Christ Church and Dr Martyn Percy: Our Response
A message from Christ Church Governing Body
Why this document?
In the past three years, Christ Church has held back from offering commentary on a series of damaging reports regarding its relationship with the former Dean, Dr Martyn Percy. Those reports related to a number of disputes between the institution and its Head of House, the earliest of which dates back to 2017 while the most recent concerned an allegation of sexual harassment made against Dr Percy by Alannah Jeune. During this time, despite attacks on it and its members by supporters of the former Dean, Christ Church has consistently tried to avoid making pronouncements in the hope of avoiding a destructive cycle of claim and counter-claim. The trustees (Christ Church’s Governing Body) have been mindful that they all have both a duty of confidentiality and a general duty to place the charity’s interests above their own and have sought to calm rather than inflame damaging media attention.
Settlements were reached with Dr Percy and Ms Jeune in February this year and Governing Body hoped that media interest – and Dr Percy – might move on. Our ambition was that following the settlements and Dr Percy’s departure in April, the institution would be allowed to focus entirely on carrying out its teaching, research, and running of the Cathedral; and that although no finding was made in the sexual harassment claim, the complainant, Ms Jeune, would feel somewhat compensated for the losses she suffered after raising her complaint.
However, recent press, including a feature in The Times, has renewed the attacks on the institution and made it clear that there will be no peace until we outline exactly how our dispute with Dr Percy unfolded over the last four years. At the same time, numerous stakeholders, notably our alumni, have requested the account that follows, which explains how and why we believe the disputes arose, what we have tried to do to remedy them; and, ultimately, how a successful resolution was reached.
The campaign by Dr Percy and his supporters has been fuelled by information, some selective, some false and some appropriated from leaked documents, letters and emails, and knitted into a narrative that has been at best, distorted and one-sided and, at worst, untrue.
The repetition of Dr Percy’s accusations across the years has given them a familiarity that makes it easier for those with no direct knowledge of events to believe them. Here, in reply to the accusations which have been made about Christ Church, we set out Christ Church’s reply on what actually happened.
The role of the Censors
There was no ‘coup’ against Dr Percy, attempted or otherwise, by the Censors, ex-Censors, nor indeed by the Governing Body. The Censors of Christ Church are academics who agree to serve first as Junior and then as Senior Censor, roles that correspond roughly to those of Welfare Dean and Senior Tutor in other colleges, but who also – with the Dean – oversee the general operation of the Joint Foundation. Governing Body is sovereign.
The ex-Censors – all those who have previously been Censor (typically around seven to ten members of Governing Body at any one time) – are not a clandestine group, but are well known across the College community. They have a specific role defined in Christ Church’s by-laws in nominating, but not appointing, the next Censor who, as noted above, is appointed by the entire Governing Body.
The pay dispute
The main reason for the initial falling-out between Dr Percy and Christ Church was the way he set about trying to obtain a substantial pay rise in 2017. Having chaired two meetings approving a large increase in the remuneration package for the new Development Director, Dr Percy decided that he wanted to link his own remuneration to that of the new appointee. He based his argument on the erroneous claim that the Development Director was paid more than he was.
In fact, the Development Director’s basic salary was lower than Dr Percy’s. The Development Director did receive an additional housing allowance, while Dr Percy’s package included living free of charge in the Deanery. Dr Percy, however, considered the value of living in the Deanery as no more ‘than bowler hats are to our custodians’. The Times asserts that at this point, his salary was around £80,000. It was actually £90,000 when he asked for his pay rise.
Dr Percy’s request was initially turned down by Christ Church’s Salaries Board, but the Board then agreed to review the remuneration policy for all Senior College Officers, leading to policy proposals which were agreed by the Governing Body in June 2018. While this review was underway, Dr Percy, without the prior approval of other College Officers, took legal advice from Christ Church’s solicitors at the College’s expense about how he might alter the composition of the Salaries Board. He did not disclose to the solicitors the clear conflict of interest caused by the fact that he was seeking a pay review for himself whilst taking that advice. He did add that he was seeking to remove both the Secretary and another member of that Committee, both of whom he had unsuccessfully lobbied (despite his conflict of interest) for a pay rise.
