Monday, 8 February 2016

Statement from Bishop Paul Butler on George Bell

The Church of England has issued this statement today.

Statement from Bishop Paul Butler on George Bell
08 February 2016

The Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, lead bishop on safeguarding has issued a statement today following various media comments on his recent contribution in the House of Lords regarding Bishop George Bell.

Bishop Paul has welcomed the opportunity to provide further clarity on his comments about the settlement of the civil claim regarding sexual abuse against George Bell, and the handling of the case. The particular focus on the language of legal tests, he says, “masks the genuine suffering and damage done to an individual in this case.”

He adds: “The decisions were not taken lightly or without consideration of the impact on the reputation of George Bell. But in this case, as in others, the overriding goal was to search out the truth and issues of reputation cannot take priority over that.”

Read the full statement

Original statement on Bishop George Bell, October 2015

Points on a complex case - Diocese of Chichester blog on Bishop George Bell, January 2016

The full statement is copied below the fold.

Statement from Bishop of Durham on George Bell

“Recent media comment regarding Bishop George Bell has focused on my recent contributions made in the House of Lords in response to a question on the Church’s actions in this matter.

On reflection I believe my words were not as clear as they could have been and I welcome this opportunity to provide further clarity.

Almost three years ago a civil claim was made, raising allegations of abuse by George Bell, the former Bishop of Chichester.

In response to the claim independent legal and medical reports were commissioned and duly considered. The evidence available was interrogated and evaluated. This led to a decision to settle the claim and to offer a formal apology to the survivor. This decision was taken on the balance of probabilities — the legal test applicable in civil claims.

The church therefore, having evaluated the evidence before them, accepted the veracity of the claims before them. Some commentators have suggested by doing so the Church abrogated its responsibility to George Bell’s reputation.

In all of the above the wider legacy of George Bell was evident in discussions. The decisions were not taken lightly or without consideration of the impact on the reputation of George Bell. But in this case, as in others, the overriding goal was to search out the truth and issues of reputation cannot take priority over that.

I recognise this will be hard for many to accept because of George Bell’s ministry and reputation. But when faced with allegations of abusive behaviour we cannot ignore it or pretend it did not occur. There will be those who will be unsatisfied with the above process, desiring a decision to have been taken on a criminal test of beyond reasonable doubt. This was of course not possible due to George Bell having been long deceased. In any event it is entirely possible for someone who is found not to be guilty in a criminal trial to be found to have acted wrongfully in a civil claim.

The language of legal tests has become the focus of much of the debate. In doing so it masks the genuine suffering and damage done to an individual in this case, compounded by the Church’s own failures to respond adequately to a claim of serious sexual abuse.

The question as whether we were right to publish the name of George Bell has also been raised. By doing so the Church has been accused of destroying the reputation of one of its heroes. Had we not done so we would have been accused of a “cover up” and placing the reputation of one of our great bishops ahead of fairness to survivors.

It would be an understatement to say that the Church of England has not handled safeguarding cases well in past decades. Over the past five years we have begun to make changes to our policies and procedures to address that. One of our guiding principles has been a step change in our commitment to openness. This has been evidenced in the publication of reports and establishment of independent reviews wherever possible over the past five years.

Every case will require consideration on its own context. In this case the commitment to openness, combined with the decision to settle the claim on the evidence ahead of a civil court case, led to a decision to publish.

Since the exchange in the House of Lords the survivor has taken the brave decision to speak out for herself. This will have been very hard to do. Reading her own words only adds to my conviction that the church was right to make a settlement in this matter, and right to make this known as was done.

The Bishop of Chichester has apologised on behalf of the Church to the individual concerned. I would add my own voice to that apology particularly if any of my recent comments have been interpreted as in anyway minimising or undermining her claims.”

Posted by Peter Owen on Monday, 8 February 2016 at 11:40am GMT | TrackBack
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This, at long last, is the clear and unambiguous statement that was needed and which puts an end to all speculation. Thank you +Paul Butler.

