Thinking Anglicans

Group challenges naming of Bishop George Bell as a paedophile

The George Bell Group has sent a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and also issued a press statement: George Bell’s naming as a paedophile is challenged today by a group of lawyers, academics, politicians and senior Church figures. The statement is copied in full below the fold.

The core members of the George Bell Group are listed here.

The full text of the report is published here as a web page, and also as a PDF file.

Press Statement
George Bell’s naming as a paedophile is challenged today by a group of lawyers, academics, politicians and senior Church figures

20 March 2016

George Bell’s condemnation as a paedophile has been challenged by a group of lawyers, academics, politicians and senior Church figures. The treatment of George Bell has been taken up today with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

George Bell is famed for being one of the first to speak out against the dangers Hitler posed in the 1930s and for saving many lives during these years by guaranteeing refugees from Germany. He was one of the few to condemn our government’s obliteration bombing of German cities during the Second World War.

A surprised world learnt on 22nd October 2015 that this much-admired wartime Bishop of Chichester had in 2015 apparently been found guilty, by Church authorities, of child sexual abuse. As a result, his reputation has been irreparably damaged, and schools and institutions dedicated to his memory have been renamed.

The Church of England’s statement appears to accept the allegation of abuse as true. It contained a highly damaging statement that the Sussex police would have arrested the Bishop had he still been alive. But this would have been no more than standard police practice, a fact not mentioned in the statement. The police have confirmed that after investigation arrests lead to charges in less than 30% of cases, and of course, not every charge leads to a guilty verdict. It is significant that neither the police nor the NSPCC have received any further complaints against the Bishop. Although challenged, the Church has not provided details of any corroboration to enable the complainant’s story to be judged.

A detailed report compiled by the George Bell Group, today reveals that the Church’s inquiries were astonishingly inadequate, especially since they followed an uncorroborated allegation, first made many decades after the alleged offence, and so far unaccompanied by any further accusations of the same nature. The report shows that the Church authorities:

  • failed to seek, find or interview the most qualified and knowledgeable witness to George Bell’s daily life at the time of the alleged abuse, though his name and details appear in the Church’s own clergy directory. This witness, interviewed by the George Bell group, utterly and in detail rebuts the allegations and regards them as incredible.
  • made no attempt to consult George Bell’s extensive papers and diaries, kept at Lambeth palace Library, to check these allegations, their dates and nature, against the recorded details of his life at the time.
  • failed to find or contact any of George Bell’s living relatives, to warn them in advance of their plan to blacken George Bell’s name publicly, most notably his niece, Barbara Whitley, who also strongly rebuts the claims.

The Group does not challenge the survivor’s belief in her account; the question is whether others should believe it.

The group questions whether the safeguarding group had the legal and forensic expertise to come to a judgement that would support the idea that, on the balance of probabilities, George Bell was guilty of child sexual abuse.

Victims of child abuse are as interested as the wider community, if not more so, in having a robust system to investigate their claims of abuse. It is clear to the George Bell Group that such a system still needs to be established by the Church of England.

The group’s concern is that the valuable reputation of a great man, a rare example of self-sacrificing human goodness, has been carelessly destroyed on the basis of slender evidence, sloppily investigated. The group also feels that the Church’s whole approach to such cases needs to be more transparent, and more in tune with the principles of justice. The guilty must indeed be punished. But the innocent must be protected, whether they are living or dead, and whether they are ordinary citizens or eminent in the eyes of the world.

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Father David
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Father David

This is a devastating critique by the George Bell Group into what the BBC has just described as an “astonishingly inadequate” investigation by the Diocese of Chichester into the accusation levelled against Bishop George Bell. This distinguished Group has in its paper examined this case with forensic detail and they are to be commended for their tenacity. I wonder what pressure Lambeth exerted upon the Chichester diocese to open this highly disturbing can of worms?

Neil Patterson
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Neil Patterson

I make no comment on George Bell, about whom there has been extensive comment on both sides. But I remain amazed that no-one has yet publicly examined in depth the role of Bishop Eric Kemp, who did not investigate the Bell allegations, appointed and protected Peter Ball, moved clergy around to avoid trouble (see his memoirs for those) and was a lifelong friend of Garth Moore. He may only have been very naïve, but those who worked with him must know more, and I hope that those conducting enquiries are talking to them.

