Bishop of Hertford apologises for safeguarding failings at Baldock church - with porn found on second computer there

PUBLISHED: 15:34 24 February 2017 | UPDATED: 08:01 28 February 2017

The Bishop of Hertford, Rt Rev Dr Michael Beasley, has today apologised for safeguarding failings at Baldocks historic parish church  following a diocese investigation which found porn on a second computer there.

The Bishop of Hertford, Rt Rev Dr Michael Beasley, has today apologised for safeguarding failings at Baldocks historic parish church  following a diocese investigation which found porn on a second computer there.

Archant

The Bishop of Hertford has today apologised for safeguarding failings at Baldock's historic parish church - following a diocese investigation which found porn on a second computer there.

Rev Andrew Holford of St Mary's Church in Baldock.Rev Andrew Holford of St Mary's Church in Baldock.

The Diocese of St Albans today published the findings of its investigation into computer misuse at St Mary’s Church in 2010, when vicar Rev Andrew Holford smashed up a computer hard drive amid an alleged child porn cover-up.

The vicar insisted to the Comet that he had only been aware of legal adult pornography – but Rt Rev Dr Michael Beasley, Bishop of Hertford, wrote in his response to today’s report that the drive’s destruction left the church unable to offer evidence proving that.

“This leaves the parish damaged by questions hanging over it which cannot be fully answered,” the bishop wrote.

“The parish was left largely defenceless to hearsay accusations which suggested that ‘child porn’ had been viewed.

“These accusations were made by a third party who had no first-hand knowledge of the situation in 2010.”

Elsewhere in his response, the bishop called the affair ‘a matter of deep shame and sorrow’.

Mr Holford confirmed to the Comet last month that he had destroyed the hard drive – which reportedly contained a history of child sex abuse websites visited – in an attempt to protect a member of his congregation, who he said was still connected with St Mary’s with access to the church computer.

He said the pornographic images were of adults and that he had followed the diocese’s child protection procedures – but several sources, including two former churchwardens, told the Comet that the material concerned children.

Today’s report, from diocesan safeguarding adviser Jez Hirst, reveals that the person responsible was the St Mary’s church administrator – who admitted accessing pornographic images, but claimed they were inadvertently sourced during a search for medical information.

It was at the administrator’s request and out of apparent concern for his wellbeing that Mr Holford destroyed the hard drive, Mr Hirst wrote – ‘without considering that it would make it impossible to satisfactorily answer subsequent questions about what went on’.

When Mr Holford, who had been on leave when the material was found by chance in August 2010, reported the matter to the then-Archdeacon of Hertford, he was urged to remove the administrator from such roles – something he failed to do.

The report concludes that the church administrator, vicar and the churchwardens – the latter of whom and the archdeacon are no longer in post – all fell short of best safeguarding practice.

In his response to Mr Hirst’s findings, the bishop revealed that pornographic images had been found on a second, older computer at St Mary’s in 2011, ‘though there is no evidence of any harm done to individuals in the parish’ – and invited anyone aware of legal or illegal pornography, or any other safeguarding matter, to report it to Mr Hirst.

The bishop said the second computer had been misused for a prolonged period and that evidence showed the first computer to have been used inappropriately for longer than the administrator admitted.

Mr Holford having destroyed the first hard drive, churchwarden dealt with the second instance of porn being found ‘in a similar way’.

The bishop has recommended an urgent review of parish safeguarding procedures, involving a review of training for those responsible for safeguarding, including Mr Holford – and concluded that it is inappropriate for the administrator to hold any more church roles involving computers or positions of trust.

The bishop said: “The safety of people must be our priority when we welcome people into our churches and our schools. The way this matter was handled may leave the name of St Mary’s tarnished.

“I apologise for the failures that have raised doubt over our capacity to offer a safe welcome in church to the people of Baldock.

“The measures we have recommended and are putting in place as a result of this report will, I hope, help to restore people’s trust in the church and assure them that safeguarding is our top priority.”

The bishop also thanked the Comet for referring the matter to police, as well as the force for investigating the allegations – which the report said had sparked ‘huge concern’ in both Baldock and the Diocese of St Albans.

He added that the current church computer was being examined by police at the diocese’s instigation, and that Mr Hirst’s full, confidential report had been shared with police.

Rev Andrew Holford said in response: “I am grateful to the diocese for the thoroughness of their investigation. I accept and will implement its findings as far as that falls to me.

“I note that it finds no question of my involvement in criminal wrongdoing, but I now accept that destroying the hard disk was unwise and made a difficult situation worse.

“I am sorry for that and pledge that safeguarding policies will be given proper priority in St Mary’s.”

A police spokeswoman told the Comet that their investigation was ongoing.

You can read the Diocese of St Albans’ report in full at stalbans.anglican.org/wp-content/uploads/Findings-and-BishopofHertfordResponseFINAL.pdf.

The Diocese of St Albans’ safeguarding adviser Jez Hirst can be contacted on 01727 818107, 07867 350886, or safeguarding@stalbans.anglican.org.

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