Fellows of Society of Antiquaries condemn decision on child sex offender

More than 200 fellows write to The Observer to apologise after a meeting of fellows rejected a proposal to remove Hubert Chesshyre from membership

(Photograph: Roberto Herrett/Alamy)
(Photograph: Roberto Herrett/Alamy)

More than 200 fellows of the Society of Antiquaries have said they are appalled at the charity’s failure to remove a child sex offender from its membership and have pledged to work towards changes in governance.

In a letter to The Observer newspaper, the fellows apologised for the charity’s inability to remove Hubert Chesshyre as a fellow and said they were determined to reform and modernise the charity’s statutes and governance procedures.

The charity admitted last week that its governance procedures were not fit for purpose after fellows voted against removing Chesshyre as a fellow.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published proceedings earlier this year confirming that Chesshyre had committed two acts of gross indecency with a minor.

A number of fellows of the charity asked for a vote on Chesshyre’s removal from the organisation and the society’s council put the resolution forward unanimously.

But the fellows rejected the resolution after only a small number were able to attend the meeting to consider it.

The letter to The Observer, which was signed by 220 fellows of the charity, said: "As fellows of the society, we are appalled by this outcome.

"The society’s governance structures meant that the vote had to be made in person on a weekday afternoon, and only 109 of more than 3,000 fellows were able to attend.

"The 76 fellows who voted against the resolution do not represent us or the values and behaviours of any organisation of which we would wish to be members.

"We support Chesshyre’s victim and we emphasise the absolute importance of placing survivors’ needs at the centre of any such situation.

"We offer our heartfelt apologies, and emphasise our determination to reform and modernise the society’s statutes and governance procedures."

A response to the letter from Paul Drury, president of the society, said the charity’s board welcomed the sentiments expressed in the letter, shared the views of the signatories and "takes it as a measure of support for the reforms that the trustees, with legal advice, are already working on"

He said: "The trustees, the fellows who voted in support of the motion for removal and our staff were similarly shocked at the outcome of the meeting.

"The trustees and the general secretary have thought very deeply about the implications of the result of this vote for the society.

"All are committed to reforming the society’s governance arrangements so that the society is able to respond appropriately should similar cases arise in future."

Drury’s response said options for reform included removing the requirement for the removal of a fellow being determined solely at a meeting of fellows in person and adopting a range of "hard triggers", such as criminal convictions, that would lead to the removal of a fellow.

The response said the charity expected to bring amended statutes for consideration at its next annual general meeting in April.

"Finally, and most importantly, the society has been in touch with the victim throughout this process and is grateful to have received their cooperation throughout," the response said.

"On behalf of the society, the general secretary has apologised unreservedly to the victim for any hurt which the society’s unsuccessful attempt to remove Mr Chesshyre may have caused."

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