Comments: Lord Carlile named as independent reviewer in George Bell case

Mixed bag: Carlile appears to be well-qualified reviewer (if on the establishment side); but his terms of reference have been carefully written to dance around the main issues of contention, the presumption of innocence and open justice.

The repeated use of "survivor" is instructive, as it can only be read as a presumption of guilt: if "Carol" is a survivor of abuse, then ipso facto, Bell must be guilty. "Complainant," also used, is a much better, neutral term, that neither assumes guilt, nor denies it.

This review, authorized by the CoE, framed by them, conducted by a reviewer chosen by them, isn't truly independent. The deck's been stacked in their favor. There is, at least, the possibility that Carlile will go off-piste, and I hope he does.

Posted by James Byron at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 1:47am GMT

Who's paying the fees and how much?

Posted by Father David at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 9:32am GMT

So we get the same-old same-old from the critics. This is not an appeal against conviction, so the tendentious case for the defence produced by the Bell Group isn't too relevant. The purpose of the review is to look at how the structures of the Church responded to a complaint over some 20 years and to see what lessons can be learnt by the Church. As such it is part of a responsibly run protection system.

Posted by RevPeterM at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 12:23pm GMT

"So we get the same-old same-old from the critics." Yes, 'cause the grounds for criticism don't diminish with time.

A "responsibly run" system wouldn't treat accusation as proof, produce an investigation so bungled that to call it "amateur" would be to give it undue praise, then accuse people who raised concerns about the travesty of due process of smearing the complainant.

No, it's not an appeal against conviction, since England doesn't, as yet, try dead people. The contempt for due process and open justice does, however, have terrifying implications for the living. If the principles that underlie the presumption of innocence aren't just rejected, but are viewed as alien, then what were once thought of as unalienable rights are on borrowed time. Those rights protect everyone, and are worth fighting for.

Posted by James Byron at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 4:18pm GMT

The Church of England pays for the review; it is our review into our behaviour; as such we pay. There is a review after every safeguarding case; in complex cases, the review is independent.

Posted by Simon Butler at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 5:04pm GMT

James Byron complains about the use of the term "survivor". I think the point in this particular case is not whether abuse occurred, but by whom it was perpetrated.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 5:08pm GMT

Are you suggesting Simon that this may well be a case of mistaken identity and that Bishop George Bell has been posthumously misidentified and that the alleged abuse may well have been carried out by someone else? Certainly on the strength of the very weak contradictory evidence such an accusation against Bishop Bell would surely have been thrown out of court.

Posted by Father David at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 6:47pm GMT

My thoughts and prayers are with Carol during this time. From reading of his qualifications, Lord Carlile sounds most suitable for this very important task.

Posted by Pam at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 8:24pm GMT

As one of those calling for this review (see my questions at General Synod in York on 8 July 2016), and also pressing for the reviewer to be a senior lawyer, I think we should warmly welcome this announcement (belated though it is, coming nearly 5 months after the announcement on 28 June 2016 that there was to be such a review), as I did when interviewed about the review on the BBC1 'Breakfast' programme at 6.20 am this morning (no doubt too early for many!)

The George Bell Group, in their review of the case in March 2016, called for "a proper review of both the process and the evidence which resulted in the October statement" (i.e. the statement issued by the C of E media centre on 22 October 2015 that the Church had settled the claim by [Carol] and that the current Bishop of Chichester had written a letter of apology), and my question at GS to Bishop Paul Butler asked whether the House of Bishops would commission an independent inquiry as called for by the George Bell Group and, if not, why not. (My question had been submitted before the announcement on 28 June that there was to be an independent review.)

The one outstanding matter of concern at this time relates to the scope and terms of reference of the review. According to today's announcement, and consistent with the 28 June statement and Bishop Butler's answers at York, it is to be a process review, whereas what is required is a review that also re-examines the evidence, including that not looked at by the Core Group who agreed the settlement with Carol: see my earlier post hereon 21 July 2016. However, in quotes reported today in the Daily Telegraph and the Chichester Observer, it appears that Lord Carlile will look at all the evidence submitted to him and that nothing will be off limits. Uniquely for such a review, a dedicated website is to be set up to facilitate the making of submissions. It seems to me that we can have confidence that the review will, indeed, be wide-ranging and that Lord Carlile will feel free to make findings based on wherever the evidence takes him.