Posted by: Mother Hubbard on Monday, 8 February 2016 at 1:39pm GMT

We can be appreciative of those so called "strident voices" like Peter Hitchens and Giles Fraser who worked on this story. Their efforts as journalists have made a significant contribution in obtaining this kind of statement. A statement like this one, had it been issued earlier, would have better served all involved.

It is worth remembering that the church is not a dispassionate or neutral party when it responds to claims of abuse. There has been notorious abuse. It has been the subject of cover-ups. Most of us know someone who has been the victim of abuse. However, that situation can also create a kind of institutional reaction formation on the part of the church that undermines the process of justice for those who may be wrongfully accused. In that regard, the asking of questions by those at arms length from the process was important.

The Statement is a good one. It accounts for all the relevant issues that are before the public. It reads like a statement with was drafted with good advice including, likely, good advice on the legal issues and the distinctions involved.

Those of us who are disappointed with the somber cloud this places over the reputation of Bishop Bell will recover. Disappointment seems a sine qua non in the struggle to belong to the church with integrity these days.

However, disappointment is hardly the word to describe the result of sexual abuse including the kind of abuse described by the person the church has judged to be the victim in the Bell case. One can only hope that some measure of recovery is possible from the immense trauma of such abuse.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Monday, 8 February 2016 at 3:09pm GMT

Oh what a tangled web....... It really is time to stop digging. Sorry about mixed metaphors but in my view the CofE looks more and more ridiculous as the Bell saga refuses to die.

Posted by: Jill Armstead on Monday, 8 February 2016 at 5:13pm GMT

This "commitment to openness" is partial in the extreme: we still know next to nothing about the investigative process; nor, of course, the complainant's identity. We only know her gender, and the nature of the allegation, because she chose to reveal it.

Indeed, about the only thing the diocese were open about was naming Bell. They say this was to avoid accusations of cover up. Never mind that this should've played no part in their decision, but they didn't mind covering up swathes of the process, and duly being accused of excessive secrecy.

If the church thinks that public denunciation based on secret evidence, after the secret investigation of an anonymous complaint, is openness, they don't know the meaning of the word.

Posted by: James Byron on Monday, 8 February 2016 at 5:46pm GMT

As I have already said in former comment streams, I think we now know all we need to know and all that we have a right to know. I am glad that Bishop Butler pointed out that even a finding of guilty in a criminal trial would not necessarily be upheld in a civil action, where standards of proof and admissibility of evidence are not quite so stringent. There are no foolproof ways of making sure that no innocent is punished, just as there is no surefire way of assuring that alleged victims really are so. However, it seems to me that the church authorities have carried out the discernment process in good faith, a fact that has been further emphasised by the victim's coming forward to provide her own testimony. I think we should now let this matter rest, allow the victim to get on with her life, and make sure that the church has learned its lesson. We might also, for those who are minded to do so, pray for the soul of Bishop Bell and for healing for a person who is reasonably held to have been his undoubted victim while still a child.

To be fair to Bishop Martin of Chichester, it seems to me that his statement was fair, and reasonably unambiguous, given his acceptance of the demand that nothing he said should betray the victim's identity. Now that the victim has herself come forward, and explained the circumstances, we have every reason now to acknowledge our debt to those who dealt with the situation in a way that was as fair to all parties as was possible in the circumstances. As Bishop Butler makes clear, when it is a question of child abuse (especially abuse which happened repeatedly over a lengthy period), the perpetrator is not entitled to privacy, and Bishop Bell should be thankful that he is no longer here to be subjected to the contumely of the public which would no doubt have been vociferous and unforgiving, despite the high regard in which he was held (or perhaps because of it).

