Christian Concern and the Victoria Wasteney case

Peter Ould writes: A week ago Christian Concern issued a press release covering the failed Employment Tribunal Appeal of Victoria Wasteney, an NHS therapist who was disciplined for her interactions with a female muslim junior. According the Christian Concern (hereafter CC), the case raises all kinds of freedom of religion issues, but on closer examination is the issue actually the way that Christian Concern selectively presents the outcome of court cases it is involved in?

The Appeal Tribunal Ruling

The ruling of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in this case is available online and makes fascinating reading. But before we explore it, it’s worth reading the CC press release to see how they reported the judgement. Here are some quotations from their piece:

Victoria Wasteney, the NHS therapist who was disciplined for giving a book to a Muslim colleague, has today lost her appeal against the Employment Tribunal’s ruling.

An internal disciplinary panel dismissed five complaints against her but upheld three saying that Victoria was wrong to have:

  • Invited her colleague to various church-organised events
  • Prayed with her colleague (despite having her permission to do so)
  • Given her a book about a Muslim woman’s encounter with Christianity

This had taken place over a period of several months in the context of what Victoria believed to be a genuine friendship.

This all seems fairly sensible. A worker invites another colleague to church (I do that), offers to pray with them (I’ve not done that unless the colleague is a Christian) and gave them a book (I think I’ve done that at some point). Nothing too serious right?

Now let’s read the Tribunal ruling. Let’s start at section 6 where Judge Eady is going through the established facts.

  1. The Claimant’s ET claim arose from disciplinary proceedings, which resulted in her being given a final written warning, subsequently reduced on appeal to a first written warning.  The relevant chronology went back, however, to an initiative on the Claimant’s part in 2011, whereby CRC volunteers provided religious services at the facility where she worked.  The ET found the Respondent was receptive to the idea of establishing regular Christian worship at the centre but concerns arose about this initiative, with allegations of improper pressure on staff and service users in relation to how worship was conducted and also as to the Claimant’s involvement.  These concerns led the Respondent to suspend the services and, in March 2012, the Claimant’s manager, Mr Wilson, counselled her and informally warned her as to the need for boundaries between her spiritual and professional lives.  The ET did not accept this showed conscious or subconscious anti-Christian animus on the Respondent’s part.

Well that’s interesting isn’t it? Here’s two things omitted from the CC account that are clear right at the start of understanding this case. First, the claimant had introduced Christian services on site which were then withdrawn because of the perception that rather than being voluntary and ecumenical, there was some pressure on staff and patients to attend and there were concerns about the style of the services. For those of us who are or have been pastorally involved in visiting care homes and providing sacramental services, we can probably understand this concern. I remember in one home I visited, Eucharist services were held in a room designated for that purpose. Residents were asked if they wanted to attend and if they did were enabled to do so. Attendance was voluntary and no pressure was placed on anyone. Services were liturgical and involved corporate prayer and response in order to make it as easy to participate in as possible.

The second point in section 6 of the ruling is even more important. The claimant was specifically told prior to the events which led to internal discipline that she needed to maintain proper professional boundaries in her work. This happened just four months before the Muslim junior joined her team and the events that led to disciplinary action occurred. We can read about those in section 63 of the original Tribunal, quoted in section 7 of the EAT ruling.

63. … when [EN] had first [begun] working for the [Respondent] the Claimant had asked her if she was religious and she had said that she was a practising Muslim.  She claimed that the Claimant had invited her to events at the Claimant’s Church but she had never attended and always said that she was busy. … the Claimant’s attention had [begun] to make her feel ill.  She referred to receiving DVD’s from the Claimant and tickets to Church events.  EN also referred to an incident …  when she alleged that the Claimant had discussed EN’s health and said that she needed to “invite Jesus to come into her spirit” and told her to say the following words “I believe you are the son of God Jesus, I believe in you and your power, come into me and heal me”.  EN said that the Claimant told her to “let Jesus in” and that people “have a choice but only one opportunity to be saved”. … when she told the Claimant that she had Crohn’s disease the Claimant had replied that the disease did not exist because it was not in the Bible and that only Jesus could heal her.  EN asserted that on 22 April 2013 the Claimant had given her a book about a Muslim Pakistani woman who had converted to Christianity … EN said that she accepted the book but did not read it. … on her return to work following surgery she had met the Claimant in her office and the Claimant had prayed over her and laid hands on her by touching her knee.  EN said that the prayers lasted about 10 minutes and that the Claimant told her to “ask Jesus to come into you”.  EN said that she was upset by this and went to the toilet to hide her distress but was followed by the Claimant who asked if she was alright.  EN alleged that the Claimant had “completely ruined her first year of practice”. …

