Comments: More criticism of responses to Carlile report

Charles Moore concludes, "The good Bell did is proved. The evil is an uncorroborated accusation believed by the religious authorities because it makes their life easier. We have been here before – in the life of Jesus, and in the reason for his unjust death."

A sentence to hoist bishops and other church bureaucrats on their petard in that they are not the only ones on the giving end of weaponizing piety in a debate.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 18 December 2017 at 4:59pm GMT

Reality check for the Church, the proper people to investigate criminal allegations are those qualified and experienced in the matter. That is the police who are not only independent, but also have a complaints board that is much more open and transparent. The first rule of safeguarding is do not investigate; you record it and report it and then leave it to the professionals.

Posted by Lavinia Nelder at Monday, 18 December 2017 at 9:15pm GMT

Lavinia nails it.

Her proposed approach also reduces the risk of an institution covering up complaints for institutional reasons, or being accused of doing so.

As a fundamental principle an organisation should not 'queer the pitch' but hand the basic disclosure to professionals, and ensure an objective independent party investigates any disclosures or claims.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Monday, 18 December 2017 at 10:47pm GMT

If the police do investigate allegations and decide not to charge a person with a criminal offence they will not share all their evidence with others - there are confidentiality considerations. There may be all kinds of reasons why not - including that the alleged victim is unwilling to go through the ordeal of a trial. I also know of a case where a guilty plea was made and an organisation involved was not even told whether the victim(s) had been people within its care, yet alone their identities. Employers and caring organisations are still responsible for disciplinary arrangements and risk assessments, and these inevitably often have to be done based on imperfect information in cases where facts are not agreed. So it is not quite as simple as "leave it to the professionals".

Posted by Mark Bennet at Tuesday, 19 December 2017 at 8:18am GMT

This is damning of the Church and our procedures. It seems a long time since Bp. David Wilbourne assured us that the Church is best placed to manage its own safeguarding. I wonder If he still believes that?

Only yesterday a member of the Archbishops' Council asserted (on Bp. Alan Wilson's Facebook page) that there is no crisis regarding safeguarding. Following the Elliott and the Carlile reports, and the Gibb review before them, I find that disturbing.

Posted by Janet Fife at Tuesday, 19 December 2017 at 11:41am GMT

I cannot speak to the case of Bishop Bell, but I can certainly respond to the angst of Mr. Hitchens: a man, otherwise saintly in so many respects, may not only be branded a sex abuser but may be a sex abuser. Persons of remarkable accomplishments often have remarkable failings - something we're recognizing again in the political life of the western side of the Atlantic. There is that saying: "Bright lights cast dark shadows." Tillich was a redoubtable theologian, and a very doubtable husband. Or, as someone important to us is reported to have said, "Why do you call me good? There is only one truly good."

Again, I cannot speak about Bishop Bell's case. However, whatever his gifts and his failings, I wonder whether he would have wanted to be placed on that tall a pedestal.

Posted by Marshall Scott at Tuesday, 19 December 2017 at 3:16pm GMT

I can see why, in this case, the police may not've been the best people to investigate (Bell having been dead for nearly half a century's the obvious one). Once they'd been made aware of the allegations, I don't object to the church investigating so much as how it was done.

The report notes that the diocese could've conducted a much better investigation even without police resources. There's ample ex-police detectives in the private sector, alongside other experts in this most difficult of fields. An independent report was able to nail down basics like timelines and opportunity (or rather, lack of it).

Even without a full investigation, the diocese could easily, with appropriate advice, have decided that the accusation wasn't sufficient evidence to publicly name Bell. Doing so wouldn't have stopped them from compensating "Carol" for the earlier failings in responding to her complaint, compensation I fully agree with.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 19 December 2017 at 3:56pm GMT

Re Marshall Scott, your post regarding Paul Tillich etc., is simply a pitch for guilt by association. None of the very general and unrelated observations in your comment necessarily have any bearing on the Bell case.

The public is not now, and may never be, in a position to adequately evaluate the allegations against Bishop Bell. All the public had was the ability to trust that the church had engaged in a proper process. The Carlile report has shown such trust to be misplaced.

