STATEMENT ISSUED BY THE LORD CHANCELLOR'S DEPARTMENT PRESS OFFICE
ON BEHALF OF LORD JAUNCEY OF TULLICHETTLE
376/98 9 December 1998
DR AND MRS NEARY -v- THE DEAN AND CHAPTER OF WESTMINSTER ABBEY
A Petition dated 3 July 1998 was presented to Her Majesty The Queen
as Visitor of the Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster by
Dr Martin Neary requesting that she should resolve a dispute between
him and the Dean and Chapter.
On 10th July 1998 Her Majesty appointed Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle
to be her Commissioner for the purposes of exercising her visitorial
jurisdiction to determine the Petition.
From 1 January 1988 Dr Neary was, until his dismissal on 22 April
1998, Organist and Master of the Choristers of the Abbey and, as
such, a collegiate officer.
After Lord Jauncey had been appointed to be Her Majesty's
Commissioner, he was asked by Dr Neary's Counsel, Mr Patrick Elias
QC, to determine at the same time a dispute between Mrs Neary and the
Abbey. He agreed so to do.
On 6 December 1988 Mrs Neary was appointed a part-time secretary to
Dr Neary, working a 2 1/2 day week. In December 1991 she was
appointed as concert secretary, which increased her part-time work to
3 days a week. She was suspended on 20 March and dismissed on
22 April 1998.
The hearing took place before Lord Jauncey on 12 days. Not only was
evidence adduced by witnesses on both sides, but a very large number
of documents were produced and referred to.
What Lord Jauncey has had to determine is whether the conduct of
Dr and Mrs Neary as disclosed by the evidence amounts to misconduct
and, if so, whether such misconduct was serious or gross.
The starting point was Dr Neary's acceptance of the five propositions
which were put to him in cross-examination, and also accepted by
Mrs Neary. These were:
(1) That the Abbey was a collegiate body where trust between
individuals was most important;
(2) That the highest standards of integrity were expected of its
officers and staff;
(3) That in carrying out his duties it was important not to
conduct himself in such a way as to undermine trust and
confidence that had to exist between fellow officers;
(4) That he was obliged to carry out his duties in a spirit of
openness befitting a religious foundation; and
(5) That as a senior collegiate officer he should not make a
secret profit from his position.
Lord Jauncey's conclusion on the law was that conduct which strikes
at the root of the trust and confidence inherent in their
relationship with the Dean and Chapter could amount to gross
For some three and a half years Dr and Mrs Neary ran a business whose
principal income earning assets were the lay vicars and the
choristers. They derived profits from this business in the shape of
fixing fees and surpluses on events involving the choir. They did not
tell anybody in the Abbey what they were doing. They disclosed to
no-one there that they, and not the Abbey authorities, were entering
into some contracts on behalf of the choir. The fact that the Abbey
authorities had all the information which would have enabled them to
find out about the contracts, had they been so minded, does not alter
Dr Neary sought an increase in salary for Mrs Neary without
mentioning that she was already receiving substantial sums by way of
fixing fees. Both Dr and Mrs Neary, when the existence of the
separate account became known to the auditor, indicated that it was
an 'imprest' account (ie used only as a conduit) without going on to
mention its other purposes.
By these activities and their silence during this long period they
were in clear breach of their duty of fidelity to the Abbey.
They used their position as Organist and Music Department Secretary
to make secret profits over a prolonged period and they entirely
failed to inform the Abbey authorities of what they were doing,
notwithstanding the fact that there were ample opportunities so to do
and no good reason for not doing so.
Lord Jauncey considered that this conduct was such as fatally
undermined the relationship of trust and confidence which should have
subsisted between them and the Abbey.
He was therefore satisfied that the Dean and Chapter were justified
in summarily dismissing them. In reaching this conclusion he did not
seek to differentiate the position of Mrs Neary from that of
Although Dr Neary had far more opportunity to disclose to the
authorities what was going on he and Mrs Neary worked as a team and
it was not suggested that she was unaware of his failure to disclose.
In any event, although Dr Neary organised the secret profit Mrs Neary
retained it, and it has not been maintained on her behalf that she
could be in a different position to that of Dr Neary.
One of the curious features of this case was the apparent lack of
interest in the Abbey in what was going on after June 1994 in
relation to non-Abbey promoted events. It must have been obvious that
a considerable number of events were not being processed through the
Abbey accounts department. It was surprising that neither the
Precentor, nor the Dean had asked Dr Neary directly about the fund
and its operation as soon as they were aware of its existence.
Had they done so and had the parties been prepared to discuss openly
and frankly the Abbey's concerns, to acknowledge that serious
mistakes had been made, and to consider the reasons therefor, it
might perhaps have been possible to avoid the present unhappy
situation with all its attendant publicity and to have reached a
rather less dramatic resolution of their difficulties.
Lord Jauncey has humbly reported to Her Majesty his determination
that the Dean and Chapter were justified in summarily dismissing
Dr and Mrs Neary.