Pump Court Chambers

Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal dismisses claim of adultery and criticises the Clergy Discipline Measure procedure

News 22nd January 2020

A Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal for the Diocese of Chelmsford was convened to deal with an allegation of adultery against the Revd William Bulloch. It was chaired by the Revd and Worshipful Judge Mark Bishop.

Counsel for the Respondent was Justin Gau instructed by Edward Henderson of Lee Bolton Monier-Williams.

Judgment was handed down on 20th January 2020.

The full charges were:

“ The conduct of the Respondent, the Reverend William Bulloch, Vicar at Leigh-on-Sea , St James the Great, was unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders within section 8(1) (d) of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 in that:

  • from late 2016 to early 2017 he, a married man, had a sexual relationship with AB to whom he had been giving pastoral support, and
  • (ii) during 2017, having refused to provide AB with pastoral support a time when she was in need of such support

(a) failed to seek assistance or advice from the diocesan safeguarding team or senior diocesan clergy as to how 2 suitable help or support could be provided for her and/or as to how he should respond to her, and

(b) in the course of a number of conversations with her was rude and abusive by using foul and obscene language”

The background was that the principal complainant (‘AB’) approached the Respondent claiming to be extremely unwell. She then formed a pastoral relationship with the Respondent who offered her spiritual assistance in the form of visiting, prayer and the sacraments.

The Respondent was contacted by ‘Julian’ AB’s psychiatrist who explained that AB was dying and that she was in need of spiritual help to deal with her end of life care. The Respondent visited her daily, telephoned her daily, and, inter alia, drove her to visit Hospices. ‘Julian’ persuaded the Respondent to allow AB to move into the Vicarage for a two week period before Christmas when AB’s heating was cut off. The Respondent and his wife cared for her as she was by then, effectively bed ridden.

Some weeks later the Respondent’s wife and daughter spotted AB in hospital when they were visiting there. AB was walking unaided, was not wearing her invariable dark glasses and was talking and laughing without the need for oxygen. When she saw the Respondent’s wife and daughter she ran off.

When challenged about this behaviour by the Respondent AB gave an incoherent explanation. This was followed by a series of emails from a Dr Khokar who gave an elaborate medical account of how this apparent cure had occurred. The Respondent contacted the real Dr Khokar who had never heard of AB.

The Respondent challenged AB about these matters. Her response was to tell him that she was pregnant with his child.

She approached the Complainant with details of an affair but declined to name the Respondent for many months. During that time she made a series of covert recordings of conversations she was having with the Respondent. In these, it was alleged, there were admission by the Respondent to a sexual relationship. During the course of one of these conversations the Respondent was heard to lose his temper with AB who had arrived with an urn purporting to contain the ashes of their stillborn child.

The panel heard from; the principal complainant, the Archdeacon of Southend (Complainant), the Safeguarding Officer of the Diocese, the Respondent and his wife. The tribunal ordered the disclosure of two pieces of medical evidence from AB-her palliative care notes and her abortion act notes. Neither were produced. It turned out that the letter from AB’s GP had been edited by AB before being forwarded to the tribunal. The Chair ruled it inadmissible.

Having heard the evidence and read and heard oral submissions the tribunal agreed with the Respondent’s submissions that AB had created two fake identities and used false email addresses to trick the Respondent into forming a very close pastoral relationship with her by dishonestly claiming that she was dying. They were satisfied that she had also falsely claimed that she was pregnant and had manufactured medical and other evidence to support this false claim.

Of particular note was a video Instagram dated May 2017 at a time when AB was apparently suffering the effects of a miscarriage and unable to attend a meeting with the Complainant. She is seen to cavorting on a bouncy castle cheerful and fit.

Her dishonesty and manipulation were described as ‘egregious’. Her dishonest manipulation of the Respondent by getting him to tell her 7 year old daughter that she was dying when she was not in fact dying was ‘particularly chilling’.

The tribunal dismissed the claim of adultery.

The tribunal criticised failures of disclosure by the Designated Officer in the body of the ruling. It went on, however, to make trenchant criticism of the whole Clergy Disciplinary Measure procedure in these terms:

  1. Before concluding the principal part of this case, we would like to add our concerns about how a case of this kind is to be dealt with under the current CDM procedure. As is clear from this Determination, this was a case with a great amount of complex detail which required careful analysis. The allegations were extremely serious for anyone but particularly a priest. The unanimous findings we have made about the deception that has been practiced in this case by AB give rise to grave concerns.
  2. A case of this kind requires :

(i) investigation of all lines of enquiry that point towards the potential Respondent, but also point away from him, and

(ii) a proper disclosure exercise by the DO who prosecutes the complaint.

  1. We do not wish to criticise the DO, the Complainant or the diocesan safeguarding team who when presented with a case of this kind face a particularly difficult task. As Danielle Law (the Diocesan Safeguarding Officer) said to us in her evidence, she is not there to be an investigator. We are sure that is right. But the problem in a case such as this is that no one is appointed to investigate the case in a professional manner. We note that the Complainant took legal advice on 26/4/17 where he was advised to ‘ gather as much information as possible’ and use open questions etc. , but the Complainant, nor any other Archdeacon, is not a professional investigator of complaints of this kind and cannot be expected to engage in a forensic investigation process. The problem in a case such as this is that the Complainant receives much of the material from the principals involved, and then hands it over to the DO for processing. However, in our judgement, cases such as this require much more investigative work before being prosecuted. We have set out at para 90 and 91 our regret that Revd Tinning was not called nor that Fr McCluskey did not have a statement taken from him about the past at his church and AB’s disclosure of her allegations to him. Any investigator would want to look carefully at how the allegation was disclosed, to whom and in what terms. There may have been others an investigator would have wished to speak to. An investigator may have wanted to further analyse the recordings and the devices used.
  2. A case involving such allegations as this can seldom be disposed of simply on one part of the evidence such as in this case the recordings. It would never have been fair to hold a tribunal hearing into these matters without giving the R an opportunity for cross examination of the principal complainant who is of course not the Archdeacon of Southend, but AB. This is even more the case where the Complainant’s case is that AB is not truthful when she says that her son wrote the ‘Julian’ emails (DO’s submission being that they were written by AB as R well knew as part of a ‘game’). If those who prosecute a claim like this cannot put forward their principal witness as truthful on an important matter, great caution must be taken before embarking upon such a complaint based on what that witness says about other matters. ‘Great caution’ requires a full investigation in a troubling case such as this.
  3. The Tribunal is not the place for the investigation to be carried out: because we are not an inquisitorial Tribunal, but adjudicate instead on the competing claims applying the burden and standard of proof.
  4. Once there has been a full investigation it would be much easier for the DO to conduct a proper disclosure exercise so that matters which were relevant and which could assist the Respondent or undermine the Complainant’s case were disclosed. In a case such as this it might have been helpful to have an ‘unused schedule’ similar to a criminal case so that all knew what material the DO had seen and whether it was his view that it was disclosable or not. The issues that arose on disclosure might then have been avoided.
  5. We acknowledge that the issues raised in these concluding remarks go to the structure of CDM proceedings and no doubt also to the question of resources provided by the Church to investigate matters of this kind. We repeat that the Tribunal does not criticise the DO, the Complainant or the safeguarding team who were dealing with an evidentially complex case without an investigative framework.

To view the judgment in full please click here.

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