Thinking Anglicans

Bishop George Bell: this week's developments

Updated
The Chichester Observer reported on Monday 12 February: Church defends its position on Bishop Bell amid mounting pressure

This includes a report of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme item on the morning of Saturday 10 February:

Lord Carlile, having advised in his report that alleged perpetrators, living or dead, should not be publicly identified unless a ‘proper and adequate investigation’ is settled with ‘admission of liability’, has opening [sic] criticised the Church for ignoring his recommendations in announcing this new information.

Speaking on Radio 4 Today on Saturday morning ahead of the General Synod gathering for a third day, Lord Carlile said:
“It’s like a small dictatorial government deciding to go ahead and acting any way it wishes, regardless of due process of the rule of law.
“It flies in the face of the recommendations I made which the Church said it accepted. “The Church has got to get a grip on this.”

The programme also reported that the Church has denied Bishop Bell’s surviving family legal representation from their chosen barrister for this new investigation. Speaking on the programme on behalf of the Church, Tim Thornton, Bishop at Lambeth, said instead someone had been ‘put forward to represent the voice of Bishop Bell’ and his family…

On the same day, Martin Sewell wrote an article on the Archbishop Cranmer site, Church of England bullies George Bell’s elderly niece by denying her choice of lawyer. This long article really does need to be read in full, but here is a taster:

…Last December, Mrs Whitley would have taken comfort from the Carlile Report on the simple basis that if the original conclusion of the church’s Core Group is unsupportable through defect of process, then the reputational status quo ante applies. The Archbishop of Canterbury rather publicly does not agree, but in the Court of public opinion he is probably in a minority.

With the new matter placed prematurely in the public domain – against Lord Carlile’s specific advice – Mrs Whitley might have regarded that as simply the church’s token saving of face at a point when its sub-optimal competence in the handling of a historic case had been evidenced and asserted. ‘Look how transparent we now are’ is a way of kidding ourselves that things were/are not as bad as they were/are.

We all thought things would be done better the second time round, including the church putting right one of the more obvious errors of the first set of proceedings. The relevant Carlile recommendation had been: “The Core Group should have, in addition to someone advocating for the complainant, someone assigned to it to represent the interests of the accused person and his or her descendants.”

Those dealing with this new information acted with speed, but they had a problem. The old regulations which contributed to the errors referred to in ‘Bell 1’ were still in place; the House of Bishops have not yet formally accepted the Carlile Report; Church House was hurriedly drafting new regulations to address the need identified by Lord Carlile for a deceased accused to be represented at the Core Group. They wanted to ‘get on with it’, which is to be commended, but under pressure they gave themselves the unencumbered power to appoint the person who should represent that accused. Seeking the opinion of the family was plainly overlooked…

Today Martyn Percy also has a guest appearance at Archbishop Cranmer: ‘Sorry’ seems to be the hardest word: apologetics and apologies in the Bishop Bell case. He gives more detail on the latter point:

…Mrs Barbara Whitley, George Bell’s niece, and now 94 years of age, has made it clear that she wished to be represented by Desmond Browne QC. Yet without consulting with Mrs Whitley or the wider family further, on 8th February 2018, Graham Tilby of the NST informed Bell’s family and friends that he had assigned a Mr Donald Findlater to represent their interests and concerns. Moreover, it seems that Findlater had already attended the first Core Group meeting on 29th January 2018. At the time of that meeting Mrs Whitley had absolutely no idea about the new allegations. She has never met Findlater. So it must have been a strange and somewhat surreal sensation for the family and friends of Bishop George Bell to discover that the Church of England had appointed their defence advocate to represent Bell, without consulting the interested parties, and without anyone knowing what the “fresh information” consisted of…

Update

A correspondent has kindly supplied a transcript of the BBC Today interview mentioned above.

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Jeremy
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Jeremy

Speak first and find later, I always say.

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

Re: Carlile said: “It’s like a small dictatorial government deciding to go ahead and acting any way it wishes, regardless of due process of the rule of law.” Ya think!

Savi Hensman
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Savi Hensman

There is a thoughtful piece by Gavin Drake on http://gavindrake.co.uk/2018/01/28/recent-events-have-a-lot-to-teach-us-about-attitudes-towards-violence-against-women/ highlighting the problem with confidentiality for alleged abusers.

Without doubting Lord Carlile’s sincerity or minimising the impact of mistaken claims of abuse (however rare), he is part of an establishment which has repeatedly failed survivors; and, as in the case of Greville Janner, in which his judgement was questioned (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/19/establishment-stopped-me-exposing-greville-janner-25-years-ago), he may not always be right.

