Bell-ringers from around the country offering to stand in for York Minster’s axed group have been subjected to online intimidation and even threatened with legal action, it was claimed yesterday.
The decision to disband its team of 30 dedicated campanologists has prompted a 17,000-strong petition and reports that sympathetic bell-ringers are now boycotting the venue.
And in a statement issued today, Minster officials revealed the anger that the controversy has provoked in the tightly-knit world of bell-ringing.
Archbishop John Sentamu claimed claimed earlier this year that the group had been removed after showing “repeated disregard” for policies safeguarding the vulnerable.
The Minster’s statement today said a member of the bell-ringing group had been the subject of an indecent assault investigation which resulted in them appearing in court in December 15 and making “certain undertakings”.
It added that “bell ringing leaders from other parts of the county and country” had been in contact to explore options for ringing in the next few days and months.
It said: “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.”
It added: “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.”
Revealing more about the circumstances that led to the group being disbanded, the Minster’s governing body said in a statement that it was forced to take action “relating to a member of the bell ringing band on safeguarding grounds”.
The statement said: “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.
“The case went to court in December 2015. The judge decided that no sanction would be imposed and the person concerned made certain undertakings.
“In line with the Church’s guidance and national law, Chapter commissioned a detailed risk assessment of the individual to decide whether or not Chapter’s safeguarding requirements for children would be fully met if the person was reinstated.
“Following a detailed review of the matter and with guidance from national agencies, Chapter felt that the person presented an ongoing risk and that the potential severity of the risk meant they could not be reinstated.
“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.”
It was reported this week that officials from the Minster had been approaching bell-ringers from neighbouring churches to ring in the festive season, including a group based in Leeds, but that they rejected the approach in solidarity with the axed group.
York Minster has previously said that a new team of volunteers is to be recruited, headed by a paid bell-ringer known as the Head of Tower.
But it will take about three months before the recruitment, induction and training process has been completed and ringers deployed.