‘Many kind people have been subjected to intimidation’ – York Minster hits back in bell-ringing row

‘We are exploring options for ringing at Christmas’ – York Minster. Photograph © Allan Harris on Flickr
16 Dec 2016 @ 4.08 pm
| News

Like the bells themselves, the York Minster authorities have remained conspicuously silent for weeks.

After sacking the voluntary group of Minster bellringers, the Dean and Chapter has said nothing on the row since the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, addressed the media in October.

But after attempts to recruit a new team of ringers for Christmas were unsuccessful, the Chapter today (Friday) broke its silence – and how.

Threats of legal action

The 12 bells in York Minster bell tower including, at the bottom, Great Peter

In a strongly-worded statement it accused some of its critics of intimidatory tactics:

Bell ringing leaders from other parts of the county and country have been in contact to explore options for ringing in the next few days and months.

We have also been approached by individuals keen to help and who are supportive of the action Chapter has taken.

However we have learned that many of these kind people have been subjected to intimidation on social media and in the local press.

At least one member of the clergy who has offered to help has been threatened with legal action.

Meanwhile the York Minster Society of Change Ringers have held out an olive branch.

On its website, the society said they “will willingly ring the Minster bells for all Christmas services if asked to do so by the Dean and Chapter.

“This can be a temporary arrangement until difficulties are worked out in 2017.”

As things stand the bells could be silent at Christmas for what is reportedly the first time since 1361.

Multi-agency investigation

The statement also pointed the finger at the Minster bellringers for forcing its hand over the decision to sack them.

According to the Chapter it had to take action “relating to a member of the bell ringing band on safeguarding grounds” in summer.

The matter dates back to 1999/2000 and 2014 “when an individual was the subject of a police investigation into allegations of indecent assault against young girls.

“The 2014 allegations were the subject of a multi-agency investigation involving the police, social services and the Church of England’s safeguarding authorities.”

That case went to court in December 2015, where the judge decided that no sanction would be imposed and “the person concerned made certain undertakings”.

Respecting privacy

Dr Sentamu with the Dean of York Vivienne Faull, during the October press conference in the Minster

Subsequently the Chapter commissioned a detailed risk assessment of the individual and, as a result, “felt that the person presented an ongoing risk and that the potential severity of the risk meant they could not be reinstated”.

The statement went on: “This decision was not accepted by the bell ringing team. There was a reluctance to recognise the Minster’s concerns despite briefings with staff including our safeguarding officer.

“This culminated in Chapter’s decision to disband the team in October.”

The Chapter also defended its decision to stay quiet – until now.

Given the Church’s recent history and safeguarding concerns now emerging in other sectors, the Chapter of York remains resolute that it will maintain the highest standards of welfare and safeguarding for all.

Chapter’s strong preference had been to remain silent on these matters to protect the privacy of those affected.

Given the ongoing interest, however, Chapter has felt it necessary to make this statement.

We are exploring options for ringing at Christmas. As we continue to do this, we hope that people will be able to approach us impartially and without fear of intimidation.