Wednesday, 3 February 2016

interview with Bishop George Bell's victim


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.


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.”

Posted by Peter Owen on Wednesday, 3 February 2016 at 2:05pm GMT | TrackBack
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: Church of England | News

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 good works)... and yet, human frailty and psychological compulsion can still be devastating and overwhelming.

I'm not saying this was the case in George Bell's case, but the assertion that someone is good and has moral reputation is not, in itself, any proof that they must logically be incapable of dreadful compulsions and crimes.

The poor woman's account is compelling enough to be taken seriously (as it was by the police and, in the end, by the Church) but it is a salutary reminder that the Church must have in place protocols, including minimum response policies, to deal with complaints with utmost seriousness and concern for the alleged victim.

You can't help feeling, reading this woman's narrative, that she may have been too ignored to begin with by the Church - and when you consider the real and terrible abuse that has been proved in various branches of the Church in living memory, that obfuscation or covering up is a disaster.

Whatever the truth, this woman needs to be taken very seriously. It is an appalling account of how sexual compulsion may have spoilt and diminished a human being's life.

We all know abuse happens. Jimmy Saville did many good deeds. He had a reputation for doing good. Nobody complains about his cases being brought to life after his death.

What is needed, now that this woman has presented details publically, is for as much information to be brought to light as possible - including why, on what grounds, she was 'paid off'.

This case disturbs me profoundly. I recognise the pattern all too well. If what she says is true, then she is right to report it. It is right that it's brought to light. But none of that will restore lost innocence, or the times before the fall.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Wednesday, 3 February 2016 at 2:53pm GMT

"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 suffering is vile. It's using her suffering as a silencing device, and verges on emotional blackmail.

Nobody sought to undermine her claims, because they weren't released. That's the point. If Warner's ever falsely accused of a crime, you can bet he'll change his tune on testing evidence and the presumption of innocence. Hopefully he'll never have need of it, but it's shocking that a man so intelligent and well educated doesn't understand this point.

That said, although it's still anonymous, the complaint is detailed, consistent, and on its face, I find it convincing.

Posted by: James Byron on Wednesday, 3 February 2016 at 7:28pm GMT

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.

Posted by: Mother Hubbard on Wednesday, 3 February 2016 at 9:54pm GMT

"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 be pondered and weighed. It appears to have strong claims for its veracity. However, the Diocese of Chichester is not thereby excused for the way it has acted and for what it has concealed. I wish I could say otherwise.

Posted by: Barry on Wednesday, 3 February 2016 at 10:53pm GMT

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. He could take advice, but in the end the buck stopped with him. It was a poisoned chalice at the end of at least 4 episcopal generations of no less than 83 years, when at several points things were not as they should have been.

Let us hope and pray that this episode - where blame is accepted, unlike some other payouts - is an expression of a turning point in the discipline and practice of the C of E (and others, to be fair), whilst not being seen in any way to set a precedent. Let us also remember that disclosure policies never themselves bring to light that which has remained in the dark; and - equally tragically - that the world and the Church are full of mischief-makers, as many will bear witness whose lives have been hung out to dry, only to be told that there will be no further enquiries; or who have been through the courts and found innocent.

Posted by: Peter Edwards on Thursday, 4 February 2016 at 12:04am GMT

"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 the pointlessness of the charade, it would not usefully advance knowledge or understanding.

So by demanding "compelling evidence" be "pondered and weighed" a bar is being set somewhere around criminal standard of proof for post-mortem accusations. That is a bar which can never be got over because such trials don't and can't happen, so by that standard no post-mortem accusation should ever be made.

In the particular case of historic sexual abuse, there are rarely witnesses other than the accused, never forensic evidence and usually ample opportunity to savage the reputation and credibility of broken victims. Yes, there have been cases where victims out of confusion or delusion or malice have made unsupportable accusations, but if you take that as a reason to proceed against no-one you do a disservice to the living to avoid doing a disservice to the dead.

The Catholic Church brushed away accusations of abuse on the basic that the evidence was weak, the victims hapless and it all a rather long time ago. Perhaps people might reflect on the public perception of Catholic priests now, and the fact that barely twenty a year are now ordained.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Thursday, 4 February 2016 at 12:21am GMT

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, this interview breaks it.

