The report said that Green activists should be given safeguarding training
An independent report has criticised the lack of awareness of safeguarding in the Green Party of England and Wales.
Safeguarding is about protecting people, particularly vulnerable people, from harm or danger.
The Green Party commissioned the report after it emerged that a man charged with repeated sexual abuse of a child was allowed to remain active in the local Green Party.
In November 2016, David Challenor was charged with 22 offences including rape and torture related to a child he kept in his attic.
Despite these charges, while on bail he remained an active member of the Green Party and was twice appointed as an election agent for his daughter Aimee Challenor.
In August 2018, David Challenor was found guilty and sentenced to 22 years in prison. The case was widely reported in the mainstream media.
David Challenor was expelled from the party and Aimee Challenor was suspended on a no-fault basis. She resigned from the party a few days later citing transphobia and joined the Liberal Democrats.
Also in August, the Green Party commissioned an independent investigation into the scandal by a consultancy called Verita.
This was supposed to be published in November but was delayed and has only just been sent to members and seen by Left Foot Forward.
The report says that equalities spokesperson Aimee Challenor promptly notified two senior members of the national Green Party that her father had been arrested for sexual offences, but did not tell them that her father was a Green Party member.
One of these members, then external communications co-ordinator Matt Hawkins replied by Facebook message: “I’m so sorry Aimee. How are you doing? Is there anything we can do as friends (as opposed to colleagues”)?”
Matt Hawkins then emailled three colleagues from the communications team, telling them that “a very close relative of one of our spokespeople has been arrested. I can’t really share with you the full details…but in case anyone does get in touch about it we do know about it and just raise it with me.”
Hawkins did not tell them the charges were sexual and (because he did not know himself) he did not say that the person arrested was also a party member.
Hawkins told the report’s authors that he regrets not asking Aimee Challenor for more details of the charges and not asking if David Challenor was a member of the party.
The report criticised both Hawkins and the other person Challenor Facebook messaged, Clare Lorraine Phipps.
Phipps was a member of the Green Party’s executive committee and the line manager of its CEO Nick Martin (who was not told anything).
It is clear that Matt Hawkins and Clare Lorraine Phipps closed the matter off too quickly and should have followed up more.
It is hard to believe that they did not raise the issue again with Aimee, or with other people in the party in subsequent months.
They did not give any thought to the wider safeguarding implications nor did they consider informing the local party.
That was remiss of them and may have led Aimee to believe that she did not need to take further action
Unlike Hawkins and Phipps, Aimee Challenor knew that her father was a member of the party but failed to convey that to the national Green Party.
Conversely, the local Coventry Green Party knew that David Challenor was a member but did not know about the charges.
Neither local or national party knew that David Challenor was both a party member and charged with rape.
The report says that both Aimee Challenor and the West Midlands Police should have informed the Coventry Green Party of the charges as political campaigning often allows unsupervised, unstructured access to young people.
The report says that criticism of Aimee Challenor’s mistakes should be tempered by several mitigating factors: her difficult circumstances, her inexperience, her autism and the lack of training and support she received.
However, the report does conclude that Aimee Challenor “failed to fulfill her roles adequately” and that appointing her father as election agent was “a serious error of judgement”.
Challenor mistakenly regarded her message to Matt Hawkins and Clare Phipps as being enough to inform the party and said she did not think she could tell the local party because of “reporting restrictions”.
Reporting restrictions are designed to protect the victims, not the accused and they apply to media reports and social media – not to verbally informing people of risks arising from criminal charges.
The report said that more training and support is required for inexperienced people like Aimee Challenor.
It is a legitimate aim of the party to encourage young, diverse and potentially inexperienced people to participate in the democratic process.
This means that people who then take on these responsibilities may need extra support and training to make the approach work well.
The evidence we have seen in this case suggests that the party is not strong in these areas and did not provide sufficient training to Aimee Challenor
The report also found though that awareness of safeguarding issues is low across the Green Party.
It is dissapointing that so many people we spoke to in the party failed to see the safeguarding issues that arise here.
Those in the party who were told about David Challenor’s activities saw the issue as primarily a communications one – about protecting the reputation of the party. Awareness of safeguarding issues in the party in general appears to be low.
The Chief Executive of the party Nick Martin acknowledged weaknesses in the party’s safeguarding procedure in the past but said that now the party has grown it employs a lot more professional staff.
Martin said that the party accepted all of the report’s recommendations and was working to implement them.
These recommendations were that the party should:
- Ask West Midlands Police whether it was their policy to draw the party’s attention to charges which could lead to safeguarding concerns
- Clarify the code of conduct so it sets out what members should and should not report, particularly with regard to safeguarding
- Urgently review its safeguarding policy and procedures to strengthen its approach to raising awareness and improving processes for reporting safeguarding concerns and risks to people outside of the party.
The party is also planning to make its CEO Nick Martin the party’s dedicated safeguarding lead, a move the report’s authors welcome.
In response to the report, Aimee Challenor released a statement thanking Verita and saying her thoughts were with those her father caused harm.
She also criticised the Green Party’s safeguarding procedures. “During my time as member, the Green Party did not have a full safeguarding process, something which must be addressed.”
She said that she hoped that the Green Party and West Midlands Police would take the report’s recommendations on board and that she herself would bear the report’s recommendations in mind on how she could have done things better.
She added though that the burden of reporting was on her father David and not on her. “The fact that I was the only person who took any action is to my credit,” she said, although she stands by the full apology she made in August 2018.
“I hope that better support, advice and training will be offered to volunteers at all levels of politics, across all parties, so that we can improve the state of British politics.”
Joe Lo is a freelance journalist and a reporter for Left Foot ForwardLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.