The Charity Commission has criticised a Jehovah’s Witnesses charity that allowed a convicted sex offender to question his alleged victims as part of proceedings to decide whether he should continue as part of the congregation.
A report from the regulator on the Manchester New Moston Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, published today, says trustees failed to deal adequately with child abuse allegations against former board member Jonathan Rose.
The report says the commission began looking into the charity after being told that Rose was appearing in court in August 2012 charged with sexual offences that took place in 2002, before he became a trustee of the charity.
The commission asked the charity’s trustees for further information and gave advice and guidance. Rose resigned as a trustee.
In October 2013, Rose was convicted on two counts of indecent assault, sentenced to nine months in prison and made to sign the sex offenders register for life, the regulator’s report says.
In November of that year, the regulator became aware that it had been alleged during Rose’s trial that the charity’s trustees had known about a complaint of a similar nature about him from 1995, which the charity had not discussed with the commission.
It opened a further case, during which it discovered that, after his convictions, the elders of the church, who are in effect the charity’s trustees, held internal "disfellowshipping" proceedings against Rose to determine whether he should be expelled from the church.
As part of the proceedings, his two victims, who were now adults, attended a meeting at the congregation’s hall in April 2014, where they and another woman who had made allegations of historic sexual abuse against Rose were questioned about what took place.
Rose, who by March 2014 had been released from prison, was able to question the three alleged victims as part of these proceedings and in front of seven of the charity’s congregation.
The commission’s report says it has evidence that the meetings lasted more than three hours, during which time the alleged victims were asked inappropriate questions, including by Rose himself.
The regulator concludes in its report that the charity had been guilty of "serious failings" from a safeguarding perspective and witnesses to the disfellowshipping proceedings "endured inappropriate, demeaning and disrespectful questioning".
It says that the trustees of the charity "did not engage openly and candidly with the commission" and failed to report the allegations of sexual abuse to the commission as a serious incident.
The commission says that trustees failed adequately to consider and deal with potential conflicts of loyalty within the trustee body and did not keep an adequate written record of the decision-making process used to manage the risk Rose posed to the charity’s beneficiaries.
The regulator says it had faced continued challenge in the charity tribunal against its decision to investigate the charity, which was eventually rejected by the Upper Tribunal in April.
But the commission acknowledges in its report that, since the inquiry was opened, the charity has improved its child safeguarding policy and its procedures for handling misconduct allegations.
The commission has an ongoing statutory inquiry into the umbrella charity the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Britain to further examine the child safeguarding policies and procedures that it has in place, because they are used by all Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations in England and Wales.
A statement issued by the WTBTSB said Jehovah’s Witnesses abhorred child abuse in all its forms and did not shield wrongdoers from the authorities or from the consequences of their actions.
"All allegations of abuse are thoroughly investigated and appropriate restrictions are imposed on any person who is guilty of child sexual abuse," it said. The Jehovah’s Witnesses had had a robust child safeguarding policy for years, it added.
"The trustees followed the policy by imposing restrictions on the perpetrator and by ensuring that he had no unsupervised contact with children during congregation meetings.
"The trustees will continue to concentrate on doing all that they can to safeguard children and to care for the spiritual needs of the congregation."