Tuesday, 29 March 2016

A correspondence with CCF

If you smack somebody it could free an evil spirit

- Howard Curtis
If you've read Monday's posting, about the convicted abuser Howard Curtis, one time head of both Coulsdon Christian Fellowship and Coulsdon Chess Fellowship, you'll have gathered that I'm not greatly fond of either organisation, in so far as I think they're actually worth distinguishing (which is not very far).

I think it might be important to consider Howard Curtis not just as an individual, but in his role as somebody who headed a religious organisation - one referred to in court, by the `prosecutor, as a "cult". He was able to act as he did because he was head of that religious cult, a cult which played and retains a prominent role in Surrey chess. So it seems appropriate to ask some questions of that organisation.

CCF - the chess part - have a website, on which I couldn't find the names of any officials. The main website, though, lists their staff as follows:

When emailing chess@ccfworld.com last Friday it was Rachel Warner who replied: I don't know Rachel but she is married to the Reverend Dominic Warner, who took over CCF from Howard Curtis (and is, as it happens, a regular chessplayer).
Email, 25 March

Dear CCF Chess

I write about chess and I am interested in the question of whether CCF will be making any statement about the conviction of Howard Curtis, who was previously head of your organisation.

I also wondered if anybody from the organisation is available to answer some questions on the subject. (I understand that none of the offences for which he was convicted involved his activities in chess.)

Yours sincerely

Justin Horton

Rachel's reply came the same day...
Email, 25 March

Dear Justin

Thanks for your email.

CCF issued a public statement on our web site when Howard was arrested in the Summer of 2013. Around that time, Howard was asked to disconnect all remaining links he had with CCF – he did so and subsequently moved away from the area and has not been in contact with CCF since. CCF (both the chess and the church) has changed significantly since his departure and we are looking forward to a positive future. We do not have any current plans to make any further statement and do not have much information to enable us to add anything. Accordingly, it would be impossible and probably inappropriate for any of us to answer any specific questions you may have directly about the matter.

CCF will continue doing the good work we believe has been for the benefit of the chess scene and the community as a whole.

Kind regards

Rachel Warner

....and I replied to her.
Email, 25 March

Dear Rachel

Thanks very much for this. Do you have a copy of the 2013 statement?


She was kind enough to provide me with the text.
Email, 26 March

Hi Justin

Sorry – took a while to find it!

Kind regards


I recognised the statement: it appeared in the Croydon Advertiser after Howard Curtis's arrest in October 2013. I found the statement a little strange at the time - it's the combination of praising and supporting him while at the same time distancing themselves - and I'm not sure I find it any less so now, something I said in my response.
Email, 27 March

Dear Rachel

Thanks very much for this. There was something I wanted to ask about it: while it says of the (then) allegations that "we note at this stage that they are of an historical nature", the Mail story says that "Curtis was convicted of five counts of sexual assault between January 2009 and July 2013". So I am not sure what was meant by "of an historical nature".

I was also a bit confused by your earlier comment that "Howard was asked to disconnect all remaining links he had with CCF" and that he "has not been in contact with CCF since". The Mail report says Howard "is banned from the church as a condition of bail". Did CCF insist that Howard refrained from making any contact prior to the law making that requirement?

I was pleased to learn that "CCF (both the chess and the church) has changed significantly since his departure", but would you be able to say in what ways this is so?

Many thanks again


Rachel's reply is kind of explanatory, although I confess I'm still not sure I see how you can simultaneously give somebody your full support and insist on having no contact with them.
Email, 28 March

Dear Justin,

The statement given was made with the information that we had at the time and was correct at the time of issue. Howard still had various legal identities and was still playing in the chess and bridge club, a hand over period was obviously required to finalise the situation. This process had actually started before his arrest as he implemented his retirement plans.

CCF had no reason to ban him before the arrest, and neither CCF nor other any other individual has been implicated in any wrong doing. After his arrest he was suspended from all duties regarding the chess and the church pending the outcome of the investigation.

Regarding how CCF has changed, it is very difficult to explain to someone who is unfamiliar with our organisation (before and after Howard left) what changes have taken place. It is something mainly obvious to those who work here and perhaps to those who regularly attend our club and competitions. As explained we want to move on now and not dwell too much on what, you will appreciate, has been a painful period for all of us.

Kind Regards


I'm not convinced though that it's at all helpful where explaining how the organisation might have changed is concerned. Anyway, at this point I edged a little closer to what I felt to be the point.
Email, 28 March

Dear Rachel

Thanks for your reply.

I hope I understand your point of view, especially the desire of CCF to "move on" and I appreciate that "neither CCF nor other any other individual has been implicated in any wrong doing".

