Comments: Statement from Archbishop of Canterbury following letter from historians regarding the Bishop George Bell case

The Archbishop's statement has been reported this afternoon in the Church Times online under the headline:"Welby declines to lift the cloud hanging over Bishop Bell":

The Archbishop's statement today suggests that he has not understood the effect of Lord Carlile's serious criticisms of the handling of the Bell case and Carol's allegation by the Core Group deputed to investigate it by the C of E's National Safeguarding Team. One cannot read the catalogue of errors and omissions set out in paragraph 254 of the Carlile report without drawing the conclusion that the process was so fundamentally flawed that any conclusion that Bell was guilty as charged, even on the balance of probability, cannot stand.

++Welby says that "the Diocese of Chichester was given legal advice to make a settlement based on the civil standard of proof, the balance of probability." But he fails to refer to or acknowledge that Lord Carlile has said (para 244) that had the Core Group carried out a sufficient investigation into the facts (their failure to do so being something Lord Carlile regrets), "[the solicitor's] advice might well have been different." At para 258 Lord Carlile said: "the decision to settle the case in the form and manner followed was indefensibly wrong." The Archbishop's statement ignores both these findings of Lord Carlile.

For the Diocese of Chichester to say (as it did) in its public statement on 15 December 2017, following the publication of the Carlile report, that the report "concluded that the Church acted throughout in good faith while highlighting that the process was deficient in a number of respects" is a massive understatement. Lord Carlile's report is a complete demolition of the Core Group's process and, hence, any conclusion that Bell committed the alleged abuse cannot stand, on any standard of proof.

Further, although the solicitor advising the Core Group would not have had the benefit of his recent judgment, Mr Justice Teare has just ruled (on 18 January 2018: in a different context but where the principle is the same) that "... where there is a dispute as to whether a fraudulent misrepresentation was made... It is therefore appropriate to bear in mind the improbability of a person acting fraudulently in the manner alleged of Mr. Gentry. It follows that particularly cogent evidence is required in order to discharge the burden of proof. In short the nature of the allegation makes it appropriate to apply a standard not far short of the criminal standard." (U K Insurance Ltd v Gentry [2018] EWHC 37 (QB)).

This shows the relevance of the point made by the historians and others of the significance of Bell's unimpeachable character: as with evidence of positive good character in a criminal trial, it bolsters the unlikelihood of his having acted in the way alleged. This, added to the fact this Bell faced a single uncorroborated allegation that Professor Maden raised doubts over as set out by Lord Carlile (doubts cast aside in the public statement of 22 October 2015 announcing the settlement with Carol), should have led the Archbishop to retract his December statement and 'lift the cloud' he has left hanging over Bishop Bell's head. It may also be worth remembering the biblical requirement for two witnesses: Deuteronomy 19 v.15; 2 Corinthians 13 v.1.

On this occasion the Sun newspaper understood the effect of the Carlile report with its succinct headline on 15 December 2017, "PERV BISH LIE" and the strapline, "Hero bishop wrongly branded a paedophile by the Church of England, report claims."

In paragraph 267 of his report Lord Carlile said this: "I am sure that the Archbishop does not think it appropriate to support the publication of what may be an unjustified and probably irreparable criticism of anyone, whether a celebrated bishop or not." May I encourage Justin Welby to re-read the Carlile report in its entirety and think again.

Posted by David Lamming at Monday, 22 January 2018 at 8:00pm GMT

Exactly as predicted.

Welby's made it abundantly clear that he won't rehabilitate Bell, and it's hard to conceive of any circumstance that'd change his mind. Even if he'd be willing to take the flack, he clearly sees restoration as a betrayal of "Carol." He's made his choice.

That being so, supporters of Bell must look for a way to go around the archbishop, perhaps by approaching the institutions directly, or by getting a motion through at least two houses of General Synod.

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 22 January 2018 at 10:07pm GMT

So he’s determined to keep digging? Or is this a promulgation of personal and corporate Infallibility?

