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From: The Sunday Times Sunday 20th December 1998

Ex-Speaker to quit abbey over dean's conduct

LORD WEATHERILL, the former speaker of the House of Commons, is set to resign his Westminster Abbey post of high bailiff in protest at the conduct of the dean and canons of the abbey, writes Christopher Morgan.

Weatherill is understood to be appalled by the manner in which Wesley Carr, the dean, sacked Martin Neary, the abbey's organist, in April of this year for alleged gross misconduct. The sacking, sparked by disagreements over the income from the abbey's musical activities, resulted in a dispute that split its staff and congregation for months. It is understood that Weatherill's decision follows an offer he made to mediate between Carr and Neary and the way in which the proposal was rejected outright by the dean.

Weatherill is expected to tender his resignation from his post tomorrow. It is an honorary title, and largely ceremonial. He will also resign a second honorary post as searcher of the sanctuary, at the same time.

A judicial review by Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle recently upheld Neary's dismissal by the dean and canons, finding that the couple's conduct in setting up a private business to handle concert fees had "fatally undermined the relationship of trust which should have existed between them and the abbey". It added, however, that Neary and his wife Penny had not acted dis honestly. Jauncey also criticised the dean and canons, for calling a disciplinary hearing at very short notice and wrote: "The abbey's attempt to convene a disciplinary hearing at such short notice and without a detailed statement of the case being made against the Nearys must score gamma minus on the scale of natural justice."

As well as Weatherill's resignation, Carr faces fresh embarrassment. Some worshippers have been dismayed by the triumphal tone of his pronouncements since the judgment and were outraged by the claim in one press release that Carr was "an internationally recognised authority in managing human relations and social change". Now a new petition to the Queen has been launched by members of the abbey's staff and congregation, which calls for either his resignation or his dismissal. The petition said that Carr, "by his recent actions forfeited the sacred trust vested in him, and should resign or be removed from office forthwith".

One of the first abbey worshippers to sign the petition was Judge Christopher Compston, the father of one of the abbey's choristers. He believes the dispute has soured the atmosphere at the abbey and says that many worshippers fear a "black Christmas". "The abbey is still deeply divided," he said.

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