Dr Warner's latest remarks are illuminating, and betoken a great deal of frustration with Bell's defenders (who, of necessity, have raised questions about the credibility of the claims made by the victim that can only have been hurtful to her). I suspect that Dr Warner is also highly frustrated that, several years into his term in Chichester, he is still having to dedicate a considerable amount of time to cases of this kind, when he has been straining his utmost to turn the diocese around - perhaps there are times when he must feel that his task has become somewhat Sisyphean.

For me, the alleged response of Eric Kemp was particularly problematic, if not scandalous. From a pastoral perspective, his attitude (if Carol's story is anything to go by) was absolutely lamentable. The authorities might wish to devote no less attention to the cover up/poor pastoral response, as to the abuse itself - because lessons have to be taken from that as well.

If something can be salvaged from this wretched affair, it is the recognition that great men can sometimes have corresponding vices, and it is greatly to the credit of Carol that she recognises the good that Bell did. Assuming her testimony is true, I very much hope that this was a singular, if extended, lapse on the part of Bell - the vile infatuation of an old man, and an aberration.

Chichester is, of course, not alone in commemorating George Bell. There is a floor slab to him in Christ Church, Oxford, where he was a student (i.e., fellow). We shall see what happens to that further to all the recent Rhodes business.

Posted by: Froghole on Thursday, 4 February 2016 at 1:21am GMT

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 sight more about it than he does, or ever will. Doesn't change the issues raised.

Posted by: James Byron on Thursday, 4 February 2016 at 12:24pm GMT

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 be the judge.

Posted by: Jill Armstead on Thursday, 4 February 2016 at 8:36pm GMT

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.

Posted by: Pam on Friday, 5 February 2016 at 7:50am GMT

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 own diocese: there is clearly much for all institutions to learn in safeguarding terms, but we should not presume that it is in anyone's interest necessarily - the alleged perpetrator, the apparent victim, or the general public - to have the whole matter pored over in the way this one has.

Posted by: SB on Friday, 5 February 2016 at 10:10am GMT

"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?

Posted by: Laurence Cunnington on Friday, 5 February 2016 at 2:07pm GMT

SB I fully agree with you.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Friday, 5 February 2016 at 2:18pm GMT

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 other, less noble motives) is strong, which is exactly why it shouldn't be left to an interested party acting in secret.

Posted by: James Byron on Friday, 5 February 2016 at 4:30pm GMT

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 the victim has been forced to bear for so long, while her abuser was all but canonised by the Church, is a savage commentary on the abuse of trust that must have been too widely prevalent in the past, but also reveals the extremity to which awed respect for authority can lead, as well as the harm that it can do.

This leads me to remark briefly on the recent primate's meeting, which has been hailed as such a successful warding off of schism in the Church; for the outcome of this meeting of the "great ones" in the Church was also an affirmation of the authority of those who are only too willing to continue, in the name of the Church, to continue their campaign of the vilification and abuse of LGBT people, who have been decisively excluded from the Church by its final decision (which the gathering had no right to make), without the renegade primates being held to account - for there is no way in which a consultation with them would have (or will ever) lead to the openness of TEC with respect to its welcoming of those with sexualities that do not fit into the narrowness of ancient documents which contradict everything we have come to know about sexuality.

My judgement of Bishop Warner is mixed. I understand that he could not betray the victim's trust, by which she should have been doubly victimised. Her anonymity is, however, now at risk, since her identity can presumably be discerned from her story. (So we know now what Bishop Warner and the police meant by credible evidence. Who can possibly doubt the truth of the victim's story?) It needs to be said that anyone who reveals her identity should be subject to legal sanctions, let alone moral opprobrium.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Friday, 5 February 2016 at 4:34pm GMT

I find the (unqualified) headline surprising.

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

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Friday, 5 February 2016 at 5:57pm GMT

"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 complaints are assessed sensitively but still thoroughly and dispassionately. No accusation, however believable, is proof, and shouldn't be accepted as certain on its face. If rebuttal evidence emerges, I'm prepared to reassess the complaint.


Posted by: James Byron on Friday, 5 February 2016 at 6:38pm GMT

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

Posted by: Pam on Saturday, 6 February 2016 at 8:28am GMT

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?

Posted by: David Runcorn on Saturday, 6 February 2016 at 10:15am GMT

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 feels tainted by association. So perhaps they think it is better not to look to deeply into this. Admit guilt. Bring down the mighty from their seat and exalt the humble and meek. Turn over a new leaf - herald a new era.

