Thinking Anglicans

Statement from Bishop Paul Butler on George Bell

The Church of England has issued this statement today.

Statement from Bishop Paul Butler on George Bell
08 February 2016

The Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, lead bishop on safeguarding has issued a statement today following various media comments on his recent contribution in the House of Lords regarding Bishop George Bell.

Bishop Paul has welcomed the opportunity to provide further clarity on his comments about the settlement of the civil claim regarding sexual abuse against George Bell, and the handling of the case. The particular focus on the language of legal tests, he says, “masks the genuine suffering and damage done to an individual in this case.”

He adds: “The decisions were not taken lightly or without consideration of the impact on the reputation of George Bell. But in this case, as in others, the overriding goal was to search out the truth and issues of reputation cannot take priority over that.”

Read the full statement

Original statement on Bishop George Bell, October 2015

Points on a complex case – Diocese of Chichester blog on Bishop George Bell, January 2016

The full statement is copied below the fold.

Statement from Bishop of Durham on George Bell

“Recent media comment regarding Bishop George Bell has focused on my recent contributions made in the House of Lords in response to a question on the Church’s actions in this matter.

On reflection I believe my words were not as clear as they could have been and I welcome this opportunity to provide further clarity.

Almost three years ago a civil claim was made, raising allegations of abuse by George Bell, the former Bishop of Chichester.

In response to the claim independent legal and medical reports were commissioned and duly considered. The evidence available was interrogated and evaluated. This led to a decision to settle the claim and to offer a formal apology to the survivor. This decision was taken on the balance of probabilities — the legal test applicable in civil claims.

The church therefore, having evaluated the evidence before them, accepted the veracity of the claims before them. Some commentators have suggested by doing so the Church abrogated its responsibility to George Bell’s reputation.

In all of the above the wider legacy of George Bell was evident in discussions. The decisions were not taken lightly or without consideration of the impact on the reputation of George Bell. But in this case, as in others, the overriding goal was to search out the truth and issues of reputation cannot take priority over that.

I recognise this will be hard for many to accept because of George Bell’s ministry and reputation. But when faced with allegations of abusive behaviour we cannot ignore it or pretend it did not occur. There will be those who will be unsatisfied with the above process, desiring a decision to have been taken on a criminal test of beyond reasonable doubt. This was of course not possible due to George Bell having been long deceased. In any event it is entirely possible for someone who is found not to be guilty in a criminal trial to be found to have acted wrongfully in a civil claim.

The language of legal tests has become the focus of much of the debate. In doing so it masks the genuine suffering and damage done to an individual in this case, compounded by the Church’s own failures to respond adequately to a claim of serious sexual abuse.

The question as whether we were right to publish the name of George Bell has also been raised. By doing so the Church has been accused of destroying the reputation of one of its heroes. Had we not done so we would have been accused of a “cover up” and placing the reputation of one of our great bishops ahead of fairness to survivors.

It would be an understatement to say that the Church of England has not handled safeguarding cases well in past decades. Over the past five years we have begun to make changes to our policies and procedures to address that. One of our guiding principles has been a step change in our commitment to openness. This has been evidenced in the publication of reports and establishment of independent reviews wherever possible over the past five years.

Every case will require consideration on its own context. In this case the commitment to openness, combined with the decision to settle the claim on the evidence ahead of a civil court case, led to a decision to publish.

Since the exchange in the House of Lords the survivor has taken the brave decision to speak out for herself. This will have been very hard to do. Reading her own words only adds to my conviction that the church was right to make a settlement in this matter, and right to make this known as was done.

The Bishop of Chichester has apologised on behalf of the Church to the individual concerned. I would add my own voice to that apology particularly if any of my recent comments have been interpreted as in anyway minimising or undermining her claims.”

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Mother Hubbard
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Mother Hubbard

This, at long last, is the clear and unambiguous statement that was needed and which puts an end to all speculation. Thank you +Paul Butler.

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

We can be appreciative of those so called “strident voices” like Peter Hitchens and Giles Fraser who worked on this story. Their efforts as journalists have made a significant contribution in obtaining this kind of statement. A statement like this one, had it been issued earlier, would have better served all involved. It is worth remembering that the church is not a dispassionate or neutral party when it responds to claims of abuse. There has been notorious abuse. It has been the subject of cover-ups. Most of us know someone who has been the victim of abuse. However, that situation… Read more »

Jill Armstead
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Jill Armstead

Oh what a tangled web……. It really is time to stop digging. Sorry about mixed metaphors but in my view the CofE looks more and more ridiculous as the Bell saga refuses to die.

