4. October 2020: Something happens in the Vestry

Following a service in the Cathedral on Sunday 4 October, there was an encounter between the Dean and ‘X’, a student at the College, in the vestry at Christ Church.

Some of what took place is agreed; much is disputed.

‘X’ claimed that the Dean complimented her on her hair – which she was about to cut off to donate to charity – and that he touched her hair and said he had been unable to take his eyes off her during the church service.

[ Note that the Dean, who firmly denies having touched ‘X’’s hair, has pointed out a number of discrepancies, including that it would have been impossible for him to stare at her throughout the service as she was not actually in view for most of the time. ]

‘X’ went on to lunch with Revd Clare Hayns, the College Chaplain, who also complimented her on her hair. ‘X’ recounted her encounter with the Dean.

From this point the matter escalated, partly through the offices of Christ Church colleagues, some of whom had publicly denounced Martyn Percy.

Initially, the view seems to have been that this was an allegation of harassment, but it was soon treated as an allegation about safeguarding. A complaint was sent by ‘X’ to the Sub-Dean, Canon Richard Peers, on 11 October.

‘X’ subsequently reflected on what she saw as a significant power imbalance between herself and the Dean. She did not initially feel traumatised or hugely upset by what had happened but, in retrospect, considered it an “assault” as defined by the University. She also said that she felt uneasy sharing a space with the Dean, given the consequences of having reported him.

The decision to initiate an investigation into the Dean, as well as to launch a Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), was taken by the Sub-Dean and by the chief Cathedral Safeguarding Officer, Graham Ward, one of the leading campaigners, complainants and signatories to all earlier attempts to get rid of the Dean. Graham Ward had been an unsuccessful applicant for the Deanship in 2014 and had signed the complaint that led to the Smith Tribunal in the summer of 2019. He had also signed the letter to the NST about safeguarding concerns, although all four allegations were held to be unfounded. He was also one of the members of the College’s Governing Body who wrote to the Charity Commission in April 2020 complaining that Martyn Percy had “no moral compass”. This final act led directly to the Charity Commission requiring both parties to enter meaningful mediation. Graham Ward’s long-standing opposition to the Dean gives rise to an apparent conflict of interest; however this does not seem to have been noted, nor taken into account.

The Chaplain, on learning of X’s description of the alleged incident, subsequently reported that she realised it was “a massive deal. People wanted the final blow. I was thinking is this important enough for that to happen?” In other words, it was obvious to senior members of the College that whatever followed on from what had, or hadn’t, happened in the Vestry was, in reality, inseparable from the wider attempt by members of Christ Church to get rid of the Dean.

Martyn Percy was told by the Sub-Dean on 13 October that an allegation of harassment had been raised against him and that there would be an investigation by someone independent.

Police interview

Having initially said she didn’t want to, ‘X’ did complain to the Police and supplied Canon Graham Ward with her Police witness statement so that he could raise a complaint with the Bishop of Oxford under a Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM). He raised the CDM on 5 November, after writing to the Bishop of Oxford the day before. The Church launched a National Safeguarding Team (NST) safeguarding inquiry.

Martyn Percy was interviewed by the Police, who rapidly decided that “no further action” was necessary.