Bell is not the first sainted individual whose crown of glory has been tarnished, and will doubtless not be the last. However, the church should at least do its best to make sure that its protocols regarding sexual (or other abuse) are robust enough to make it clear that no one who is abused by an officer of the church should be afraid to bring this abuse to the attention of the appropriate authorities, convinced that he or she will not be ignored or in other ways victimised again.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Monday, 8 February 2016 at 6:57pm GMT

"I am glad that Bishop Butler pointed out that even a finding of guilty in a criminal trial would not necessarily be upheld in a civil action, where standards of proof and admissibility of evidence are not quite so stringent."

You have that the wrong way around. Standards of admissibility are tighter, and the test is clearly higher (reasonable doubt vs balance of probabilities). Cases that would not result in a conviction routinely result in civil actions succeeding. As the statement says, "in any event it is entirely possible for someone who is found not to be guilty in a criminal trial to be found to have acted wrongfully in a civil claim."

Posted by: Interested Observer on Monday, 8 February 2016 at 10:42pm GMT

Eric, Warner accused anyone who refused to accept the diocese's word without evidence of adding to the suffering of survivors, and of being ignorant about the damage done by child abuse: how is that remotely "fair"?

Many people (not all) who previously called for evidence have changed tack after reading the details of the complaint. Why is that? You surely had a good idea of what complaint would involve, and how disturbing it'd be. I know it's easier to doubt an accusation you haven't read, but the same principles still apply, and they're not worth anything if they're abandoned when tested.

Like many here, I find the accusation believable on its face, but that's not the same thing as proof, not even on a preponderance of the evidence.

Those who ask what justification there is for questioning further: if the search for truth isn't sufficient in and of itself, there's the importance of ensuring civil claims are dealt with fairly and transparently; the importance of upholding the principle that accusation isn't proof; and the importance of ending the very culture of secrecy that first led to coverups of abuse.

Justice must be fair and open. Star Chamber justice is no justice at all.

Posted by: James Byron on Monday, 8 February 2016 at 11:00pm GMT

I might be wrong, but the difference about Paul Butler's very useful statement is that he makes it clear that the evidence was dredged and 'interrogated' comprehensively. In effect, there was something akin to a 'trial of the facts' held in camera.

If this had been stated more explicitly (assuming that I have not misread previous statements) then I think at least some of the dissenting voices would have been mollified.

Whilst I appreciate the anger that is still felt by some (there was another piece by Charles Moore in yesterday's Telegraph) - after all, Bell was possibly the most inspirational figure to grace the English bench since Charles Gore - it might now be best to move on.

Posted by: Froghole on Monday, 8 February 2016 at 11:52pm GMT

James +Martin actually wrote - “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.”

'some' is not 'anyone'. As to 'accusing' he says he writes as a 'witness'. I am in no doubt how large his post bag would have been over this case and that some of it would have been shockingly ignorant.

Meanwhile I am logging off TA for Lent.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Tuesday, 9 February 2016 at 10:40am GMT

@ James Byron, "Many people (not all) who previously called for evidence have changed tack after reading the details of the complaint. Why is that? "

One of the things that has my attention from the press coverage is the allegation that the Bishop had access to the child over several years. I'm guessing this information and perhaps consequent attending details gave those speaking with the complainant something to work with in evaluating the probabilities.

"Like many here, I find the accusation believable on its face, but that's not the same thing as proof, not even on a preponderance of the evidence."

Exactly correct. Furthermore, the article in The Argus suggests some answers but it also raises the possibility of additional questions.

So, I'm focusing on the phrase "balance of probability", and on that basis the diocese did the right thing in the actions it eventually took with respect to the allegations.

However, I want to continue to stress that the church is not a neutral or dispassionate entity in all of this. So the kinds of concerns you and some journalists have raised were, and remain, reasonable and necessary.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Tuesday, 9 February 2016 at 1:58pm GMT

Interested Observer. You are right. The crucial sentence was missing the word 'not'. I meant to say (and thought I had said): "I am glad that Bishop Butler pointed out that even a finding of [not] guilty in a criminal trial would not necessarily be upheld in a civil action, where standards of proof and admissibility of evidence are not quite so stringent."

