Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle: Whistleblower does not regret raising concerns

Posted: 15th June 2023

A woman whose concerns about a grooming priest were ignored by a Roman Catholic bishop said she feels vindicated for informing his superiors about him.

Bishop Robert Byrne was heavily criticised for promoting Canon Michael McCoy despite safeguarding concerns.

Angie Richardson quit as a safeguarding coordinator for Hexham and Newcastle diocese over the bishop’s behaviour.

A review by the Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency (CSSA) concluded that he had put people at risk.

The CSSA found Bishop Byrne ignored safeguarding concerns about Canon McCoy, who had shown a “clear pattern of grooming behaviour over the years”, to promote him to Dean of St Mary’s Cathedral in Newcastle.

Canon McCoy killed himself in 2021 days after police launched an investigation into historical allegations against him.

The bishop’s “close friendship” with paedophile friar Timothy Gardner also undermined the diocese’s safeguarding procedures, the CSSA concluded.

Ms Richardson said at her first meeting with the bishop in 2019 he raised the prospect of moving Gardner into his home because he “felt lonely”.

She told the BBC: “I was astounded he even asked that question and the answer was ‘absolutely not’.”

It became “a theme that repeated itself” as he “lacked any safeguarding insight”, she said.

Ms Richardson said she had an “incredibly difficult” and “strained” relationship with the bishop and ultimately resigned because she could no longer work with him “in all good conscience”.

She described him as “unfit to make any decisions on safeguarding matters” and said she would not introduce survivors of abuse to him.

Ms Richardson said her position “wasn’t tenable” and she “didn’t feel supported” over her concerns about the bishop.

She said she raised her concerns with senior members of the diocese and then went directly to the Pope’s representative in the UK, adding she did not regret her actions and would do the same again.

Steve Ashley of the CSSA praised Ms Richardson for speaking to the CSSA as a “whistleblower”.

He said: “That was a very brave thing to do, we are very thankful and people should be thankful that [Ms Richardson} was prepared to stand up and be counted.”

He said the Catholic church had to be a place where people could “make complaints”, adding: “We have got to get into a position where we don’t need whistleblowers [and] people are able to speak out if they are unhappy.”

Mr Ashley said the CSSA’s door was “always open” for people to report things.

The Archbishop of Liverpool Malcolm McMahon, who has been overseeing the diocese until a new bishop is appointed, said Bishop Byrne “didn’t take [Ms Richardson] professional advice and in doing so undermined the safeguarding function of the diocese”.

Bishop Byrne has been unavailable for comment but told the CSSA investigation that he supported safeguarding.

Source: Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle: Whistleblower does not regret raising concerns – BBC News

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