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.