That puts a rather different spin on things doesn’t it? It’s one thing to pray for someone (I pray privately for my work colleagues all the time in general terms and occasionally if I’m close to them and I know they’re going through a tough time I ask them if I can explicitly pray for them, again myself in private), it’s entirely another to try and make a colleague, a junior trainee at that, to express a confession of Christian faith. Can we all see how asking a Muslim to say “I believe you are the son of God Jesus” is not in any sense a religiously or professionally neutral act? When I was running a team of people I wouldn’t have dreamed of using professional management time to pray for a junior member of staff and certainly not in this way. Conversations like this are much better undertaken in a pub with a pint glass in hand, not in the middle of the working day.

So where in the Christian Concern press release is this discussed? Where do Christian Concern share with us the full facts of the case? They don’t. Their press release is selective in the evidence it presents and completely omits not just the fact that the claimant engaged in behaviour that was way beyond any reasonable expectation of a manager but also that she had been warned about this just months previously. If anything, her NHS manager had been working in her favour by not pursuing anything formal previously—this is hardly the actions of a management set out to persecute Christians. It’s the behaviour of a good manager who says, “Come on now, clearly you made a mistake—let’s learn from it and move on”.

So in the light of this, it seems that the NHS discipline was appropriate. Indeed, upon internal appeal the discipline was downgraded to just a first written warning and a recommendation of training. The NHS also admitted that the internal process had taken too long and that it was wrong that the claimant hadn’t been redeployed as requested. It looks as though senior management went out of their way to be as gracious to the claimant as possible in the circumstances (para 14 in the EAT ruling).

Despite this the claimant took the NHS to the Employment Tribunal, which ruled as follows (quoted from section 21 of the EAT ruling).

  1. … The context of the disciplinary process against the Claimant was religious acts but the reason for her treatment was because these acts blurred professional boundaries and placed improper pressure on a junior employee rather than that they were religious acts. We have no doubt that the employer would have taken a similar approach had, for example, the Claimant been pressing a particular political point of view.  We note in passing that the distinction between cases where religion is the reason for the treatment and cases where it is merely the context was confirmed by the EAT in the case of Chondol v Liverpool City Council [2009] UKEAT 0298.  It is clear to us that this distinction is one that the Claimant has difficulty understanding: we have no doubt that she felt and feels that what she did was in EN’s best interest at heart and that she was simply sharing with EN her positive experience of Christian belief.”

Look at that last sentence—even the ET is being gracious at this point. There was no malice in what the claimant did, it was conducted out of goodwill to the Muslim junior, but it was inappropriate and unprofessional and the internal discipline was adequate and lawful.

The rest of the EAT ruling then discusses the legal points upon which the appeal by the claimant was made. It’s worth reading the whole text to see where the EAT ends up because it is instructive I think as to what going on in Christian Concern.

  1. It is, however, important to note the manifestation of religious belief that the Claimant was relying on in this regard, namely the “sharing of her faith with a consenting colleague”; a way of characterising the manifestation of religious belief that also underpinned Mr Diamond’s submissions, describing the Claimant’s and EN’s interactions as “consensual” and “voluntary”.
  1. That characterisation of the Claimant’s case exposes, however, the real difficulty that she faces on this appeal: it assumes a factual basis that the ET’s findings reject.  The ET did not find that the Respondent had pursued disciplinary action against the Claimant and imposed a warning on her because of or for reasons related to her sharing of her faith with a consenting colleague.  It expressly found that the Respondent took the actions it did because the colleague in question had made serious complaints about acts which blurred professional boundaries and placed improper pressure on that colleague.

Read that second paragraph carefully. The judge is arguing that the Christian Concern legal team are quite simply not accepting the reasonable understanding of the facts that the original ruling was made on. If I wanted to be unkind I’d suggest that Christian Concern seem to be operating in a fantasy world where it is perfectly reasonable for a senior member of staff to turn a supervision session with a junior trainee into an imposed prayer session including language that would be religiously offensive to the junior. Folks, this is not how professionals behave even if they have the consent of the junior!

