Comments: Further points on the George Bell case

If "Carol" wanted to meet with the diocese in private to discuss her accusation, it's absolutely right that she remain anonymous.

The moment she lodged a civil claim, however, that anonymity wreaks havoc with the justice system. It's the sole reason we can't see the evidence against Bell, and is being used to shield the diocese and church from scrutiny. Even if the law doesn't strictly require this, they can say it does, and use it to deflect all criticism. Even more disturbingly (and I'm emphatically speaking generally here), it prevents false accusers from being exposed.

Anonymity's justified on the basis of trauma, but it's absurdly inconsistent: if a person alleged that a bishop kidnapped them and tortured them in a basement, they'd enjoy no right to anonymity; if they alleged a bishop groped them briefly at a party, bang, lifelong gag order.

Making a claim for damages is a public act: that act will always carry a cost (such as going to trial and being cross-examined), and a person who voluntarily takes it should accept open justice as part of the process.

Posted by James Byron at Friday, 15 July 2016 at 1:08pm BST

I hesitate to enter this sensitive and difficult matter but it seems that James Byron has not studied the Bishop of Durham's further clarification of 13 July. The legal advice the diocese received could not have been clearer. At its heart was the fact that "on the balance of probabilities – the claimant was likely to succeed if her claim were heard in court." Indeed had the case gone to court 'Carol' would have been granted automatic anonymity. There is no way the George Bell Group, laudable though its objectives may be, will be able to unearth the evidence of abuse which formed the basis of the out-of-court settlement. It is for this reason that I decided not to sign the General Synod Private Member's Motion expressing no confidence in the process. That will now be subject to an independent inquiry, as well as evidence being provided to the Goddard Inquiry.

Posted by Anthony Archer at Friday, 15 July 2016 at 7:55pm BST

Yes Anthony, and several senior lawyers (including a judge who specialized in sexual assault cases) reached the exact opposite conclusion, that the preponderance of the evidence didn't come close to establishing Bell's culpability. The church accepts there's conflicting legal advice.

If they want to defend anonymity, an excellent start would be to release the evidence with "Carol's" name redacted. (To avoid any doubt, since she initiated this process on the understanding she'd be shielded, that must be respected.) English courts have been clear that it's down to the press to decide for themselves how far to go, and the same principle presumably extends to interested parties.

Posted by James Byron at Saturday, 16 July 2016 at 12:24am BST

The Bible in many places tells us that judgement is reserved to the Lord. It seems to me that both Church authorities and those who disagree with them, seem to think they should judge Bishop Bell as either guilty or not guilty as the case may be. There are no live safeguarding issues to justify a need for judgement either way and I think both sides are conducting themselves in ways which do not accord with Biblical teaching.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 16 July 2016 at 11:18am BST

I thought the question in Synod about insurance was a good one.

Did any insurer pay? If not, why not?

Insurers often act as good third-party checks on the strength of claims.

Posted by Jeremy at Saturday, 16 July 2016 at 12:19pm BST

Actually, Kate, there is a live safeguarding issue. "Carol" is still alive.

Posted by Pam at Saturday, 16 July 2016 at 10:35pm BST

Pam, you're not using "safeguarding" in its specific sense of protecting children's welfare, but a much looser sense of protecting "Carol's" well-being. Yes, the church should take all reasonable steps to do that, but "Carol" isn't a child, she's a grown woman who's lived longer than many posting here, a woman who's chosen, of her own free will, and acting under legal advice, to sue the church. She knowingly opened her accusation to legal scrutiny.

Since she was granted (wrongly, in my view) anonymity, that should be respected, but the substance of her claim should be released with her name redacted. Yes, there's some small risk her name would get out, but if it'd gone to trial, that would've happened anyway: the gag order applies only to the press, not the court or the public gallery. Currently, it's being used to hide the church's actions from scrutiny.

Posted by James Byron at Sunday, 17 July 2016 at 12:55am BST

'Carol isn't a child, she's a grown woman.'

Some people, abused as children, never move on to that second condition, at least, not in any way complete or viable.

For some abuse victims, they are still that child, again and again, through their lives. Or are cut off from the childhood they had, and should have completed and evolved from, by the terrible interruption of their development, the violation of their childhood innocence.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of George Bell and his reputation, this woman needs help. There sometimes seems more concern for the deceased George Bell than for her.

