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Church of England 'too slow' to tackle child abuse after Rochester Cathedral's former music director Scott Farrell's conviction for sexual offences


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The Church of England has been "far too slow" in tackling child abuse following the conviction of a Kent Cathedral organist who invited kids back to his flat to watch porn.

An independent review found several opportunities were missed to stop Scott Farrell, a former director of music at Rochester Cathedral, who abused his position to manipulate young boys into depraved acts.

Scott Farrell, former director of music at Rochester Cathedral was jailed for several sexual offences in 2019
Scott Farrell, former director of music at Rochester Cathedral was jailed for several sexual offences in 2019

The 51-year-old would show the teens, who were aged between 13 and 15, pornography in his flat and encouraged them to touch themselves as he also masturbated.

Farrell, of Wouldham, was jailed for five years in 2019 after pleading guilty to charges of voyeurism and making indecent images of children and adults.

He also admitted to contact offences against a child dating back some twenty years to when he was working as assistant director of music at another diocese in Cambridgeshire.

An independent review was commissioned by the Church of England's national safeguarding team into the case and carried out by independent chair Chris Robson.

The work was informed by three individual cathedral reviews conducted in Rochester, as well as Ely and Newcastle where Farrell also worked.

Scott Farrell was the organist and taught pupils music at Rochester Cathedral
Scott Farrell was the organist and taught pupils music at Rochester Cathedral

They found that there were a number of missed opportunities to challenge his behaviour, with safeguarding concerns raised at regular intervals.

The latest independent review examines the Church's efforts to tackle abuse in the wake of the crimes and highlight steps to enhance and improve its response to allegations.

But despite seeing evidence of significant improvement in policy, practice and culture it says "the pace of change is far too slow".

When speaking to one individual about this apparent lack of urgency the pace was described as "glacial".

There was a lack of investment in safeguarding during Farrrell's tenure and for most of the ten years he spent at Rochester, the Cathedral did not have its own professionally qualified safeguarding adviser.

The latest review also factored in Farrell's close working relationship with Sam Rathbone, who was also convicted for sexual offences against children.

Director of music at Rochester Cathedral, Scott Farrell. Photo: Rochester Cathedral
Director of music at Rochester Cathedral, Scott Farrell. Photo: Rochester Cathedral

In 2014, Rathbone, a former choirmaster at Rochester Cathedral, was jailed for three years for having unlawful sex with a 14-year-old girl. He was 28 at the time.

It concluded safeguarding awareness should have been heightened by the conviction of Rathbone, a close colleague and someone Farrell fought to have employed in the cathedral's music department.

In total, today's review made eleven recommendations including calling for a national campaign to highlight the importance of safeguarding and improvements to staff training.

Independent reviewer Chris Robson, said "I would like to acknowledge the pain and suffering his offending caused many people, he was a manipulative man who abused his position of trust.

"First and foremost, my thoughts are with those who he abused, offended against and manipulated so he could carry out these terrible crimes.

"The review does not seek to apportion blame or hold individuals to account. It seeks to afford the Church of England an opportunity to learn from missed opportunities, mistakes made, and good practice observed during the process."

"...The church still needs to examine its culture and the priority it gives to safeguarding. "

Whilst Mr Robson said he was "heartened" by the progress already made, including significant investment in safeguarding, more still needs to be done.

He added: "Whilst I have been reassured by many people, I have met during this review the church still needs to examine its culture and the priority it gives to safeguarding.

"If positive change is to be made and maintained, then policy must be lived by church leaders and the wider community.

"Above all there needs to be a recognition that safeguarding is everybody’s responsibility. We all should take responsibility for doing everything we can to safeguard children and vulnerable adults.”

Acknowledging the findings of the review, the church’s lead safeguarding bishop, Jonathan Gibbs agreed the pace of change had been "too slow".

"This report should be compulsory – and uncomfortable – reading for church leaders at every level," he said.

"This review is about learning lessons to improve the church’s safeguarding practice for the future, but we must never forget the victims and survivors who have been abused and others affected by the impact of this case.

Mr Gibbs said they were "truly sorry", adding: "There were clearly missed opportunities to challenge Farrell’s behaviour and it is vital that we learn from this and act on the recommendations.

"The report does acknowledge that there have been improvements in practice throughout the review period, and highlights examples of this, particularly around safer recruitment but we must continue to learn and develop, building on our existing work.

"There is criticism of the time taken to start the review process and this is something the Church must take on board in any future work."

The Dean of Rochester, Reverend Dr Philip Hesketh, added: "The Review provides a shocking picture of missed opportunities, failings of practice, and derogation of responsibility.

"The safeguarding of children and all within the Cathedral community is paramount and we are working hard to ensure that the Cathedral is a safe and welcoming place for all.

"We fully endorse the recommendations of the review and note particularly the places where culture and decision-making within the Cathedral is criticised.

"There is much for us in leadership to absorb and we will consider the Review’s findings very carefully to assess what further action is required of us.

"To assist this, we are now developing a dedicated working group, which will include The King’s School Rochester, to look at this report and its recommendation, in order to inform our work going forward.

"As a cathedral we remain appalled and saddened by Scott Farrell’s offences, for which we continue to hold a sense of shame."

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