Exeter church plays Pontius Pilate over Palace Gate abuse case

In recent months I’ve covered the Palace Gate abuse case, in which the two directors of Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter, were struck off by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. John Clapham was found to have taken sexual advantage of two women during therapy sessions. His co-director Lindsey Talbott then aided him in a lengthy campaign of harassment and defamation against the complainants.

Palace Gate Counselling Service rents its premises in the Palace Gate Centre from South Street Baptist Church. Because counselling has only voluntary self-regulation rather than state regulation, Clapham and Talbott have been able to continue running their firm despite the striking-off order. Which is not to say their business hasn’t been impeded. Outside agencies have stopped referring clients there. Fundraisers have pulled their support. Even so, they’re still there at the Palace Gate Centre.

Which begs the question, why haven’t South Street Baptist Church evicted them from the premises? I now have a statement from the church.

First of all, it may be helpful to clarify the relationship of South Street Baptist Church with Palace Gate Counselling. The church owns and maintains the Palace Gate Centre within which a number of organisations run their own activities and services. Some of these groups hire our rooms weekly or monthly whilst some lease space from us for their own exclusive use over a period of years.

Palace Gate Counselling Service is one of the organisations which leases space from us in the Centre for their own exclusive use so South St Baptist Church in this case is the landlord with the Counselling Service as tenant. We have a legally binding lease with them that defines our respective responsibilities.

Regarding safeguarding, South St Baptist Church takes this extremely seriously and has its own regularly updated safeguarding policy. In terms of the Palace Gate Centre, though, we are not responsible for safeguarding within the activities run by other groups/organisations who rent space in our building. We do ensure that any group working with children, young people or vulnerable adults in a Regulated Activity in our Centre is aware of their need for their own safeguarding policy and of their responsibility to implement it.

As the Palace Gate Counselling Service is not operated or controlled by the church, any issues to do with safeguarding lie with PGCS and not with us.

I am personally grateful for you keeping me up to date with some of the developments and for sending us the BACP report which along with [name redacted]’s we have read. We have consulted with our own church leadership, our wider denominational leaders and with our area solicitor as to how we should respond. Their advice confirms the position we have taken through this dispute – we can offer a listening ear and prayerful presence, but should not become directly involved in the dispute.

The legal advice we have been given tells us that the findings of the BACP do not provide any lawful grounds upon which the church could terminate its lease with Palace Gate Counselling. Indeed, if we did pursue such action it is possible that the church itself could be taken to court for acting prejudicially.

In other words, they’re washing their hands of the matter, Pontius Pilate-style.

I’m rather surprised by their legal advice that they could be sued for evicting them. Admittedly I’m no lawyer so I’m not really in a position to parse their advice, but I’ve spent most of my adult life living in rented accommodation. Every lease I’ve ever signed had a clause banning me from using the premises for illegal or immoral purposes.

I’ve no idea whether the church have received a legal threat, or whether they simply took legal advice as a what-if. I do know that other parties involved in the case have received legal threats from Clapham and Talbott. At least one of these threats is still visible online via Ms Talbott’s blog. This brings me to what I refer to as Doré’s Law, which despite my non-legal training I’d like to add to the body of knowledge around jurisprudence.

“Spurious legal threats are the first refuge of the scoundrel.”

I’m not one of the people who’ve received such threats from PGCS. If they tried, any response from me would reference the proven findings of fact in the BACP hearings, their all-mouth-no-trousers failure to follow through on any of their previous threats, and also the matter of Arkell v Pressdram.

Whether or not South Street Baptist Church are right to be concerned about the legal consequences of evicting a proven abuser from their premises, I’m surprised they’re not more worried about their own reputational damage. After all, the first page of results if you Google “palace gate exeter” isn’t exactly flattering. And that’s only the result of my little blog taking an interest. They really ought to be concerned about what might happen if other, louder voices in the media started taking an interest.

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6 Comments to “Exeter church plays Pontius Pilate over Palace Gate abuse case”

  1. There is a lot more abuse of various kinds in psychotherapy, though often difficult to prove for the patient/client. There ought to be much more accountability within the NHS and outside of it.

  2. Looks like the Palace Gate Centre have removed their website from the internet, which used to list the counselling service as one of the services offered there. Also looks like someone removed any links to the counselling service from the South St Baptist Church website too. Can’t say I blame them after reading the two lots of BACP findings against them.

