This is a devastating critique by the George Bell Group into what the BBC has just described as an "astonishingly inadequate" investigation by the Diocese of Chichester into the accusation levelled against Bishop George Bell. This distinguished Group has in its paper examined this case with forensic detail and they are to be commended for their tenacity. I wonder what pressure Lambeth exerted upon the Chichester diocese to open this highly disturbing can of worms?
I make no comment on George Bell, about whom there has been extensive comment on both sides. But I remain amazed that no-one has yet publicly examined in depth the role of Bishop Eric Kemp, who did not investigate the Bell allegations, appointed and protected Peter Ball, moved clergy around to avoid trouble (see his memoirs for those) and was a lifelong friend of Garth Moore. He may only have been very naïve, but those who worked with him must know more, and I hope that those conducting enquiries are talking to them.
This is even worse than I suspected.
The investigation was, according to the report, an amateurish mess bungled from start to finish, that didn't examine basics like timelines and location, and that failed to find and question key witnesses. Worse, by going with the complainant to the alleged scene, it contaminated her evidence.
The report rebuts the complainant's accusation in crucial details: I no longer find it believable. I hope more people will now see why it's essential that evidence is tested openly and impartially. Accusation isn't proof.
I differ from the report in one respect: automatic witness anonymity's a terrible idea, that flies in the face of common law principles of open justice, and gets in the way of testing evidence. It's given the diocese an excuse to hide its investigation from proper scrutiny, and if "Carol" hadn't come forward, the crucial details used to rebut the allegation would've remained hidden. The sooner it's abolished in all jurisdictions, the better.
As for "Carol," she may well, as the report says, sincerely believe her accusation, which is one of the many reasons that it should've been properly tested before going public. Thorough and impartial testing of the evidence protects everyone, including the accuser. Star Chamber injustice threatens us all.
Neil Patterson refers to the distressing recent news about Garth Moore. Here is more on Moore by a noted historian: http://www.lrb.co.uk.ezproxy2.londonlibrary.co.uk/blog/2016/03/17/bernard-porter/clerical-abuse/ (the blog section of the LRB is open access). This makes the well-known antics of dons such as Oscar Browning, Sligger Urquhart. F. A. Simpson or R. H. Dundas (and other, more recent, academics) seem tame. Moore's treatment of many applicants for faculties is quite well known, as was his virtual vendetta with Mervyn Stockwood (another flawed clergyman), which originated with the demolition of St Chrysostom, Peckham, in 1964. Moore often comes across as a clerical-legal type of a kind now hopefully extinct, with more than the whiff of the Pharisee about him. I cannot help but think that the nature of his business dealings as a diocesan chancellor were somehow all of a piece with the character of his reported attack on 'Joe' (albeit that the attack was, obviously, much more extreme): the desire to control and humiliate being much to the fore.
Yes, Eric Kemp - a canonist like Moore - was in charge of Chichester [for far too long] when much of the rot really set in; however, under the area scheme, pursuant to which he arrogated to himself responsibility only for Brighton, Worthing and Chichester , leaving his suffragans - including Peter Ball - a pretty free hand elsewhere. Martin Warner is the first diocesan to be seen in places like Eastbourne or Hastings for more than forty years. Kemp's papers will almost certainly come under close scrutiny. Bell's biographer, Andrew Chandler (who works at the university in Chichester) ought also to be consulted, if he has not been already - as he should have a comprehensive knowledge of Bell's archive.
"automatic witness anonymity's a terrible idea, that flies in the face of common law principles of open justice"
So you think that the process in Rotherham, Rochdale and other child abuse cases would be enhanced by the names of all the witnesses (ie, victims) being published? That would be heaven for perpetrators: instead of having to do the witness intimidation themselves, they could leave it to the judicial system.
"The sooner it's abolished in all jurisdictions, the better."
_All_ jurisdictions? Family courts? The Court of Protection?
Interested Observer, I doubt an average case of assault, theft or fraud is "enhanced" by allowing the complainant's name to be published. Are you arguing for blanket anonymity? All types of crimes, after all, are distressing to the victim, especially crimes like serious assaults for which England doesn't grant publication bans.
Open justice is necessary to stop a culture of secrecy from developing, as it has in English family courts (routinely criticized by English judges). With secrecy comes, well, the type of abuses seen in the Bell investigation (which I hope you now join with me in condemning). Justice requires public scrutiny.
Allowing complainants' names to be published is also a vital safeguard against false accusations, since previous allegations are in the public sphere, and can be referred to by law enforcement, or people who see the charges in the media.