What is most disturbing about the present handling of this whole case is that it appears to have been "solved" in the way it was in order to send a signal to the public: look, we have changed - we are not afraid to sacrifice our crown prince here in Chichester to show you we are serious. Maybe he was guilty, maybe not. It does not really matter. It will blow over. The Church thinks in centuries and millennia. But this case is about us now, and about today. It is about real people who are alive and hurt and need to be heard. Today.

Maybe they are serious, but it was badly handled from start to finish of this new era here. How badly I only realised when I attended a high profile event in Chichester Cathedral on Holocaust Memorial Day. George Bell was referred to by a senior member of Chapter before an audience of more than 500 people as "the then Bishop of Chichester". No name.

Posted by: Mother Hubbard on Saturday, 6 February 2016 at 11:30am GMT

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 involved are being as open as they can be, bearing in mind the confidentialities involved, and leave it at that.

Posted by: Anne on Saturday, 6 February 2016 at 1:15pm GMT

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.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Saturday, 6 February 2016 at 3:19pm GMT

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 extremely difficult criminal investigation of a half-century-old cold case? Who investigated, what methods did they use, and did they seek out exculpatory evidence? All this could be revealed even if, unlike me, you believe that the complainant should have the right to anonymity.

The over-riding question: what has Chichester Diocese done to earn the absolute trust you're giving them?

Posted by: James Byron on Saturday, 6 February 2016 at 6:26pm GMT

@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 a classic Rumpole episode which captures the tenour of the times precisely. Many people had their lives and careers destroyed by these tall tales dreamed up by social workers and other child minders.

However, in the case of "Carol", those who made judgements regarding the reliability of her case (and that is why I referred to the fact that she has in fact, perhaps unintentionally, revealed her identity) could know that, in fact, Bishop Bell had access to her over a prolonged period of time, to make her testimony as a distraught adult beyond much doubt. What is really appalling is that she was not listened to in the first place. What is more, the compensation seems to have been ridiculously small, for the offence in question.

I do not think that the standard of proof in this case is as weak as it was in the McMartin Preschool abuse trials, as was quite common in cases such as this. I think that, by coming forward, "Carol" has made his or her case quite unimpeachable, and since Bishop Bell is not here, and no altogether absurd allegations have been made as to the nature of his abuse, I do not think we should look much further. It is sad that Bishop Bell in his personal life failed to live up to the high moral standards that he expected of those who prosecuted the war against a fanatical enemy that was, at the time he spoke out, killing millions of innocent people who were considered sub-human by the Nazi thugs who carried out their evil trade, as well as many European combatants, Commonwealth soldiers, sailors and airmen, Russians (both civilian and military, in almost unimaginably huge numbers, besides the almost total destruction of wide swathes of European Russia), Americans and others, not to neglect to mention the many British civilians who were killed by the Luftwaffe, and merchant seamen of many nations who died in the effort to keep Britain and the Commonwealth in the fight. I think the challenge regarding evidence of Bishop Bell's sexual abuse of at least one child to whom he had regular access has been met, and it is time to put this matter to rest and make sure that it does not happen again.

To go on raising doubts is to do a double harm to the undoubted victim in this case. It is more likely to reveal his or her identity, and is inevitably to rub more salt into a wound now many decades old and still festering.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Saturday, 6 February 2016 at 9:32pm GMT

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 defend themselves, the burden on us is greater.

Like I also said above, therapeutic goals conflict with investigative ones. We can, out of compassion, choose not to question the accusation further, but if we do, we should be agnostic about its truth. If we choose to draw conclusions, questions are unavoidable.

Posted by: James Byron on Saturday, 6 February 2016 at 11:35pm GMT

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'?

Posted by: David Runcorn on Sunday, 7 February 2016 at 8:30am GMT

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 involved. Nor is it likely that, in the circumstances, those responsible for assessing the evidence that was provided by the victim's story, had any reason to withhold their their agreement that a well-loved bishop, going through a period of great stress, indeed fell from grace.

