The Archbishop of York has defended the decision to sack all 30 of York Minister's bell-ringers and said they showed "repeated disregard" for its safeguarding policies.Dr John Sentamu said he had to take action regarding a bell-ringer "on safeguarding grounds" in the summer.He said advice was taken to "minimise risk to children, young people and vulnerable adults".Speaking at a news conference, Dr Sentamu backed the decision made by the Minster's governing body, the Chapter of York, in order to make the church "a safe place for everyone".He said: "Earlier this summer, it was necessary for the Chapter to take action regarding a member of the bell-ringing community on safeguarding grounds.[...]"The decision was taken in line with advice from safeguarding professionals, and with regard to national policies and guidance, including the Church of England's on minimising risk to children, young people and vulnerable adults."[...]"This is why the Chapter took the decision to disband the bell ringing team last week. New arrangements for bell ringing at the Minster will start in the New Year."A petition calling for the bell-ringers to be reinstated to peal the bells on Remembrance Sunday, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve has received more than 15,000 signatures.
Few of the people closely involved in the drama were willing to speak on the record this week. But accounts from both sides suggest that the dispute centres on David Potter, a leading figure in the bellringing team who has been the subject of two police investigations following allegations made in 1999 and 2015. On neither occasion were charges brought.
In January 2000, days after Potter had been awarded an MBE for bellringing services over three decades, he was suspended as ringing master at York Minster and from his job as a teacher after claims of indecent assault. The following month, the police said he would not be charged.
Last year, Potter was the subject of another police investigation. “In June 2015 North Yorkshire police applied for a sexual risk order following concerns raised during multi-agency safeguarding processes about a 66-year-old York man and his contact with children,” the force said in a statement.
YMSCR Response to the Archbishop of York’s statement this afternoonThe Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, delivered a statement this afternoon regarding the York Minster bell ringers.In this statement he referred to Chapter’s decision earlier this summer to take action regarding a member of the bell ringing community on safeguarding grounds. He also stated that “some of the York Minster Society of Change Ringers have consistently challenged the Chapter’s authority on this and other important matters. Repeated disregard of the Chapter’s attempts to fully implement the Church’s national policies for safeguarding, health and safety and security meant that decisive action was required.”The York Minster Society of Change Ringers (YMSCR) would like to clarify that, whilst we have challenged the Chapter on the fairness of some decisions, we strongly refute any suggestion that we disregarded the implementation of any of their policies. All of Chapter’s policies have been implemented in full, at all times. YMSCR take health and safety, security and safeguarding with the utmost seriousness. The Dean and Chapter have not been able to point to any evidence that suggests the contrary.Individuals within YMSCR have privately expressed concerns to the Dean and Chapter over whether due process was followed during their action regarding a member of the bell ringing community. As a direct result of doing so, the entire team had their volunteer agreements terminated. This demonstrates that York Minster do not tolerate any questioning of their decisions, or of the processes by which these were made, even when that questioning is conducted politely and in private.If this was the reason for the Dean and Chapter’s decision to dismiss the band last week, we do not understand why this was not communicated to us at the time, and why the Dean and Chapter misled the public by releasing several statements contradicting this. We are deeply disappointed that Dean Faull and Archbishop Sentamu have decided to release their statement this afternoon without any prior communication or consultation with YMSCR.Now, more than ever, we feel the need to sit down and talk in private with the Dean and Chapter of York Minster to discuss these issues. We make a direct appeal to Dean Vivienne Faull and Archbishop John Sentamu to make contact and to arrange this meeting.Update:Please note that, contrary to some reports, to our knowledge, there is no ongoing investigation into any member of YMSCR, past or present.