James Byron
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James Byron

This “commitment to openness” is partial in the extreme: we still know next to nothing about the investigative process; nor, of course, the complainant’s identity. We only know her gender, and the nature of the allegation, because she chose to reveal it. Indeed, about the only thing the diocese were open about was naming Bell. They say this was to avoid accusations of cover up. Never mind that this should’ve played no part in their decision, but they didn’t mind covering up swathes of the process, and duly being accused of excessive secrecy. If the church thinks that public denunciation… Read more »

Eric MacDonald
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As I have already said in former comment streams, I think we now know all we need to know and all that we have a right to know. I am glad that Bishop Butler pointed out that even a finding of guilty in a criminal trial would not necessarily be upheld in a civil action, where standards of proof and admissibility of evidence are not quite so stringent. There are no foolproof ways of making sure that no innocent is punished, just as there is no surefire way of assuring that alleged victims really are so. However, it seems to… Read more »

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

“I am glad that Bishop Butler pointed out that even a finding of guilty in a criminal trial would not necessarily be upheld in a civil action, where standards of proof and admissibility of evidence are not quite so stringent.” You have that the wrong way around. Standards of admissibility are tighter, and the test is clearly higher (reasonable doubt vs balance of probabilities). Cases that would not result in a conviction routinely result in civil actions succeeding. As the statement says, “in any event it is entirely possible for someone who is found not to be guilty in a… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

Eric, Warner accused anyone who refused to accept the diocese’s word without evidence of adding to the suffering of survivors, and of being ignorant about the damage done by child abuse: how is that remotely “fair”? Many people (not all) who previously called for evidence have changed tack after reading the details of the complaint. Why is that? You surely had a good idea of what complaint would involve, and how disturbing it’d be. I know it’s easier to doubt an accusation you haven’t read, but the same principles still apply, and they’re not worth anything if they’re abandoned when… Read more »

Froghole
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Froghole

I might be wrong, but the difference about Paul Butler’s very useful statement is that he makes it clear that the evidence was dredged and ‘interrogated’ comprehensively. In effect, there was something akin to a ‘trial of the facts’ held in camera. If this had been stated more explicitly (assuming that I have not misread previous statements) then I think at least some of the dissenting voices would have been mollified. Whilst I appreciate the anger that is still felt by some (there was another piece by Charles Moore in yesterday’s Telegraph) – after all, Bell was possibly the most… Read more »

David Runcorn
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James +Martin actually wrote – “In some responses to the George Bell case, and to the original statements from the Church nationally and locally in the diocese of Chichester, we have witnessed shocking ignorance of the suffering felt at many different levels by victims of abuse.”

‘some’ is not ‘anyone’. As to ‘accusing’ he says he writes as a ‘witness’. I am in no doubt how large his post bag would have been over this case and that some of it would have been shockingly ignorant.

Meanwhile I am logging off TA for Lent.

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

@ James Byron, “Many people (not all) who previously called for evidence have changed tack after reading the details of the complaint. Why is that? ” One of the things that has my attention from the press coverage is the allegation that the Bishop had access to the child over several years. I’m guessing this information and perhaps consequent attending details gave those speaking with the complainant something to work with in evaluating the probabilities. “Like many here, I find the accusation believable on its face, but that’s not the same thing as proof, not even on a preponderance of… Read more »

Eric MacDonald
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Interested Observer. You are right. The crucial sentence was missing the word ‘not’. I meant to say (and thought I had said): “I am glad that Bishop Butler pointed out that even a finding of [not] guilty in a criminal trial would not necessarily be upheld in a civil action, where standards of proof and admissibility of evidence are not quite so stringent.” James Byron. Obviously, what you desiderate you’re not going to get. +Martin quite fairly put the case, given the limitations by which he was bound. The victim coming forward shows clearly that this was so. It is… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

Eric, you don’t need to “wonder about” my motives in “pillorying” Warner, since I’ve explained them clearly: his attack on “strident voices in the public arena which have sought to undermine the survivor’s claims,” which, he claimed, have “added in this case to the suffering of the survivor and her family.” It’s both unfair (you can’t undermine a claim you’ve not read), and an attack on the principles of fair and open justice. What exactly is your position on open justice? You clearly don’t believe in it in this case, yet if you believe in it for living accused, you… Read more »

Father David
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Father David

Carol has now not only told her side of the story to the Brighton Argus but has now appeared in the first item on the local television news programme South East Today, albeit in silhouette to conceal her identity. In a fairly well balanced report she makes two short statements. The eminent journalist Clifford Longley also features in the news item and wisely states that the best position to take on this whole sorry affair, which has done considerable damage to the Church of England as well as to all those intimately involved in it, is to retain an “agnostic”… Read more »

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

“you must believe that a public examination of the evidence offers a significant fact-finding advantage to justify the burden it places on complainants.” Because the punchline of such a trial is deprivation of liberty of the accused. In this case the accused is dead, and nothing can happen to him. And in the absence of the accused, such “public examination” – whose main purpose is to secure justice for the accused – would be a farce. “Trials of the facts” are being spoken of a lot post-Janner as though they happen for dead people regularly; they in fact never do,… Read more »