Either way, nice of him even now to conflate the feet of clay of a convicted criminal with those of a person whose culpability even at the standard set in Civil Law is exactly the matter being called into question.

Posted by ExRevd at Monday, 22 January 2018 at 11:04pm GMT

One of the failings of using the civil standard of proof as a back-door route to "convict" people of criminal offences is that it's a very, very weak standard. Balance of probabilities means just that: if you take "beyond reasonable doubt" as meaning a certainty of 100% minus epsilon, where epsilon is a small number, balance of probabilities means a certainty of 50% plus epsilon, for a similarly small epsilon. I think when people see the civil standard of proof talked about, they are thinking "oh, it's true aside from some technicalities" or "it's almost certainly true" - 90%? 95%? But it might be 50.01%, and the outcomes of civil trials might be only slightly better than flipping a coin.

This is appropriate for boundary disputes, and employment tribunals, and other situations where the case is being brought by an interested party who has to find and construct all their own evidence and is often fighting against a respondent with more resources. It's not appropriate in cases like this. An out of court settlement, with a confidentiality clause, would have been more appropriate: it's possible to simultaneously feel sympathy for the reality as lived by the complainant, while not accepting the details of their story. A confidential settlement deals with that.

Posted by Interested Observer at Tuesday, 23 January 2018 at 3:19am GMT

This confirms what many of us suspected about Welby's style of leadership. I think it was Paddy Ashdown who once said that when someone's leadership becomes a matter of always proving yourself right, you have lost it.

Now, will the General Synod show some moral courage for once and do the decent thing?

The reference to the IICSA in his statement tells me that, far from a commitment to transparency, Welby knows something he's not telling the rest of us - and is getting very twitchy.

Posted by Bill Broadhead at Tuesday, 23 January 2018 at 8:12am GMT

This is very worrying. Welby seems to be saying that because a number of people he had thought well of turned out to be paedophiles, anyone accused of abuse must be guilty. If Welby, Warner & Hancock believe all accusations of abuse must be true, no one now accused can be confident of a fair hearing. And anyone wishing to make trouble for a member of clergy knows what to do.

But what happens if Welby, or Warner, or Hancock should themselves face such an accusation?

Posted by Janet Fife at Tuesday, 23 January 2018 at 9:36am GMT

It feels as though the Archbishop is using the one area where the Church maintains it was right to disagree with Lord Carlile viz the confidentiality clause as a stick to prop himself up. He does not seem to acknowledge that Lord Carlile has both said publicly (and by inference in the report) that he believed that not even the civil standard of proof was met... and that the process that led to the suggestion that it was was muddled and flawed. I have read somewhere that Bell's diaries prove that he was not in Chichester on some of the dates when the abuse was alleged to have taken place. I think that given all the publicity that has already resulted it is not unreasonable to ask for more specific information (either from the C of E or from the eminent historians) as to the actual dates being referred to.

Posted by Mariam Birch at Tuesday, 23 January 2018 at 10:33am GMT

"Welby seems to be saying that because a number of people he had thought well of turned out to be paedophiles, anyone accused of abuse must be guilty."

Or, alternatively, that it's OK to balance a wrongful acquittal with a wrongful conviction, provided the greater good is served. Referees in football matches do this (awarding dubious penalties to one side to balance a dubious penalty for the other side or a dubious play-on against this side) and sometimes players get wrongfully red-carded as collateral damage. But in the case of criminal charges, the trial has to be of the person in front of them facing the charges against them, not the general class of accused people and bad things they might do.

Posted by Interested Observer at Tuesday, 23 January 2018 at 11:40pm GMT

I believe that Interested Observer in his first post (23.1.18, 3.19 am) has hit the nail squarely on the head.
Whatever conclusions the Core Group might or might not have drawn from Professor Maden's report, it was unpardonable that it was not properly considered, or even read, by every member of the Group. And this was the expert's report commissioned by the Church itself.
This does not alter my view that justice was not served for 'Carol' or for Bishop Bell.

Posted by Rowland Wateridge at Thursday, 25 January 2018 at 4:39pm GMT
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