Matters were made worse by the sense that in pressing his salary claim, Dr Percy was perceived by some as being somewhere between rude and bullying to the College Officers who, in arguing against his pay rise, were simply doing what they considered to be proper and in Christ Church’s best interests. In addition, without convincing explanation, Dr Percy unilaterally amended an email containing advice from a third party about why the Salaries Board should be restructured.
All this led to a significant breakdown in the working relationship between Dr Percy and a number of other members of Governing Body. Many considered him to be putting his personal interests above the charity’s interests, a breach of his duty as a trustee.
In July 2018 a group was tasked by Governing Body to mediate with three possible outcomes: restoring relationships such that there could be a new way of working together; reaching a settlement whereby the Dean and Christ Church would part company and the Dean would leave Christ Church; or returning to Governing Body to report that no agreement could be reached.
Mediation broke down by the Autumn as no agreement could be reached.
The Smith Tribunal
The only disciplinary procedure which applies to the Dean under Christ Church’s statutes is a formal complaint.
It has been suggested that the language of the charges for the Smith tribunal were designed to damage Dr Percy’s reputation. They were not. The language of the charges before the Smith tribunal used the language of the Statutes. The later employment tribunal decision makes it clear that the definition of “good cause” was perhaps not expressed in the terms that an experienced employment lawyer would choose if drafting it today. We accept that. However, “conduct of an immoral, scandalous or disgraceful nature incompatible with the duties of the office or employment” and “conduct constituting failure or persistent refusal or neglect or inability to perform the duties or comply with the conditions of office or employment” both come from a model statute which was adopted by many universities and Colleges. These were phrases Christ Church included in 2011 when the Statutes were last comprehensively reviewed. These provisions were in place before Dr Percy was appointed to the role of Dean.
The Governing Body did consider whether to use the phrase “immoral, scandalous or disgraceful” to reflect the language of the Statutes when the charges for the Smith Tribunal were discussed, but it was decided to reflect the language of the disciplinary procedure which was included in the Statutes.
The complaint against Dr Percy triggered a nearly unanimous vote by the Governing Body and Cathedral Chapter (there was only a single dissenter) to hold a tribunal, chaired by retired High Court judge, Sir Andrew Smith, to decide whether Dr Percy should be dismissed. Christ Church’s statutes set a very high bar for a Dean’s removal; the fact that he might have lost the confidence of the majority of Governing Body would not have been enough.
This was a bar that Sir Andrew did not feel had been met when he rejected all of the claims in the complaint. He did, however, find that Dr Percy had breached his fiduciary duty and expressed his surprise at the intemperate tone of some correspondence with fellow trustees.
Given Sir Andrew’s findings, the then Censors sought to find a way to restore relations with Dr Percy, so that the institution could move forward constructively. This foundered very quickly.
Rather than seeking reconciliation, Dr Percy began a campaign now focused on some of those he claimed had been involved in moving against him, by asserting that they had a ‘conflict of interest’ in all matters involving him.
Of this group, some had been involved in bringing the original complaint about Dr Percy’s conduct, but others had not. In targeting a few, Dr Percy ignored the fact that all bar one member of the Governing Body and all members of the Chapter had voted in favour of setting up the Smith tribunal.
Dr Percy’s demands did the very opposite of restoring good relations with Governing Body. Inevitably, relations between Dr Percy and the Governing Body took a critical turn for the worse. The dissemination of the report from the Smith tribunal caused a further deterioration in Dr Percy’s relationship with trustees. As an internal disciplinary decision, within Christ Church that report was initially circulated only to Dr Percy and three College Officers. It was intended to be a confidential document, although it was leaked.
On receipt of the report, Christ Church made the overall findings available to trustees, but not all the detail of the report, given that usual practice would be to restrict the full details in such a document to a small group – and the Governing Body consists of around 65 members.
Dr Percy and his supporters immediately claimed that the details in the report had been withheld to protect from scrutiny those trustees who had acted against him. This was untrue. Matters escalated in December 2019 with a crude attempt to make Christ Church pay the legal fees Dr Percy had incurred during the Smith tribunal, by threatening to publicise the document if they were not paid.
In fact, even before the tribunal had concluded, as well as afterwards (and despite his repeated claims to the contrary), Christ Church was always willing to discuss with Dr Percy the question of paying his legal fees. They were all paid as part of his settlement agreement.
Some unpleasant emails
Much is made of some highly selective quotations from e-mails dating back to 2017 and 2018, which show that a small handful of trustees used strong language to express their growing frustration with Dr Percy and some of his actions, in private exchanges.