In light of the fact that the church has so far swept this under the carpet, what more do we need, now that we have heard the story, which is unlike anything in the McMartin case? The McMartin case was typical of a specific period in the history of abuse claims and claimants, which included outlandish claims made on behalf of children by social workers and other professionals who spoke freely and often mistakenly about suppressed memories which were actually the product of now discredited interview protocols now known to implant false memories. There is not a shred of evidence that that was true in the case regarding Bishop Bell, when such hysterical procedures were simply unknown – when, in fact, children's abuse claims were almost universally dismissed. In view of the church's failure to deal with this case when it was first brought to light, we now have all the information we are likely to get, and all the information we deserve to get, without putting the victim on trial. There is absolutely no reason, now that we have reasonable knowledge to believe Bishop Bell had ready access to the person concerned, to doubt + Martin Cicestr's proper handling of the matter.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Sunday, 7 February 2016 at 1:35pm GMT

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 victims. She chose to have her accusation scrutinized. It's right that her complaint be taken seriously and dealt with sensitively, but asking people to accept it as proved out of compassion is asking too much.

Posted by: James Byron on Sunday, 7 February 2016 at 3:59pm GMT

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 did i.e. apology and settlement. The history of cover ups by the church in abuse cases is a complicating and mitigating factor perhaps explaining why the church was less than clear about the position they appear to have adopted with regard to the question of Bell's criminal culpability.

The abuse described is disturbing and heinous.It puts a cloud over the reputation of Bishop Bell resulting in serious disappointment to many of us. However, disappointment can be confronted and coped with. The same cannot be easily said for the trauma of sexual abuse.

Whatever controversy remains is now a matter for historical judgement. We make judgments all the time about historical figures including judgement about their behavior even when there are no legal proceedings to reference.

Note this article from The Week titled, The Death of the Presumption of Innocence.

"[Presumption of Innocence]... is still the law of this land. It has not since been overturned. There are no exceptions to that rule in cases of alleged murderers or child rapists. Judges and jurors don't get to decide when they will honor this rule and when they won't."

The alleged perpetrator is deceased so 'innocent until proven guilty' cannot be tested.

However, that does not mean that underlying issues such as public opinion about drawing conclusions based on press reports, pro or con, are not relevant.

Note this comment from, A public Defender: "A determination of guilt or not-guilt to be made by a jury of 'peers'. ...I have come to believe that that is hogwash. Jurors are smart enough to know what to say. They’ve also been reading the same newspapers and watching the same news." The full article is here:

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Sunday, 7 February 2016 at 5:11pm GMT

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 more convincing case. So, the outcome of a court case would have provided certainty, especially had it happened while Bishop Bell was still alive, since child sexual abuse was widely thought, until relatively recently, to be, as Freud used to tell his patients, symptoms of neurosis. My point is that a woman (or a man) who has carried around a guilty secret for many decades, who may be known as a child to have been regularly accessible to Bishop Bell, is much more compelling (i) because of what we do know, for example, that she had raised the matter on several different occasions with the relevant authorities, and did not receive an appropriate response, that Bishop Bell could have had regular access to her as a child, and that she has made repeated attempts to get someone to listen and respond appropriately, and (ii) because there is no reason to doubt the good faith of +Martin, or of his having carried out an appropriate investigation, and (iii), and not least, because the compensation offered and accepted was paltry. I think we know as much as we deserve to know, now that the victim (and I think we can now dispense with the scare quotes) has added her story to the claims made by the Bishop of Chichester. And, if true, as I now assume it to be, Bishop Bell, by being conveniently dead, has got away with it, and has, additionally, received decades of undeserved praise.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Sunday, 7 February 2016 at 6:38pm GMT

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 doing an injustice to Bell by making public a story that was not reasonably confirmed. But I think, now that the explanation has been given, about the person's relationship with the bishop's residence and Bell's access to her over an extended period, that the case has been sufficiently made, given Bishop Warner's decision in the matter.

Of course, cases may fall apart in court, especially cases about sexual abuse that rested on false memories implanted by the interview techniques of caring professionals, and there are many cases of this sort. But it is important to note that these cases have a distinct history, which do not include the period at which the victim is said to have been abused. But even were a case to fall apart in court, as it almost certainly would have done had it been brought to trial at the time the woman claims that, as a girl, she was subject to abuse, it would not show that the account she gave of her abuse was false or established to be so. Given that fact, and the fact that we have no right to put this person on trial, since she is the complainant and not the defendant (who has, in this respect, the good fortune no longer to be her to answer the allegations), we have to let the matter rest, and it seems, we must also say that Bishop Bell was guilty, on a succession of occasions with at least one child, of grave immorality and child abuse.