Moving Forward

I don’t deny for a moment that Christian Concern do some good work. They have supported a number of Christians with valid concerns about their treatment and rightly so (see here the case of Sarah Mbuyi). But interestingly, some of the more important headline cases in this area haven’t actually been conducted by Christian Concern. Adrian Smith who was demoted from his job in the Trafford Housing Trust was represented by Hugh Tomlinson QC. Ashers Bakers in Northern Ireland are being represented by the Christian Institute.

The problem isn’t the fact that Christian Concern is supporting Christians who need to be supported, the problem is that on a number of occasions they are incredibly selective in sharing the actual circumstances of the issue involved. For example, take the case of Felix Ngole. On the surface this appears to be an open and shut case of discrimination against a student’s private religious beliefs, discussed in a non-threatening social media environment. However, when I in the light of my concerns of the communication by Christian Concern of the Wasteney case, asked Andrea Minichiello-Williams if she could share privately the content of the Facebook exchange that Ngole was involved in so that it could be demonstrated conclusively that he engaged in any offensive behaviour, I got no response. What am I meant to think that means in the light of the way that the Christian Concern press release re Wasteney complete omits to refer to a number of key facts that affect the case?

new-peterWhat is this about? Why are we as Christians not able to be open and transparent in these matters? Are we really willing to hide certain uncomfortable information because it doesn’t fit our narrative? Do we ignore the facts when the facts don’t lead to our preferred outcome? Is this how Christians behave?

I think many of us would be much more vocal in our support of Christian Concern’s work in this area if they could be more open and honest in their communication with us. I want to support persecuted Christians in the UK but if I’m honest I don’t want to feel like I’ve been duped into supporting someone who’s actually done something that any reasonable person, Christian or non-Christian, can see is clearly not correct behaviour. I can’t be the only one who feels this way.

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19 thoughts on “Christian Concern and the Victoria Wasteney case”

  1. This is voicing concerns that I have about Christian Concern’s judgment. There is clearly more to this case than the press release claims, but you have quoted from the evidence against her – does the claimant accept her colleague’s account of what happened when she returned to work? it sounds extraordinary that any professional working in the NHS would dismiss the reality of Crohn’s Disease because it isn’t in the Bible, or that a Christian would think that you could be converted merely by reciting a formulaic set of words. I would like to know a whole lot more about this case before I came to a view one way or the other.

    • Rod, I suppose the question here is whether CC or Victoria herself dispute the factuality of the comments made by the EAT. I agree it would be good to hear more; Peter has asked for a response from CC, and this blog post is another request. Until they answer the specific questions, I guess we cannot know. But if there is a good answer, why is it not being provided?

  2. I agree with the previous commenter; I’m not sure it’s appropriate to come to the conclusions you have on the material provided, or at least to state those conclusions with such force.

    Clearly, the claimant disputed the facts of the case; was this part of the appeal? I know that appeal courts are loathe to interfere with fact finding in lower tribunals, but they can do, and the allegation made seems enormously difficult to believe. If it is the case that the facts are disputed, then CC aren’t operating in a fantasy world; if the factual allegations are false (e.g. the ‘Crohns disease isn’t in the Bible’ comment etc), then of course an injustice has been done, and it is only right to say so. If all that happened was indeed an offer to pray, an invitation to church, and a book, then the decision that professional boundaries have been blurred is absurd, and to suggest otherwise posits a bizarre view of conversation topics in the workplace. But I totally agree that CC, in their public comments, haven’t been as open as they could have been, and that Christians need to be above reproach.

    One little point: you allege that the ET ruling, dealing with matters prior to the events dealt with in the case, found that the claimant put pressure on people to attend services. Please read the paragraph you posted, or provide the paragraph from which you got this proposition. No such thing is alleged, and if you’re going to be criticising CC on their public handling of allegations, you need to be more careful. The only pressure that the paragraph alleges is in relation to the conduct of the services themselves, *not* pressure on people to attend. And if that ‘pressure’ was the claimant advocating for biblical orthodoxy in the service, then it’s hardly objectionable.

    • From reading the ruling it’s clear that the Claimant did not dispute any of the facts of the case, rather she disputed the interpretation of those events. But this is exactly what the judge picked up, that the claimant and her legal team used an interpretive lens on the events that simply didn’t stack up.