James Byron
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James Byron

This is even worse than I suspected. The investigation was, according to the report, an amateurish mess bungled from start to finish, that didn’t examine basics like timelines and location, and that failed to find and question key witnesses. Worse, by going with the complainant to the alleged scene, it contaminated her evidence. The report rebuts the complainant’s accusation in crucial details: I no longer find it believable. I hope more people will now see why it’s essential that evidence is tested openly and impartially. Accusation isn’t proof. I differ from the report in one respect: automatic witness anonymity’s a… Read more »

Froghole
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Froghole

Neil Patterson refers to the distressing recent news about Garth Moore. Here is more on Moore by a noted historian: http://www.lrb.co.uk.ezproxy2.londonlibrary.co.uk/blog/2016/03/17/bernard-porter/clerical-abuse/ (the blog section of the LRB is open access). This makes the well-known antics of dons such as Oscar Browning, Sligger Urquhart. F. A. Simpson or R. H. Dundas (and other, more recent, academics) seem tame. Moore’s treatment of many applicants for faculties is quite well known, as was his virtual vendetta with Mervyn Stockwood (another flawed clergyman), which originated with the demolition of St Chrysostom, Peckham, in 1964. Moore often comes across as a clerical-legal type of a… Read more »

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

“automatic witness anonymity’s a terrible idea, that flies in the face of common law principles of open justice”

So you think that the process in Rotherham, Rochdale and other child abuse cases would be enhanced by the names of all the witnesses (ie, victims) being published? That would be heaven for perpetrators: instead of having to do the witness intimidation themselves, they could leave it to the judicial system.

“The sooner it’s abolished in all jurisdictions, the better.”

_All_ jurisdictions? Family courts? The Court of Protection?

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Interested Observer, I doubt an average case of assault, theft or fraud is “enhanced” by allowing the complainant’s name to be published. Are you arguing for blanket anonymity? All types of crimes, after all, are distressing to the victim, especially crimes like serious assaults for which England doesn’t grant publication bans. Open justice is necessary to stop a culture of secrecy from developing, as it has in English family courts (routinely criticized by English judges). With secrecy comes, well, the type of abuses seen in the Bell investigation (which I hope you now join with me in condemning). Justice requires… Read more »

Jill Armstead
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Jill Armstead

Could contributors avoid careless comments about Bishop Eric Kemp whose elderly wife is still alive? We learn that the Church’s ‘investigation’ failed to acknowledge Bishop Bell’s living relatives – let’s not repeat this act of thoughtless negligence.

Savi Hensman
Guest
Savi Hensman

Interested Observer makes an important point. It is also worth noting that, even if some aspects of the original investigation were imperfect, so are aspects of the supposed rebuttal (e.g. the notion that a bishop, if he had disturbing feelings for a small girl, could be expected to have communicated this to male choristers). We do not know what supporting evidence those looking into the allegations may have had since, as in many such cases, publishing too much detail increases the chances that the victim will be identified and revictimised. As I pointed out recently on Ekklesia, one of the… Read more »

Alastair Newman
Guest

“The Group does not challenge the survivor’s belief in her account; the question is whether others should believe it.”

I’m struggling with what the Group are intending this to mean. Are they suggesting the survivor is confused, deluded, or what? And on what basis?

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Savi, after what’s been revealed about the flaws in the “investigation” (given its total failure to interview key witnesses and examine key evidence, it barely merits the term), are you seriously arguing that we should continue to take the diocese’s assertions on trust? If so, what possible basis does this trust have? The rebuttal isn’t “supposed”: it demolishes the testimony in a string of crucial details. Bell may even have been in another hemisphere at the time of the alleged crime. Given the collapse of “Carol’s” accusation, you have no basis to assume Bell’s guilt, as you do when you… Read more »

David Lamming
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David Lamming

Savi – The crucial little word in your post is “if” [“if he is guilty”]. The problem is that not only has George Bell’s guilt not been established beyond reasonable doubt, the report of the George Bell Support Group argues cogently that, just on the basis of the examination of the evidence the Group were able to carry out by reference to published sources (including interviews given by the complainant, ‘Carol’), there was not even a case to answer. (Cf the Met Police’s closure, announced today, of their high-profile Operation Midland investigation, based as it was on the discredited allegations… Read more »

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

“Allowing complainants’ names to be published is also a vital safeguard against false accusations” So you’re now arguing that the names of all rape victims should be published? Wow. Seriously? Including children? Yes, it might reduce false accusations. It will also reduce actual accusations. It would, for a start-off, make raping women from conservative Asian and Muslim backgrounds almost risk-free for the perpetrator, as the chances of prosecution would be close to zero. It would also make child abuse close to risk free, as few parents would be willing to put their children through what you are proposing.

