Comments: Further updates on the case of Bishop George Bell

There was a report in the Daily Telegraph on 7 February that a number of retired judges had written to Justin Welby; but the names of the signatories were not given, and I can find no accessible reference to it online; can anyone help? Or indeed suggest why such limited information is being made public.

Posted by peter kettle at Thursday, 8 February 2018 at 9:41am GMT

Some victims of abuse (in the generality, not the Bell specific) came forward: they were not believed; when they were believed, their accusations were publicly denied even by those who believed them. The silent majority, understandably, remained silent. Slowly, a willingness to believe grew and more developed the confidence to come forwards. More felt that the pain and personal risk in reopening the trauma they suffered might be justified by coming forwards.

For me this isn't about Bell or Carol. This is about encouraging victims of abuse to have the confidence to speak up. But they are now being told that, even if they do come forward, they won't be believed unless there is corroborating evidence. That's pretty much a guarantee that most now never will come forwards.

To my mind the people who have cast a shadow over Bishop Bell's reputation are those whose words make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward because now, for me - possibly for others - there will be a suspicion that there could be other voices we needed to hear on this subject, voices who, if they exist, Bell's supporters have disincentivised from coming forwards.

In essence, the message to victims is:

"Bishop Bell is a great man. Don't come forward with allegations against him unless you can prove them. Meanwhile, we will be asking Synod to vote to reiterate his greatness and innocence. We are the establishment. We protect our own."

And, Bell aside, what of our ministry to victims of abuse, or rape, or torture? Has our pastoral position really become one of telling victims that we won't believe them unless they have corroborative evidence? How sad. How very sad.

Or maybe, so long as they aren't accusing a bishop, we do still believe them?

Posted by Kate at Thursday, 8 February 2018 at 11:13am GMT

From the Martin Sewell article: "Before the announcement was made, one of my most reliable sources told me: 'There is a second allegation.' ”

And Sewell's second claim: "Talking to my source, who had accurately predicted the church’s announcement, I volunteered my theory that the new matter fitted that old accusation. I do not press victim informants to breach confidences or to disclose matters which may be sub-judice, so was flattered and pleased that he did feel able to respond that I was 'red hot' ”.

Intriguing.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 8 February 2018 at 12:42pm GMT

I agree the Sewell piece is persuasive reading. Chichester free newspaper article, passed on to Lord C, who followed up and couldn't get the nurse to respond who claimed to have treated victims. Sounds pretty dodgy.

Posted by crs at Thursday, 8 February 2018 at 2:01pm GMT

If Sewell’s right about the nature of this new information, this is getting bizarre.

A respected professional journalist (tuning out the Cranmer below-line snark, if it’s the same person, she’s witten for multiple national newspapers) has located a witness against Bell who can only be described as devastating, a nurse who reports having treated multiple of his victims. Not only could she lead to survivors, what she describes could well break open a decades-long coverup. If she went on record, Bell’s reputation would be finished, with no way back.

Yet despite this coming to light over a year back, it’s flown under the radar, not picked up, so far as I can see, by national media. I certainly missed it in the Carlile report. Carlile was unable to contact the journalist in question, despite there being many professional outlets who must have her details.

It sounds like the nurse may well have come forward. But why the delay, and why, if they have such a compelling witness, is the church being so vague? Questions are breeding questions.

Posted by James Byron at Thursday, 8 February 2018 at 3:26pm GMT

I draw the opposite inference to James Byron's. On Martin Sewell's telling, it was he who drew Lord Carlile's attention to the press report, which has the journalist's contact details at the top. Note what Lord Carlile says in his report (quoted by Sewell)

"Shortly afterwards, a journalist claimed in a local newspaper article that she had had contact with an unnamed mental health nurse who had treated ‘numerous boys and girls’ in hospital, whom she said had been abused by Bishop Bell. I made considerable efforts to contact the journalist and test the substance of these allegations, but was unable to make contact. I left messages to which there was no response. During the months of my review, nobody has come forward to support the story. Given the circumstances, including the lack of any identification of those mentioned, and the possibility of confusion with others (including Bishop Peter Ball, who is mentioned in several places below), I have concluded that the story cannot be substantiated and I have therefore ignored it."

I think this may help to explain Lord Carlile's sulphurous reaction to the latest press release.

Posted by Iain McLean at Thursday, 8 February 2018 at 7:01pm GMT

Kate, I understand your concerns. I have made an allegation which is currently with the Lambeth Safeguarding team.

