Response: Christian Concern and the Victoria Wasteney case

victoria-wasteney-nhs-worker-bbcOn Wednesday I was contacted by Tim Dieppe, a long time reader of this blog and recently appointed as Director of Islamic Affairs at Christian Concern, following the publication of the article about CC and the Wasteney case. I was happy to offer Tim a right of reply, giving Christian Concern’s more detailed perspective.

I would like to thank Ian Paul for allowing me to reply to the article published here on the Victoria Wasteney case. I have long admired the Psephizo blog and often found the articles helpful and insightful. I was, however, disappointed to see an article which is quite disparaging of our ministry posted on such a respected site. The main criticism in the article is that Christian Concern is selective in the material that it provides. There are also points raised about Victoria Wasteney’s case that I would like to respond to.

Christian Concern press releases about cases cannot be expected to comment on all the background issues surrounding each case, nor on every paragraph of a long ruling much of which is disputed in any case. It is entirely unreasonable to expect us to discuss all the details of a case in our releases. If we did produce a longer commentary on each case, we would still be accused of being selective because any release is necessarily selective. The ruling itself is also selective in what it includes and does not include. Had we written a longer briefing on this case, I doubt very much if we would have considered it necessary to comment on all the issues raised in that article.

On some of the facts involved, Victoria Wasteney did not “introduce Christian services on site”; she merely helped to facilitate them. These services were later suspended after a number of allegations about them. Victoria Wasteney was not subject to any disciplinary action in relation to that. She was merely informally warned about professional boundaries between her spiritual and professional lives. In passing, it is worth noting that Muslim fellowship meetings are facilitated at this location, and that Muslim staff are allowed to pray five times a day regardless of allocated break times, whereas Christians are often denied time off on Sundays, or breaks at lunchtimes to attend prayer meetings. No questions have been raised about what is taught at these Muslim fellowship meetings.

Peter Ould made reference to material from paragraph 63 of the original employment tribunal ruling which was not relied on in court, nor was it accepted as true by the court, nor has her former colleague ever turned up for any of these hearings or been questioned about these allegations. I ask the readers of this blog to consider how likely it is that a senior healthcare professional would say that Crohn’s disease “did not exist because it was not in the Bible and that only Jesus could heal her.” Anyone who has met Victoria Wasteney, as I have, would just not believe that she would ever say such a thing. The veracity of this claim also undermines the credibility of the other claims made in that section. Victoria Wasteney did not make the other alleged statements in that paragraph, and in fact they were withdrawn from the list of allegations.

Victoria’s colleague was a junior member of staff who did not report to Victoria. They established a strong relationship over several months with a common interest in human trafficking. There is evidence that conversations about spiritual matters were initiated by her colleague. Her colleague expressed interest in Victoria’s faith, and emails clearly show that she wanted to attend church events. Her colleague accepts that she never told Victoria to her face that these discussions were unwelcomed, and that she had given the impression of welcoming them. An example text message received by Victoria from her colleague is: “Hope your (sic) okay Victoria, your (sic) am (sic) amazing manager and a wonderful person, I hope you never feel otherwise!! Anyone that can’t see that is an idiot, see you tomorrow xx”. Does that sound like someone who is upset with Victoria, or feeling pressurised by Victoria?

There are only three allegations that held up in court, all of which were mentioned in Christian Concern’s press release: 1. She gave her colleague a book. 2. She invited her colleague to church. 3. She prayed and placed a hand on her colleague’s knee.

Can a football supporter invite a colleague to a football game? If the colleague is a junior one should they be concerned about professional misconduct? Out of an established relationship, Victoria gave her colleague a book and invited her to church. I think we can all agree that she should be able to do so. The prayer took place in a lunch hour when Victoria’s colleague was clearly distressed and came to see Victoria. Victoria obtained permission to say a short prayer and place her hand on her. Victoria’s recollection is that she prayed a few sentences and then went off to do an errand. This was a consensual action, in a lunch hour, out of an established relationship. It was a compassionate action for a friend. She was very surprised when complaints were later made against her.

