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Major change

Salvation Army replaces officer accused of sexual misconduct

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Senior staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, August 22, 2019

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A new major has been appointed at the Salvation Army's Lyndhurst Road branch, months after allegations of sexual misconduct were levelled at an officer at the location.

The Jamaica Observer contacted the branch yesterday and was told that Major Selburn Laing — a pastor working with the Protestant Christian church and international charitable organisation for more than 30 years — has been appointed as head.

Laing replaces Major Selburn Oates, the man accused of engaging in sexual acts with at least one customer with the promise of favours, while another woman had accused him of inappropriate touching tantamount to sexual assault.

The major denied the allegations. The Observer has learnt that he was sent on pre-retirement leave on August 1.

Yesterday, the Observer, which first reported the allegations in May, contacted Oates but the pastor refused to comment.

“Why [are] you asking me that? Don't ask me anything,” the major fumed before ending the telephone call.

Efforts to get a comment from Commissioner Devon Haughton, the man in charge of The Salvation Army Caribbean Territorial Headquarters in St Andrew, have been unsuccessful.

Haughton, since the time the story was first published, has repeatedly said he would contact the Observer when he sees fit.

He is yet to do so.

The Observer also contacted Salvation Army International, located in the United Kingdom, for an update, but was told by International Communications Secretary Brian Venables that they could not give information related to internal matters.

In June, Venables told the Observer that the organisation, which has developed a stellar reputation for helping the poor worldwide over many decades, had launched an investigation into the matter.

He said the issue had been brought to the attention of the “relevant person” who had already contacted Haughton, who had been recently promoted to the rank of commissioner in charge of the 16 countries that comprise The Salvation Army Caribbean Territory.

“We're following up with it and we are investigating,” Venables said at that time.

The women making the accusations against Oates had asked not to be identified out of fear of public backlash, both said the major had engaged in sexual acts and touching more than once with them.

They women visited the Observer to share details of the alleged encounters.

One, who worked with the organisation for more than 15 years before agreeing to end her contract, said the work environment had become “hostile”.

The former worker, in a letter dated February 26, 2019, and addressed “To whom it may concern”, said a copy was sent to The Salvation Army Caribbean Territorial Headquarters outlining her concerns.

She did not receive a response up to the time the first story had been published.

The woman indicated that she had worked with several Salvation Army majors and had never been treated badly until Oates took over six years ago.

“He sexually and verbally assaulted customers, workers and myself. On a regular basis workers and customers [are] greeted with dirty words from his mouth and are faced with sexual advances,” the former worker wrote in the letter, a copy of which she showed the Observer.

The other accuser, a frequent customer at the store, also detailed her encounter with him, alleging sexual misconduct and harassment.

She also accused the major of favouritism, alleging that she would collect Salvation Army supplies outside of regular hours.

Oates staunchly defended his integrity, declaring, “I'm telling you, no, no, no! I did not do it!”


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