For some weeks, attempts have been made behind the scenes to encourage the Dean to engage in dialogue with members of the York Minster Society of Change Ringers (YMSCR) in order to restore good relations and to get the bells ringing again. During this period we were advised to refrain from making public statements on the matter. However, the Minster have declined to respond to these requests for reconciliation, and yesterday (16/12/2016) released a statement. YMSCR wish to clarify the points made in that statement as follows:
- No members of YMSCR have engaged in any intimidation of other ringers. We distance ourselves from any such behaviour, should it have taken place. Likewise, we are unaware of any ‘legal threat’ made against a member of the clergy. Our strong preference has always been to resolve the matter through dialogue and this has always been emphasised in our approaches to Chapter.
- No member of YMSCR has been found guilty of any crime related to safeguarding. The Minster’s statement refers to safeguarding concerns raised against a member of the bellringing team. Following a court hearing in December 2015, the judge decided that no sanction should be imposed. Costs were also awarded against North Yorkshire Police. We are told that this is unusual and typically indicates that the case is so weak as to be tantamount to a waste of the court’s time.
- No evidence for the risk assessment described in the Minster’s statement was sought from YMSCR. No members of YMSCR were interviewed and no visits to the tower were made during ringing sessions to conduct this assessment.
- YMSCR were not given, or offered, any safeguarding briefings by Minster staff on this particular matter. When we requested such briefings, our requests were always declined on the grounds of confidentiality.
- YMSCR have always complied with the Minster’s safeguarding policies. Indeed, in February 2016, our Ringing Master received an email from the retiring Minster Safeguarding Officer in which she concluded by thanking him “for co-operating so willingly with me over the past few years as we all strove to give child protection the important profile it demands”. Chapter decided to temporarily exclude an individual from ringing activities in April 2015, and we have complied with that decision at all times. Chapter informed us on 4thAugust 2016 that their decision to exclude the individual on a temporary basis had been changed to a permanent exclusion.
- The remaining members of YMSCR. It is important to be clear that there is no possible ground for questioning the standing of the remaining members in terms of safeguarding. Twenty members of the band were DBS holders, and several had safeguarding training as part of their employment. These members of the band are as committed to safeguarding as any other volunteer at the Minster. That they have been summarily dismissed from the Minster after, in some cases, decades of loyal service, is deeply distressing for them. For there to be an implied questioning of their suitability to safeguard young ringers has caused untold hurt to them and their families.
- Chapter declined to respond to our requests to meet them to discuss the decision referred to in point 5 above. Some members of the team subsequently wrote letters to Chapter asking them to reconsider their decision. It was after this that we were invited to a meeting on 11th October, where we were informed that our volunteer agreements with the Minster had been terminated with immediate effect.
We appeal again directly to the Rev. Vivienne Faull to discuss the matter with us, and allow York Minster’s glorious bells to ring out this Christmas, and beyond.