Christ Church has never condoned these rude comments, and in his Tribunal decision Sir Andrew Smith recognised that ‘emails between close colleagues are sometimes couched in colourful language and are not always to be taken literally’. In any case, an expression of opinion in a private email is not, as Dr Percy and his supporters have suggested, evidence of a conspiracy. After all, seven people signed the complaint which preceded the Smith Tribunal, after which 43 additional members of Governing Body and all of Chapter voted to proceed.
The idea that any small group could unduly influence the entire Governing Body is unrealistic. Governing Body consists largely of Professors and Associate Professors of the University of Oxford. Their day job relies on intellectual independence and the critical examination of any proposition put before them.
A vote of no confidence and a second mediation attempt
By December 2019, just over four months after the initial release of the Smith report, relations between the Dean and Governing Body had reached a point where a motion of no confidence was passed against him. The motion could have no formal effect because of Christ Church’s Statutes, but gave a strong indication of the depth of feeling within the institution that Dr Percy had made his position untenable.
Even as relations between Dr Percy and the vast majority of the Governing Body became glacial, two initiatives were in progress that could have helped to bring about a thaw.
The first was the development of concrete proposals to review Christ Church’s governance. A review had first been proposed by the Governing Body in the first half of 2019, before the conclusion of the Smith tribunal, and was a move which Dr Percy supported.
The second was the beginning of a fresh mediation process, which aimed to settle the differences between Dr Percy and Christ Church.
Central to the mediation efforts were attempts to find a way for the institution and Dr Percy to work together and at the same time to settle the Employment Tribunal claims he had brought against Christ Church from February 2019. The existence and nature of those claims are key to much of what happened in the period from the release of the Smith report in August 2019 to the final settlement of February 2022.
In them, Dr Percy sought damages for the campaign he claims was orchestrated against him by the ex-Censors and others who he says sought to brief and persuade Governing Body to remove him from office, including for financial losses and injury to feelings caused to him by having to defend himself in the Smith tribunal. It also gave an alleged explanation for the campaign against him, namely that those he claimed opposed him were determined to prevent him from introducing reforms to the institution’s governance and procedures.
Christ Church entered into its second mediation with Dr Percy in November 2019. This round went on intermittently until March 2020. A third round, with a new mediator, began that summer of 2020 and continued, again intermittently, until summer 2021.
At this stage many organisations might have accepted that mediation was never going to work, but Christ Church continued to engage in a fourth round, convinced that mediation provided the best and most appropriate route to a resolution. After a great deal of hard work and negotiation this fourth round of mediation took place in February 2022 and finally led to the agreed settlement.
Safeguarding has been a major theme of the attacks made on Christ Church by Dr Percy and his supporters. Safeguarding is an area where much progress has been made in recent years and there is no doubt that all educational institutions have more detailed and wide-ranging safeguarding practices in place now than was the case five or ten years ago.
In the case of Christ Church, its staff have always worked hard to make the College, Cathedral and School a safe place for all who learn, teach, live, work and visit. We currently have an institution-wide, independent safeguarding review in progress, to ensure we are following best practice at all times.
An incident at Christ Church, December 2016
As reported in the recent Times article, Dr Percy acknowledges that Christ Church is ‘now as safe as anywhere else for a student’. However, he and his supporters have repeatedly suggested that an incident during the 2016-17 Christmas vacation was mishandled by Christ Church. In The Times, Dr Percy claims ‘we were left entirely alone’ to deal with a troubled female student who suffered a serious injury while in the shower.
Dr Percy’s account omits the fact that he himself had supported the student’s request to remain in residence over the vacation. He also rejected offers made by members of the Welfare team to remain in residence or return from holiday to help support the student in question.
It remains unclear why, upon Dr Percy’s own account, Dr Percy took it upon himself to take a female student out of the shower and ‘to dry and dress’ her, rather than asking someone to assist him, or calling for paramedics.
Even though during the Christmas vacation very few students are in residence and most staff are, quite rightly, on holiday, Christ Church always ensures that one senior member will be available in Oxford in case there is an emergency. The Dean often takes on this role, as a Senior College Officer provided with on-site accommodation, and that was the case on this occasion.
That Dr Percy was the officer who had to deal with this situation was thus neither unusual, nor a mistake, nor something about which he should have been surprised. Indeed, any other Head of House would have expected to oversee such an emergency if they had been in residence in their college.