      It would be useful to have a full copy of the original tribunal ruling which Christian Concern have, but again…..

      • Peter,

        What you’re missing is that the role of the EAT is not to review the ET’s findings of fact. In point 4 of the the judgement, it says as much, referring to Yeboah vs. Crofton (2002):

        Reading from point 11 of that judgement, under The Approach of Courts of Appeal:

        11. Mr Crofton’s suggested approach is, however, wrong. The function of the Court of Appeal is to review the proceedings in, and the decision of, the Employment Tribunal in order to determine whether a question of law arises from them. If the Employment Tribunal conducted the proceedings and delivered decisions in accordance with the law, no questions of law would arise for correction by this court: neither the Employment Appeal Tribunal nor this court would be entitled to interfere with the original decisions, even if they concluded that they might have conducted and decided the cases differently.

        12. When the principal ground of appeal is, as here, perversity of the decision of the fact-finding tribunal, there is an increased risk that the appellate body’s close examination of the evidence and of the findings of fact by the Employment Tribunal may lead it to substitute its own assessment of the evidence and to overturn findings of fact made by the Employment Tribunal. Only the Employment Tribunal hears all the evidence first hand. The evidence available to the Employment Appeal Tribunal and to the Court of Appeal on an appeal on a question of law is always seriously and incurably incomplete. Much as one, or sometimes both, of the parties would like it to be so, an appeal from an Employment Tribunal is not a re-trial of the case. The scope of the appeal is limited to consideration of questions of law, which it is claimed arise on the conduct of the proceedings and the decision of the Employment Tribunal. The legal points must, of course, be considered in the context of the entirety of the proceedings and the whole of the decision, but with an awareness of the limitations on the court’s competence to question the evidential basis for findings of fact by the Employment Tribunal. It is a rare event for the appellate body to have all the documents put in evidence in the Employment Tribunal. No official transcript of the oral evidence exists. If an order is made for production of the chairman’s notes, it is usually on a selective basis, related to the particular grounds of appeal, which should always be particularised on a perversity challenge. Most important of all, none of the witnesses give oral evidence on an appeal.

        That’s why challenging the ET’s findings of fact was a legal ‘dead-end’!

        • David, I believe that your contribution to the discussion here, provides balance that, without your contribution, I would not have realised was lacking. You have restored my faith in CC, and my mistrust of British courts. Thank you.

  3. “Conversations like this are much better undertaken in a pub with a pint glass in hand, not in the middle of the working day.”

    Interesting choice for a venue; not sure a Muslim would feel particularly more comfortable in the pub than in the office!

  4. As a Christian, I have been concerned for some time about some of the practices of CC and what they encourage in the workplace. This is an extremely helpful post from you, Ian, which throws light for us all on a difficult subject. Thank you, too, for the links to the actual papers in the case.

  5. CC defended (successfully I think) a “street preacher” who thankfully published a video recording of the incident for which he was in court. Very sadly I had to agree with a lawyer who happened to be visiting the area for a conference on the subject of this blog who suggested that the “preachers” actions were actually likely to cause a breach of the peace (as charged). The video seemed more like a slanging match with local traders than gospel preaching. This case was not good PR for CC.

  6. Excellent piece, Peter. 🙂

    If a claimant can go elsewhere than Christian Concern, they should: they need zealous advocacy, but not literally. 😉

  7. Ian,

    After reading Peter Ould’s post, I considered the EAT judgment carefully.

    The EAT concluded that East London NHS Victoria Wasteney’s Article 9 right to manifest her belief was not violated by the Respondent. While I would agree with the call for Christian Concern to stop adding needless spin in describing the outcome of the proceeding, thr EAT’s judgement is not by itself sufficient grounds upon which a fellow Christian should render an informal verdict that Victoria Wasteney had ‘actually done something that any reasonable person, Christian or non-Christian, can see is clearly not correct behaviour’.

    Peter states: ‘The claimant was specifically told prior to the events which led to internal discipline that she needed to maintain proper professional boundaries in her work.