James Byron. Obviously, what you desiderate you're not going to get. +Martin quite fairly put the case, given the limitations by which he was bound. The victim coming forward shows clearly that this was so. It is also important to note that, as Bishop Butler says, it is because the victim came forward, courageously and of her own accord, that more detail may now be provided. In the absence of the victim's interview, the authorities would have had no right to speak about the investigation that was carried out, since it would likely have betrayed her confidence. (Surely no one was under the misapprehension that no investigation had been carried out?) I see nothing in all this that indicates any sort of prevarication by either +Martin or other church authorities, and I wonder why you think it so important that, short of putting the victim on trial, minute details of the case could (or should) have been provided. I agree that +Martin's statement was left much room for speculation, but with our further knowledge, we now know why, and also why we have every reason to be confident of the reliability of the outcome. You are asking for a degree of certainty to which neither you nor anyone else is entitled (other than those who received and settled the grievance), given the circumstances of the case, and I wonder about your motives in pillorying those involved in judging the case in favour of the victim.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Tuesday, 9 February 2016 at 2:24pm GMT

Eric, you don't need to "wonder about" my motives in "pillorying" Warner, since I've explained them clearly: his attack on "strident voices in the public arena which have sought to undermine the survivor's claims," which, he claimed, have "added in this case to the suffering of the survivor and her family." It's both unfair (you can't undermine a claim you've not read), and an attack on the principles of fair and open justice.

What exactly is your position on open justice? You clearly don't believe in it in this case, yet if you believe in it for living accused, you must believe that a public examination of the evidence offers a significant fact-finding advantage to justify the burden it places on complainants. That being so, if it's absent, why d'you place so much faith in a secret investigation?

Posted by: James Byron on Wednesday, 10 February 2016 at 12:11am GMT

Carol has now not only told her side of the story to the Brighton Argus but has now appeared in the first item on the local television news programme South East Today, albeit in silhouette to conceal her identity. In a fairly well balanced report she makes two short statements. The eminent journalist Clifford Longley also features in the news item and wisely states that the best position to take on this whole sorry affair, which has done considerable damage to the Church of England as well as to all those intimately involved in it, is to retain an "agnostic" position.

Posted by: Father David on Wednesday, 10 February 2016 at 6:11am GMT

"you must believe that a public examination of the evidence offers a significant fact-finding advantage to justify the burden it places on complainants."

Because the punchline of such a trial is deprivation of liberty of the accused. In this case the accused is dead, and nothing can happen to him. And in the absence of the accused, such "public examination" - whose main purpose is to secure justice for the accused - would be a farce.

"Trials of the facts" are being spoken of a lot post-Janner as though they happen for dead people regularly; they in fact never do, and the idea that a trial of the facts could happen after Janner's death was an exotic legal theory with no basis in reality. Trials of the facts take place when the accused is unfit to plead and is likely to be detained indefinitely under the Mental Heath Act, and therefore provide a judicial basis for elements of that detention. Again, deprivation of liberty is at stake, not reputation. It's also not unknown for the accused to give evidence at trials of the facts, with suitable caveats as to admissibility.

The families of people about whom unflattering biographies are written after death have no recourse in law, nor should they. We have no tradition in this country of legal processes (as opposed to inquiries) relating to people who are dead, and as there would be no penalty and no sanction, no reason to fund such charades. In the case of sexual abuse in the CofE, the issue arises because for the entire 20th century, culminating with George Carey's disgraceful protection of Peter Ball. Had the issues been investigated at the time, and had children been protected effectively, the issue of post-mortem complaints wouldn't arise. But as even Archbishops of Canterbury place loyalty to their colleagues ahead of protecting children, there is going to be a long tail of debate in death about issues that should have been resolved in life.

