Supporters of an embattled Oxford Dean have launched a new campaign to save his career, after a world-renowned mediator walked out on dispute talks.
The Very Rev Martyn Percy, who presides over Christ Church College and cathedral, has been embroiled in a four-year-long row with fellow Oxford dons over his tenure.
The Dean was suspended in 2018 over his alleged misconduct in a pay dispute, and was fully exonerated in 2019 by an internal tribunal conducted by a retired judge. However, the feud continued.
A new tribunal, scheduled for later this year, will hear a claim of harassment by a woman who alleges that Percy stroked her hair in the college’s cathedral sacristy – an allegation which he denies.
Last week it emerged that Bill Marsh – an award-winning mediator who has resolved disputes in the Middle East and Ireland, and who was named 2019 "mediator of the year" by Who’s Who Legal – wrote to Christ Church’s governing body to say he had ended the mediation process between it and the Dean after almost a year of talks.
Even Mr Marsh – who had been appointed to lead the talks by the Charity Commission – "had to admit defeat in trying to find a solution to the Christ Church feud with its Dean", his supporters claim.
‘Enormous emotional toll’
In the wake of the mediation talks collapsing and the "enormous emotional toll" the row has taken on him, it can now be reported that a coalition of the Dean’s friends and supporters are on Monday launching a website in a bid to salvage his career and reputation.
The website, www.turbulentpriest.net, collates all documents and press cuttings covering the row over the past few years so that "people can see for themselves what’s been going on". It is being launched alongside a campaigning twitter account, @turbpriestoxon.
The documents include those related to the tribunals, Clergy Disciplinary Measure (CDM), and the Church of England national safeguarding team throwing out the case.
Deborah Loudon, 66, a former HR director at the Home Office and Ministry of Defence, who has experience investigating harassment allegations, is among those supporting the Dean. She said that when she first talked to the Dean about his case she was "appalled" at how it was being handled.
"At the beginning I assumed the situation just needed someone sensible to sort it all out and then I realised it genuinely was a conspiracy against him; the college had decided they wanted to get rid of him and failed, and then were unwilling and unable to go back and admit to themselves and the world that they were wrong."
She and her husband, Professor Henry Woudhuysen, Rector of Lincoln College Oxford, are part of a group of Oxford friends who have been supporting the Dean along with many others, including alumni, college staff and undergraduates, who are concerned about his treatment by the college.
‘He’s not a broken man, but he is a damaged man’
She added: "He’s a good and reforming Dean, and they realised they had appointed someone who didn’t fit with them. The old guard at the college realised they’d made a mistake and wanted to get rid of him and then they got caught up in their own agenda and it became impossible to undo."
Speaking about the impact that the row has had on the Dean, she added: "I think the emotional toll has been enormous for him and his wife, and they are still suffering – you can see it.
"Although in a way, I think the support of their friends has been of enormous importance to him as he realises he’s not mad after all. Because you start to question yourself and your own sanity in a situation like this.
"I think it’s been a very painful experience and I would say, as his friend, he is not a broken man but he is a damaged man and I think it will take time for him to recover from any of it."
The College has admitted spending more than £1 million in legal and PR costs in its 2019 attempt to oust Percy, although that figure will be much higher now.
A spokesman for the College said: "Christ Church unequivocally condemns sexual harassment in any form. When a student, who is also an employee of Christ Church, made an allegation of sexual harassment against the Dean in October 2020, we followed our formal internal processes. It is important that every member of our community has the right to come forward and make such a complaint.
"Christ Church, as a charity, a college, a cathedral and a school with responsibility for young people, staff, children, and other beneficiaries, will always treat such an allegation with the utmost seriousness.
"There have been attempts to suggest that this allegation is connected to historic matters at Christ Church. There is no truth in this and to suggest otherwise is an insult to the complainant.
"We continue to be appalled at attempts to discredit the complainant, question her motives, and to prejudge the proper process. For the sake of all concerned, including the complainant, the respondent, and everyone within our community, we would repeat that the tribunal should now be allowed to take place and reach a conclusion without further external pressure."