No case is ever straightforwardly black and white. If we restricted ourselves to cases where there are no difficulties, then we would never do any cases. We support Victoria Wasteney because she behaved entirely reasonably throughout, and the case has important implications for the right of Christians to share their faith in the workplace. We will continue to support Christians who are suffering for manifesting their faith in various ways. This is very far from being a “fantasy land” for our clients, many of whom have lost their jobs or been excluded from certain professions for expressing their faith.

tim-pic-portraitNo doubt this response has been selective! Much, much more could be said, but this article is long enough already. Christian Concern has nothing to hide. We cannot, however, respond, or be expected to respond, to every query or criticism that is expressed online about our very public and high profile cases. I am not claiming that we are perfect, or that our clients are perfect and immune from criticism. Doubtless we make mistakes. I do appreciate some of the constructive and supportive comments made in the previous article. I hope that this interaction has been helpful in establishing some more trust and support of what we do. A 70-page case summary document is available here for those interested in more information about other cases that we have taken on.

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11 thoughts on “Response: Christian Concern and the Victoria Wasteney case”

  1. Well said, Tim! As I commented: the 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’.

  2. Thanks Tim for your response, and David as usual for your thoroughness.

    But I am not sure what you are saying here. Frank Cranmer highlights the summary issues on Law and Religion

    The appeal was dismissed. HHJ Eady found that Ms Wasteney

    “had not been subjected to disciplinary process or sanction because she manifested her religious belief in voluntary and consensual exchanges with a colleague but because … she subjected a subordinate to unwanted and unwelcome conduct, going substantially beyond ‘religious discussion’, without regard to her own influential position. The treatment of which the Claimant complained was because of, and related to, those inappropriate actions; not any legitimate manifestation of her belief” [65].

    The sanction imposed by her employer had not been “oppressive”: a final written warning, reduced to a written warning on appeal, was not an oppressive sanction when an employer had made a finding of serious misconduct [66]. Nor had the NHS Trust directly discriminated against her by pursuing the disciplinary process rather than mediation under the Dignity at Work policy [67]: it was a serious allegation that had warranted investigation.

    ‘Can a football supporter invite a colleague to a football game?’ Yes indeed, and according to the judgement in this case, a Christian can invite a Muslim to church. Can either of them put unwelcome pressure on the person invited, without attending to the power dynamics involved in subordinate relations? No.

    The reason why I think this is such a problem is the public claim of Andrea Williams that this demonstrates the courts are ‘anti-Christian’. Unless this judgement is seriously erring in a matter of fact (which I don’t think is what CC contested) then that is a bold claim to make on the basis of little evidence.

    Or am I missing something?

    PS an ‘informal warning’ is indeed stage 1 of a disciplinary process.

    • Ian, what I think you’re missing is that the liberty to become or remain a Muslim and to be free from persuasion to leave it raises the issue about whether the profession of Muslim beliefs is criminal per se under ss44-46 of the Serious Crime Act 2007. It is an offence to do anything which is capable of encouraging or assisting the commission of an offence.

      It cannot be gainsaid that the texts and teachings of Islam easily lend themselves to justifying violent crime, treason, treason-felony, sedition and genocide. If you consider the stream of people running off to join the Islamic State, you’ll find that they’re all Muslims.

    • Why was there a warning at all. It is perfectly reasonable for someone to speak about their faith and if someone doesn’t want to hear then you can stop. All this is really a legalistic discussion around a work ruling made by someone who not religious and wants to impose their morality on the rest of us. The idea that it is to show tolerance to all is clearly not true because muslims are allowed to pray 5 times a day without restriction. There really is an agenda here and to accept the initial proposition that Christians must be silent is clearly discriminatory. If we live in a free sociaty we should be able to speak. Unfortunately between Liberalism and Islam both of which show totalitarian tendencies, Christians are the soft target.

    • Ian,

      In response to your comment, I would begin by reiterating that the EAT’s role does not involve challenging the findings of fact of the ET.

      Section 62 of the ruling is particularly indicative of this approach:

      62. That [‘consensual’ and ‘voluntary’] 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.
      To accept this as a finding of fact would imply that no consent is implied when “EN receives a book without complaint; … EN voluntarily receives prayer (and touching) without complaint; and … EN texts messages (with encouragement) about visiting the Church of the [Claimant]”.
      From the ET’s rejection of this part of Mr. Diamond’s submission, we can infer its position that an invitation is unwelcome, not because it is overtly rejected, but that its recipient, at some later stage, complains that w response of being otherwise engaged should have been interpreted by VW as an excuse:

      ‘Whilst no doubt representing the Claimant’s case below, those contentions simply cannot stand given the ET’s findings. Although the ET allowed that some of EN’s responses to the Claimant’s texts (inviting her to CRC events) were friendly in tone, they were also consistent with her finding excuses not to accept those invitations. EN’s complaint had described how the Claimant’s attention had begun to make her feel ill and “completely ruined her first year of practice”.