Peter Ball hasn't been locked up as a very old man because of vindictiveness; he's been locked up as an old man because he should have been locked up twenty years ago. Instead, his clerical friends protected him. Similarly, had the CofE been more interested in child protection than in its reputation, complaints about Bell would have been instigated and investigated at the time. But the victims of abuse rightly realised that there was no point in complaining, as it would be covered up, as it was for Ball. Things are now better.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Wednesday, 10 February 2016 at 8:00am GMT

James, a simple answer to your question is that, in general, justice must be seen to be done. However, where the supposed guilty party is no longer living, and a person who has appealed several times for justice, it seems to me that she has a right to retain her anonymity. At first, if you go back in the archives, I fully shared Peter Hitchens' view, that Bell was being found guilty, and we were asked to trust that the officials had done so in good faith. Such is Star Chamber justice, and it did not sit well with me. Now, however, that the victim has come forward and told her story, it seems to me fair that Bishop Warner withheld information that under the circumstances we did not have a right to know, information that would have identified the victim, and made her the subject of all the attention that a trial might have exposed. Had she come forward as a child, and Bishop Bell brought to justice, all our sympathy should have been for the child, and Bishop Bell should have been fully liable to the legal consequences of his actions. The girl should have received our sympathy, and no one could reasonably have questioned the innocence of the girl, since she was a victim of what took place behind closed doors.

That is not, however, how the matter would have gone. That's just a guess, but it is well-known that few people took sexual abuse seriously until fairly recently, in the last four decades or so. Initial responses were hysterical, and innocents were convicted. But at the time the abuse took place, this was not a likely outcome. It is, in any case not the way that children often deal with sexual abuse, for which they feel guilt, trauma, and lack of trust for authority. Even as an adult this person has met with a similar response. Given that failure, and the trauma of many years of bearing her guilty secret, it is not surprising that she did not want to be identified, and she was promised that her identity would be protected. That seems to me fair. But due to the great outcry, she came forward and told her story. Now you seem to want to make matters worse by demanding the victim's identity made public so we can pick at the bones of something that took place decades ago, so that we can see justice being done in the full light of day.

Bishop Martin justly rejected that option, even though it left many questions unanswered. +Martin expected that people would take his word for it that an offence had been committed. We didn't accept that, so the victim came forward, and you are still talking about Star Chamber. So the victim told her story, and we are still asked to be agnostic about the results. I am not agnostic, and the case has been made so far as I am concerned. It is a sad commentary on one of the Church of England's heroic priests. We'll just have to live with that. We now have all that we have a right to know, and I am no longer going to leap to Bell's defence, as I did at first. I no longer think our questions about the case have any purchase, and further inquiry would do an injustice to the victim. I believe the church's (Star Chamber?) approach was the best that could be done at this stage, and I think, in fairness to someone who in all reasonable probability was a victim of Bishop Bell's secret lusts, when the child was left in his care, that we should let the matter drop.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Wednesday, 10 February 2016 at 12:34pm GMT

Eric, I'm not defending Bell, so much as open justice, the presumption of innocence, and the importance of basing judgment on evidence, not accusation.

I dislike gag orders in any circumstance, since they go against both open justice and the freedom of the press, and in civil suits, they're often used to keep victims quiet. I do believe that openness should apply to all cases, perhaps with the narrowest of exceptions for when a witnesses life is in danger, or similar.

People can reasonably disagree about that. Peter Hitchens has never objected to the complainant remaining anonymous and receiving compensation. But, as he says, in that circumstance, why publicly identify Bell? By doing so, the church has imperilled the complainant's anonymity.

Interested Oberver, that open justice is considered essential when liberty's at stake just goes to show that we believe it provides superior fact-finding (along with all the other means used to test evidence at trial). I agree that it's a farce to try dead people, but not to have open justice, whether criminal or civil.

Rod, well said. I agree that the details make the complaint believable on its face. What's surprising is that so many others take that to mean proved.