Posted by David Lamming at Wednesday, 23 November 2016 at 8:41pm GMT

Simon, another person could well be the guilty party (or, in the alternative, despite the issues with the published testimony, Bell himself could be guilty), but to date, the only person that "Carol" has publicly accused is Bell. In this context, "survivor" implies his guilt.

"Complainant" or similar does the job perfectly well without implying guilt, or dismissing the complaint.

Posted by James Byron at Thursday, 24 November 2016 at 6:42am GMT

James, if you examine the terms of reference you will see that the word Complainant is frequently used.

I'm prepared to cut the Bp of Bath and Wells a tiny bit of slack here.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Thursday, 24 November 2016 at 9:18am GMT

Simon Sarmiento: 'I'm prepared to cut the Bp of Bath and Wells a tiny bit of slack here'
Fair enough. But your earlier post defended the use of 'survivor' on the grounds that the question 'was not whether abuse occurred, but by whom it was perpetrated'. You appeared to mean by this that it was accepted by all that there had been abuse, but not accepted by all that Bell had been responsible (or proved to have been responsible). This seemed to imply that someone else (in the household?) had assaulted the child, and that Bell had been mistakenly identified.
I've been following coverage of the case fairly closely and this is the first time I've seen this suggested. Are you relying on a private source of information for this?

Posted by John Scrivener at Thursday, 24 November 2016 at 10:15am GMT

Simon, yup, "complainant" is also used by the release, and that's a positive sign, as is the CoE's willingness to consider releasing the evidence with names redacted. I'm happy to cut Hancock some slack if he's onboard with upholding due process with the same evident and commendable passion he has for safeguarding.

Posted by James Byron at Thursday, 24 November 2016 at 10:45am GMT

i have no private sources of information on this topic. I believe that this idea of a wrong identification can be found, or is at least implicit, in the voluminous material that the George Bell Group has published. It seems to me a more plausible explanation than that nothing at all happened.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Thursday, 24 November 2016 at 10:45am GMT

Same-old same-old because the same old disbelief is as strong as ever. The woman must be mistaken, if not about the abuse, then about the perpetrator (so let's call her a complainant). There is no evidence for this, even that impersonation is common with such paedophiles, but such speculation is preferred.
After all, the woman, a child at the time, can't be expected to get it right, much better to take the word of the great and good, albeit absent and ignorant.

Posted by RevPeterM at Thursday, 24 November 2016 at 11:41am GMT

I had also picked up on this idea of wrong identification from materials produced by the Bell Group. It also sounds to me more plausible than the other alternative proffered that nothing happened at all.

Posted by Alastair Newman at Thursday, 24 November 2016 at 11:45am GMT

I think this is a truly appalling development. I know survivors of abuse. I know the scars abuse leaves. Our undivided priority ought to be the survivor who probably thought she (I think?) had at last got some sort of closure. Now people are trying to rip that from her. Why? Apparently either to save the reputation of a dead man past-caring or to check the Church has decent process in place. Neither in any way offset the ongoing damage and hurt to the survivor. I'm disgusted.

Then there is the spurious appeal to innocence until proven guilty. That's irrelevant to a) someone dead and b) to a civil investigation which this was. Moreover, if innocence until proven guilty prevails as a concept then there can never be justice for a survivor if their accuser has died and therefore cannot be tried in a criminal court. The whole notion of innocent until proven guilty is, in the circumstances, a betrayal of the survivor and as Christians we should not tolerate it.

In any event, the other standard is freedom of speech. The CofE has an unfettered right to say what they will subject only to the law of libel. Since the dead cannot be libelled , the Church's freedom of speech is absolute and we should be supporting that.

Safeguarding isn't just about preventing further abuse, it is also protecting survivors from those who believe they cannot have been abused based on their supposed knowledge of the abuser. To my mind, in setting up this appeal the Church is failing its safeguarding duties.

If I had been abused by a bishop would I now come forwards? No. Given the appalling George Bell campaign and this review I would not.

A very shameful day for the Church.