      There is nothing to suggest that VW bombarded EN with invitations. Certainly, she only gave EN two books, one of which was accepted.

      Yet, despite the Trust’s clear disciplinary process which EN relied upon after leaving, EN gave no inkling of a complaint about VW’s ‘unwelcome’ invitation and book and their deleterious effect on her life until after she left employment.

      I’m sorry, but to call that reasonable just doesn’t stack up. Why was it only after leaving the Trust that EN suddenly gained confidence in the effectiveness of her ex-employer’s disciplinary process?

      As a comparison, on several occasions, I’ve been invited out to the pub by my boss. Little does he know that, in this regard, citing the conflicting Thursday bowls nights is just an excuse that conveys a lack of consent.

      I’ve not complained to anyone yet, but, once I retire, my excuses will be consistent with my future characterisation of his invitations as decidedly unwelcome attention. I’ll even say they made me feel ill. And I guess that the ET will have no choice now, but to see them in the same way!

      Actually, what really makes me ill is how much 20/20 moral hindsight is based on the tribunal’s limited record of the actual circumstances.

  3. I want to join others in thanking Tim for contributing to the debate here. When Christians can engage with criticism in a constructive manner rather than appealing to victimisation we are all better for it.

    That said, I want to address some of the points Tim makes and then ask some follow on questions. I appreciate that it may take some time for Tim to respond to those – I myself have been tied up all morning and will be again later today.

    Tim writes,

    “Peter Ould made reference to material from paragraph 63 of the original employment tribunal ruling which was not relied on in court, nor was it accepted as true by the court, nor has her former colleague ever turned up for any of these hearings or been questioned about these allegations.”

    This begs a number of questions. Having now read the original tribunal ruling, section 63 comes in a section entitled “Findings of Fact”. Section 63 outlines the claims that EN made in her statement, but this statement was not questioned in the ruling. We need to remember it was Victoria Wasteney (VW) who was the claimant here, not EN or the NHS Trust. The complaint was of discrimination against VW and the evidence in section 63 was of some of the material that led up to the disciplinary action which VW claimed was discriminatory. I can see nowhere in the ET ruling where the Tribunal does rule as to whether it believes the allegations in EN’s statement were true or not so I fail to see how Tim can write that it “was not relied on in court, nor was it accepted as true by the court”. It is the handling of the disciplinary process that was at question in the Tribunal, not the veracity of EN’s statement.

    The second query I want to make about the sentence I quote above is the complaint that VW’s team were never able to question EN in court. This complaint doesn’t stack up. On Ian’s Facebook thread someone suggested that the CC team were unable to find EN, but as someone who works in an industry that handles personal data, both publicly and privately held, I know that it is actually fairly easy (scarily so at times) to track down someone and find out details about them. In practice, in today’s modern IT and data rich world, it is very hard to vanish and using publicly available databases and a bit of ingenuity and experience, most people can be traced. Indeed, I’d go as far as saying that *if* Christian Concern were to give me all that they knew about EN, I could probably locate her this afternoon. Challenge?

    It is uncommon but not unheard of to summons a witness to an Employment Tribunal. If Christian Concern had genuinely wanted to get hold of EN for the court sessions, if they had genuinely felt that her evidence (as outlined in section 63 of the ET ruling) should be challenged in order to demonstrate what the NHS Trust should have done when the complaint arose (i.e. question the veracity of the statement), it was perfectly feasible for them to do so. The fact that they didn’t when they could does not give them the right to post hoc complain about their inability to do so. I find this disingenuous at best and deceptive at worst. I hope readers can understand the point I am making here.

    Moving on, why is it that it is so hard to get hold of the judgements in their cases, certainly from the early stages when they are not automatically available on Bailii (the website that hosts ruling amongst other items)? If Christian Concern want to be transparent in what they are doing, why don’t they as a matter of course make such judgements available as part of their press releases? Why don’t they make available (where possible) the evidence bundle when there are questions about the evidence presented at court? I’m afraid, as I told my father sometime in my late teens when his response to my question about something was “because I say so”, ‘because I say so’ doesn’t cut mustard with me anymore. My father, a barrister by training, took the point and I hope Tim does too. When questions arise as to what happened and what evidence was and wasn’t presented, “trust me” isn’t a valid response when there are key issues of integrity and even strategic planning at stake.