Posted by: James Byron on Wednesday, 10 February 2016 at 5:31pm GMT

The great pity in all of this, is that the Church did nothing about these matters - even though the complainant tried to get its attention - before the accused predator died. If the Church had only listened and done something about the charges at the times they were brought up - then Justice might have been done - and be seen to have been done!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 10 February 2016 at 11:17pm GMT

"I do believe that openness should apply to all cases"

So the victims of child rapes should, if they report them, expect to find their faces plastered across the newspapers? That's terribly compassionate of you: do you think that, say, the victims in Rotherham and Rochdale would have been as willing to come forward and give evidence had they known that for the rest of their life they would be known first and foremost as victims? Are you jumping to the defence of the people convicted in Keighley last week on the grounds that as their victims have not been named the trial is invalid? If so, you're in a club of one.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Wednesday, 10 February 2016 at 11:44pm GMT

James Byron: "I agree that the details make the complaint believable on its face. What's surprising is that so many others take that to mean proved."

That is unfair. I don't think either Interested Observer or I believe that the case has been proved beyond any possible doubt, but it has, under the circumstances, been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

I simply see no reason why the proof you demand should be expected, now that Bell is dead. You demand open justice. Well, and so do I. But since Bell will never face justice in this case, and since the victim was not dealt with justly for many years, the demand for open justice must refer only to her. She has now received a small measure, a very small measure, of justice, for what was clearly a traumatic experience. Had she really sought what you call "open justice" she might have sued the Church of England for a substantial sum in damages. Considering this, and the fact that the church did make an effort to substantiate the claims made by the victim, and the fact that the victim has now come forward to tell a story, which in itself is all too plausible, while it will never provide absolute proof (no open trial even attempts to provide such proof; all that is asked in the most serious criminal case is that the case has been made beyond *reasonable* doubt), has surely provided proof is justly held to be beyond reasonable doubt. And, since Bell is no longer here to face the music, that is all the proof that we are entitled to. I simply do not understand why you are making such heavy weather about this.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Thursday, 11 February 2016 at 12:35am GMT

Sometimes it's personally painful to read comments on a blog thread. Such has been the case for me in reading this story. However, I am hopeful that 'Carol' now feels a measure of peace and that the Church has learned valuable lessons. Our God is compassionate and loving, everyone can have confidence that God will deal with him/her justly, but the believer may additionally plead God's mercy.

Posted by: Pam on Thursday, 11 February 2016 at 7:55am GMT

Do the latest comments by Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe have any bearing on the most distressing allegations concerning Bishop Bell?

Posted by: Father David on Thursday, 11 February 2016 at 8:20am GMT

Interested Observer, of course I don't want to see bpictures of children who've been raped "plastered" over the media. I'd hope no news outlet would be so callously stupid, and if they are, might well support a law to ban it. Not only is it a straw man, it's hyperbolic to point of absurdity.

I said I believe the facts at trial should be public, and also that this was an issue over which people could reasonably disagre: there's strong arguments for anonymity; and strong arguments for a public trial. (As set out in Cox Broadcasting Corporation vs Cohn and Florida Star vs B. J. F.) Minors may be a special case. If you want to accuse me of lacking compassion over things I haven't said, this isn't guided by reason, and no good can come from it.

Eric, I never mentioned a burden of proof: and if I did, it certainly wouldn't be beyond reasonable doubt, the criminal standard. You're going much further than church or diocese, who refer only to the civil standard (and are dancing around whether it even applies to the accusation itself, as opposed to their earlier response to it). When the evidence hasn't even been tested by an independent body, and when we know next to nothing about how it was tested, this is an extraordinary claim.

As for openness, like I said, gag orders in civil cases are often used to silence plaintiffs ("Take 20,000 and we admit no wrongdoing; or go to trial and we bury you") and when they're not, they lead to exactly what we've seen in this case, where accusation replaces evidence. Like I said to Interested Oberver, I can see the reasons for the other side: but in that case, why publicly accuse Bell? This is trying to have it both ways.

