend a hearing where they were questioned by the abuser.
In an inquiry report, published yesterday, the regulator said trustees did not adequately handle misconduct allegations or adequately deal with a misconduct appeal hearing.
It also criticised trustees for failing to co-operate with the regulator and said they “did not provide accurate and complete answers”.
The Commission has been engaging with the charity since 2012 when concerns were first raised about Jonathan Rose, who was at the time a trustee.
The regulator launched an inquiry in May 2014 into two charities, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain - the umbrella body for Jehovah's Witnesses in the UK - and the Manchester New Moston Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The investigation looked at whether adequate safeguarding procedures were in place, following revelations that trustees of the charity had allowed a convicted child abuser to question his victims.
Jonathan Rose was jailed for nine months for abusing two women when they were young girls. When he was released, a series of “disfellowship” meetings were held to decide whether Rose should remain a member of the organisation, and the women were asked to recount their ordeal. At one meeting, Rose was allowed to ask the women questions.
The trustees said that they were not responsible as they did not take part in the hearing where the victims were questioned by the abuser, but the Commission said trustees were ultimately responsible. The charity has now improved its safeguarding procedures.
'Falls short of public expectations'
Harvey Grenville, head of investigations and enforcement at the Charity Commission, said: “The victims of abuse were badly let down by the charity. The trustees should have made the victims’ welfare their first priority. Instead, their actions and omissions, both in response to allegations of abuse, and in their attitude towards our investigation, fell short of what the public would expect of those running a charity in a modern society.
"Our report rightly holds the trustees of the Manchester New Moston congregation to account. I hope that it therefore provides some comfort and reassurance to those affected by the circumstances we have investigated.
“Our investigation has helped ensure that the charity has improved its procedures around the handling of child safeguarding concerns and its internal disciplinary process. Most importantly, the charity’s policy and procedures now make clear that victims of child sexual abuse are not required to make their allegations in the presence of the alleged abuser. They also state that protective restrictions must be put in place to protect the charity’s members from people found guilty of child sexual abuse by the criminal courts. We welcome these changes.
“I would like to thank all those who came forward to provide us with information and intelligence throughout the investigation”.
Length of the inquiry
The Commission said that litigation initiated by the trustees is the reason the inquiry took three years.
“The conduct and length of the inquiry has been significantly affected by litigation initiated by the charity’s trustees,” the inquiry report said.
Trustees applied to the Charity Tribunal to review the Commission’s decision to open the statutory inquiry in 2014 and then appealed the tribunal's decision. The appeal was dismissed earlier this year.
The Commission still has an open inquiry into the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain. This inquiry is examining the child safeguarding policy and procedures further, as they are common to all Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations in England and Wales.