The blow back from the Carlile report, including the unctuous P.R. rhetoric the church is using to blunt its findings, are such that both Bishop Bell and the complainant are left twisting in the wind of public opinion.

This is an injustice--including an injustice to the complainant if the allegations are true.

A proper process matters and it matters to everyone not least of all the complainant.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 19 December 2017 at 5:43pm GMT

Disciplinary hearings for this kind of allegation are normally undertaken after the police have decided not to investigate or prosecute. The information they have should have been made available to the legal representatives of both sides of the allegation. Before anyone starts I know this hasn't been the case in the recent cases, but people have been imprisoned for that 'oversight'. As James Byron has pointed out there are enough people around who the diocese could have approached for advice and a serious dose of humility should be dished out to those who didn't.

Posted by Lavinia Nelder at Tuesday, 19 December 2017 at 6:56pm GMT

Has it struck anyone else that there is a great irony here? The ABC's church experience seems to have been pretty limited, both in depth and breadth. OTOH, we are told he has important business experience. Not unnaturally then he has led an initiative to increase the expertise of bishops in business practices. But in the Bell case some very common business practices are clearly evident, and are at least in part at the root of the really scandalous mishandling of the matter.

Posted by Garry Lovatt at Tuesday, 19 December 2017 at 9:58pm GMT

Lavinia - on what legal basis should the police normally make available the information they hold to the legal representatives? What about organisations which are affected/involved, but not legally represented in the primary matters? What about witnesses who have spoken to the police under compulsion? What about vulnerable witnesses who are adamant that their information should not be shared with others?

Note also: UK law on information held by organisations and information sharing is just about to undergo a huge overhaul, the unintended consequences of which have not been thought through.

Posted by Mark Bennet at Tuesday, 19 December 2017 at 10:18pm GMT

Martyn Percy's account of the phone call from Sir William Fittall is rather damning when it comes to the Church of England putting public relations first.

But then, as Garry Lovatt suggests, it's all about marketing these days.

Posted by Jeremy at Tuesday, 19 December 2017 at 11:56pm GMT

I tend to agree with Marshall Scott. Some moral nuance is called for when considering both our heroes and their mortal shortcomings.

I have no opinion about the allegations against George Bell (as distinct from the shambolic way they have been handled by the Church), and I am not heavily invested in maintaining either his guilt or innocence. But it strikes me that Christians need not share the legal fiction that is the presumption of innocence: in moral terms we should perhaps have a presumption of universal guilt!

We live in a very Manichaean culture, which tends to cherish flawless heroes and monstrous villains with very little space in between. I am reluctant to see the Church embracing this harshly judgmental language of 'saintly men' and 'disgraced abusers.' Our moral language should be different: one of sin, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.

The challenge to us is not to establish an Inquisition to determine whether Bell was a saint or an abuser, but to try to reconcile our loving memories of the man with the acceptance that he might have been very far from morally immaculate.

Posted by rjb at Wednesday, 20 December 2017 at 12:58am GMT

"The information they have should have been made available to the legal representatives of both sides of the allegation."

The police would not, and should not, provide the evidence gathered in the course on an investigation that does not result in a trial to anyone. It would, inter alia, identify witnesses and people who provided information on a confidential basis. It would also provide extensive background on the accused which was not part of the investigation per se; it's very hard to (for example) search someone's house or investigate someone's finances without throwing up a huge amount of irrelevant information. It would be an immense task for the police to winnow that, and it would be entirely wrong for innocent people - no trial means no conviction, so means innocent - to have their lives made public like this.

Lawyers have no right whatever to see information gathered by the police until disclosure as part of a trial process. This can go wrong - there are two very distressing sexual assault cases which have failed very recently because of failures in disclosure - but it is a basic principle of our legal system.

Posted by Interested Observer at Wednesday, 20 December 2017 at 9:41am GMT

Points taken, but according to our union lawyer an employer would be "ill advised to start a disciplinary action on alleged criminal activity in advance of any criminal proceeding having taken place by the appropriate authority". The Church did just that, with the difference that the Bishop was long dead. They wouldn't have done that if he was alive without the risk of being dragged through the civil courts. Aside from the damage done to the reputation of a man who was held in huge regard, the damage that has been done to the credibility of the Church as a worshiping community at grassroots may be huge; and at a time when we can least afford it.