However, you might appreciate that from the outside of CCF, it may appear that Howard Curtis is not just an individual who happened to be part of CCF. He was the head of the organisation and he seems to have determined its policies, personnel and opertaing methods. He also seems to have exercised an enormous amount of personal authority within the organisation, which authority he abused over a period of years.

In such circumstances it might be appropriate for any organisation to thoroughly review its personnel and practices, to see if unsuitable people had been recruited or whether unsuitable working methods had been developed. It might seek to ask whether anything else illegal or unpleasant had ever occurred and whether anybody within the organisation could or should have heard about possible wrongdoing and should have raised objections at an earlier stage.

Now for all I know CCF has done all these things, but it is not clear that it has done so (it's not at all obvious to me, for instance, whether complaints about Howard Curtis's conduct were raised formally or informally within CCF prior to his arrest) and given that it is an organisation which works and seeks to work with the public, including young people, I wonder whether the results of such of a review should be made available to that public.

It is a question of CCF's fitness as an organisation and whether the public can have confidence in it, and I am not sure this is possible when the organisation's response at the time of arrest is to assure itself that allegations are "of an historical nature" and then, as soon as the trial is concluded, express a desire to "move on".

I would welcome your further observations.


That, to date, is as far as we've got. Credit to Rachel Warner for replying, I think, but I trust readers will see what my problem is with CCF's general response, as summed up in the final paragraph of my last email.

It's not just about Howard Curtis, the individual. It's about CCF, the organisation he controlled and shaped in his image.

Because abuse isn't just about individuals. It's about organisations, power and the structures that allow abuse to take place. Men who abuse don't just do so because they're bad people. It's vulnerable people who normally get abused and the people who abuse them usually have power over them, usually have power to prevent them complaining, to make it unlikely that complaints will (at least for a long time) be taken seriously and to induce them to accept abuse in the first place.

Part of my purpose in asking these questions is to raise another - given what we know about how CCF as an organisation functioned under Howard Curtis, and given how long he was at the head of that organisation, can we be confident that nothing else happened, other than the offences for which he was convicted, and that nothing of this nature ever happened within the chess part of CCF's operations?

It's also to ask - given what we know, can we be confident that nobody involved in the chess part of CCF's operations suspected anything, heard any disturbing rumours, had any complaints directed to them, about what Howard was up to? (There's no suggestion that anybody else knew anything, still less that they were involved. But nobody heard or suspected anything? Over a period of years, in a small and tight-knit community?)

And of course it's to ask - do we have any reason to believe that CCF, described in court as a religious cult, is a suitable organisation to remain involved in chess activities?

Now nobody has to ask these questions. As I said yesterday:
none of the offences for which Howard Curtis has been convicted involved his chess activities and nobody but Howard Curtis has been charged with any offences.
But should we really be happy to say well, now Howard's gone there's nothing further that should concern us?

Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

Howard Curtis used to be CCF: if you'd accessed their website in May 2013, his would have been the name you would have seen.

But a few months later...

Spot the difference

...he was gone.

Is that sufficient?

-- -- -- -- -- --

UPDATE, Tuesday lunchtime: CCF have decided they don't want to answer any more questions.
Email, 28 March 

 Hi Justin

CCF will happily submit to any questions made by appropriate authorities should we be required to do so, but we are not going to get into discussions with absolutely everyone who wants to ask these questions, or we will never be able to move on. This is not said in any way to cause offence but, with respect, you are not a player who has come to events here, nor has (I understand) shown particular support for our activities over the years. Obviously you would be made welcome should you ever decided to come down here.

We have been very open with those of our regulars who have approached us with questions and will continue to be as far as we can, but we are not going to get into email correspondence about such issues with someone who (and please – this is not said to offend) has never shown any interest in attending our activities. It was quite heartening to see we had a better entry for all 3 of our Easter events over the weekend than we have generally had for similar such events in recent times – and all that within days of the verdicts.

All we can say to you is that those who coach in schools on our behalf (most of whom have nothing to do with the CCF church) fulfil all legal requirements for working with children, including (obviously) a clear DBS check. I am sure you will appreciate that the police would have looked to take further action here had anyone else been implicated in whatever was alleged to have been happening – and not one person was questioned or implicated in respect of the investigation. I am completely satisfied that we have done everything reasonable to ensure that CCF is operating appropriately.

I hope you will understand that although we totally understand that people will have concerns, that I will not continue with this correspondence, although would be happy to speak to you face to face should you decide to become involved with us here and wish to ask appropriate questions.

Kind regards

A shame. In particular, the question
whether complaints about Howard Curtis's conduct were raised formally or informally within CCF prior to his arrest
has gone unanswered. It's kind of important.

Because the real question of course is something like this:
if your organisation is nothing to be concerned about, how come its leader was able to abuse women and children over a period of years and apparently none of you noticed it was happening?
More on Howard Curtis and CCF tomorrow.

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