Thinking Anglicans

George Bell Group issues new statement

The George Bell Group has issued this: Statement May 2019.

Since October 2015 when the Archbishops’ Council announced that they had paid compensation to the woman given the pseudonym ‘Carol’, who alleged that she had been abused by Bishop George Bell, his defenders have criticised the Church authorities for never once affording the Bishop the presumption of innocence.  Now, after the inquiries of Lord Carlile and Timothy Briden, it can be seen that the allegations against Bishop Bell were unfounded in fact.

THE CARLILE REVIEW

The Carlile report, whose conclusions (save as to publicity) the Church accepted, criticised the investigation of Carol’s allegations as a rush to judgment predicated on Bell’s guilt. It concluded that the decision to settle with Carol was indefensibly wrong and that the process completely ignored the Bishop’s reputation and the interests of his surviving family, including his very elderly niece.

The original statement by the Archbishops’ Council in October 2015 claimed that none of the expert independent reports had found reason to doubt Carol’s veracity. But Lord Carlile discovered that the only expert consulted by the Church thought it very likely that Carol’s experience of abuse in her first marriage had affected her recall, and that the possibility of false memories was a real one.

Regrettably Archbishop Welby added his authority to the destruction of Bell’s reputation: on Good Friday 2016, before the Carlile report was completed, he told BBC Radio that the investigation of Carol’s claim had been ‘very thorough’ and the finding of abuse correct on the balance of probabilities. We now know how far from the truth that was.

The Archbishop told Lord Carlile during his inquiry that if there had not been a proper investigation of Carol’s story, the Church would have to apologise. But sadly, when the Carlile report was published in December 2017, he chose not to do so. To the disappointment of Bell’s defenders, he appeared to reject the presumption of innocence; instead he commented that there was still ‘a significant cloud’ left over Bishop Bell’s name without giving any explanation of why he continued to hold that view in the face of Lord Carlile’s conclusions.

THE ‘FRESH INFORMATION’ AND THE BRIDEN PROCESS

The publicity given to the Carlile report appears to have triggered a copy-cat claim by the woman given the name Alison. The Core Safeguarding Group which had been responsible for the shambolic investigation of Carol’s claim now set about trying to substantiate that by Alison. They may well have hoped that the similar facts alleged by Alison would corroborate the discredited Carol. But within weeks the police, to whom the Core Group had reported the matter, closed their enquiries.  Next an investigation by a senior retired police officer commissioned by the Church quickly showed that Alison’s evidence was unreliable and incapable of supporting any adverse finding against the Bishop.

Mr Briden reported that her account not only had internal inconsistencies but was also contaminated by her having read Carol’s story, a contamination revealed by her repeating verbatim some of Carol’s words which had been reported in the press. He ended his report by saying that all the allegations against George Bell remitted to him were unfounded.

Many will have hoped that on reading Mr Briden’s report Archbishop Welby would have publicly acknowledged that the cloud of which he had previously spoken had been dissipated. He did not do so.

THE DUTY OF THE CHURCH NOW

The history of the treatment by the Church of England of the reputation of George Bell has become a scandal. It is now the plain duty of the Church of England, nationally and in the Diocese of Chichester, to make amends by working to restore Bishop Bell’s reputation, not least in institutions which were once proud to adopt his name.

We welcome the decision of Canterbury Cathedral to revive a commission to create a statue of Bell and note the expression of ‘delight’ with which the Archbishop of Canterbury has responded. We acknowledge with gratitude the firmness with which the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church, Oxford have maintained and cherished the chapel there dedicated to Bell’s memory throughout the controversy. We note that the meeting room dedicated to Bishop Bell remains, as before, at the World Council of Churches in Geneva.

It is only in Chichester itself, the place in which Bishop Bell lived and worked for almost thirty years and where his ashes are interred in the cathedral, that any public adoption of his name is now suppressed.

We find the public stance of the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, incomprehensible and indefensible. The Bishop’s ‘Response’ to the Briden Report, published on 24 January 2019 and now promoted on the websites of the diocese and cathedral, only went as far as to acknowledge that ‘Bishop Bell cannot be proven guilty’. He added that it could not be ‘safely claimed that the original complainant [i.e. Carol] had been discredited’. This is a most regrettable insinuation that there was, or likely was, substance to Carol’s allegation and hence that Bell was to be suspected of abuse.