In the light of the outcry against the acceptance of Bishop Bell's guilt (and only, so far as we know, for that reason, and not to have her accusation sructinised, as you suggest), the victim came forward and told the story of a little girl who was left in trust with the bishop while her mother, a charwoman, did the housekeeping, a trust which he abused, using his standing as a bishop and a man of God (with, to a child, awesome authority) to keep it a secret. The story is simply too plausible to be questioned in the light of Bishop Warner's finding that Bell was guilty, and it is doubtless the case that enquiry was made to confirm some of the details of the victim's account. We are not going to agree about this, I can see, nor are we entitled to know more, so I will let the matter rest there.

Nor, I should add, regarding your jousting with David Runcorn, is this judgement based on the belief that institutions or their authorities are infallible. But it is based on the belief that +Martin has no reason whatever to dissemble about this, and, with proper regard for the victim's privacy, told us all that he had a right to tell us. And now that the victim has come forward we know all that we have a right to know. And Bell is now rightly remembered merely as a former Bishop of Chichester, who, not unlike many of his brothers, had the occasion to fall by the wayside. Pray for his soul, and stop worrying about infallible truth.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Sunday, 7 February 2016 at 10:33pm GMT

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 opting for trial by judge rather than trial by jury, and if you are guilty you are better off opting for trial by jury, since, despite the presumption of innocence, it is in general easier to sway a jury with rhetoric than it is a judge. That's why Joel Pink so often gets his clients off, even though they are sometimes known to be guilty.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Monday, 8 February 2016 at 4:42pm GMT

@ 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 of sensational head lines as "clique bait" for advertising, and news "aggregation outlets" are increasing. Additionally one ought to consider the increase in social media sites that cater to an audience by spinning stories based on the preconceived attitudes of potential readers.

Beyond the points made, that potential jurors may use the new scene to try and get out of jury duty, or that some crimes are so heinous that due process is thought to be too good for the alleged perpetrators, the points raised in both the P.D. article and The Week article point to the increase in the malleability and tainting of public opinion and perceptions even in those cases where people have been found not guilty in a court of law. As information becomes available there tends to be a disproportionate rise in misinformation or even disinformation.

Indeed I would suggest that aspects of the problem are demonstrable even here on this site in that most of us have or have had relationships to the church and therefor may, depending on the issue of the day, be variously hyper-critical or not critical enough
as a result.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Monday, 8 February 2016 at 11:13pm GMT

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 person who is charged guilty, but that the prosecution must make its case, must in fact show, based on the principles of evidence, that the person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If the person charged is aquitted, they are no longer able to be charged *on that evidence* alone. The presumption of innocence does not speak about the headlines or stories that are told in the newspapers, click bait or not (and before the internet Headlines had much greater impact than they do now: that's how you shout in print). It does not suggest that people will not make presumptions about a person's guilt. But it does say that the person's guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, based on the evidence presented in court. This is not a technical issue that is somehow the preserve of lawyers. It is a basic principle that all who live within a common law jurisdiction should understand. And the Public Defender, in his claim that the presumption of innocence is hogwash is simply wrong about what it means. It means that if you are charged, the court must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty on the evidence presented (even if the whole world thinks you are an undoubted felon). And a public defender who knows a thing or two would surely understand that this has nothing to do with whether people in general believe or do not believe the person guilty. That's why juries are sometimes sequestered, or the location of a trial shifted, why jurors are not supposed to speak about the case with others, etc.

That's why your example is inapplicable. For the relationships with the church of which you speak are not in general such as to unfold in controlled circumstances, as the ritual of law courts requires. Whether we are too critical or not critical enough has no bearing on the presumption of innocence, which applies only within the tightly regulated customs of the law. But this is also why it is, in general, very hard to prove a case in law, and much easier for a very clever defence attorney to get his client off, for the prosecution must show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the person is guilty. The defence only needs to show that the case as presented allows for numerous alternate accounts, and therefore not beyond a reasonable doubt. As I was saying, there are famous public defenders who are notorious for their ability to show that the evidence is inadequate to prove what the prosecution asks the jury to believe. For juries are much more suasible than judges, which is why an innocent person is better off with trial by judge than trial by jury, as I said before. So, Bishop Bell got away with it, despite the harm that he almost certainly did (and we are no longer bound by presumption of innocence where the dead are concerned).

Unfortunately, it is not quite so simple in the US, where judges, public prosecutors and law officers are often elected, and where their record of convictions is often a point in their favour at election time.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Thursday, 11 February 2016 at 7:15pm GMT
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.