Thinking Anglicans

interview with Bishop George Bell's victim

Updated

Today’s [Brighton] Argus carries this lengthy interview by Joel Adams: Bishop George Bell’s victim: “He said it was our little secret, because God loved me.”

TODAY, for the first time, the victim of George Bell has spoken about the sexual abuse she suffered as a five-year-old child at the hands of the wartime Bishop of Chichester.

Speaking exclusively to The Argus, she described how he repeatedly molested her over a period of four years while telling her that God loved her.

Her testimony brings new clarity to a story which has changed the world’s perception of one of the most revered Anglicans of the 20th century since news of a church payout was announced last October…

Harriet Sherwood also covers the story for The Guardian: Victim describes how she was abused by bishop George Bell.

The original Church statements on this case are here.

Update

The Bishop of Chichester has issued the following statement following the publication of the Brighton Argus article.

Dr Warner said:

“It is testimony to her courage and integrity that the survivor who brought the allegations against George Bell has been prompted to speak out. My hope is that the telling of her story will contribute to her sense of being heard by those within and beyond the Church who are willing to listen with an open mind and respond with compassion and clarity.

“The presence of strident voices in the public arena which have sought to undermine the survivor’s claims has added in this case to the suffering of the survivor and her family. To that extent it is not surprising that she felt it necessary to take the courageous decision to speak out in public and reveal the personal details which the Church could not.

“Words of apology written in a letter can never be enough to express the Church’s shame or our recognition of damage done. However, the apology that I made on behalf of the Diocese of Chichester is genuine and a sincere expression that lessons are being learnt about how we respond to accusations of abuse.

“In some responses to the George Bell case, and to the original statements from the Church nationally and locally in the diocese of Chichester, we have witnessed shocking ignorance of the suffering felt at many different levels by victims of abuse.”

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Susannah Clark
Guest

A terrible and harrowing read. I feel sick just reading it. And whatever the truth, the victim makes an important point: one of the complexities of human sexuality and its compulsions is that a person can do a huge amount of good, and hold their lives together, and be caring and kind – and yet their psychological and sexual compulsions can subvert all that and overwhelm. I know this full well, having worked as an assistant governor at one of England’s centres for 110 sex offenders. Many of those had reputation, did immense good (one appeared on television for his… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

“Carol” says, “Because [Bell] did good things, they automatically assume that he couldn’t do anything wrong, which was rather hurtful because a lot of men who have done good things have also done very evil things.” I’ve not seen anyone say this, certainly not the journalist Peter Hitchens, who first went to bat for Bell’s memory: there were no details of the complaint released, and Hitchens simply gave Bell a presumption of innocence to which we’re all entitled. Still, her response is understandable: Warner’s is a disgrace. Accusing “strident voices” seeking to “undermine” the survivor’s claims of adding to her… Read more »

Mother Hubbard
Guest
Mother Hubbard

The Diocesan statement completely misses the point. The “strident voices” do not doubt the veracity of the victim’s or survivor’s allegations. The voices distrust a Diocese that continues to shroud itself in secrecy. Thus, once again, a survivor has been left to suffer the consequences. The “new openness” required a survivor to make a public statement. Let us pray that the survivor can finally find closure.

Barry
Guest
Barry

“Carol”‘s testimony is indeed horrible, and one which I suspect leaves all of us feeling defiled. But those of us who have written in defence of George Bell have made clear that we do not want special treatment for his memory, only the presumption of his innocence until compelling evidence is offered for his guilt. This evidence is what the Diocese of Chichester has refused to give us, and I find it offensive that those who defend the preliminary legal assumption of someone’s innocence are now accused of lacking compassion toward victims of abuse. What “Carol” states will continue to… Read more »

Peter Edwards
Guest
Peter Edwards

This extraordinary account and report goes a long way to mollify the very many valid reservations about how this case has been handled, right up to the point of the issue of whether 15k pounds is an appropriate sum of ‘damages’ for the effect on the victim’s life for over 60 years. As a member of that diocese remarked to me recently (before this disclosure) ‘compensation with my money’. But one must assume it was agreed through the mediation of lawyers, who doubtless took no fee at any stage… I don’t envy +Martin Warner’s task in handling this sensitve issue.… Read more »

