Charity Commission intervenes in dispute between Christ Church and dean

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The Charity Commission issued a statement on Thursday announcing their intervention in the ongoing dispute between the Christ Church governing body and the college’s dean, the Very Rev. Prof. Martyn Percy.

The call for the parties to enter into a mediation process occurs as “[t]he situation risks harming the reputation of charity more generally, in the eyes of the public”, a press release from the Charity Commission said.

Christ Church, which is a registered charitable body, welcomed the announcement of the watchdog’s intervention with “delight”, stating that the “ongoing dispute between Christ Church and the Dean has undoubtedly gone on for far too long”. The college has been reported to have lost £2 million in legal fees to the dispute, with estimates of at least an additional £3 million in losses of bequests and donations.

In May, 41 members of the college’s governing body had approached the Commission to try and remove the dean after mediation efforts collapsed.

According to The Guardian, the dispute began in 2017 when Percy demanded a pay increase after discovering that his £95,000 salary fell short of that of other Oxford college heads. However, Percy was suspended over accusations of “immoral, scandalous or disgraceful” behaviour. Some argued that the accusations lacked clarity and amounted to a power struggle between the dean and censors outraged by Percy’s reforms of the college’s management and pay structures.

Following the dean’s suspension, retired High Court judge Sir Andrew Smith oversaw a tribunal that exonerated Percy of the charges. Allegations emerged that Percy had leaked the confidential tribunal judgement which vindicated him of the governing body’s accusations.

After Percy lost a vote of no confidence by 38 to 2 in December 2019, the college offered him £1 million for his resignation – enough to cover legal fees amounting to at least £450,000.

In February, The Blue reported on the emergence of damning email correspondence between dons attacking the Dean, in which academics called Percy a “manipulative little turd” with a “personality disorder”.

In a letter seen by The Telegraph in early June – signed by 61 of the 65 members of the college’s governing body – Percy was accused of disclosing “confidential material to the press” and held that “he is not fit to remain a trustee”. In another letter, supporters of Percy called the campaign against the dean “abhorrent and wholly unjustified”.

The intervention comes as an attempt to maintain “trust in charity”, said the Commission’s Chief Executive, Helen Stephenson.

The latest chapter in the dispute between Christ Church and Dean Percy casts another shadow on the college’s reputation. Earlier in June, one of the college’s theology professors, Jan Joosten, was sentenced to a year in prison over child abuse images.

Percy has declined to comment.