Bishops appoint former top prosecutor to lead safeguarding agency

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The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have appointed the former Chief Crown Prosecutor in the Rochdale grooming gang cases as the Chair of their new safeguarding agency.

The appointment of Nazir Afzal as the Chair of the Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency (CSSA) was formally announced at an online press conference on the morning of Tuesday, 18 May 2021.

Mr Afzal has served as the Chief Crown Prosecutor for North West England and Director in London, as well as the Chief Executive of the Police and Crime Commissioners.

During a 24-year career Mr Afzal has prosecuted many of the most high profile criminal cases in the country, advised on many others, and led nationally on legal matters surrounding such topics as violence against women and girls, child sexual abuse, and honour-based violence. He was responsible for bringing sex-traffickers in the Rochdale grooming gang scandal to justice, as well as Stuart Hall, the former television presenter who in 2014 was convicted of multiple sex offences against children.

The bishops will also announce the appointment ofStephen Ashleyas the Deputy Chair of the CSSA. Mr Ashley is a former Assistant Chief Constable who authored a Home Office report on the conduct of the police during the investigations into sex offences committed by former television personality Jimmy Savile.

The appointments of Amanda Ellingworth, Wesley Cuell and Dr Jenny Holmes as Non-Executive Directors will also be announced by the bishops. The Board will also be strengthened by the appointment of Bishop Paul Mason of the Bishopric of the Forces as the Lead Bishop for Safeguarding, and Fr David Smolira SJ as the Lead Religious. Carol Lawrence, Project Director, will also remain as a Director of the CSSA. The appointments mean that the bishops are on track to deliver the fully-functioning safeguarding agency within the six months originally envisaged by the Catholic Safeguarding Project.

The agency is being created amid wide-ranging reforms to safeguarding structures within the Church following the recommendations in November by the Elliott Review (see below), with the aim of establishing the highest possible standards.The agency replaces separate existing structures with a singlebody with greater regulatory powers across the Catholic Church of England and Wales, extending to all dioceses and associated religious bodies.

It has been established as a trading company with independence in its day-to-day operation under the responsibility of a management board and with the powers to ensure that each Church body partnered with the agency is complying with published standards.

The Chair will provide effective leadership and management to the board of the CSSA, and will have responsibility for the governance and strategic direction of the agency.

Mr Afzal will work constructively with the chief executive, the board, the Catholic Church, survivor groups and wider stakeholders to ensure that its objectives are fully achieved.

The Non-Executive Directors of the Board will share responsibility for ensuring the long-term success of the agency. They will have oversight of its financial and operational management, and its sustainability and will contribute to planning and implementing its future strategic direction.