There can be no pre-supposition of guilt without evidence and due process, but here we have a living woman who needs to be taken with the utmost seriousness - otherwise, here we go again - with a Church that has historically (as a fact, though not proven in this specific case) offered contexts and opportunities for dreadful abuse, colluded to cover things up, victim-blamed (which we are dreadfully close to doing in this case in some quarters), and minimising the impact and testimony of people who have, in effect, had their innocence ripped out; their lives spoilt and diminished for all time.

Carol, the child, needs safeguarding now, even if she was not safeguarded then. She needs to be heard. She needs to be loved. She may need justice if justice is possible, or at least, vindication after the event. She may need to experience first hand, that the Church, the very place where she should have been safe, is now a safe place, and a just place, a protective place that 'comforts' in the fullest sense of the word.

And in none of this, am I pre-supposing the facts (because I can't). But I am saying that Carol matters, as the child she was before everything maybe got spoilt, and the living woman she ought to have become, but maybe never could because of violation that kept her in a time-trap the way abuse does. I am not pre-supposing, but I am saying that there is a very real risk that this is true.

In the repetition of repetitions, childhood abuse still goes on, it happens again and again, long after the original events, revisited in flashbacks, brought back to the present by unanticipated triggers. In such ways, abuse victims may find themselves children again, in a horrific immediacy and newness. They can be there again, trapped in lives that are unable to completely move forward. As such, or the possibility of such, Carol needs to be heard and her claims respected as potentially terribly serious.

My other concern, of course, is any relatives or living friends of George Bell. I have children, and I would hate them to have accusations mad of me after my death (I'm not anticipating any, thankfully). But such a thing would be terrible too.

It is a sad situation, but Carol sounds like she needs safeguarding, now as well as then - albeit, as James says, in a different sense, as I don't think she's in imminent danger of fresh sexual abuse.

What she's in danger of, perhaps, is the original sexual abuse, subverting her and revisiting her, and she may still need protection from that. Acknowledgment is the very least we owe her, as a Church, and a commitment that she will be taken seriously... because these charges are deadly serious.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Sunday, 17 July 2016 at 3:17pm BST

I am appalled by these cruel comments. Do ‘James’ and ‘Kate’ imagine that the trauma of abuse is soon over?
'James' and 'Kate' (hiding behind the anonymity of the web) think that it was all so long ago that Carol has only a grudging right to protection. No, they say, it's really all about a self-appointed group of rich lawyers and authors who must now be placated. They are horrified that their pet hero ‘George Bell’ is George Bell a real fallible human, not a plaster saint, and they can't bear it.
If Carol is treated as ‘James’ and Kate’ want, then the children who are being abused now will know what awaits them should they dare at any time to challenge their famous abusers. And those accustomed to command and control, even in the church, will never be confronted.
For God’s sake respect Carol and respect the discretion of those who have to make painful decisions.

Posted by RevPeterM at Sunday, 17 July 2016 at 6:09pm BST

Actually I am arguing that the efforts to clear Bishop Bell's name are un-Christian and I am very much aware that Carol is freshly victimised by that campaign. I really, really object to those who keep raking it over.

What I also feel though is that the church is wrong in providing the answers it does which are clearly intended to justify its position. The hurt is less but by keeping the debate alive they too risk hurting Carol.

Nor have I suggested that Carol should not be protected. On the contrary, I have said anonymity for victims is important and not lightly given.

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 17 July 2016 at 9:38pm BST

The George Bell Group's (GBG) motives, which as I have recorded above are of course laudable, are solely to salvage the reputation of George Bell. However, in order to do this they need to find a way to gain access to the facts that were available to the Diocese of Chichester et al. Having no locus in the matter, this is a challenge and they are being disingenious in their legal arguments. It is clear beyond doubt that anonymity must be preserved and that the relevant legal documents are bound by privilege. The church could, of course, have decided not to settle and force 'Carol' either to drop her claim or pursue it through the courts. The fact that the advice received was that she "was likely to succeed", uncomfortable though that might be for the GBG, was determinative. It was of course the civil test, 'on the balance of probabilities.' The GBG might do well to reflect on the new culture of our times. The days when institutions reached for their lawyers to defend all claims, aided and abetted by their insurers, forcing claimants to go through the ordeal of the court, are largely over. The sheer scale of past abuse has taught the church that it needs to focus on the abused rather than defend its own reputation at all costs and that of the alleged abusers who receive or received a stipend from it.