Posted by Kate at Thursday, 24 November 2016 at 2:46pm GMT

Kate, you highlight why therapeutic and legal priorities are simply incompatible: therapy rightly puts the well-being of the patient first and foremost; the law, with multiple interested parties, cannot do so.

"Carol" didn't just seek closure: she chose to sue the church. The church could, if it wished, have fought the claim, and forced her to prove her case in open court, by a preponderance of the evidence. Her attorney would've advised her of all this upfront, and she knowingly accepted the risks.

If the well-being of complainants is grounds to accept accusations at face-value, it sets a precedent that won't stay restricted to long-deceased bishops. This can be seen in the extraordinary measures many jurisdictions already grant complainants in cases of abuse, from gag-orders, to restrictions on cross-examination. The result endangers the living innocent.

Anyone who seeks closure and healing should absolutely not be subjected to public challenge; but when they choose to invoke state coercion, then however sympathetic I may be, I can't agree that we should set aside fundamental safeguards, and the principles behind them. Safeguards that protect us all, survivors included.

Posted by James Byron at Thursday, 24 November 2016 at 6:14pm GMT

Just a brief reply to Kate on Thursday, and to RevPeteM. Yes, I do agree that it is wrong and iniquitous of the church or any other public body to try and deny abuse when it has clearly taken place.

However, in the Bell case, the complainant's recollections appear to be factually wrong in several key areas, which would suggest - at least - a case of mistaken identity. Moreover, the 'process' that paid out to the complainant does not appear to have taken any significant account of Bell's diaries, which show he was not in the country when some of the alleged abuse was taking place. Nor were (potential) surviving witnesses contacted by the original 'investigation'. These persons either lived with or knew Bell at the time, and so would have known the complainant - named as 'Carol' - and so met her as a child. So they could have corroborated the claims made. However, subsequent interviews and investigations suggest the opposite.

I fully agree that an adult cannot be expected to remember their childhood accurately - especially if this has involved a trauma or serious abuse. However, in this very sad case, so many of the recollections made public by the complainant are either faulty or factually just plain wrong, that this does, I'm afraid, merit a proper new review process.

The woman known as 'Carol' certainly deserves justice. But Bell - and any figure in recent history - merits fair and impartial no less. So it is hoped that this new review will be a process that is fair, robust, thorough - and just.

Posted by Martyn Percy at Thursday, 24 November 2016 at 6:32pm GMT

Kate, I very much agree with what you are saying. I think, though, that reviewing the processes of this case is appropriate, especially by someone of the calibre of Lord Carlile. You are correct in stating that survivors of abuse, already traumatised, face a difficult task if they decide to come forward with their story.

Posted by Pam at Thursday, 24 November 2016 at 8:37pm GMT

"Kate, you highlight why therapeutic and legal priorities are simply incompatible: therapy rightly puts the well-being of the patient first and foremost; the law, with multiple interested parties, cannot do so."

Actually all the legal cases have concluded. This is not about the law at all. This is about certain people disliking the outcome of the legal process and pressuring the Church into doing something else. Now it comes down to a contest between two things:

1. The recovery of the survivor
2. The wish of certain people to vindicate their own very different memories of George Bell

As Christians, the first ought to be our overriding priority. To suggest that the law needs to be dispassionate is a nonsense because this has nothing to do with the law: she has been fully satisfied already and rests.

Posted by Kate at Friday, 25 November 2016 at 6:17am GMT

Kate, one of those people is his niece, who only found out about the allegations via the media. What of her well-being?

This is entirely about the law, its underlying principles, and how the church rode roughshod over them. It twisted a claim against its mishandling of the case into a public denunciation of Bell on the basis of secret, anonymous hearsay. The allegations were never tested by a court.

If truth should be disregarded to protect the welfare of a complainant, it sets a precedent that doesn't stay neatly confined to dead people. Exactly the same arguments can be (and are) used to undermine due process for the living. That's if you don't believe that disregarding the truth is wrong in itself, which I do.

Posted by James Byron at Friday, 25 November 2016 at 10:58am GMT

You surely don't believe that a review is going to discover some absolute truth?

Cliff Richard has said his reputation may never recover:

A review like this can have no positive impact on the reputation of the late George Bell but it is likely to adversely affect the survivor. It simply cannot be justified.

