Saturday 19 May 2018

Quentin Letts Himself Down

I know of an Anglican priest who worked in a school as an RE teacher.  He taught children aged broadly 11-13. And he used to beat them up.

When they misbehaved. Not all the time. But children that age do misbehave. And if they know the teacher is actually incapable of controlling a class, and they might send him over the edge, they'll go for it.

He bashed someone's head on the desk while holding their hair. He pushed people's arms behind their back. And everybody knew about him. Everybody knew he was a danger to the children.

He taught there for about three years, before he had to leave.

After all, he was a teacher. And a priest. Highly respected, both those professions in those days. Who'd believe a snotty twelve-year-old with a patch of hair missing over a priest who was a teacher?

Which is why Quentin Letts really shouldn't have, should he?

Tried to be funny about child protection, I mean. In an article in the Mail.

Obviously, the headline is already wrong. Not all church volunteers are obliged to take an abuse prevention course. Certain are. Those who work with children and vulnerable adults. Clergy. Other people in a position of responsibility. Quentin Letts is apparently a "deputy churchwarden". I'm not sure if that's an official post in the C of E, But presumably it comes with the sort of responsibility where children and vulnerable adults may be involved. So safeguarding training seems reasonable.

Quentin Letts lives in Herefordshire, I presume. So I imagine he went to the Hereford Diocese training, which means his making the trainer anonymous is a bit pointless. He tells us that she is a former police officer - as if, in the eyes of the Mail, that could be a bad thing. (Where has the Mail sunk to?) He tells us that the training lasts 4 hours. Most diocesan websites say it's between 2.5 and 3 hours. You can be the judge of who's right there. Maybe the 4 hours included 90 minutes of Quentin Letts telling everyone what a waste of time it all is. I don't know. I wasn't there. Just guessing.

Incidentally, judging by the picture in the article, Quentin Letts attended his training in Wells Cathedral. That's a heck of a schlep from Herefordshire. Maybe that's why he was so grumpy.

Not a small church in Herefordshire
Apparently what was outrageous was that "Wendy" told them that they should be alert to the signs of abuse in their community. I'm not sure what is so wrong with that. Quentin Letts thinks that noticing a child turning up with signs of bruising, and considering it might be best to point this out to the authorities if it looks like a pattern of abuse, is akin to what the Stasi did.  Looking out for other people, protecting the vulnerable - isn't that the sort of healthy community self-protection that the Daily Mail would be in favour of? Each looking out for the other. And informing the police of any criminal behaviour might be going on. Best of good old Britain, I would say. Wouldn't the Mail?  Use it for any  other alleged or suspected crime  and see if it works - "I was running a  crack den and someone called the police. Is this 1984?"

Quentin is next outraged about the idea that an organisation that potentially has children visiting it, should adopt a safeguarding strategy. In fact, might even go so far as to pin up the "small print" on the church notice board.

Frankly, stuff the small print. Make the cover of the safeguarding strategy bright fluorescent green, with the title in 6" pink letters, and put that up on the notice board. It sends a simple message - we take the welfare of our children seriously, and if they are in this building they are protected and watched. You may be able by doing so to inform the parishioners of their responsibilities. You may even make a potential offender go away. They'll go somewhere else, sure. But hopefully that somewhere else is equally robust. I know which parish Quentin Letts has advertised as being not too bothered, however.

The centre of Quentin Letts's sheer wrongness, in my opinion, can be summed up in this statement:
"But others, in the politest way, started to bridle. The Austrian countess told me afterwards, rather perplexed: ‘I thought the English believed in minding their own business.’"
So listen. There are abusers in the Church, as there are in all walks of life. The Church, because it often has children associated with quires; uniformed organisations; as servers; in Sunday Club, is attractive to some abusers. So are other organisations that serve or involve children - sports clubs, schools, the Social Services. In the past all of these organisations, including the Church, have let children down. Some of this has been the misguided putting of the organisation above people. "You can't investigate that - it will give the Church a bad name." Well guess what. Not acting has given the Church a worse one.