    So, what were those violated professional boundaries. Well, as the EAT judgment describes it: ‘The ET found the Respondent was receptive to the idea of establishing regular Christian worship at the centre but concerns arose about this initiative, with allegations of improper pressure on staff and service users in relation to how worship was conducted and also as to the Claimant’s involvement’

    However, in the earlier ET judgment here, we read:
    42. The pilot was established for an initial three month period and the new services were advertised on the Trust’s event timetable under the name ‘Discover Life’…

    43. Mr Wilson did not attend services and had no first-hand knowledge of them. On 16 January 2012, he received an e-mail of concern from Kim MacGillivray, a modern Matron, who reported that staff escorts were being made to feel uncomfortable at the services because of alleged pressure to participate in them or provide personal details (pages 185 – 186); she suggested that this blurred professional boundaries. Ms MacGillivray attached an e-mail she had received who described the services as ones in which the congregation ‘waved their hands in the air, hopped, jumped and danced’.

    44. A further issue was raised with Mr Wilson by Dr Philip Baker, a Consultant Psychiatrist, on 1 February 2012. Dr Baker said that the Claimant’s interaction with a service user for whom she had no direct clinical responsibility but who had attended the CRC services with her was troubling nurses on the ward. Dr Baker expressed the view to Mr Wilson that there was a potential conflict of interest between the Claimant’s professional status and her personal religious convictions. As we understand it the Claimant had been acting as an escort for RH when she attended the CRC services notwithstanding that the Claimant had no direct involvement in RH’s care.’

    So, let’s get this straight. We are to believe that:
    1.Even asking staff, attending as escorts to service users, to participate or leave their details amounted to improper pressure on staff and service users.

    2. The e-mail alleging that the congregation ”waved their hands in the air, hopped, jumped and danced’ was somehow relevant to Ms MacGillivray’s concerns expressed about blurring of professional boundaries.

    3. Victoria Westerley’s involvement in escorting RH to the services amounted to a potential conflict of interest, given that she had no direct involvement in her care.

    So, how exactly does Rev. Dr. Nigel Copsey, psychotherapist and Team Leader for Spiritual and Cultural Care within the East London and City Mental Health Trust manage to avoid similar potential conflicts of interest, when he explains ‘Our aim is to provide on the wards a wide range of spiritual resources reflecting the whole community. For example, this includes the whole range of Christian worship from Pentecostal worship to Eucharist.’?

    Well, of course, as Team Leader for Spiritual Care, he has official direct involvement in the spiritual care of every service user. No one here would dare suggest that for him to escort a service user, whom he wasn’t treating, to regular chaplaincy services could amount to a conflict of interest.

    And it’s an interesting aside that one of the main findings of Helen Orchard’s seminal work on chaplaincy was the shocking lack of equity in service provision for minority faiths. In fact, despite the empty mouthings about ecumenism, in terms of Christian denominations, chaplaincy remains a well-protected oligopoly.

    Some here may well shake their heads with dismay at Wasteney, while dismissing her claim as an outright lie that: Ms. Nawaz approached her some months later in distress. “She was very emotional and tearful and was talking to me about her fear of dying. I put my hand on her knee to comfort her – asking her if that was alright – and prayed with her, asking God to heal her. It was a natural and open thing for me to do and she didn’t object in any way.”

    Yet, we have a good example of how so-called findings of fact can get in the way of the truth, in John 2, Jesus was in the Temple Courts when he said: ‘Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days’.

    The mouths of two witnesses agreed in declaring: ‘“This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days’. It was a plausible and legally admissible distortion of the truth.

    And if we don’t keep delving for truth, it’s easy it is to put the worst possible construction on the best intentions of those who can’t fit the ‘one size fits all’ mould.

    • David, your willingness to attend to the detail of an issue is remarkable – simply to read your comments demands not a little concentration (at least for simple minds like my own). In cases like the one under discussion here it is all too easy to allow preconceptions and the excitement of making one’s point to take the place of careful attention to the truth of what actually happened. And, indeed, the whole truth may not be fully available to any of us.

      In those circumstances it hardly needs saying that Christians should be very careful when they air their differences over this kind of issue in the public square, not least in consideration of real harm which might be done to wholly innocent individuals. It is not plausible to assume that the secular courts always act with total objectivity (or even competence), and neither can we assume that our fellow Christians always act with perfect judgement either.

      You do have to wonder how St Paul would fare in today’s politically correct minefield – quite possibly not too well! But he was a doer, got on with the job, and landed in pretty hot water as a result. I’m sure we should all use as much common sense as we can muster, but Christians today should no more expect a smooth ride as they express and pass on their faith than ever was the case in times past. I’m just mightily impressed by anyone today who is unashamed to speak of Christ in the place where they work.


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