Posted by Lavinia Nelder at Wednesday, 20 December 2017 at 2:04pm GMT

re rjb, "Some moral nuance is called for when considering both our heroes and their mortal shortcomings." Such an observation is in keeping with character development in contemporary film and literature i.e. the moral ambiguity of every person.

However,it is a leap from the notion of generic moral ambiguity to a conclusion of guilt on a particular count. A review of Albert Camus' novels may be helpful.

" moral terms we should perhaps have a presumption of universal guilt!" The church has a long standing neurotic obsession with guilt with guilt rather than justice being the church's default position in terms of a motivator.

I believe the phrase that Archbishop Welby used in his comment on the Bell/Carlile case was that Bell was accused of "great wickedness". A more forensic vocabulary may have described the accusations against Bell as 'deeply troubling' or 'extremely serious'. Instead the term 'wickedness' was chosen perhaps because it is the lingua franca of churchland and would play well with that audience. Such language, like your post, tends to re-muddy the waters and down play the razor sharp criticism of the Carlile report.

If the church wants to focus on 'guilt', then it missed an opportunity to say, in the light of Carlile, we are guilty, we did the thing, we put public relations ahead of proper process. In so doing we both undermined the complainant and damaged the reputation of a person whose legacy was important to our community.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 20 December 2017 at 2:31pm GMT

Lavinia writes: according to our union lawyer an employer would be "ill advised to start a disciplinary action on alleged criminal activity in advance of any criminal proceeding"

Your union lawyer is being very cautious, to the point that few employers would agree with him in general; it is their choice when they bring disciplinary charges, not his.

It is reasonable for a school to suspend a teacher who was suspected of child abuse, for example, in advance of charging, never mind conviction. The presumption of innocence is a legal requirement in the criminal process; it does not mean that people have to be left to continue as they were until conviction, possibly doing more harm if the charges are well-founded. One could otherwise claim that being held on remand is prejudicial to the presumption of innocence.

It is long established that suspension without prejudice is indeed that, without prejudice, and claims that it constitutes the smoke which people will not believe is not a sign of fire will fail. There are some nuances (see, for example, Gogay v Hertfordshire County Council (2000)) and suspension is not of itself risk-free for the employer, but it cannot be argued that either a disciplinary process or a subsequent legal action was in any way compromised by a suspension. Rather, the circumstances of the suspension itself may be the subject of an action.

The standard of proof in employment cases is civil (balance of probabilities) rather than criminal (beyond reasonable doubt) and it is defensible for someone to be sacked for an offence of which a court finds them not guilty, or indeed for which the CPS decides not to even prosecute. It would be wiser for an employer to suspend someone pending the outcome of the criminal process, rather than run the disciplinary action in parallel, but this is not an obligation.

"They wouldn't have done that if he was alive without the risk of being dragged through the civil courts."

"Dragged through the civil courts" sounds terribly dramatic. The proceedings of a company disciplinary process are not going to result in anything other than an employment tribunal. Union lawyers love to imply that employers are sat aquiver in their offices at the thought of the big bad union with the big bad legal actions. Reality is a great deal more prosaic.

Posted by Interested Observer at Wednesday, 20 December 2017 at 4:02pm GMT

“If the church wants to focus on 'guilt', then it missed an opportunity to say, in the light of Carlile, we are guilty, we did the thing, we put public relations ahead of proper process.”

Such generalizations have all the weight of an airline’s non-apology, allowing the hierarchy to feel faux-contrition without the troublesome business of assigning blame to specific individuals and policies. Just hide in the thicket of collective guilt and promise that lessons will be learned.

Given that I defended the presumption of innocence, here and elsewhere, from the moment the accusations were first published — in the face of extremely forceful demands that we all trust the diocese and listen and believe — my joining this collective would be as dishonest as it is meaningless. Unlike the CoE bosses, I prefer to apologize and atone for actual wrongs I’ve done.