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

I am glad and relieved to see this initiative of the great and the good.

The way Bell has been thrown away was scandalous, cowardly and inane.

It would seem apparently easier by far, to take on the long dead, than to deal with recent scandals – let alone those in the present.

Savi Hensman
Guest
Savi Hensman

James Byron, survivors of sexual abuse and rape face a level of stigma which does not apply to other crimes, and often internalise a sense of shame though they are not to blame. As it is, few cases end up in court and, when they do, in criminal cases the treatment they face can leave some feeling as if they had been raped again or even committing suicide. If every time a case of sexual abuse was dealt with, even by family or civil courts, the name of the adult or child concerned was made public, the end result would… Read more »

Andrew Gray
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Andrew Gray

Alastair Newman,

What I think the Group is saying is they accept that the survivor has a sincerely held belief as to what happened to her, albeit one that may be mistaken in light of the evidence the Group was able to find and the absence of cogent evidence that supports the survivor’s belief.

Martyn Percy
Guest
Martyn Percy

As a member of the George Bell Group, may I comment on a few of the observations so far? First, and to address the points made about Bishop Kemp. We believe that the person who made the allegation against Bell first did so in the mid-1990’s. Contrary to information originally disclosed, it would appear that Bishop Kemp did take some reasonable steps to look into this allegation, and that it was found to be without substance. The Review refers to this. Second, some commentators appear to assume that Bell may have had an unnatural attachment to this complainant when she… Read more »

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

From the local newspaper the Argus

Abuse victim’s lawyer hits back at Establishment critics of Church apology

http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/14374552.Abuse_victim_s_lawyer_hits_back_at_Establishment_critics_of_Church_apology/

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Interested Observer, I propose nothing: open justice isn’t a novelty, it’s the standard common law position, a principle enshrined in many nations’ constitutions, and in international treaties. England only departed from it in cases of sexual assault in the 1970s, and denies it to victims of other serious and violent crimes. As English law stands, a person forced to witness their spouse tortured and murdered in a home invasion has no right to anonymity; but a person groped in a club does. Are you defending this position, or demanding that anonymity be expanded? I’ve surely made my position on this… Read more »

Pam
Guest
Pam

Any confidentiality agreement in place between the Church of England and ‘Carol’ may be there for the protection of the Church of England as much as ‘Carol’. I agree with the lawyer for Carol that the intense speculation is disrespectful for her client.

Laurence Cunnington
Guest
Laurence Cunnington

“her relative worked at the Bishop’s Palace, and another interview that the employment was at the Cathedral. In either case, it is hard to imagine what such late afternoon and early evening employment this might have been.” A cleaner who worked in both buildings. “It has since been established that no such person was an employee of the Palace. We now know all the names and details of the employees at the Palace, and none of them had a young female relative such as the complainant.” Non-contracted cleaning staff may not have appeared in the Cathedral/Palace’s personnel records. “Namely, that… Read more »

RevPeterM
Guest
RevPeterM

Thank you Laurence.
It is all too easy to fall into the trap of rubbishing a poorly understood case. Those with little or no experience of the possibilities invent supposed absurdities and thereby tell us more about themselves than about Bishop Bell or ‘Carol’.
You have amply demonstrated that thinking should be part of the substance of this site as well as its name.

David Lamming
Guest
David Lamming

Laurence Cunnington’s ‘theory’ and his ‘possible explanation’ of the issues raised by Martyn Percy in his earlier post only serve to underline the need for: [1] the Diocese of Chichester to disclose (i) the evidence relied upon that led to the 22 October 2015 statement; (ii) the inquiries that were made (and not made) to test that evidence; (iii) the names and professional qualifications/background of the scrutineers; (iv) the names of the “all [sic] parties” whose respect the scrutineers were claimed to command; (v) the nature of the scrutiny process; and [2] a thorough independent inquiry into the diocesan investigation… Read more »

Eric MacDonald
Guest

I have some concerns about the ‘survivor’ in the Bell ‘abuse case’ taking exception to the George Bell Group raising perfectly reasonable questions about the truth of her claim. It seems clear, from the George Bell Group’s statement, that it is not true (as I had assumed from the last statement about this issue) that the case had been carefully and thoroughly examined. But, even so, a person who comes forward with a complaint must acccept that their testimony will be met with appropriate questions, questions which, it seems, the Diocese of Chichester never bothered to ask. Certainly, as Laurence… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