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“only the presumption of his innocence until compelling evidence is offered for his guilt” I’m sorry, but I think this argument is pretty close to being advanced in bad faith. I’m sure those making it aren’t doing it deliberately, but the effect is the same. No country. short of those with a taste for show trials of the families of the mysteriously disappeared, holds trials post mortem. It’s impossible to hold trials which have any sort of credibility after death or mental incapacity, because the accused cannot instruct counsel, cannot give evidence, cannot plead and cannot raise doubt. Leaving aside… Read more »

Froghole
Guest
Froghole

There was a certain painful inevitability about this interview – or a revelatory statement made on the victim’s behalf by the diocese. This was because the statements issued by the diocese were frustratingly opaque. Of course, the approach taken by the diocese was understandable – confidences have to be kept, but Bell’s reputation has been such that statements of the kind issued by the diocese (even Dr Warner’s cogent rebuttal of Charles Moore in a letter to the Daily Telegraph) would never be satisfactory to a large body of opinion. They built up a dam and, painful though it is,… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

No, Interested Observer, we don’t try people post-mortem, but we can evaluate evidence. Ironically, the diocese’s secrecy, and Warner’s imperious father-knows-best attitude, is the very mindset that led to coverups. It’s replaced one injustice with another. Froghole, I can sympathize with Warner’s position, but I have zero sympathy with that appalling statement, which he had ample time to consider. Is Warner demanding that all accusations be accepted without question? If not, his emotional attack fails even on its own sordid terms. He also assumed that no one who questioned this had experience of child abuse, and may know a damn… Read more »

Jill Armstead
Guest
Jill Armstead

The complainant’s testimony in the absence of any corroboration cannot be upheld as fact, in my view. I am listening to the radio 4 programme about the Lord Bramall case. At least he was able to put a defence together. Bishop Bell is dead and the police have not mounted an investigation. The only trial has been by diocesan inquisition. It simply isn’t good enough. The complainant (I refuse to call her a victim) may well be telling the truth but we have no way of testing her evidence. As justice stands, Bishop Bell cannot be found guilty. Let God… Read more »

Pam
Guest
Pam

After reading the harrowing account of ‘Carol’s’ abuse, I feel shaken and very sad. She has been believed by people and that would be so important to her. The church must continue to learn lessons about the secret nature of child abuse and its profound effects on victim and perpetrator.

SB
Guest
SB

In reading people’s comments I’m baffled why Martin Warner is being criticised. He and the Diocesan Core Group seem to have behaved with professionalism and care, with appropriate confidentiality for the victim. That she has spoken out now, through media criticism and speculation, is her choice, and the Diocese’s statement from +Martin is supportive, thoughtful and again apologetic. Not everything Dioceses do should be pored over or read through the filter of mistrust that is too often the default option of TA commentators. And I say this as one who has experienced both sides of the safeguarding process in my… Read more »

Laurence Cunnington
Guest
Laurence Cunnington

“He [Warner] also assumed that no one who questioned this had experience of child abuse, and may know a damn sight more about it than he does, or ever will.”

And how do we know that Warner himself wasn’t a victim of child abuse?

David Runcorn
Guest

SB I fully agree with you.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

SB, I explained clearly my reasons for criticizing Warner: his accusing anyone who refused to accept without question anonymous, unspecific hearsay of adding to a survivor’s suffering. David, do you then believe that we should accept all accusations without proof, or just some? Laurence, if that were so, he shouldn’t be making assumptions about others. A general comment: therapeutic goals are simply incompatible with investigative ones. It’s crucial for victims to be believed, but harsh as it is, investigating a claim involves skepticism. When a person’s liberty isn’t at stake, the temptation to accept an accusation out of kindness (and… Read more »

Eric MacDonald
Guest

Since I was one who supported what is (essentially) Peter Hitchens’ stand on this matter, it is good to see that the victim (without the scare quotes) has had the courage as well as good sense to come forward, anonymously, to tell her story. It was important that this story be told, though only the victim could tell it. It is a sad commentary on the formerly eulogised Bishop Bell that this story has come to be told, and that it took so long for it to be told. The weight of the sense of both guilt and helplessness that… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

I find the (unqualified) headline surprising.