Posted by Kate at Friday, 25 November 2016 at 4:10pm GMT

Bishop Bell is commemorated in the calendar of the Church of England. At some point a decision will have to be made as to whether his name should continue there or not -- ultimately this is a decision for the General Synod, requiring 2/3 majorities in all three Houses under the liturgical revision procedure. The review may well have some bearing on whether this process should be begun or not. So there could well be fairly considerable impact on his reputation in the longer term.

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Friday, 25 November 2016 at 4:37pm GMT

Absolute truth's impossible and unnecessary, Kate. The review can certainly set the record straight about Bell, and ensure that this never happens again. I don't see any reason to believe that it's an exercise in futility: the work of the George Bell Group's already done much to rehabilitate his reputation.

As for the adverse effect on the complainant, "Carol" chose to subject her accusation to scrutiny by filing suit, and, had the diocese not chosen to settle, accepted the risk of being cross-examined in open court. She clearly believed that she was able to face that. Her welfare must, of course, remain paramount, but it can't be used to demand the we disregard evidence and accept the accusation on its face. That's not just an invitation to injustice, it guarantees it.

Posted by James Byron at Friday, 25 November 2016 at 5:43pm GMT

Kate, the problem is that it would appear from the 22 October 2015 statement that Core Group who investigated Carol's complaint started from the incorrect premise of accepting the complaint as true and then looking to see if there was any evidence to contradict it. That such an approach is flawed was exposed by Baroness Butler-Sloss in her speech in the House of Lords on 30 June 2016 and, more recently, by Sir Richard Henriques in his independent review into the Met Police handling of non-recent sexual offence allegations against persons of public prominence.

You contend that "if innocence until proven guilty prevails as a concept then there can never be justice for a survivor if their accuser has died." But that (a) presupposes that a complaint is true and accurate, and (b) potentially denies justice to the deceased. Is justice to be denied to a person once he or she has died? That, surely, cannot be right.

You also pray in aid "freedom of speech", adding "The CofE has an unfettered right to say what they will subject only to the law of libel. Since the dead cannot be libelled, the Church's freedom of speech is absolute and we should be supporting that." But this is not a case about freedom of speech but whether a secretive investigatory process has come to a decision which can be supported by the evidence, and ALL the evidence. The George Bell Group in their March 2016 review (and Martyn Percy in his post yesterday at 6.32 pm) has exposed the inadequacies in the investigation by the Core Group, which is why the Carlile review is to be welcomed.

Re Freedom of Speech: there is an analogy with recent press coverage of the High Court judgment of the 'Brexit' judicial review challenge: no one doubts that the Daily Mail was free to brand the three senior judges who decided the case "Enemies of the people", but the principle of freedom of the press (which the Lord Chancellor, Elizabeth Truss said was important) should not have prevented her from condemning the headline as irresponsible and untrue.

There is a sound biblical basis supportive of the Carlile review in Micah 6 v. 8: "What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy..." There must be justice for Bishop Bell, not to be denied because he has been dead for 58 years.

Yes, there must be continued pastoral care for Carol, but that cannot override a search for the truth, insofar as that is possible some 65+ years after the alleged events. A spokeswoman for the C of E said, earlier this year, "... in this case, as in others, the overriding goal was to search out the truth and issues of reputation cannot take priority over that." Correct, but that is only one side of the equation. Equally, proper pastoral concern for Carol cannot override that goal. We must "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4 v.15).

In terms of the task facing Lord Carlile, an extract from a judgment earlier this year by the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, albeit in a different context, is apposite: "In my judgment, and giving appropriate weight to the terrible burden which what is proposed will inevitably impose on the adoptive parents, although bravely and responsibly they do not oppose what is proposed, the claims of the birth parents, the best interests of X, and the public interest all point in the same direction: there must be a re-opening of the finding of fact hearing, so that the facts (whatever they may turn out to be) – the truth – can be ascertained in the light of ALL the evidence which is now available." (Re X [2016] EWHC 1342 (Fam) para 22)

Posted by David Lamming at Friday, 25 November 2016 at 7:50pm GMT

A few follow-up comments, if I may, in the wake of the exchange between Kate and James Byron.

