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The Times Report on the Bishop of Southwark - a Correction

Wednesday 6th June 2007

A report in today's Times [6th June 2007] is headlined 'Bishop was drunk after Christmas Party, leaked report says' (online version as at 12.35am; wording for other versions may differ).

The headline accompanies a story about a report into allegations around an incident last December involving the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Dr Tom Butler.

The suggestion in the headline that the report has concluded that the Bishop was drunk is completely misleading. It comes as a result of a misunderstanding of:

  1. what the report, prepared by Chancellor Bursell, is intended to address,
  2. the stage it represents in the procedures of clergy discipline, and
  3. the untested nature of the allegations which were set out in the complaint.

The report in question was a preliminary report, intended merely to assess whether - if true - the allegations made by the complainant would be strong enough to justify proceeding further with the disciplinary process under the Clergy Discipline Measure. The report's finding is that some of the allegations - if true - would be serious enough to justify being taken on to the next stage. Some allegations it discounts.

At this preliminary stage, no explanation or answer by the person complained against is required or expected. Only at the next stage would the opportunity be given to the person complained against to give his side of the story. This report, therefore, is based on only the complainant's account.

For that reason, the report does not make any judgement as to the truth of the allegations. A footnote makes it clear that other evidence 'may in due time put a different complexion on the matter' and, crucially, a clause in brackets makes it clear that the question of the truth of any allegation is yet to be determined. Chancellor Bursell qualifies references to the alleged drunkenness in the complaint with the phrase 'if it occurred'.

The finding of the report was that the complaint was sufficiently serious to justify further exploration under the Measure. Although the complainant was not qualified under the Measure to bring it forward, a subsequent complaint was taken to the next stage in the disciplinary process, enabling the Bishop to give his own account of what had happened. It was only at that point, on the basis of all the evidence then before the Archbishop, that he took the decision, announced last month, that no further action should be taken.

It would, therefore, be entirely misleading to represent this preliminary report as being any kind of judgement or finding that the Bishop of Southwark was drunk on the night in question.

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