That the incident occurred, as Dr Percy relates, when he and his wife had just returned from a family funeral is regrettable, but by dismissing an offer from a member of the Welfare team to stay on site, he had knowingly retained responsibility for any situation that occurred. The statutes are, in any case, clear that it is the Dean who is ultimately ‘responsible for order and discipline and the general superintendence’ of Christ Church.
Before, and after, this incident, the Dean at no stage made any proposals to Governing Body to modify Christ Church’s safeguarding practices or policies.
So, what in any case, were the specific safeguarding problems Dr Percy claims weren’t being addressed? We still don’t know exactly. He had claimed in informal exchanges with a few trustees that there had been other safeguarding incidents in previous years unknown to anyone but himself. Since Dr Percy was the only person with detailed knowledge about these allegations, and would not share these details, there was nothing for Christ Church or other bodies to act upon.
Dr Percy has made very explicit his claim that the fundamental motivation for the alleged plotting against him was the ex-Censors’ resistance to his attempts to reform safeguarding at Christ Church. This claim formed a central plank of his Employment Tribunal (‘ET’) claims, even though most trustees were completely ignorant of these assertions until the ET claims emerged.
The Employment Tribunal claims
The ET claims presented Christ Church with two significant practical problems. So much of the institution’s governance was criticised in the claim that it was impractical for the planned Governance Review to proceed until the ET had been heard (which would take a matter of years, especially given the subsequent delays due to COVID-19). In addition, individual trustees became afraid to speak freely given that confidential discussions at Governing Body meetings subsequently appeared in the media in coverage clearly initiated by supporters of the Dean.
Although Dr Percy has repeatedly claimed that, apart from one occasion, he never spoke to the press until his departure from Christ Church last month, the evidence suggests otherwise. Internal phone records prove that he had called and texted one journalist dozens of times while working at Christ Church.
An incident in the sacristy
A third round of mediation was under way when, in October 2020, a complaint of sexual harassment against the Dean was made by Ms Jeune, a young woman who was both a visiting graduate student at Christ Church and a Verger in the Cathedral.
The alleged incident occurred at a time of strict Covid-19 rules. Small-scale, socially-distanced services were taking place in the Cathedral. There were strict restrictions on entry to the smaller spaces such as the sacristy that were used for activities in connection with services.
On 4th October 2020, after a service, Ms Jeune went to the sacristy, an area explicitly only accessible to vergers under Christ Church’s Covid protocol, where it is close to impossible for two people to be present while observing social distancing. Despite these regulations, Dr Percy followed Ms Jeune into the sacristy; he has acknowledged that he had a conversation there with Ms Jeune, although by being there he was already infringing the Covid regulations of the institution of which he was head.
Ms Jeune reported the incident almost immediately to the Chaplain. Over the following week, Ms Jeune considered what to do, not consulting any senior member of Christ Church until she decided to make a formal complaint to the Sub-Dean on 11th October. The Sub-Dean informed the relevant authorities at Christ Church (as the employer of both Dr Percy and Ms Jeune) and in the diocese (as the alleged harassment occurred in an ecclesiastical context). Any complaint of this nature would be treated seriously by Christ Church, and in this case the incident’s gravity was considerably increased by the disparity in status between those involved.
On 13th October 2020, the Sub-Dean informed Dr Percy that a complaint had been made without giving any details of who the complainant was. While asserting that he would never say anything inappropriate, Dr Percy immediately volunteered the name of Ms Jeune as someone to whom he had ‘said some things.’
An independent investigation was commissioned. The highly experienced investigator was selected by two trustees, one new to the institution and another who had never been accused of hostility by Dr Percy.
The investigator’s report, submitted in late October, found that Ms Jeune’s account was credible and concluded that it was more likely than not that Dr Percy had behaved in an inappropriate manner. Given this conclusion, Christ Church instituted a formal procedure to examine a credible accusation of sexual harassment against its Head of House. The only procedure available is laid down in our Statutes and leads to a tribunal, in this case to be chaired by Rachel Crasnow QC.
Supporters of Dr Percy have repeatedly suggested that he should have had recourse to an unspecified HR process. However, in the case of the Dean, our Statutes allow for no such process to assess such an allegation other than by constituting a tribunal.
The allegation of sexual harassment triggered two other processes.