Posted by: James Byron on Thursday, 11 February 2016 at 7:02pm GMT

All we can be relatively certain about is that the Diocese has concluded that there was enough evidence for them to apologize and reach a settlement with the complainant. That evidence wouldn't have to be enough to satisfy the preponderance of evidence test, let alone the beyond a reasonable doubt test. And it's possible that if Bishop Bell were still alive, it wouldn't be enough for the Diocese to offer a settlement.

But Bishop Bell is dead, so there won't be a trial to weigh the evidence for or against him. And unless Carol agrees to release more information (and I don't believe she has any moral obligation to do so), the general public probably knows all it's going to know. And each individual is free to believe or disbelieve the allegations against him.

Posted by: Paul Powers on Friday, 12 February 2016 at 3:05am GMT

Part of the purpose of naming abusers and rapists is that it may help other victims to come forward. Most abusers are serial rather than one-time offenders. It is likely that Bell had other victims, who have by this public admission of culpability by the diocese and the national church been given the reassurance that they will at last be listened to and taken seriously.

Posted by: Junia on Friday, 12 February 2016 at 10:58am GMT

James, what would you have the church do, retreat into the past and cover up the allegations that have been made? Allegations which show every sign of being reliable? And then let Bishop Bell go on receiving the accolades of a grateful church? That, clearly, would never do, and would raise questions as to whether or not the church was sensitive to the victim's pain. However doubtful you may be about the evidence as presented and enlarged by the coming forward of the victim, it is impossible for the church to go forward without acknowledging that one of its highly praised bishops had something shady in his past of which the church is ashamed, and for which it needed to make restitution. It was an act done in good faith, and questioning the judgement of the church in this matter does not reflect well on the church and its willingness to face the fact of abuse head on, without prevarication. I for one am now glad that the church has unburdened itself, and set a precedent that should never be betrayed. This really must be my last comment on this thread.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Friday, 12 February 2016 at 1:39pm GMT

Speaking as an alleged ‘strident voice’ I confess myself baffled by some responses here. An allegation does not cease to be an allegation and become more true because it is made in more detail. The presumption of innocence applies to all cases, and should not be taken as a criticism of the accuser in any case. If it were, clear-eyed, calm justice would be impossible, drowned out by cries of ‘Are you calling me a liar?’ and similar emotive scenes. The Bishop of Durham on his own argument, could be accused by himself of ‘undermining’ George Bell’s accuser by referring to her allegations as such and as claims, which he quite rightly does. These words give the reasoning person permission to believe that the case is not yet proven, and allow investigators to pursue their enquiries impartially.

Have they done this? Has anyone in the Church sought corroboration of the charges, or tried to find living witnesses who have independent memories of the period involved? I am not aware of it. Indeed, I know for a fact that they failed even to discover that George Bell has a living niece, who is most distressed by the allegations and first learned about them from the media.

There’s also this insistence that a 'civil case’ has taken place, in which lower standards of proof are required. Well, George Bell’s reputation has suffered a criminal penalty, that of utter public destruction from which it may never recover because proof of innocence is impossible at any time, and even harder when you have been dead since 1958. And the inclusion of the bizarre police assertion that they would notionally have arrested George Bell has probably done more to persuade the ignorant and ill-informed (who know nothing of the presumption of innocence or the difference between evidence and proof, or between arrest, charge, and conviction) of his guilt than any other part of that odd document. The police play no part in civil trials. In any case the defendant in the case was not George Bell but the Church, which had an interest in an out-of-court settlement – an interest not shared by Bell or those who admire him. I am a Christian believer principally because I hope for and desire a just universe. This particular Anglican corner of the universe is currently rather short of justice, but well-supplied with a rather oily brand of expediency.

Posted by: Peter Hitchens on Saturday, 13 February 2016 at 3:57pm GMT

In response to 'Junia', it is interesting that, so far, no other accusers have in fact come forward - despite a blaze of local and national publicity.

Posted by: Peter Hitchens on Saturday, 13 February 2016 at 5:07pm GMT
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