Trying to return to the days when survivors were routinely silenced would ultimately do even greater damage to the Church of England.

JPM
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JPM

I’m just shocked that a petroleum executive would engage in corporate obfuscation and damage control.

Who would possibly have anticipated such a thing?

James Byron
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James Byron

“Trying to return to the days when survivors were routinely silenced would ultimately do even greater damage to the Church of England.” Couldn’t agree more, Savi: and given that I’ve seen absolutely no-one suggest any such thing — indeed, the people defending due process on Cranmer’s site are the same people defending victims from institutional neglect — I’m not sure why you’ve raised it here. Bell’s defenders are motivated by opposition to institutions acting lawlessly, which harms everyone, especially victims. What we need is fairness, which is achieved by assessing every allegation with an open mind. Routinely disbelieving complainants is… Read more »

David Lamming
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David Lamming

Savi, I endorse James Byron’s reply to your comment. May I suggest that you read the Carlile report in full if you have not yet done so. It’s available to download from the General Synod pages of the Church of England website as GS Misc 1173: https://www.churchofengland.org/more/policy-and-thinking/work-general-synod/agendas-papers/general-synod-february-2018 Lord Carlile was not ‘part of the establishment which has repeatedly failed survivors’ but a senior lawyer, appointed to carry out an independent review of “the way the Church of England dealt with a complaint of sexual abuse by a woman known as ‘Carol’ against the late Bishop Bell.” (Report, para 1) The… Read more »

Edward Prebble
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Edward Prebble

Thank you, Savi, for drawing our attention to the article by Gavin Drake. Although most of my sympathies fall on the “side” represented by Martyn Percy, David Lamming, Martin Sewell et al, I continue to feel a sense of discomfort here. With the outstanding exception of poor Mrs Whitley, virtually all of the “et al” are men. My impression, having followed a dozen or so threads on TA over the months is that nearly all the contributors are men also. A number of very regular female TA contributors, who can express themselves at length and with persuasive eloquence on other… Read more »

Jeremy
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Jeremy

“then a lot of prominent men will owe “Carol” some pretty big apologies” That’s “the victim must be believed” reasoning, and although it may make pastoral or social-work sense, in all other contexts it is simply wrong. No one need apologise for requesting a rigorous investigation, or for otherwise asking that in investigating itself, the Church serve the truth. No matter how Bell 2 turns out, those who identified the flaws in Bell 1 did the Church a favor. The Church was poorly served by the “oversteer” that Lord Carlile identified, and that the Archbishop of Canterbury seems unwilling to… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

As apologies are owed for wrongdoing, the only people who’d owe Carol apologies would be people who’d maligned her character: which I’ve seen none of the “prominent men” in question do. Just the opposite: they’ve constantly emphasized that “Carol” must be listened to and that Bell may have been guilty. If defending the presumption of innocence is somehow wrongdoing that calls for an apology, then should defense counsel stand up and apologize to the complainant at the end of every trial that brings in a guilty verdict? I have no time for ad homs or gender essentialism. People of both… Read more »

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

RE: Edward Prebble, with Regard to the Lord Carlile report alone, the implications are not that black and white. Carlile did what the was asked to do, i.e, make a determination on process based on the information available to him at the time. The pulic re-hashing of this is directly related to a flawed church process which has done a disservice to the principals involved including the complainant. The settlement process ought to have been decisive; but instead has meant ongoing controversy and public scrutiny. If there are apologies to be issued, then it is the church that ought to… Read more »

Anthony Archer
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Anthony Archer

I too am grateful to Savi Hensman for mentioning the Gavin Drake article. It is useful and balanced. It needs more oxygen. Drake says: “I do not know if Carol’s allegations are true. The Church of England does not know whether Carol’s allegations are true. The Archbishop of Canterbury does not know whether Carol’s allegations are true. Bishop Bell’s supporters do not know whether Carol’s allegations are true. Only Carol knows whether the allegations are true.” The scarcely helpful BBC Today interview (10 Feb) tried to package up myriad strands of this story in short order, including the apparent comment… Read more »

David Lamming
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David Lamming

As Anthony Archer says (21 Feb, 10.15 pm), in respect of ‘Bell 2’, we shall have to wait to see what the ‘new information’ is. However, as I posted above, it is vital that in investigating this new information the Church does not repeat the egregious errors of ‘Bell 1’ that Lord Carlile has identified in his report. It is also vital that this new information is investigated quickly and, if there is nothing in it, that this can be stated publicly as soon as possible. Three comments otherwise on Anthony’s post: First, his statement that “there may never be… Read more »

Jeremy
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Jeremy

“Only Carol knows whether the allegations are true.”