This whole business and its handling down the decades including today, is bewildering.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

“Who can possibly doubt the truth of the victim’s story?” Eric, while I currently find it convincing on its face, there’s ample reasons others may reasonably doubt it: we don’t know who the complainant is, their motives, nor do we have specific times and dates for the alleged crimes. A comment from a juror on Peter Hitchens’ site is instructive: they were empanelled to judge an abuse indictment that was, at first sight, compelling, but that fell apart at trial. When you’ve time, do read up on the McMartin preschool trials*, to see just why it’s so important that legal… Read more »

Pam
Guest
Pam

Thanks to SB for a thoughtful response, particularly the final sentence. My hope for ‘Carol’ is privacy and peace.

David Runcorn
Guest

James ‘we don’t know who the complainant is, their motives, nor do we have specific times and dates’ … That’s precisely the issue James on this and other threads. We don’t know. Nor is it even our business to know on one level. So what qualifies us to stand in fierce and confident judgement on those whose job it is to know, and who carry the burdens of knowing and responding appropriately in contexts that are very complex, painful and publicly extremely volatile?

Mother Hubbard
Guest
Mother Hubbard

Leaving aside the survivor and Bell and Kemp and Lambeth Palace of 1995: why is Lambeth Palace of the last administration not in the dock for this? If the ABC staff [before ++Justin’s] did not forward an email with contents of such magnitude up the chain and he did not see such correspondence as is implied in the interview, they were woefully incompetent. If the then ABC really wrote the quoted weasly “apology”, and in an email, it beggars belief. But then, the staff and office holders of that time, both in Chichester and Lambeth, are still around, and everybody… Read more »

Anne
Guest
Anne

Thanks SB and David Runcorn. My thoughts exactly. Having had to deal with safeguarding matters in the parish from time to time, I know how tough it is to be in possession of the facts, and not be able to explain to others what those facts are. Those “outside” the story may want to know what has gone on, but they don’t have a right to,and we don’t have the right to tell them in order to make ourselves feel better. It is not our story to tell. There comes a point at which we have to trust that those… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

There is an article by Peter Hitchens, February 5th (yesterday), with the caption,” ‘We Never said George Bell was Guilty’ says Senior Church of England Bishop”

Hitchens references Hansard, and The Bishop of Durham. For those of us who only know about this from what we read in the press it would appear the story is not going away just yet.

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2016/02/we-never-said-george-bell-was-guilty-says-senior-church-of-england-bishop.html#comments

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

David, open justice isn’t justified by the qualifications of the people: it’s justified by the need to avoid the Star Chamber proceedings that emerge absent scrutiny. Do you believe that, in the words of the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, “the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial”? (Trial “by an impartial jury,” so qualifications aren’t even necessary to judge the facts in a court of law!) If so, why do those principles suddenly cease to apply here? Speaking of qualifications, though, what qualifications did the diocese have to conduct what is, in effect, an… Read more »

Eric MacDonald
Guest

@James Byron. “Eric, while I currently find it convincing on its face, there’s ample reasons others may reasonably doubt it: we don’t know who the complainant is, their motives, nor do we have specific times and dates for the alleged crimes.” I don’t think this is altogether the case. The link that you provide refers to a period when fairly idiotic claims about children, and their supposedly suppressed memories, were made too frequently and were believed too readily by some of the caring professionals, when very often the accounts were implanted in children’s minds by way of interview techniques. There’s… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Eric, as I said, I find the accusation believable on its face, but what makes it “unimpeachable”? So far as I can see, it contains no details that aren’t publicly available. It may have been tested by investigators, but we don’t know how, and by whom. On their face, with dozens of seemingly independent complainants, the McMartin accusations were far more compelling. One of the key lessons learned from the preschool trials was that compassion shouldn’t overwhelm justice, from which truth is inseparable, regardless of whether the accused is dead or alive. If anything, when they’re no longer around to… Read more »

David Runcorn
Guest

James – what you claim to be the ‘overriding question’ (which is itself debatable) might be played back to you – ‘what has Chichester Diocese done to earn the absolute mis-trust you’re giving them’?

