As previously reported on JW Survey, the Charity Commission are investigating Watchtower’s UK arm (which is registered as a UK charity, as is each individual congregation in the UK) in response to a slew of allegations of inappropriate handling of child sex abuse. The investigation has since expanded its remit to address other issues of concern such as shunning.
The Charity Commission has already needed to defend the very existence of the enquiry in a court of law; Watchtower apparently felt that the UK Government Charity Regulator had no business investigating a UK registered charity when allegations of serious institutional abuse were made. The UK courts disagreed, and after drawn out repeated legal challenges from Watchtower, the investigation began.
Then Commission then requested documents from Watchtower as part of their investigation but again Watchtower refused to co-operate. The Charity Commission thus went to court to get a Production Order enforced which would compel Watchtower to produce the requested documents. Watchtower, as per usual challenged this order in court.
Last week, to the surprise of many, the Charity Commission announced that it was dropping its efforts to get the Production order inforced, stating;
The charity has now provided a response to the Production Order by making certain documents available for inspection by the Commission and, since the Production Order was issued, the Commission has obtained additional information from the charity and other sources. The Commission has therefore decided to revoke the Production Order and the charity has agreed to withdraw its application for judicial review.
The full statement can be read here.
We found this statement to be unclear as to whether the Commission indeed now possessed all of the documents requested in the original order, and reached out to the Charity Commission both in email and via social media to ask them to confirm if they are indeed in full possession.
They have so far not responded to our request for comment.
*UPDATE: 25/01/2017 – The Charity Commission have responded to me by email, but have stated that they are unable to confirm or deny that they have all the documents requested in the production order due to the fact that they cannot comment on an ongoing investigation.*
However, the Guardian, a major UK newspaper is also covering this story in detail, and has not only reported on the Charity Commission’s update, but has also reported the response from various concerned parties. The full article can be read here.
One of those interviewed is Thomas Beale, of the AO Associates law firm, who has previously carried out successful litigation against Watchtower on behalf of an abuse survivor. Thus he is someone intimately familiar with Watchtower’s now infamous obstructive legal tactics when it comes to matters like this. He is quoted as saying;
“Of course we welcome the ongoing statutory inquiry into Jehovah’s Witnesses’ safeguarding policies and look forward to reviewing its findings,” he said.
“However, given our experience with Jehovah’s Witnesses in litigation, we struggle to see how a thorough and robust investigation can occur now that the Charity Commission has decided to revoke its production order. We think the chance of full disclosure now by the Jehovah’s Witnesses is very small.”
Personally, I share the sentiments expressed by Thomas Beale in both welcoming the enquiry and wishing to support it in any way possible, but also in having concerns that the Commission may struggle to get the co-operation from Watchtower it needs now that this order appears to have been revoked. Of course, it’s not possible to know exactly what is going on behind the scenes, and what led to this decision, but past experience seems to show that the only way to get real co-operation from Watchtower is to hold its feet to the legal fire.
The article also quotes Fay Maxted, the chief executive of the Survivors Trust, who calls the delays caused by Watchtower’s legal challenges “appalling” and calls upon Watchtower to apologise for them.
“Faith groups need to really take on board the huge damage and pain caused to victims and survivors when appeal after appeal is pursued in an attempt to prevent them from having to share information,” she said. “It is very difficult in such circumstances to believe that the best interests of the victim or survivor are in any way being considered.”
We will bring you further developments as we get them.
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