First, after Dr Percy refused to acknowledge the incident that she alleged, Ms Jeune decided to make a report to the police, who recorded the incident as sexual assault. The police investigated the report but found they did not have sufficient evidence to continue with the case, bearing in mind the high criminal burden of proof. It should be noted that they did not conclude, as supporters of Dr Percy have claimed, that there was no case to answer.
Following the findings of the preliminary investigation, after a discussion between members of Chapter, the diocese, and the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team (NST), the complaint against the Dean was referred to the Bishop of Oxford under a Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM).
The CDM procedure, led by the President of the Tribunals, Dame Sarah Asplin, did not think it proportionate to proceed to a Clergy Disciplinary Tribunal.
Christ Church’s procedure had begun in January 2021, and Dame Sarah noted that this was a more proportionate means of addressing the alleged incident. In reaching the decision to constitute an internal tribunal, the Governing Body did consider the question of whether, if the allegation by Ms Jeune was upheld, it could be considered ‘cause’ for dismissal under our Statutes. We agreed that it could.
Sir Wyn Williams, the president of the Welsh tribunals, also agreed that the evidence ‘could, if proved, constitute good cause for the removal of the Dean from office.’ In fact, he expressed the view that he ‘would have been surprised if the opposite conclusion had been reached,’ and also that a decision not to refer the complaint to a tribunal ‘would, probably, have been unreasonable.’ Trustees of Christ Church could not therefore have safely ignored this complaint.
Repeated claims by Dr Percy and his supporters that Dame Sarah Asplin cleared or exonerated Dr Percy are simply untrue.
The tribunal to assess the facts of the matter was to be held in March of this year. Its progress was slowed by Dr Percy’s ill health; he was signed off sick for seven months in the period from October 2020 to April 2021. This prolonged absence triggered our incapacity process to consider the whether the Dean was well enough to continue in his role. This would have been the case for any trustee who had been ill for more than six months. Both the disciplinary and the medical procedures were withdrawn once Dr Percy agreed to resign and leave Christ Church as part of the settlement that was reached in February 2022 in the fourth round of mediation.
The settlement agreement
Ms Jeune was central to Governing Body’s acceptance of the proposed negotiated settlement in February 2022, as without her agreement it would have been utterly inappropriate for Christ Church to abandon an inquiry into her complaint of sexual harassment.
The first mediation began in July 2018, but was unsuccessful. Two further mediation processes took place, and were also unsuccessful. It took three and a half years for any of the offers we made to Dr Percy to be accepted. We would have been delighted to settle earlier, but we could not settle with Dr Percy if he would not settle with us.
Ongoing harassment of Ms. Jeune
Some of the Dean’s supporters have followed his own line of claiming that the alleged harassment never took place. Others seem to accept that perhaps it did, but have then sought to minimise its seriousness. Many apparently believe that such an allegation is barely worth mentioning.
This young woman, who had shown enormous courage and composure throughout the eighteen months since the alleged incident occurred, had been subjected to repeated attacks on her probity in blogs and the press. In fact, The Times has been criticised by IPSO (the Independent Press Standards Organisation) for publishing information from documents which ought to have been private and could have been used to identify the complainant, which was not allowed without her permission. In addition, the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) has confirmed that some information used by Dr Percy should not have been shared.
Before speaking to the Telegraph, Ms Jeune had been named online and details about her made public, despite the fact that anyone making a report of sexual assault has an automatic right to lifetime anonymity.
This information having been revealed, Ms Jeune, after a great deal of thought and deliberation, made the courageous decision that she would concede her anonymity and talk about her ordeal in an interview with the media.
There has been an increasingly personal campaign against Ms Jeune. She has been accused of making the whole, or at least some of the alleged incident up or to have allowed a little misunderstanding – that Dr Percy had touched her hair and complimented her about it – to be weaponised by the ‘cabal’. This suggestion has been explicitly rejected by Ms Jeune as insulting.
The Governance review
With the former Dean’s departure behind us, we are now pleased to be setting up the Governance Review. This will consider all of Christ Church’s processes and structures and a selection procedure is currently taking place for an independent Chair, who will be named next month.
We had long wished that it would never be necessary to write the piece you have just read. Now it is done, we hope to put this traumatic past behind us and be allowed to concentrate on furthering the outstanding work of the College, Cathedral and School that together make up our unique foundation.