Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Independent review into handling of George Bell case

Updated to add press reports

The Church of England has today announced an independent review into the handling of the George Bell case, as this press release explains.

Independent review into handling of George Bell case
28 June 2016

An independent review of the processes used in the George Bell case has been announced today in accordance with the House of Bishops guidance on all complex cases.

The House of Bishops practice guidance states that once all matters relating to any serious safeguarding situation have been completed, the Core Group should meet again to review the process and to consider what lessons can be learned for the handling of future serious safeguarding situations. A review has always been carried out in any case involving allegations against a bishop.

The review will be commissioned by the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team, on the recommendation of the Bishop of Chichester, to see what lessons can be learnt from how the case was handled. The case involves the settlement in 2015 of a legal civil claim regarding sexual abuse against George Bell, who was Bishop of Chichester from 1929-1958.

The Church has always recognised Bishop Bell’s principled stand in the Second World War and his contribution to peace but it also has a duty to listen to survivors. The diocese of Chichester continues to be in touch and offer support to the survivor known as Carol, who brought the allegations in this case.

The review will look at the processes surrounding the allegations which were first brought in 1995 to the diocese of Chichester with the same allegations brought again, this time to Lambeth Palace, in 2013. It will also consider the processes, including the commissioning of expert independent reports and archival and other investigations, which were used to inform the decision to settle the case. The settlement was based on the balance of probabilities as criminal proceedings cannot be brought in a case where the alleged perpetrator is dead.

Details of the review including Terms of Reference and name of the independent reviewer will be announced at a later date.

The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner said; “As in any serious safeguarding situation it is always important to learn lessons from the process and this review will ensure this is done.

“I have, however, made it absolutely clear that the survivor in the case be reassured that we will do everything we can to continue to support her as we have done throughout this process. Like her, we recognise gravity of this matter, given its impact on the national and international reputation of Bishop George Bell.

“I hope that the review will provide a constructive way forward for all concerned.

Along with my colleagues in the wider Church, I am committed to ensuring that the past is handled with honesty.”

Notes

House of Bishop’s guidance: Responding to Serious Safeguarding Situations

Original statement on George Bell

Points on a complex case; blog by Gabrielle Higgins, Chichester Diocesan Secretary

The George Bell Group recently published this Compendium of Selected Sources covering the period 22 October 2015 - 21 June 2016.

Update

Harriet Sherwood The Guardian Church of England orders review into handling of George Bell sex abuse case

BBC News Bishop George Bell: Review to look at ‘abuse’ case

Posted by Peter Owen on Tuesday, 28 June 2016 at 11:46am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England
Comments

This is good news, though it must be a cautious welcome until we see the Terms of Reference. A number of questions about the Bell case have been put down for answer at General Synod in York on 8th July and there is to be a debate about safeguarding in the House of Lords this Thursday, 30th June, on a motion by Lord Lexden (a member of the George Bell Group that produced the Review in March 2016 calling for an independent inquiry) that "this House takes note of the case for introducing statutory guidelines relating to the investigation of cases of historical child sex abuse." It will be of particular interest to see what is said about the Bell case in that debate by the Bishop who responds.

Posted by: David Lamming on Tuesday, 28 June 2016 at 6:08pm BST

Leave the judgement to God.The Lord is fair and doesn't make mistakes.

Posted by: robert ian williams on Thursday, 30 June 2016 at 7:07am BST

It does seem rather extraordinary that, even in the context of the announcement of this Independent Review, Bishop Warner persists in calling the claimant ['Carol']in this case "the survivor".
Surely the whole point of the review is to consider the soundness of the process by which the Diocese of Chichester came to accept the Claimant's claim, against the background of many well-informed voices arguing that the procedure followed was manifestly unsound.
In this context it begs the question, and some would say suggests a closed mind on the subject, still to refer to 'Carol' as "the survivor" [whatever the true underlying facts might be].
Justice surely requires that in this context at least she should be called "the Claimant", or "the Complainant", and not more than that.

Posted by: Papa Luna on Thursday, 30 June 2016 at 12:25pm BST

Papa Luna is right but, despite the announced review, the Church continues to resist accepting that their finding against Bishop Bell may be wrong.

During the debate in the House of Lords, calling for “the introduction of statutory guidelines relating to the investigation of cases of historical child sex abuse”, several speeches were highly critical of the both the inquiry by a “Core Group” that led to the settlement with ‘Carol’ and the terms of the statement of 22 October 2015 in which that settlement was reported. Lord Dear (former HM Inspector of Constabulary) described the statement as “as “slippery” and “disingenuous”. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, said that the Church’s procedures in the Bell case had “the character of a kangaroo court.”

In his speech, Bishop Stephen Cottrell (duty bishop for the week) said that “It also happens now to be standard practice for us to do such reviews when a Bishop has been accused”, but, if that is true, it begs the question why the review, the terms of which have yet to be announced, was not announced at least six months ago, shortly after the 22 October 2015 statement.

It appears, too, that the review will only look at “the processes used in the George Bell case”, not the validity of the conclusion that led to the settlement with Carol, despite the powerful points made by the George Bell Group in their Review (www.georgebellgroup.org/review/ and "Group challenges naming of Bishop George Bell as a paedophile - on this website, 20 March 2016) and reiterated in the debate, referring to evidence, not considered by the Core Group, that seriously undermines their conclusion and suggests that Bishop Bell has been the victim of a miscarriage of justice. To the contrary, Bishop Cottrell said that “the Church remains satisfied of the credibility of the allegation.” He also indicated that the Church could not say more for fear of breaching the “survivor’s” confidentiality, a view that has been challenged by His Honour Alan Pardoe QC and Desmond Browne QC in a legal opinion posted on the George Bell Group website.

As mentioned in my post on 28 June, the issue will be raised at General Synod at York on 8 July 2016. Several questions have been put down for answer, including one for the Church Commissioners relating to the funding of the settlement with Carol (she was paid £15,000). A Private Member’s Motion (PMM) has been lodged and will be open for signature, which starts, “this Synod regret that it can have no confidence in the investigation conducted on behalf of the Church of England into the allegations against the late Bishop Bell, by reason of its lack of transparency and accountability.”

Posted by: David Lamming on Monday, 4 July 2016 at 8:59am BST
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