Witnesses were last week criticised by a judge for causing serious and
unnecessary dealy to a Charity Commission investigation into the organisation’s
safeguarding and protection procedures, which could have put children at risk.
watchdog launched an inquiry last June into the Witnesses’ governing body, the
Watchtower Bible and Traqct Society of Britain (WBTSB) following historical sex
abuse allegations and convuctions of senior members of the congregation.
Manchester, convicted child abuser Jonathan Rose was allowed to question his
victims after release from prison to see whether he should be allowed to return
to the congregation. In Newcastle, three
elders were accused of refusing to cooperate (until ordered to do so by a
judge) with a police investigation and subsequent prosecution of Gordon
Leighton, a ministerial servant (an assistant to the elders). He was jailed for 13 years for a series of
assaults on a child.
claims that elders destroyed evidence and refused to cooperate with police
investigations into Mark Sewell, from Barry, south Wales, were made when he was
finally jailed for 14 years for rape and child abuse last year. And in the high court, judgement is expected
soon in a test case brought by a victim who was raped and abused for five years
from the age of four by Peter Stewart, a ministerial servant in
Leicestershire. She is suing the
organisation for the post-traumatic stress and othe damage she says she has
suffered because of its failure to protect her.
If she wins her case (the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim they cannot be held
liable for the individual actions of members), dozens of other similar claims
are expected to follow.
As well as
investigating the Jehovah’s Witnesses over safeguarding and their advice to
individual congregation charities, the Charity Commission was seeking to probe
the organisation’s administration, governance and management in a move which
could see the congregation lose its charitable status. The commission also served WBTSB with a
production order seeking disclosure of all documents recording allegations of
abuse, and advice and guidance given in response, as well as minutes of
meetings associated with child safeguarding.
organisation was given 42 days to appeal to the Charity Tribunal but instead
applied for a judicial review, arguing that the inquiry and production order
were disproportionate and too wide, and that data may breach data protection
laws and the human rights of people who may be identified. Last December the organisation was refused a
judicial review, and last week the tribunal refused it permission to appeal
against the enquiry because it was out of time.
judge Alison McKenna said the WBTSB had been told repeatedly that an
application for judicial review would fail ‘because parliament had created the
alternative remedy of an appeal to the tribunal’. When asked why it had failed to launch an
appeal on time, lawyers for the charity admitted: ‘We could have, but we didn’t’.
said there had already been ‘significant and serious’ delay in the
investigation and added: ‘I give weight to the fact that the inquiry and
production order relate to safeguarding matters which could ... concern ongoing
risks to people who are still children’.
Private Eye 1388, 20/3/15
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