But Quentin Letts cleverly links two ways to protect offenders into that little central whingette. The first is his (repeated) identification of one of his fellow delegates as an "Austrian Countess". The Austrians are by and large very nice people. But "Countess". Why is this important to Quentin? Because it suggests she is beyond reproach. A member of the aristocracy. And not one of those nasty British Lords who keep making the Government think about Brexit. A faded aristocracy from a republic. A well-meaning person who maintains noblesse oblige, or whatever that is in German. Why should such a genteel person be soiling her noble mind with such thoughts of vile behaviour? The sort of vile behaviour that could not imaginably happen, apparently, in the rolling acres of the rural backwaters of this green and pleasant land?

Well that's why assorted vicars and quire masters and other offenders have got away with it, isn't it? The "Father Knows Best" routine - also practised by evangelical church leaders in parts of the world. The vast vast majority of church leaders are of course innocent. But the ones who got away with it did it by assuming the mantle of holiness. "Old Fr Bernard? He could never do that. He's so nice and always talks to Nan about the War.  I couldn't believe it of him."

And then the classic old Mail "The English are the best" trope. "I thought the English believed in minding their own business."

Yes they often did. And that was the bloody problem, wasn't it? When Jimmy Savile's caravan was rocking with his latest teenage victim inside it - people minded their own business. When Rotherham schoolgirls were claiming rape, people minded their own business. When the NHS, the NSPCC and local churches noted signs of abuse in Victoria Climbié, they minded their own business.

 When "Wendy" tells them all that she believes no-one, as an ex-copper she's in about the right place. If someone comes to say they are being abused or suspect abuse, take it seriously. Report it. It's not your job to judge right or wrong. Not unless Quentin Letts is on the PCC with an Austrian countess, a centenarian, and Miss Marple. When someone tells you they definitely didn't do it, or when someone else tells you someone else isn't that kind of person - don't believe them. Again, it's not your job to believe them. It's not your job to investigate.

To summarise - using another paragraph from Quentin Letts:
"I know several PCC members in our diocese, including a churchwarden who is a pillar of the county, who intend to quit rather than succumb to any safeguarding course."
A "pillar of the county". Like Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris and Stuart Hall were pillars of the BBC. Like Bishop Peter Ball was a pillar of the church. Being a pillar of anything is irrelevant if you're innocent - which most pillars are. But if you're not, being a pillar of something is an opportunity. A chance to use your power against somebody who won't be be believed because they're that famously "loose" girl, that trouble-making boy, that child of a single mum, that person with special needs who could be making it up.

Why would you quit rather than succumb to a safeguarding course? Because you're too good? Because your pillarness of the county makes you immune to suspicion? Then your threat to quit is a symptom of the problem. Not a heroic reaction to oppression.

Full marks, really. Quentin Letts has written one of the worst, smuggest, most ignorant, wrongest columns I have ever read.

Oh, and never use the term "kiddy-fiddling". It makes the crime sound so much less important that "child sexual abuse", don't you think?

Oh and yes, Quentin Letts. You want an Archbishop to promote Christian values? I'd go right back to Jesus. He liked kids. And he wanted them protected. What do you want, exactly?

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  1. Well said. Saw his article and thought "What an ignorant oaf".

    Yes, PCC Members are expected to undergo safe guarding training, the level of which can be undertaken on line within an hour. They are not being ordered to do anything, but having volunteered for their role, and been elected to it, in trust, by their parish congregations, should understand their responsibilities in leading their Church, supporting the Incumbent in keeping their church safe, and what they must do if they have any safeguarding concerns.

    To often in the past, this was just something that was in the background to their other roles, but is now at the forefront. Surely the protection of vulnerable children and adults, is a Christian duty in accordance with Jesus' greatest commandments. Love God, and Love your Neighbor as yourself?

    Mr Letts has just displayed his unfitness for service on his PCC, and perhaps his Incumbent should have a quiet word with him about his status and position both in Church law (which is the law of the land) and under Charity rules as a Charity Trustee. The Non-Job that he boasts has no legal basis, he is a volunteer, as we all are, who have a duty of care towards those we minister too. Safeguarding is just one aspect of that role.

  2. UKViewer has my vote. Q Letts does not.

  3. as one who teaches the Methodist safeguarding course (as a volunteer, I hasten to add) I think this is the most appallingly irresponsible twaddle I have ever read. Boo to Mr Letts


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