    And this leads me to my final series of questions which I accept are wider than what Tim has addressed above. I would be interested in Tim’s (and others) responses to these issues.

    1) When does something being “not black and white” lead the CC team to consider that what they have in front of them is a poor prospect in court or a misconceived case? Do CC have a wider responsibility to the general religious liberty of others beyond their individual case? How many cases / complaints do CC turn down?

    2) Why do CC brief the media in advance of cases reporting contested allegations as ‘facts’? Is this helpful or a hindrance when the court relies upon a fact that CC rejects? Can CC see how this attempt to manage a PR agenda can be interpreted as disingenuous, especially when post ruling PR statements mention “facts” that the court did not view as such (or considered pertinent)?

    3) As I mention above, why do CC not publish the first instance judgments of their cases? If they are asking their supporters for financial aid, do they not have a duty of integrity in enabling those supporters to know as much about the case as possible?

    4) When faced with findings of fact at first instance, however unfavourable, against which there is generally no prospect of appeal, why litigate cases to the upper tribunals, creating adverse precedents whilst continuing to report / contend the Claimant’s rejected version as true? What purpose does this serve legally?

    5) Beyond cases won on the first instance (i.e. in the ET) how many employment cases have CC won in the upper courts beyond first instance (EAT upwards)?

    As I wrote in my original piece, I believe some of the work that Christian Concern does is valuable and to be applauded (e.g. Mbuyi most recently). My issue is not with the whole scope of their legal actions per se, but rather the way that where a case is more nuanced then the “open and shut” presentation that their PR work suggests, there is a tendency to avoid the kind of openness and transparency (even vulnerability) that we should all aim for when communicating with others and that the Gospel calls us to. When I read a statement from person A that says “The facts are X” and when I then discover that actually the facts aren’t quite X and actually you should also bear in mind Y and Z, I am less disposed to believe the statement “the facts are X” next time.

    Tim, help me and others move to a position where when Christian Concern says “The facts are X”, we have more to go on than “Trust me on this”.

  4. What I don’t understand is why a conversation in the lunch hour should be see as grounds for disciplinary action. Surely what you say in the lunch hour (when you are not technically at work) is not your employer’s business?

    OK, so Victoria was senior to the younger Muslim woman…but in the lunch hour that seniority is irrelevant. If we cannot have a free and honest conversation with colleagues while we eat lunch, something has gone badly wrong either with employment law or with the NHS.

  5. There are two things that stand out for me. The first is, has a Muslim ever been complained against for inviting a Christian to a mosque? Would the legal handling of that be different, should the Christian complain? There is a suspicion, arising from the outcomes of legal cases in recent years, that there is discrimination against Christians.

    Secondly, I am very puzzled as to why the Muslim colleague, apparently having a good relationship with VW, should go on to lodge a professional complaint. What happened in-between the invitation, and the complaint? She may just have changed her mind, but from the meagre facts available, I can’t help wondering if she was leaned on.

    • Why should the Muslim colleague, apparently having a good relationship with VW, go on to lodge a professional complaint?

      Good question. The Qur’an 3:28 says: “Let not the believers take the disbelievers (kuffar) as Auliya (supporters, helpers, etc.) instead of the believers, and whoever does that will never be helped by God in any way, except if you indeed fear a danger from them. And God warns you against Himself (His Punishment), and to God is the final return.”

      The word “kuffar” is the plural of “kaffir”. It means “unbeliever”, but with grossly derogatory connotations. It is an axiom of Islam that the religion is so obviously true that no one can refuse it in good faith. A “kaffir”, then, is someone who lies about God by denying the truth of his message as sent through Muhammad.

      For a Muslim to use the term “kaffir” of a non-Muslim is comparable to the use of the same term by Afrikaners of black people in apartheid South Africa.

  6. Sorry to go on about this but isn’t the lunch hour your own time? You are not paid for it. You can go to the cafe across the road if you want. So the issue becomes what happens on NHS premises when you are not under the constraints of an employment contract. Why shouldn’t you pray for someone in your lunch hour?

  7. Why shouldn’t you pray at anytime. Do we expect nurses to stay quiet all day until they leave work. Talking doesn’t stop you working. There was a case some time ago about muslim forcing their faith on women in the work place – was anyone prosecuted. The law is becoming more and more partisan and unfortunately the police will immediately accept a complain from a muslim about a Christian but would they have the same enthusiasm when Christian complain.


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