Gag orders may be justified in extreme cases, such as national security, or witness intimidation, but they should be avoided where at all possible, and decided case-by-case.
Could contributors avoid careless comments about Bishop Eric Kemp whose elderly wife is still alive? We learn that the Church's 'investigation' failed to acknowledge Bishop Bell's living relatives - let's not repeat this act of thoughtless negligence.
Interested Observer makes an important point.
It is also worth noting that, even if some aspects of the original investigation were imperfect, so are aspects of the supposed rebuttal (e.g. the notion that a bishop, if he had disturbing feelings for a small girl, could be expected to have communicated this to male choristers). We do not know what supporting evidence those looking into the allegations may have had since, as in many such cases, publishing too much detail increases the chances that the victim will be identified and revictimised.
As I pointed out recently on Ekklesia, one of the problems in effectively countering child abuse and achieving justice for survivors is the widespread reluctance to accept that people who do much good and may be kind, even heroic, can also do appalling things. Some people believe that vilifying abusers shows opposition to abuse. But the result is that if someone is liked and respected, those around them often find it near-impossible to accept that they are an abuser. While George Bell's guilt has not been established beyond reasonable doubt, if he is guilty that does not negate the good he did but it is important that any negatives not be swept under the carpet, as has happened time and again with church leaders.
"The Group does not challenge the survivor’s belief in her account; the question is whether others should believe it."
I'm struggling with what the Group are intending this to mean. Are they suggesting the survivor is confused, deluded, or what? And on what basis?
Savi, after what's been revealed about the flaws in the "investigation" (given its total failure to interview key witnesses and examine key evidence, it barely merits the term), are you seriously arguing that we should continue to take the diocese's assertions on trust? If so, what possible basis does this trust have?
The rebuttal isn't "supposed": it demolishes the testimony in a string of crucial details. Bell may even have been in another hemisphere at the time of the alleged crime. Given the collapse of "Carol's" accusation, you have no basis to assume Bell's guilt, as you do when you call her his "victim."
Notwithstanding the lack of evidence, Bell may have been guilty; "Carol" may have been his victim; but at this point, this is pure speculation, and I can guarantee that no-one here would want to be condemned without proof. Do unto others.
Savi - The crucial little word in your post is "if" ["if he is guilty"].
The problem is that not only has George Bell's guilt not been established beyond reasonable doubt, the report of the George Bell Support Group argues cogently that, just on the basis of the examination of the evidence the Group were able to carry out by reference to published sources (including interviews given by the complainant, 'Carol'), there was not even a case to answer.
(Cf the Met Police's closure, announced today, of their high-profile Operation Midland investigation, based as it was on the discredited allegations from a single witness, 'Nick', but which has unjustly besmirched the reputation of several people in public life.)
The George Bell Group's report cries out for a speedy response from the Diocese of Chichester: let us hope that Bishop Warner will realise the need for such a response and (i) be prepared to acknowledge that while, rightly, Carol's complaint required sensitive pastoral handling, the way the matter has been dealt with publicly by the diocese has been to do a grave injustice to a bishop unable to answer the allegations against him, and (ii) initiate a full and independent inquiry into both the evidence and the way in which the investigation was handled by the diocese, leading to the statement issued on 22 October 2015.
"Allowing complainants' names to be published is also a vital safeguard against false accusations"
So you're now arguing that the names of all rape victims should be published? Wow. Seriously? Including children?
Yes, it might reduce false accusations. It will also reduce actual accusations. It would, for a start-off, make raping women from conservative Asian and Muslim backgrounds almost risk-free for the perpetrator, as the chances of prosecution would be close to zero. It would also make child abuse close to risk free, as few parents would be willing to put their children through what you are proposing.
I am glad and relieved to see this initiative of the great and the good.
The way Bell has been thrown away was scandalous, cowardly and inane.
It would seem apparently easier by far, to take on the long dead, than to deal with recent scandals - let alone those in the present.
James Byron, survivors of sexual abuse and rape face a level of stigma which does not apply to other crimes, and often internalise a sense of shame though they are not to blame. As it is, few cases end up in court and, when they do, in criminal cases the treatment they face can leave some feeling as if they had been raped again or even committing suicide. If every time a case of sexual abuse was dealt with, even by family or civil courts, the name of the adult or child concerned was made public, the end result would be horrific.