  3. Your pursuit of PGC has been really admirable, but I have to disagree with you on this element.

    You were right to bring the matter of PGC’s BACP explusion to the attention of their landlords. However, the ability of South St Baptist Church to take action against PGC as their landlord will be very limited under commercial property law. So I think their response as a landlord is reasonable under the circumstances. As a religious organisation they need to take the findings by BACP, which demonstrate a basic lack of pastoral care by PGC, very seriously. Their letter makes clear that they have consulted both local and national leadership on this issue. I think this demonstrates that they have addressed it with the right level of attention and seriousness. With such matters having been raised, I think it very unlikely that PGC will see their lease renewed when that time comes.

    If anyone has washed their hands in this matter it is therapists themselves. As a profession we have failed to bring in adequate regulation of ourselves, failed to engage effectively with a government proposal to put a better regime in place, and ended up with a system of control so indirect that its ability to protect clients and maintain and raise standards is doubted by many. We have collectively failed in this regard and hence PGC may continue to operate.

    Religious organisations exist within society to maintain and promote their own faith position and this requires them to engage in moral debate on ethical issues: e.g. the abuse of the vulnerable or poor pastoral care by other professions. However, South St Baptist Church have no legal, and, as far as I can see, no ethical obligation to intervene as a kind of proxy moral guardian if a therapy centre has lost the plot. It must do its best to ensure that organisations using its premises have the relevant safeguarding systems in place, and there its legal obligation ends. Given that no one else has taken the trouble to move against PGC after the BACP findings – where is a statement from the local NHS Trust, for example? – why should their landlord do so because they happen to be a religious group? Why should they take the risk of getting involved in an expensive case to punish by eviction an organisation that has legally done nothing wrong? They need to be aware of what has happened and make a judgement as to the ethical standing of PGC when it comes to renewal of their lease. Without others more directly involved taking action, what might the church say on this matter and on what basis?

    Where is the concern from therapists in Exeter on this issue? Why are we not picketing PGC and handing out leaflets to its clients advising them of the BACP decision? The reason of course is that therapists are often too scared as a profession to rock the boat, be it on evidence based practice or the challenges of ethical work. Your blog is an excellent example of someone who cares taking a stand. But until more therapists wake up individually to the need for regulation and start pushing their organisations to be more active collectively towards a solution, PGC and its like will continue. Don’t blame the South St Baptist Church for the weaknesses or our own profession. Rather than a case of Pontius Pilate, this is more “physican heal thyself”.

    • I just wanted to reiterate my initial comment and support you in yours regarding regulation of psychotherapists. It seems totally unacceptable that psychotherapists who ally themselves with organisations for their own insurance/protection and often seem to behave in quite cavalier fashion with their patients/clients, but there is no such protection for often quite vulnerable patients. I am thinking particularly here, not actually in relation to private practice but more in relation to NHS practice where mental health trusts seem to be too spellbound by the therapists jargon to notice when poor practice is going on and damage is being done, or unable to accept that this is what is happening or do anything to challenge it. I think it is a scandal that this happens with such frequency and I say this from personal knowledge and the reports of several people I know who have had so called ‘treatment’ here in the West Midlands. There seems to be no one to appeal to or any effective complaints procedure within the mental health trust; professonals close ranks within the system and more remotely so do the organisations therapists belong to – solely for their own insurance purposes. the last people to be protected and cared for are the patients!

  4. The Catholic Church apparently stopped Clapham from being ordained, I heard on v good authority.

  5. @sextherapybristol

    Therapists are restricted in what they can do here. Bear in mind that PG lodged counter complaints against BACP members that dared to get involved (all thrown out but only after several months of stress). Many individuals have been very strongly threatened via email, in writing and via Lindsay Talbott’s blog (eg threats to ensure the complainants end up in a cardboard box or that she will harm them without compunction).

    Talbott and Clapham also circulated a highly toxic, distorted and extremely vindictive character assassination document which consisted of a sort of dossier on various people involved and circulated around professionals in Exeter, making it clear that they were thinking very carefully about what legal action they would take not only against complainants but also anybody knowingly supporting them.

    They have laughably tried to raise harassment complaints with the police against those that complained.

    I could go on but after resigning from that place in June 2012 I am sick to the back teeth of their venom and dispicable behaviour.

    I am one of the signatories for the letter that went out to referring agencies signed by 27 local counsellors/supervisors. I am also involved in the push for regulation. I posted a blog for the sake of public protection (click on my name above) although I am scared about what retribution they might have up their sleeve for that one.

    I also did some research and write about the public’s wishes for regulation:

    http://www.amandawilliamsoncounselling.co.uk/2013/06/exeter-counsellor-bacp-regulation-what.html?m=1

    If you have any suggestions for further action that would not involve another 2 years of very high personal cost (financial, professional and personal) I’m all ears.

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