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Council / Church complaint to be taken to ombudsman

Campaigners urge New Life Shetland to suspend provision of counselling while NHS Shetland feels it was misrepresented in the church’s community asset transfer application

The science building at the old Anderson High School. Photo: Shetland News

A COMPLAINT investigation initiated by Shetland Islands Council in response to concerns raised about the New Life Shetland church has been suspended as the matter is referred to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO).

The council’s chief executive Maggie Sandison confirmed in a statement to Shetland News that the complainers, equality campaigners Peter Hamilton and Kerrie Meyer, have asked for the suspension of the investigation.

They initially referred the matter to Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) to to consider areas for investigation, but have since been told the SPSO is the appropriate body.

Sandison said the campaigners had been advised that complaint investigation against local authority is “not within the role and remit of CoSLA”.

The complaint refers to New Life Shetland’s proposed community asset transfer of the old science block at the former Anderson High School in Shetland.

Hamilton and Meyer have expressed worry over the church’s alleged stance on homosexuality, marriage and sexual identity – as well as the practice of conversion therapy, which is a form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or to suppress a person’s gender identity.

Meanwhile, NHS Shetland has confirmed that it is urging the New Life church to withdraw the document supporting its community transfer application as it feels misrepresented in the submission.

It comes after New Life Shetland clarified it had no partnership with NHS Shetland.

Chief executive Michael Dickson said: “We became aware that the New Life Church [NLC] submission to the council regarding a community asset transfer stated there was a partnership with the NHS. When this was queried by NHS Shetland it was accepted that no such partnership existed.

“We value our relationships with all community groups but feel this was a misrepresentation. 

Peter Hamilton (left) with Kerrie Meyer after meeting with council leadership in October. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

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“Because of this, we asked for the actual position to be communicated to Shetland Islands Council and recommended NLC consider withdrawing the document as written.”

Hamilton and Meyer said: “In referring this matter for consideration by SPSO we are choosing one of the options put to us by the SIC on how best to make progress.  We agree that the matters are complex and are grateful to the SIC for their support in this process.

“We remain concerned that consultees may have been inappropriately reassured by the inaccurate claim of partnership with NHS Shetland in the asset transfer development proposal.

“No reassurance has been provided by Pastor Rollo in relation to what guidance would be offered to vulnerable Shetlanders in regard to their gender identity and sexuality, or indeed contraception advice, pregnancy planning and STDs.

“To facilitate under-supervised counselling, now clearly to be provided outside a partnership with the NHS, by making the old Anderson High School science block, itself a temporary construction, permanently available to this particular church looks very risky.

“We therefore ask that New Life Church suspend their provision of counselling until it is taking place within a supervisory partnership with NHS Shetland.”

Hamilton and Meyer also said their request to SPSO mentioned the role New Life Shetland has in local schools.

“We feel such involvements strengthen the reach of this unusual faith group into the community and have asked which other groups with similar views should also be allowed access,” they said.

In response New Life Shetland pastor John Rollo said on Wednesday: “The last couple of months have seen the plans for the building to be used as a community space continually brought into question by the individuals concerned.

“We would refer back to our previous statements on the allegations and refute the accusations.

“New Life Shetland continue to endeavour to serve the community of Shetland as a whole through the work we do.

“We will be making no further comment and await the outcome of the planning application.”

He previously said that “we believe that the good news of Jesus Christ is for all people regardless of background, sexuality, race or religion and all are welcome at all our services”.

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