Posted by James Byron at Wednesday, 20 December 2017 at 6:17pm GMT

"Such generalizations have all the weight of an airline’s non-apology..."

I am unclear what this is intended to mean with regard to my post. I'm not suggesting a draft wording for a church apology. My point is that the church should fess up with greater clarity that with regard to Bishop Bell it has bungled the entire affair, that in doing so it has caused damage to itself, the complainant, and the reputation of Bell. I thought I was clear about that.

Archbishop Welby's statement reads, "He [Bishop Bell] is also accused of great wickedness." That line appears in the paragraph of the statement that is all about Bell. As such, it uses moralistic language to focus back on the alleged perpetrator, to re-focus fall out from Carlile back on Bell, rather than focusing on the allegations qua allegation and the incompetence with which they were handled.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 20 December 2017 at 8:02pm GMT

Thanks for the clarification, and apologies for misunderstanding you. :-)

Absolutely agree that the leadership should accept responsibility & work to set things right.

Posted by James Byron at Wednesday, 20 December 2017 at 11:19pm GMT

The "risk of being dragged through the civil courts" may refer not to any suspension proceeding but rather to a defamation action by the accused.

Much as I agree with Lord Carlile's conclusions, I must note: All this inquiry and press has been about one man, long dead. Such concern for his reputation, even though he cannot suffer at all.

How do you think the 30 sacked York Minster bell ringers feel? They are alive, they have families, jobs, and communities. Their reputations matter too. They asked for an independent inquiry, but did not get it--perhaps because they lacked highly placed friends to ask questions in Parliament.

But then, being alive, they have had procedural options that were unavailable to the late bishop. I wonder whether these options have been resorted to.

Posted by Jeremy at Thursday, 21 December 2017 at 12:41pm GMT

Jeremy, the reputation of the long-deceased bishop DOES matter, as Lord Carlile noted in this paragraph (para 46) of his report:

"First, the reputations of the dead are not without value. This applies as much to those who have lived ordinary lives as to those who have been famous. A moment’s thought makes it plain that none of us would wish to be vilified after our deaths when we could no longer defend ourselves. Further, the pain caused to those who have loved and respected the alleged perpetrator, on hearing that a shocking allegation has been accepted as true, cannot just be discounted. If one imagines for a moment that the Bishop were one’s own father, the point is clearly made."

That the Core Group, who investigated Carol's complaint, failed to contact Bishop Bell's niece Barbara Whitley, before issuing the statement of 22 October 2015 is shocking. The BBC is reporting that Ms Whitley is calling for the resignation of the Archbishop of Canterbury: see

Posted by David Lamming at Thursday, 21 December 2017 at 1:30pm GMT

"The "risk of being dragged through the civil courts" may refer not to any suspension proceeding but rather to a defamation action by the accused."

There has not been a case of someone bringing a successful defamation action in relation to a company disciplinary process in living memory (possibly ever), and doubly so since the massively raised bar of the 2013 Defamation Act. There are defamation cases arising from dismissals (see, for example, [1]) but they relate to things wildly outside normal company processes. Disciplinary processes aren't published, for a start off, which makes defamation difficult.

The threshold for bringing defamation actions is today high, and the defences wide-ranging. Remember, the threshold for truth is that something be substantially true on the balance of probabilities, and the threshold for honest opinion is basically "you held the opinion, and can cite one fact which gave you that impression". The only winner in such a case would be the lawyers, because unless an employer had wilfully fabricated evidence for malicious purposes, and then leaked the contents of the discipline process far and wide, the act simply isn't engaged.

[1] See, by contrast, Theedom v Nourish Training (t/a Recruitment Colin Sewell) [2015] EWHC 3769 (QB).

Posted by Interested Observer at Thursday, 21 December 2017 at 4:14pm GMT

If there are people in the CofE who still don't get that the only public processes they have instigated in this area which carry any kind of credibility at all are the reviews of mistakes in investigations and the handling of allegations - mistakes which belong to a broken institutional culture where the supposed need for public credibility is at odds with any realistic doctrine of sin (to make a theological point), and which are leading to a huge disconnect between what the institution thinks of itself, and what others think about it.

