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Justin Welby accuses BBC over Jimmy Savile abuse victims

Justin Welby accuses BBC over Jimmy Savile abuse victims
Archbishop of Canterbury faces backlash after claiming broadcaster showed less integrity than church in tackling scandal

By Jamie Doward and Harriet Sherwood
https://www.theguardian.co.uk
Sept. 30, 2017

The Church of England and the BBC engaged in an extraordinary war of words on Saturday over their responses to sex abuse scandals within their ranks.

The dispute was prompted by criticism of the BBC levelled by Justin Welby for its response to the Jimmy Savile crisis. The archbishop of Canterbury said the BBC had not shown the same integrity over accusations of child abuse that the Catholic and Anglican churches had.

The BBC's religious affairs correspondent, Martin Bashir, responded by listing cases of alleged sex abuse within the Anglican church, adding that Welby's comments reminded him of the passage in the gospel of St John in which Christ says, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone".

Survivors of sexual abuse by CoE clerics accused Welby of "breathtaking hypocrisy" after his criticism of the way the BBC dealt with the many cases of abuse carried out by Savile.

Supporters of the church and the broadcaster expressed their anger on social media after Welby's remarks, which came during a wide-ranging pre-recorded interview to mark the 60th anniversary of Radio 4's Today programme.

"I think we are a kinder society, more concerned with our own failures, more willing to be honest where we go wrong," Welby said, before adding: "In most of our institutions, there are still dark areas."

When asked which, he said: "If I'm really honest, I'd say the BBC is one. I haven't seen the same integrity over the BBC's failures over Savile as I've seen in the Roman Catholic Church, in the Church of England, in other public institutions over abuse. We may be proved wrong about that, but you know that's one area."

In 2012, the BBC appointed an independent review led by Dame Janet Smith that identified 72 victims of sexual abuse by Savile at the BBC.

Since Welby became archbishop in 2013, the church has made the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults its "highest priority". It has introduced safeguarding policies along with independent audits for all its dioceses and dedicated training on hearing disclosures for all senior clergy. A professional safeguarding representative now sits in each diocese with the power to challenge the church when abuse concerns surface.

When the Savile allegations became known we established an independent investigation by a high court judge, said a BBC spokesman.

But abuse survivors' groups believe the response has not gone far enough and on Saturday launched a blistering response to Welby's suggestion that the BBC could learn from the church's initiatives. In a statement, six abuse survivors said the record of the church and Welby himself was one of "silence, denial and evasion". One survivor, Andy Morse, tweeted: "Lambeth Palace is darkest place in UK." Dennis Skinner MP tweeted: "Unbelievable. Pot calling the kettle black."

A spokesman for the BBC said of Welby's statement: "This isn't a characterisation we recognise. When the Savile allegations became known we established an independent investigation by a high court judge. In the interests of transparency, this was published in full. We apologised and accepted all the recommendations. And while today's BBC is a different place, we set out very clear actions to ensure the highest possible standards of child safeguarding."

The row was exacerbated by the Today programme's response to Welby's comments. Presenter John Humphrys' interview with Bashir, as well as survivors' groups, triggered an angry reaction from church supporters. One listener tweeted: "Justin Welby criticises Beeb/Savile. BBC responds by getting 'abuse in the church' activists on to point a finger at church."

Rosie Harper, chaplain to the bishop of Buckingham, tweeted: "Bashir very energised about the huge scale of abuse in the church. Not at all happy that the ABC points the finger at the Beeb."

Another tweet read: "Archbishop of Canterbury attacks integrity of BBC. #r4today launches a tirade against the Church. Archbishop of Canterbury wins."

One complained: "Very defensive Martin Bashir chat with John Humphreys [sic]. Seems the BBC can dish it out but can't take it."

Today said Welby had declined an invitation to expand on his criticisms. The corporation also did not want to be interviewed on the matter.

In a statement, Lambeth Palace reiterated Welby's criticism of the corporation. "The archbishop fully supports the church's commitment to develop a stronger national approach to safeguarding to improve its response to protecting the vulnerable," the statement read. "The archbishop believes this level of rigorous response and self-examination needs to extend to all institutions, including the BBC."

END

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