“Those with little or no experience of the possibilities invent supposed absurdities and thereby tell us more about themselves than about Bishop Bell or ‘Carol’.” RevPeterM, the Bell Group contains two Queen’s Counsel (senior English lawyers), one of whom, Alan Pardoe, tried similar cases for a decade. I’m disturbed that, in light of the report, not a single person has reassessed and withdrawn their support of the diocese’s secret investigation and conclusions. Laurence raises possibilities, but it takes a heckuva lot more than possibilities to make a case, let alone reach a judgment. The claimant bears the burden of substantiating… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Eric’s incisive post hadn’t yet been published before my last reply: my appreciation for such a thorough and on-point reconsideration in light of the new evidence. He’s said it very well indeed.

Pam
Guest
Pam

James you say: “The claimant bears the burden of substantiating their claim, and it’s a burden ‘Carol’ hasn’t met”. You know this how?

Joseph Golighly
Guest
Joseph Golighly

We are today on the eve that another man was accused without any evidence. Let us pray for “Carol” to be healed of what she has been through and also for Bishop Bell who has been judged and found guilty and sentenced by the current Bishop of Chichester, just remember what happened to the man who today betrayed Our Lord.

Father David
Guest
Father David

The latest TA Comments seem to me to pour yet more cold water on the veracity of the allegations against Bishop George Bell. The lack of substantial evidence and the inconsistencies of the original accusation would be torn to shreds in a Court of Law under close cross examination. When and who is going to give a response to the perfectly legitimate questions raised by the distinguished members of the George Bell Group? At present all the Diocese of Chichester is saying is that they have nothing further to add to their October statement, that being the case, will Lambeth… Read more »

Alastair Newman
Guest

It seems to me there are two dangers in a case like this. One is a “trial by public” of the person alleged to have committed this offence, the other is a “trial by public” of the person alleging the offence happened. Both seem equally dangerous given that none of us, not one, is in possession of all of the facts here. What decisions have been made have been made by people with much, much more information than we have and are ever likely to have. If there is a question about the process of the original investigation and the… Read more »

Laurence Cunnington
Guest
Laurence Cunnington

“Laurence raises possibilities, but it takes a heckuva lot more than possibilities to make a case, let alone reach a judgment.” James Byron

I agree, entirely. Martyn Percy’s post raised issues for which he suggested that there could be no sensible explanation. My post merely described an imaginary scenario which could explain them quite simply. I have no idea what the real facts of the case are.

Pam
Guest
Pam

I am sympathetic towards ‘Carol’ and I can see that is because of personal reasons. However, my sympathy is not without foundation. Carol made a complaint, twice, and the Church of England has now made an apology, paid compensation and respects the confidentiality of Carol. Some people seem desperate to ‘know all’ and in the vast majority of cases that possibility would be open. This is a very unusual case though. For those who feel strongly, maybe instead of ‘trial by media’ other avenues may be explored.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Pam, I don’t claim any insider knowledge: whether “Carol’s” accusations are substantive is a matter of opinion. Given the multiple factual errors and implausibilities highlighted in the report, do you believe they are? If so, why?

Laurence, I agree that we don’t know what actually happened. I allowed the mere possibility that Bell’s guilty, and that “Carol” simply make mistakes on crucial details, but possibilities have no weight. Beliefs require evidence. Since “Carol’s” not met the burden of substantiating her accusations, and since the details she provided have been comprehensively rebutted, we’ve no reason to believe them.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“Carol’s” not met the burden of substantiating her accusations”…
is, of course, pure speculation.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Erika, there’s no speculation involved: “Carol’s” made the accusation publicly, and as the Bell report detailed, it’s riddled with factual errors; as it also detailed, the diocese failed to locate and evaluate key witnesses and evidence.

David Beadle
Guest
David Beadle

All this could have been avoided had the Diocese of Chichester simply stated that it had paid compensation having received the complaint, and having concluded that it hadn’t been dealt with properly in 1995. I cannot understand why it felt a need to pronounce a verdict on Bell. Nothing Chichester has said in its defence explains why it was necessary to imply that Bishop Bell was likely guilty. To make such an implication, when it is not possible to release the information upon which it is based, contradicts any sense of natural justice which his relatives and friends deserve. I… Read more »