Posted by Anthony Archer at Sunday, 17 July 2016 at 10:47pm BST

I'm afraid you are missing the main point of all this, which is - to my mind - WAS IT BISHOP BELL WHO SEXUALLY ABUSED 'CAROL'? I have little doubt 'Carol' was abused by a 'man of the cloth' in Chichester, but I have very serious doubt it was Bishop Bell.
Carol's own testimony bears this out. We are in danger of being party to a most obscene miscarriage of justice if this is not investigated further. What happened to Bishop Bell could happen to any one of us. It happened to David Jones the Southampton football manager, but at least he is alive to defend himself - and wrote a book about it "No Smoke. No Fire". Bishop Bell cannot defend himself, so it behoves us to do what we can to ensure a gross miscarriage of justice doesn't happen in front of our noses.

Posted by Richard W. Symonds at Monday, 18 July 2016 at 12:59am BST

Susannah, from a therapeutic perspective, I agree with everything you say, but that just illustrates the incompatibility between investigation and healing. Victims need unconditional affirmation and support: to work, an adversarial or inquisitional legal process just can't offer that. The law isn't caring, and can't ever be caring: criminal or, to a lesser extent, civil, it's lawful coercion. That inherent cruelty is mitigated by due process and safeguards, one of which is open justice. They protect everyone, including "Carol."

RevPeterM, I can spin this around easily, and ask about the welfare of the wrongfully accused. I don't want "Carol" to be treated with anything but compassion, but that's not reason to disregard fundamental legal safeguards.

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 18 July 2016 at 12:03pm BST

The issue, Richard, is whether the principal danger is a false allegation or an ignored victim. In the past the victims have been disbelieved out of hand, but now their claims are given a fair hearing.
In this case, unlike David Jones', the relevant authorities have accepted the testimony of the victim. Why, when we know little about the circumstances, is this so difficult to accept?

Posted by RevPeterM at Monday, 18 July 2016 at 1:48pm BST

James, I am not disagreeing with your well-made points. My comments were my own feelings, rather subjectively expressed, and not directed at you.

You are a long-term contributor on these boards, who I hold in high regard for your intelligence and your honesty.

If I appear to be siding with Carol, maybe I am, but that's why I'm not part of the legal process. I have subjective views on sexual abuse, and I hope they are sane and compassionate, and in some way contribute to this thread.

Of course, there is a sense in which, even by discussing it at all, we risk objectifying Carol, and reducing her to a 'topic'. I haven't said much on this whole affair, but I wanted to add some words of support for her.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Monday, 18 July 2016 at 2:26pm BST

Susannah, I likewise hold you and your contributions in highest regard, and welcome your perspective on this. I also welcome the reminder to keep the humanity of the complainant in mind, which I endeavor always to do.

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 18 July 2016 at 3:47pm BST

The 'problem' in the George Bell 'case' is, at one and the same time, listening to and providing care for the complainant ('Carol', as she is is now referred to following the interviews she gave to The Argus newspaper in February 2016), and providing justice for George Bell. At issue is how the interests of a deceased alleged abuser (in Bell's case, someone who has been dead for 58 years) are properly protected in the investigative process: a concern highlighted by Baroness Butler-Sloss in her contribution to the debate in the House of Lords on 30 June 2016, as to which, in relation to George Bell, there remains substantial doubt because of the Church's unwillingness to be transparent. Yes, there must be care for Carol, but not at the cost of ensuring justice for Bishop Bell.

It is not an "either/or" question, as Anthony Archer seems to regard it (the Church "need[ing] to focus on the abused rather than defend[ing] its own reputation at all costs and that of the alleged abusers who receive or received a stipend from it.") We must both "act justly and love mercy" and "speak the truth in love" (Micah ch 6 v 8; Ephesians ch 4 v 15.)

What is now reasonably clear is that the Core Group, who examined Carol's complaint and agreed to the settlement announced on 22 October 2015, did not examine ALL the available evidence. Accordingly, the legal advice on which the settlement was based (that "had the claim been tested by a court, on the balance of probabilities, Carol would have won her claim" - Bishop Cottrell in the HL on 30 June) is now shown to have been flawed.

This is why the supplementary question I asked at the General Synod in York emphasised the need for the Terms of Reference of the Independent Review (announced on 28 June 2016) to enable the Reviewer (whose name has yet to be announced but who, I suggest, should be a senior lawyer, preferably a judge) not only to review the process that led to the settlement with Carol, but also to re-examine ALL the evidence, including the evidence that was not looked at or considered by the Core Group but which has come to light subsequently.

Posted by David Lamming at Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 3:51pm BST
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