First, 'Carol', the complainant, did not go to the police. In the first instance, she sought redress directly from the church, without going through any normal legal channels.

Second, one cannot help but wonder what the police might have done with such a case had they been presented with it? The police and the courts need more than allegations to entertain a possible prosecution. They need proof, and witnesses too, if possible. As it happens, there are living witnesses who knew Bell from this period, and even one who lived with Bell during the alleged period of abuse. These persons were not contacted or interviewed by original team that apologized to and then paid out to 'Carol'.

Third, subsequent interviews with these witnesses bears testimony: that no child of 'Carol's' age was a regular or frequent visitor to the Palace, as she has claimed. And the places where Carol 'recalls' the abuse allegedly happening were not part of the Palace at the time of the alleged abuse - so Bell would not have been there. (These quarters were then part of a very busy, bustling theological college).

Fourth, I do agree with Kate that survivors need the full protection of the law, and they are entitled to anonymity too. But the law is there for everyone. Like Kate, I know survivors of abuse, and the harrowing experiences they have been through. Compassion and justice for them is what we strive for here. But I also know people who have been falsely accused of abuse - either mistakenly or vindictively. Or because the complainant has sought 'victim' status for a variety of reasons, and their own complex needs. Unfortunately, in such situations, another victim is required for this - an alleged perpetrator.

Fifth, we simply won't know where the burden of evidence and proof lies in the case of Bishop Bell, until such time as all the evidence available has been properly examined. At present, it has not been. And all the church has done is pay out and apologize to 'Carol' on the basis of her own allegations, and very partial investigation.

It remains to be seen if 'Carol's' allegations and memories can be corroborated with what other witnesses say about this time. But this new review will now give them a chance to contribute their recollections and insights. That can only serve both truth and justice, in the end. And we surely don't want anything less than this?

Posted by Martyn Percy at Friday, 25 November 2016 at 8:38pm GMT

I am so sorry but I find the counter-arguments truly bizarre on a Christian forum. Bishop Bell is dead. He has received justice from the Lord who knows not only all the facts but also of any repentance. Moreover, to us as Christians what does it matter to us whether he was an abuser or not? If he was, then we unconditionally forgive him and our opinion of him is entirely unchanged - or at least should be. As Christians, once he is dead and there is no risk to anybody, we have zero interest in whether he abused the survivor or not.

If we weren't Christians then yes, I can some see merit in the arguments of the George Bell Group, but on balance would still choose to prioritise the welfare of a living survivor against the reputation of a dead offender. But we are Christians and our approach to judgement and justice must surely be based upon our faith in the resurrection and in fair but compassionate divine justice?

And if those involved cannot see how they are probably deterring other survivors to come forwards then I despair.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 26 November 2016 at 5:14am GMT

Excellent comments and corrections from the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. Let us hope and pray that as the investigation gets under way Lord Carlisle will prove to be Mr. Valiant for Truth.

Posted by Father David at Saturday, 26 November 2016 at 6:10am GMT

To pick up Kate's last points. No-one wants to deter victims of abuse coming forward. We know all too well how much it costs victims of sexual abuse to tell their story and seek justice.

But I also know people who have been falsely accused of abuse. Their lives were ripped apart by the allegations: marriages foundering or failing; the accused losing their work and homes; or taken ill with severe stress, manifest in physical and mental health symptoms.

I do urge us to be attentive to the issues this raises - legally and in terms of justice. Readers might like to follow the recent study undertaken at this university:

Kate is right to point out that Bell is no longer with us: he died in 1958. But there are many who are still living who remember him and his ministry, and the global impact that his life had,devoted as it was to the furtherance of humanity, the church and peace-building. It is an extraordinary legacy.

Bell is arguably the greatest 20th century bishop in the CofE. If that legacy is not worth trying to salvage, then nothing is. I don't think one can write off historical figures, such that any 'complainant' can say what they like. Especially when so many are people still living, including relatives, who wish to defend his good name.

The Carlile Review will give these folk a chance to defend Bell - an opportunity that has so far been denied to them. And that denial of their voice being heard was neither fair, or just.

Posted by Martyn Percy at Saturday, 26 November 2016 at 1:41pm GMT
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