What I think the Group is saying is they accept that the survivor has a sincerely held belief as to what happened to her, albeit one that may be mistaken in light of the evidence the Group was able to find and the absence of cogent evidence that supports the survivor's belief.
As a member of the George Bell Group, may I comment on a few of the observations so far?
First, and to address the points made about Bishop Kemp. We believe that the person who made the allegation against Bell first did so in the mid-1990's. Contrary to information originally disclosed, it would appear that Bishop Kemp did take some reasonable steps to look into this allegation, and that it was found to be without substance. The Review refers to this.
Second, some commentators appear to assume that Bell may have had an unnatural attachment to this complainant when she was a young girl. However, the weight of evidence suggests that this girl may never have met Bell at the Palace, let alone had bedtime stories read to her by him. The claim that the girl's relative worked there in the evening, which is why the girl was present at the Palace, is also rebutted by the Review.
Third, the Church of England authorities, by inferring the interest of the police in this case, and thereby implying guilt, is highly problematic. As the Review makes clear, Sussex Police confirmed on 16th March 2016 that they had received no further complaints about Bishop Bell. This is significant: experience shows that instances of solitary abuse, one adult only picking on one child, are exceptionally rare.
Finally, there are discrepancies in Carol’s reported accounts, with one of her media interviews suggesting that her relative worked at the Bishop’s Palace, and another interview that the employment was at the Cathedral. In either case, it is hard to imagine what such late afternoon and early evening employment this might have been. It has since been established that no such person was an employee of the Palace. We now know all the names and details of the employees at the Palace, and none of them had a young female relative such as the complainant.
If the employment of the girl's relative was at the Cathedral, the scenario the complainant describes seems even more improbable. Namely, that the child was dropped off at the Palace, and then met at the door, presumably by the Bishop’s Chaplain or Secretary – or indeed by Henrietta, Bell’s wife – and then handed over to Bell, where she was regularly and frequently abused.
There are also Bell's diaries to consider, and the periods when he was in London, or overseas on church business (e.g., several months in 1949) when this abuse is alleged to be taking place. It is such facts that the George Bell Group believe the investigative process should have taken account of.
Interested Observer, I propose nothing: open justice isn't a novelty, it's the standard common law position, a principle enshrined in many nations' constitutions, and in international treaties. England only departed from it in cases of sexual assault in the 1970s, and denies it to victims of other serious and violent crimes. As English law stands, a person forced to witness their spouse tortured and murdered in a home invasion has no right to anonymity; but a person groped in a club does. Are you defending this position, or demanding that anonymity be expanded?
I've surely made my position on this clear by now (a position also taken by multiple courts and legislatures): for the reasons given, no class of crime should be subject to blanket gag orders. Any orders should be made on the facts of the case, and avoided if at all possible. If prosecutors have evidence that a complainant faces retribution if they testify without one, and no alternative means of protection will work, it may be justified.
Savi, making sexual assault a special case, subject to gag orders, just perpetuates any stigma. Making secrecy the default position reinforces the poisonous message that being sexually assaulted is something to be ashamed of. It fuels the very thing it aims to fight, and has the unintended consequence of hiding botched investigations like the Bell case. Anonymity nearly allowed a travesty of justice to go undiscovered.
Any confidentiality agreement in place between the Church of England and 'Carol' may be there for the protection of the Church of England as much as 'Carol'. I agree with the lawyer for Carol that the intense speculation is disrespectful for her client.
"her relative worked at the Bishop’s Palace, and another interview that the employment was at the Cathedral. In either case, it is hard to imagine what such late afternoon and early evening employment this might have been."
A cleaner who worked in both buildings.
"It has since been established that no such person was an employee of the Palace. We now know all the names and details of the employees at the Palace, and none of them had a young female relative such as the complainant."
Non-contracted cleaning staff may not have appeared in the Cathedral/Palace's personnel records.
"Namely, that the child was dropped off at the Palace, and then met at the door, presumably by the Bishop’s Chaplain or Secretary – or indeed by Henrietta, Bell’s wife"
The child could have been dropped off after the end of the working day when the Chaplain and Secretary had left. The alleged abuse would have been carried out on days when Henrietta was out or in a different part of the Palace.
My theory may be complete nonsense but offers one possible and not improbable explanation of the issues raised by Martyn Percy.
Thank you Laurence.
It is all too easy to fall into the trap of rubbishing a poorly understood case. Those with little or no experience of the possibilities invent supposed absurdities and thereby tell us more about themselves than about Bishop Bell or 'Carol'.
You have amply demonstrated that thinking should be part of the substance of this site as well as its name.
