Christ Church Warned for ‘Misconduct’: £6.6 million spent on ousting former Dean 

The UK Charity Commission has determined that Christ Church's failures in its dispute with former Dean Martyn Percy amount to 'misconduct'.

Christ Church has been involved in a long and costly dispute involving its former Dean, Martyn Percy, who left his role earlier this year following a mediation process. The UK Charity Commission regulator has now determined that failures around this process and omissions amount to misconduct and/or mismanagement in the charity’s administration.

Between August 2018 and late January 2022 the college had spent over £6.6m on legal and public relations fees in various actions related to the former Dean, of which over £5.3m appears to have been approved retrospectively. This is because there was not a fixed budget set preemptively. The Commission said trustees “failed to act” on advice to have “close oversight of costs” in the dispute. 

File:Martyn Percy at Christ Church (cropped).jpg

Former Christ Church Dean, Martyn Percy

Moreover, these costs associated with the charity’s actions involving the former Dean were categorised as “other direct costs – teaching, research and residential” in the published accounts. The Commission says that this has the potential to mislead the readers of the accounts.

This has resulted in an Official Warning which sets out the actions that the Commission considers should be taken by the charity to rectify the misconduct and/or mismanagement and to address its concerns, including completing a full independent Governance Review and ensuring that the charity’s accounts and Trustee Annual Report comply with legal requirements.

Failure to take steps to remedy the misconduct and/or mismanagement may lead to further regulatory action being taken against the charity’s trustees.

Helen Earner, Director of Regulatory Services at the Charity Commission, said:

“These long and protracted disputes risked undermining the reputation of Christ Church and harming wider trust in charities. It is not for us as regulator to take sides in disputes. Our role is to ensure that charities are governed effectively and that charitable funds are properly accounted for. All trustees must demonstrate sound financial stewardship, regardless of the level of resources available to them…Good governance should be a priority for all trustees, especially those involved in important national institutions such as Christ Church, Oxford”.

The Oxford Student has reached out to Christ Church for comment. In response, a spokesperson for Christ Church said:

Christ Church and individual trustees have repeatedly asked the Charity Commission for help to resolve the disputes with Dr Percy, and explained the ways in which Dr Percy was unfit to be a trustee. In very complex and constantly changing circumstances, Trustees made decisions which, having taken professional advice, they judged to be in the best interests of Christ Church.

On the £6.6 million spending, the College explained that “many of the costs were incurred as a result of Dr Percy’s refusal to settle with a Governing Body which had lost trust and confidence in him. Christ Church had since 2018 consistently proposed mediation in order to settle the disputes as quickly as possible, but in three years of mediation, and up until this year, Dr Percy always resisted a settlement.”

The spokesperson further stated that some of the costs were also incurred for the College to fully investigation an allegation of sexual assault made by a graduate student and employee against Dr. Percy, adding “any such allegation will always be thoroughly investigated and addressed” and that “It was made clear throughout that no resolution could be reached until the concerns of the individual making the allegation of sexual harassment against Dr Percy were fully addressed.”

More details of the sexual harassment was made public in The Feud podcast which aired this week, including accounts of the alleged victim being bullied and harassed online as a result of raising the allegations.

The College also claimed that it will “continue to work closely with the Charity Commission” on the implementation of their recommendation to review Christ Church’s governance, and that it “hopes to reform its procedures so as to enable any future disputes of this nature to be resolved fairly and cost-effectively.”