However, I don't think it ultimately does survivors any favours if we are automatically believed and the person we have accused punished without any evidence at all: it will only lead to a massive backlash against survivors. We would then be in a worse position than we were a year or so ago. No one wants that.

Moreover, I also know people who have been falsely accused, and that is absolutely devastating. Clergy and other leaders often have to make decisions that can't possibly please everybody. Anyone who has ever been responsible for a churchyard will know that. And if allegations were acted on without any evidence, every priest's ministry could be ruined by a single malicious person. As a result they would lose not only their reputation, but also their income and home.
The Church would lose some very good personnel.

What I, and many other survivors, want is a system which gives the greatest possible chance of achieving justice. At present we appear to have a system which operates in the interests of making the Church look good - and that won't help anyone. Any of us, whether complainant or accused, can be sacrificed on the altar of the Church's good name. No safety there.

Usually if a person has committed a sexual assault or harassment against one person, they will have done the same to others. That in itself is evidence, especially if the stories are similar and the complainants don't know each other. If we have an independent body to handle allegations and the names of the accused are kept confidential until there is some evidence - including other allegations - that looks like being the best outcome for everyone.

Posted by Janet Fife at Thursday, 8 February 2018 at 8:27pm GMT

Taking Kate's point, being compassionate and dispassionate are not irreconcilable. They are both essential qualities when investigating claims of child abuse. But to do any kind of justice to understanding Lord Carlile's report, it has to be read carefully, and in full, and possibly even for a second time. It is all too obvious that people who have taken up entrenched positions in both camps have missed, or misunderstood, salient points in the report.

I can see that some people might have been wary about approaching Lord Carlile. In the event, however, any such misgivings have been dispelled by the impartiality and fairness of his report.

Sorry if this sounds a bit like a sermon. I have practical experience working in this sad, sometimes tragic, field (including cases of allegations made against people after their death) and one cannot begin to explain in 400 words the countless issues and complications which can arise in such cases.

Posted by Rowland Wateridge at Thursday, 8 February 2018 at 9:19pm GMT

I don't think that my position and Iain's are as far apart as they appear (entirely my fault for not being clearer!).

On its face, the second allegation is compelling, and I have no reason to doubt either the journalist or the complainant. Yet, despite this, it hasn't been picked up by the national media nor (until now, perhaps) the CoE. Carlile was unable to contact a person who you'd expect to be eminently contactable. Something doesn't add up.

As I must guess, I suspect that a source was being protected, a source who may now be willing to come forward. (It could of course be something else entirely.) Bell could still be innocent: perhaps this is mistaken identity. Or perhaps there was a cover-up of the extent alleged. Right now, it's all speculation. Until we can get past that, we have far more questions than answers.

Regardless, the way the church has publicized it remains inexcusable.

Posted by James Byron at Thursday, 8 February 2018 at 11:26pm GMT

It's pretty straightforward to see what the problem is, the difficulty is how to fix it. The problem is that historically, where "history" means "until the past few years", large organisations circled the wagons rather than listen to complaints of abuse. It wasn't just the CofE's protection of Peter Ball. The Catholic Church behaved appallingly in the case of, inter alia, Michael Hill. The BBC quite clearly, no matter its later protestations, protected sexually abusive "stars" (and Saville wasn't the only one). Saville was in turn protected by endless organisations. Individual, pro se complainants couldn't be heard, and organisations protecting their own reputations ahead of protecting children.

That's come crashing down. There is now no willingness to listen to those organisations, which are now seen as being self-serving and dishonest. Perhaps they are better now; they weren't better then, and none of them have made any meaningful attempt to even apologise for, still less atone for, their past behaviour. So a statement from the Church of England that a priest is innocent of what is complained of carries about as much weight as, oh, fill in your metaphor here. In essence, "they would say that, wouldn't they".

It will take decades to undo the damage that senior figures in British institutions did by covering up and protecting abusers. George Carey thought that he could write letters of support for an abuser with impunity, because he was ABC and the complainants were the little people. The consequences of that is that on the topic of abuse, no-one outside the church believes a word Justin Welby says. He is, sadly, trying to change that by over-compensating, and just saying "guilty!" to everything. But no-one is listening.

The good that men do dies with them, etc.

Posted by Interested Observer at Friday, 9 February 2018 at 1:02pm GMT
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