Laurence Cunnington's 'theory' and his 'possible explanation' of the issues raised by Martyn Percy in his earlier post only serve to underline the need for:
 the Diocese of Chichester to disclose (i) the evidence relied upon that led to the 22 October 2015 statement; (ii) the inquiries that were made (and not made) to test that evidence; (iii) the names and professional qualifications/background of the scrutineers; (iv) the names of the "all [sic] parties" whose respect the scrutineers were claimed to command; (v) the nature of the scrutiny process; and
 a thorough independent inquiry into the diocesan investigation in the light of the powerful evidential and forensic points made by the review group.
I have some concerns about the 'survivor' in the Bell 'abuse case' taking exception to the George Bell Group raising perfectly reasonable questions about the truth of her claim.
It seems clear, from the George Bell Group's statement, that it is not true (as I had assumed from the last statement about this issue) that the case had been carefully and thoroughly examined. But, even so, a person who comes forward with a complaint must acccept that their testimony will be met with appropriate questions, questions which, it seems, the Diocese of Chichester never bothered to ask.
Certainly, as Laurence says, there are possible answers to the questions asked, but it is by no means obvious that they are plausible ones. Since the complainant remembers a stairway that does not exist, that she says that she met the bishop in a place where he would not normally have been (even had the stairs been there), that no one who worked at the bishop's palace can remember the presence of a young child who slept over at the palace (this was not, as I recall, a point raised earlier in the church's statement), and so on and on, it seems very likely that her story would not have been so readily credited by the police, it being in conflict with known facts.
The fact that, despite the claim's being made public, no one else has come forward with similar stories, also tells against the claim, since if the abuse did take place over a period of years, it would indicate that the "abuser" had no reservations about what he was doing, and therefore is likely to have abused others, whether at that time, before, or since. The fact that she now objects to questions being raised about the reliability of her story, when the fact is that, if the matter had been taken to court it would have attracted more forthright questions than these, also raises doubts about the reliability of the story, even if, for some reason hidden in her childhood, she believes it true.
The George Bell Group, by the way, does not question this belief, but clearly thinks she may be confused about her memories. Indeed, that she should have identified herself, and yet cannot be identified by any of the records of employees at the palace at the time (this is what convinced me, and now we see that it is not convincing), casts even more doubt on the story. Also, since whatever happened, happened over a period of years, it is not likely that it would be an occasional worker (who is not in the records, as Laurence suggests), is further reason to doubt the story.
As I said, some weeks or months ago, with the kind of detail provided, the person should be readily identifiable, and yet she has not been identified. This raises important questions, her solicitor's objections to raising them being quite beside the point. And the so-called 'survivor' does not have any obvious right not to have these questions raised. If what she says is the truth, further inquiry should simply confirm this, and from the outline provided by the George Bell Group, so far it does not. This suggests that there has been a rush to judgement. The George Bell Group has not said that he is innocent. Perhaps we will never know that, and so his name will now be sullied forever. But what has been said is that, given the evidence, there is no reason that the bishop's name was even mentioned, even if, for the sake of the church's name, it was thought necessary to make a settlement with the accuser.
"Those with little or no experience of the possibilities invent supposed absurdities and thereby tell us more about themselves than about Bishop Bell or 'Carol'."
RevPeterM, the Bell Group contains two Queen's Counsel (senior English lawyers), one of whom, Alan Pardoe, tried similar cases for a decade.
I'm disturbed that, in light of the report, not a single person has reassessed and withdrawn their support of the diocese's secret investigation and conclusions. Laurence raises possibilities, but it takes a heckuva lot more than possibilities to make a case, let alone reach a judgment. The claimant bears the burden of substantiating their claim, and it's a burden that "Carol" hasn't met. However sympathetic I am, it's no reason to accept her accusations without proof.
It doesn't matter that Bell's beyond the reach of the law: ignoring that principle in one area just ensures it can be ignored in others. If you condemn Bell without cause, you help create a McCarthyite climate in which accusation is proof. You endanger yourselves and all those you care about. None of you would want this done to you: why, then, do you feel justified in doing it to others?
Eric's incisive post hadn't yet been published before my last reply: my appreciation for such a thorough and on-point reconsideration in light of the new evidence. He's said it very well indeed.
James you say: "The claimant bears the burden of substantiating their claim, and it's a burden 'Carol' hasn't met". You know this how?