The notion that Carol must have “the truth” is flatly refuted by Professor Maden’s report as quoted by Carlile:

“178. The parts of Professor Maden’s report dealing generally with credibility were as follows:
“Summary of Opinion
“The delays in reporting in this case are exceptional. Memory is not reliable over such long periods of time and the only way to establish that the allegations are true would be through corroborating evidence.”

Unless someome can show Madden to be wrong, I would reserve “more oxygen” for arguments that are accurate.

Kate
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Kate

“If defending the presumption of innocence is somehow wrongdoing that calls for an apology, then should defense counsel stand up and apologize to the complainant at the end of every trial that brings in a guilty verdict?” That’s the fundamental issue I have with Bell’s supporters. Their focus is on Bell being judged fairly, in some sort of quasi-judicial process. We are though – or at least should be – a church. Our role NEVER is to judge. Our responsibility is the care of victims. Why do we never ask how abusers come to be ordained? Never ask how “discernment”… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

“This is why the presumption of innocence is important”

Is it? As followers of Christ, don’t we all recognise that we are sinners? The presumption of innocence is a civil construct – and a very important one – but it would take theologians, not lawyers, to justify it having any importance in terms of the reputation of someone long dead.

Jeremy
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Jeremy

“We are though – or at least should be – a church. Our role NEVER is to judge. Our responsibility is the care of victims.”

This statement is flat wrong. It creates a false dichotomy between pastoral care and the search for truth.

If the church merely presumes the truth of serious allegations, then the church risks being enlisting in victimising yet more innocent people.

Abuse has victims, yes, of course. But so do slander and charges that turn out, after proper investigation, to be false.

Kate
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Kate

Jeremy, you can’t slander the dead. That’s why the Bell case is so important because it highlights the wrong thinking which can be obscured in other cases.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

Kate, as the Bell case clearly demonstrates, the dead often have friends and relatives who are alive.

If a false charge is made against a dead person, are these living friends and relatives not victimised?

Or is your position that false charges against dead people are permissible for therapeutic purposes?

David Lamming
Guest
David Lamming

Kate: it may be correct that as a matter of civil law one cannot slander the dead, in the sense that there is no legal remedy (such as the executors of the deceased person being able to sue the defamer for damages), but that is no justification for the Church paying attention only to the care of the complainant. (Note: not a ‘victim’ unless and until the complaint, after applying the appropriate burden and standard of proof after a full and proper investigation, has been found to be proved: see Carlile para 26.) As Jeremy points out, a dead person… Read more »

Cynthia
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Cynthia

Thank you, Edward Prebble for wanting to hear more female voices. I’ve been following the story to some extent. Really, all I can say is that the process seems dreadful for everyone. I can’t know the truth, my concerns are for justice for all and especially victims. If this case is botched, then what does that mean for current and future victims? And in the rare case that someone is falsely accused, how do they restore their reputations if the church doesn’t practice confidentiality during an investigation? To be clear, the major issue is that historically, victims have been silenced… Read more »

David Lamming
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David Lamming

Thank you, Cynthia, for your measured comment. You say,”Turn the investigation over to independent forces.” Many of us who have been critical of the Church’s official responses to the Carlile report would agree. It is why we are pressing the case for the “independent investigation” into the ‘”fresh information” that the NST (National Safeguarding Team) statement of 31 January 2018 said the Core Group was “now in the process of commissioning”, to be carried out by a retired circuit judge with criminal law experience, or by a senior criminal QC. As yet, no announcement has been made naming the investigator,… Read more »

Mark Bennet
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Mark Bennet

It is perhaps material to this discussion that paragraph 19 of a submission (dated 14 March 2016) sent to IICSA by solicitors Herbert Smith Freehills LLP action on behalf of the Archbishops Council of the Church of England (see https://www.iicsa.org.uk/key-documents/415/view/anglican-archbishop-council-note.pdf) reads – on the subject of anonymity: “So far as individuals against whom allegations have been made are concerned, different considerations may apply. However, if no finding has been made (in criminal proceedings or otherwise) as to the truth of these allegations, and they are not already in the public domain, the Council suggests that any disclosure of identity (whether… Read more »

David Lamming
Guest
David Lamming

Mark – yes, and as to terminology, leading counsel to the Anglican church investigation part of IICSA, Fiona Scolding QC, said at the last preliminary hearing on 30 January 2018, “In line with other preliminary hearings, where it is necessary to do so, I will generally refer to those who have made allegations of sexual abuse as “complainants”, save where there has been a criminal trial which has resulted in a conviction or where the fact of abuse has otherwise been formally established, in which case the description “victim” or “survivor” will be applied, depending upon the individual’s personal preference.”… Read more »