Eric MacDonald
Guest

James, a simple answer to your question is that, in general, justice must be seen to be done. However, where the supposed guilty party is no longer living, and a person who has appealed several times for justice, it seems to me that she has a right to retain her anonymity. At first, if you go back in the archives, I fully shared Peter Hitchens’ view, that Bell was being found guilty, and we were asked to trust that the officials had done so in good faith. Such is Star Chamber justice, and it did not sit well with me.… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

Eric, I’m not defending Bell, so much as open justice, the presumption of innocence, and the importance of basing judgment on evidence, not accusation. I dislike gag orders in any circumstance, since they go against both open justice and the freedom of the press, and in civil suits, they’re often used to keep victims quiet. I do believe that openness should apply to all cases, perhaps with the narrowest of exceptions for when a witnesses life is in danger, or similar. People can reasonably disagree about that. Peter Hitchens has never objected to the complainant remaining anonymous and receiving compensation.… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

The great pity in all of this, is that the Church did nothing about these matters – even though the complainant tried to get its attention – before the accused predator died. If the Church had only listened and done something about the charges at the times they were brought up – then Justice might have been done – and be seen to have been done!

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

“I do believe that openness should apply to all cases” So the victims of child rapes should, if they report them, expect to find their faces plastered across the newspapers? That’s terribly compassionate of you: do you think that, say, the victims in Rotherham and Rochdale would have been as willing to come forward and give evidence had they known that for the rest of their life they would be known first and foremost as victims? Are you jumping to the defence of the people convicted in Keighley last week on the grounds that as their victims have not been… Read more »

Eric MacDonald
Guest

James Byron: “I agree that the details make the complaint believable on its face. What’s surprising is that so many others take that to mean proved.” That is unfair. I don’t think either Interested Observer or I believe that the case has been proved beyond any possible doubt, but it has, under the circumstances, been proved beyond reasonable doubt. I simply see no reason why the proof you demand should be expected, now that Bell is dead. You demand open justice. Well, and so do I. But since Bell will never face justice in this case, and since the victim… Read more »

Pam
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Pam

Sometimes it’s personally painful to read comments on a blog thread. Such has been the case for me in reading this story. However, I am hopeful that ‘Carol’ now feels a measure of peace and that the Church has learned valuable lessons. Our God is compassionate and loving, everyone can have confidence that God will deal with him/her justly, but the believer may additionally plead God’s mercy.

Father David
Guest
Father David

Do the latest comments by Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe have any bearing on the most distressing allegations concerning Bishop Bell?

James Byron
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James Byron

Interested Observer, of course I don’t want to see bpictures of children who’ve been raped “plastered” over the media. I’d hope no news outlet would be so callously stupid, and if they are, might well support a law to ban it. Not only is it a straw man, it’s hyperbolic to point of absurdity. I said I believe the facts at trial should be public, and also that this was an issue over which people could reasonably disagre: there’s strong arguments for anonymity; and strong arguments for a public trial. (As set out in Cox Broadcasting Corporation vs Cohn and… Read more »

Paul Powers
Guest
Paul Powers

All we can be relatively certain about is that the Diocese has concluded that there was enough evidence for them to apologize and reach a settlement with the complainant. That evidence wouldn’t have to be enough to satisfy the preponderance of evidence test, let alone the beyond a reasonable doubt test. And it’s possible that if Bishop Bell were still alive, it wouldn’t be enough for the Diocese to offer a settlement. But Bishop Bell is dead, so there won’t be a trial to weigh the evidence for or against him. And unless Carol agrees to release more information (and… Read more »

Junia
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Junia

Part of the purpose of naming abusers and rapists is that it may help other victims to come forward. Most abusers are serial rather than one-time offenders. It is likely that Bell had other victims, who have by this public admission of culpability by the diocese and the national church been given the reassurance that they will at last be listened to and taken seriously.

Eric MacDonald
Guest

James, what would you have the church do, retreat into the past and cover up the allegations that have been made? Allegations which show every sign of being reliable? And then let Bishop Bell go on receiving the accolades of a grateful church? That, clearly, would never do, and would raise questions as to whether or not the church was sensitive to the victim’s pain. However doubtful you may be about the evidence as presented and enlarged by the coming forward of the victim, it is impossible for the church to go forward without acknowledging that one of its highly… Read more »

Peter Hitchens
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Peter Hitchens

Speaking as an alleged ‘strident voice’ I confess myself baffled by some responses here. An allegation does not cease to be an allegation and become more true because it is made in more detail. The presumption of innocence applies to all cases, and should not be taken as a criticism of the accuser in any case. If it were, clear-eyed, calm justice would be impossible, drowned out by cries of ‘Are you calling me a liar?’ and similar emotive scenes. The Bishop of Durham on his own argument, could be accused by himself of ‘undermining’ George Bell’s accuser by referring… Read more »

Peter Hitchens
Guest
Peter Hitchens

In response to ‘Junia’, it is interesting that, so far, no other accusers have in fact come forward – despite a blaze of local and national publicity.