This becomes mission critical, and if there is money to be spent on mission, here is a chance to spend it well. Where we put our resources as a church does show the world what we care about. It might not be comfortable to spend money on the consequences of our own sin and incompetence, but if we can't do this, we cannot consistently assert that we proclaim good news.

To put Bishop Bell in the "saint or sinner" stakes is a false dichotomy - every saint is also a sinner. To form in the public imagination the picture of a particular kind of sin in a manner which the report suggests goes well beyond the available evidence is a form of unpleasant institutional indulgence. To have this as a matter for public debate must be agonising for the complainant. To justify the current situation in the name of institutional integrity is incredible, I think. The institution is the only party in the case which has been proved to have done something wrong. And Bishop Bell and the complainant are still at the receiving end.

Posted by Mark Bennet at Thursday, 21 December 2017 at 6:01pm GMT

David Lamming, as I said above ("[M]uch as I agree"), I agree with Lord Carlile about the treating carefully the reputation of someone who is dead. (Whether the someone is a bishop shouldn't really matter, don't you think?)

My point, however, is how much more it matters to be careful about the reputation of someone who is living.

Much less the reputations of _30_ living people.

Posted by Jeremy at Thursday, 21 December 2017 at 6:22pm GMT

Interested Observer, may I refer you to the article in the Telegraph dated 16 Dec 2016, in which a solicitor was quoted as saying the following:

"“York Minster, in confirming the outcome of its process, said on September 23 2016 ‘the matter is private and confidential, further comment would not therefore be appropriate, the matter was closed’.

“In light of this it was surprising to see the Archbishop of York and the Dean on October 17 making a public statement on television, on nine occasions making reference to an ongoing investigation. This and the contents of their new press release are deeply concerning when one notes the Dean was present in a multi-agency meeting on June 24 where it was stated ‘North Yorkshire Police is not involved in any current investigation" [of the person chiefly at issue].

[end of quotation]

From this it appears that the solicitor thought that the Archbishop and Dean had made one or more false statements of fact to the public press. Not an opinion, and not a balance-of-probabilities judgment as to what had happened, but rather false statements of (easily verifiable) fact.

There can be differing ways of being accused, and there can be different things one is accused of. If you read the rest of that article, you will understand my point -- which is about 30 people.

Posted by Jeremy at Thursday, 21 December 2017 at 9:37pm GMT

I made a decision long ago not to post here again, but this is an exceptional case. George Bell and this report have long been a matter of concern to FrDavid, who has not posted on this or any other matter for a while.
Is he all right? I don't like to think that something has happened to him and we don't know.
Thank you.

Posted by Toby Forward at Friday, 22 December 2017 at 10:00am GMT

@Canon Forward: I am also breaking my decision not to post here again, only to let you know that Fr David now seems to be commenting frequently on the Archbishop Cranmer blog (not my cup of tea as blogs go). As far as I am aware he is still very active as a team rector in East Sussex, where he has worked for the last four years: he has about another four/five years to go, assuming he wants to stay the full course.

Posted by Froghole at Sunday, 24 December 2017 at 12:19am GMT

An incisive letter from professors Loades and Brown ( a formidable duo) in the latest Church Times.

Posted by Perry Butler at Monday, 25 December 2017 at 12:17pm GMT

@Froghole. Many thanks. That’s good to know. Like you, I’m not much of a fan of Cranmer, so I doubt I’ll see his posts there.

Posted by Toby Forward at Monday, 25 December 2017 at 3:26pm GMT

I have made this comment on an earlier, related thread, and I think it is apposite to repeat it here.
I believe we all agree that the cause of justice was not well served either for 'Carol' or the late, and very long deceased, Bishop Bell. Lord Carlile has gone as far as he could, within his limited remit, to restore some balance of fairness. I believe his recommendations and reasoning about anonymity deserve far more careful consideration - and respect - than they have so far received.

Posted by Rowland Wateridge at Saturday, 6 January 2018 at 8:37am GMT
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