The Charity Commission has criticised a Christian church in Bristol for management and safeguarding failures after its former youth pastor was convicted of sexual offences.
The regulator today published an inquiry report on the Bristol Community Church, which has since changed its name to Bourne Christian Centre. The regulator says there had been misconduct and mismanagement in the administration of the charity because failures in its safeguarding policies and practices had left beneficiaries vulnerable to undue risk.
In October 2011, it says, it was notified by a congregational member that allegations of sexual abuse had been made against the charity’s youth pastor, who is not named in the report.
The regulator opened a compliance case on the charity in the same month. This was escalated to a statutory inquiry in December 2011 after the initial responses from the charity raised serious concerns about the adequacy of its safeguarding policies.
In May 2012, the youth pastor was convicted of two offences of sexually touching a child and one of voyeurism, and was handed a six-month prison sentence suspended for two years.
The charity’s senior pastor was also suspended after he was arrested on allegations of witness intimidation and perverting the course of justice.
No charges were eventually brought, but the senior pastor resigned. A disciplinary process carried out by the church, which concluded in September 2012, found there had been gross misconduct and that the senior pastor, who is not named in the report, would have been dismissed if they had still been an employee at the time of the hearing.
A review of the charity’s safeguarding policies and procedures by the Christian charity the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service in the first half of 2012 found significant weaknesses, including a failure to carry out an annual review of its procedures, a significant delay between the charity’s child protection lead becoming aware of the allegations and reporting them to the authorities, and inadequate recruitment practices that presented risks to its vulnerable beneficiaries.
A CCPAS report in July 2012 made 54 recommendations to the charity on how it should improve its safeguarding policies and procedures.
The commission’s report says that the charity’s trustees were fully cooperative and had implemented all of the CCPAS recommendations by the end of 2015.
But the regulator says that full implementation of the recommendations "should have been delivered with greater pace".
The commission said today that its inquiry, which has been open for almost five years, had been running for so long so that the regulator could satisfy itself the charity had complied with the CCPAS recommendations.
A statement from Bourne Christian Centre said the charity had worked hard to change its culture.
"The trustees and leadership of the church take safeguarding very seriously and have put in place clear processes and robust policy, so that everyone has a good understanding of how to safeguard our children and young people in all of our ministries," the statement said.