Eric MacDonald
Guest

Well, James, the evidence is as unimpeachable as we’re going to get, I think, and as unimpeachable as we have a right to get. Simply continuing to doubt that there is reasonably solid evidence, when someone has explained how it came about that Bishop Bell had access to a child over an extended period of time, when those who investigated the allegations and found that there was substantial warrant to accept the victim’s word (when, presumably, the investigators could know that Bishop Bell did have such access) is really asking for much more than anyone deserves who is not immediately… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

David, it’s not about earning mistrust: no institution, however well-meaning, is infallible. Although if you want to work on those terms, doesn’t Warner’s admission that Chichester previously *covered up child abuse* suffice? Eric, the point about McMartin is that the accusations only fell apart when tested in court. At first sight, those flaws weren’t apparent. England has seen several historic abuse claims collapse at trial: there’s no way to know how it’ll turn out. “Carol” chose to come forward: she wasn’t exposed by the press, nor did she have reason to believe that if she didn’t act, there’d be new… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

The concerns continually raised here by James Byron represent a perspective that ought to be considered. The article from The Argus, a media filter, with a tabloid streak, adds additional information. I tend not to come to absolute conclusions about anything where the only source of information is the press. However, given the information from the alleged victim together with the fact that people from the diocese and the police, the latter presumably trained investigators, actually talked with the complainant, suggests to me that the Church did the right thing on the balance of probability in taking the actions they… Read more »

Eric MacDonald
Guest

Well, James, clearly you and I are going to differ on this. Nor am I saying that it is out of compassion that I or anyone else should find the evidence compelling. There are historical reasons why the McMartin case fell apart, for a great number of such cases unravelled around the same time, and for the same reasons, so I don’t think this is relevant to the Bishop Bell case (just Google “false memory and sexual abuse”). Of course, many cases fall apart, not because the claims made are false, but because lawyers for the defence have put a… Read more »

Eric MacDonald
Guest

John, if you only pay attention to what I have been saying, you would see that I say nothing whatever about compassion and belief. Nothing! I do say at the beginning that the victim has suffered enough, and that it is not up to us to make it any worse for her by demanding unshakeable proof. We are not entitled to it. But, given what we do know, it is reasonable to hold that the case has been made. Before the victim came forward with her own story, I was quite prepared to accept Peter Hitchens’ point, that it was… Read more »

Eric MacDonald
Guest

Sorry James, I misspoke myself. I called you John in my last note. It was, of course, addressed to you, James Byron. Rod, I think that the “Public Defender” is, in general, wrong. The presumption of innocence is still quite robust, at least outside of the US. Where judges, sheriffs and other public servants are beholden to the electorate, there is a danger that the presumption of innocence will be threatened. But, in general, I think this is untrue. At least, if the old principle is valid (and I believe it is): if you are innocent you are better off… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

@ Eric, “I think that the ‘Public Defender’ is, in general, wrong.” I’m no lawyer so I’m not willing to be categorical about the P.D. article on legal terms one way or the other. I’m also disinclined to make strong statements about technical issues in a field not my own. Hence the interest in providing links to articles that may contribute an interesting perspective on a controversy under discussion in places like this. I do, however, know a little something about the media. News media is facing increasing challenges to financial viability, increasing competition for remaining market share, increasing use… Read more »

Eric MacDonald
Guest

Rod, I forgot this thread, and didn’t notice that you and responded to my claim that “Public Defender” is wrong. This is not, in fact, a matter of expertise. Of course, the defender is right to this extent, that, by the time the police lay a charge, there is clearly going to be a hurdle for the defence attorney to surmount. After all, the police believe they have evidence enough to charge the person concerned. Nevertheless, the point about the presumption of innocence is not, as the “Public Defender” seems to suggest, that no one is going to think the… Read more »