We are today on the eve that another man was accused without any evidence. Let us pray for "Carol" to be healed of what she has been through and also for Bishop Bell who has been judged and found guilty and sentenced by the current Bishop of Chichester, just remember what happened to the man who today betrayed Our Lord.
The latest TA Comments seem to me to pour yet more cold water on the veracity of the allegations against Bishop George Bell. The lack of substantial evidence and the inconsistencies of the original accusation would be torn to shreds in a Court of Law under close cross examination. When and who is going to give a response to the perfectly legitimate questions raised by the distinguished members of the George Bell Group? At present all the Diocese of Chichester is saying is that they have nothing further to add to their October statement, that being the case, will Lambeth be making a response? Who acted as Judge and Jury in passing sentence against George Bell and finding in favour of Carol's far from watertight accusations? We know that not even the Dean of Chichester was privy to the uncorroborated evidence provided by Carol's lawyer. There are still so many unanswered questions in this case that in the name of common justice require further examination and answers. Bishop Bell fought for justice all his working life it is beyond shameful that he be denied that same justice in death.
It seems to me there are two dangers in a case like this. One is a "trial by public" of the person alleged to have committed this offence, the other is a "trial by public" of the person alleging the offence happened. Both seem equally dangerous given that none of us, not one, is in possession of all of the facts here. What decisions have been made have been made by people with much, much more information than we have and are ever likely to have.
If there is a question about the process of the original investigation and the way in which a decision to reach settlement with "Carol" was made, then that seems to me a legitimate concern, and one where further investigation could be merited. Quite who would be responsible for any further investigation, I don't know.
What seems utterly unmerited is the picking to pieces in the public domain of the various public statements that have been made by "Carol" as if that is the totality of the information relied on by the original investigation. Whether the seeming holes in the (partial) case presented by "Carol" in public were considered or not in the original investigation we simply do not know. But that is a question of process and whether the original investigation was adequately thorough.
"Laurence raises possibilities, but it takes a heckuva lot more than possibilities to make a case, let alone reach a judgment." James Byron
I agree, entirely. Martyn Percy's post raised issues for which he suggested that there could be no sensible explanation. My post merely described an imaginary scenario which could explain them quite simply. I have no idea what the real facts of the case are.
I am sympathetic towards 'Carol' and I can see that is because of personal reasons. However, my sympathy is not without foundation. Carol made a complaint, twice, and the Church of England has now made an apology, paid compensation and respects the confidentiality of Carol. Some people seem desperate to 'know all' and in the vast majority of cases that possibility would be open. This is a very unusual case though. For those who feel strongly, maybe instead of 'trial by media' other avenues may be explored.
Pam, I don't claim any insider knowledge: whether "Carol's" accusations are substantive is a matter of opinion. Given the multiple factual errors and implausibilities highlighted in the report, do you believe they are? If so, why?
Laurence, I agree that we don't know what actually happened. I allowed the mere possibility that Bell's guilty, and that "Carol" simply make mistakes on crucial details, but possibilities have no weight. Beliefs require evidence. Since "Carol's" not met the burden of substantiating her accusations, and since the details she provided have been comprehensively rebutted, we've no reason to believe them.
"Carol's" not met the burden of substantiating her accusations"...
is, of course, pure speculation.
Erika, there's no speculation involved: "Carol's" made the accusation publicly, and as the Bell report detailed, it's riddled with factual errors; as it also detailed, the diocese failed to locate and evaluate key witnesses and evidence.
All this could have been avoided had the Diocese of Chichester simply stated that it had paid compensation having received the complaint, and having concluded that it hadn't been dealt with properly in 1995. I cannot understand why it felt a need to pronounce a verdict on Bell.
Nothing Chichester has said in its defence explains why it was necessary to imply that Bishop Bell was likely guilty. To make such an implication, when it is not possible to release the information upon which it is based, contradicts any sense of natural justice which his relatives and friends deserve.
I feel a great deal of sympathy for Carol. Had Chichester handled this without publicly drawing conclusions on evidence it was unable to publish, she may never have had her story questioned in this way. It was Chichester Diocese's unsubstantiated and unsubstantiable conclusions - and responses to them which have treated Bell as though his guilt is proven - which have prompted reports such as that of the George Bell Group. I hope, in future, that the Church of England will not consider confidential information a reasonable basis for drawing conclusions about people in public; indeed, that it will not allow this sort of circus to distract from the very real issues in the church which still allow abuse to go undetected, or reports of abuse to be ignored. The Diocese of Chichester's announcement fairly served neither Carol nor the memory of Bell.
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.