Eastbourne man who exposed abuse in church is awarded for ‘outstanding service’

An Eastbourne man who exposed sexual abuse in the Church of England has been awarded by the church for ‘outstanding services’ to improving safeguarding.

Phil Johnson with the Archbishop of Canterbury
Phil Johnson with the Archbishop of Canterbury

From the age of around nine, Phil Johnson was abused by priests, and for 20 years has fought for justice and greater support for survivors of abuse within the Diocese of Chichester.

Today (June 29), he was awarded the Canterbury Cross for Services to the Church of England by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

He said, “I’m in two minds about it. It’s good to be recognised for the contribution that I have made, along with many others.

“I know I will be criticised for accepting the award because there are many victims still suffering. My view is that I accept it on the behalf of all the victims and survivors of abuse.”

He is chairperson of the Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, and the church said his contribution has been of ‘huge significance’.

Mr Johnson also runs Eastbourne Survivors for anyone who has been sexually abused as a child. It provides support groups and workshops in town, and a one-to-one counselling service.

His abusers included disgraced former Bishop of Lewes Peter Ball, who was jailed in 2015 for sexually assaulting 18 teenagers between the ‘70s to the ‘90s.

Mr Johnson said, “I was the first person to make a breakthrough with the Peter Ball case. That’s taken over 20 years to get to where we are today. To get any justice took 12 years and then with the help of the BBC and the Herald we managed to get regular publicity and 12 people were sent to prison.”

But he says more needs to be done within the church. He said, “The treatment of survivors has not been good enough.

“There are people currently really suffering – particularly those with mental health problems, not able to go through legal processes that need that support now.

“Their lives are falling apart. The church should be a charitable organisation that helps the needy, but in many cases it’s hindering.”

A spokesperson for the Church of England said, “Along with two other survivors, Phil is the recipient of a award because of his enormous contribution to improving safeguarding in the Church; his courage in speaking out and sharing his story has been a witness to many.

“The Church recognises the hurt and pain of survivors, acknowledging that this is lifelong and is absolutely committed to working with them as we continue to improve our response.”

Mr Johnson’s message to survivors of sexual abuse is: help is available. Call 01323 416316, email [email protected] or visit eastbournesurvivors.org