The Bishop emphasised the defamatory innuendo by asking ‘those who hold opposing views on this matter to recognise the strength of each other’s commitment to justice and compassion.’ There is, regrettably, no evidence in this response of the Bishop’s commitment to justice or of any compassion towards those who are wrongly accused. His words have been repeated verbatim by the Bishop at Lambeth in response to a Question at the recent session of the General Synod of the church. Indeed, the Bishop even invoked the authority of the House of Bishops in support of this view. So far as we are aware the House has never even discussed the matter.

Such words simply preserve the impression that there was, and remains, a case against Bell. A not dissimilar state of mind was revealed by the Chichester Diocesan Safeguarding Officer when he told the Child Abuse Inquiry in March 2018 that ‘all the indications we have would suggest that the simplest explanation for why someone comes forward to report abuse – because they were abused – is likely to be the correct one’.

As the High Court Judge Sir Richard Henriques has pointed out in his report to the Metropolitan Police on allegations against prominent individuals, such an assumption results in an investigation which does not challenge the complainant, tends to disbelieve the suspect and shifts onto the suspect the burden of proof, ignoring any presumption of innocence. It becomes a premise for a miscarriage of justice such as can now be seen to have been inflicted on the reputation of George Bell.

It should be sufficient to observe that like Professor Anthony Maden, Lord Carlile did interview this first complainant. We note Lord Carlile’s statement of 1 February 2019, made to the local campaigner Mr Richard Symonds: ‘The Church should now accept that my recommendations should be accepted in full, and that after due process, however delayed, George Bell should be declared by the Church to be innocent of the allegations made against him.’

We are more than conscious that this saga represents a wider pattern in the Church and across society where many other such miscarriages of justice have become notorious. Now it is surely essential that if all the many safeguarding bodies, national and diocesan, are to be retained by the Church of England their work must be placed under real legal discipline and in the hands of officers who observe fully the expectations and rule of law and act without fear or prejudice.

There must never again be any repetition of such a discreditable, indeed disgraceful, performance.

Andrew Chandler, Convenor of George Bell Group, 9 May 2019

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Susannah Clark
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Susannah Clark

“it can be seen that the allegations against Bishop Bell were unfounded in fact.” What does that precisely mean? If the group is saying that the case is ‘unproven’ then I’d agree, because it is impossible to prove one way or the other whether her allegations against the Bishop are true or untrue. If it is saying that ‘Carol’s allegations about George Bell can be proved to be untrue, then that is a slur on a woman whose narrative they have repeatedly said is false. To say that George Bell *is* innocent (except in legal terms) is a false claim.… Read more »

T Pott
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T Pott

“We do not know, factually, if George Bell was innocent or guilty.” If that were so, it would put him in exactly the same position as everybody else who has ever lived. So, perhaps, we should simply remember people for what we do know about them.

Richard W. Symonds
Guest

Susannah, if you make an allegation I raped you when you were 5-years-old, the onus is on you to provide evidence that I raped you. The onus is not on me to prove I am innocent. If you cannot provide that evidence in a court of law, then however convinced you are that it was me who raped you, I am to be presumed innocent. That’s the law. After two investigations (Carlile & Briden), ‘Carol’ – who has had the benefit of anonymity and been paid nearly £30,000 (?) in compensation – has provided zero evidence that it was Bishop… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

Richard, with respect, I find it uncomfortable to be mentioned in any rape scenario, however fictional. I wish you well though. I’ve said many times that, in legal terminology, George Bell remains innocent unless proven guilty. Martin Warner expresses my view: “Bishop Bell cannot be proven guilty.” But I also agree with his statement that it cannot be “safely claimed that the original complainant [i.e. Carol] had been discredited”. With regard to Carol, why should I not presume her ‘innocence’? Are you suggesting she is evil and conniving? I have every inclination to believe that Carol was and is innocent:… Read more »

Richard W. Symonds
Guest

I have every sympathy with ‘Carol’. having little doubt she was abused. But sadly she has discredited herself by her somewhat bizarre behaviour. She does not come out of this well – nor does her friend ‘Alison’ – as the Briden Report makes clear.

Jeremy
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Jeremy

“Potential victim and potential abuser.”
This is very loose terminology. “Potential?” We are all “potentially” sinned against and sinning, because who knows what may be done to us, or for that matter what we may do, tomorrow?
I’ve said before, and I will continue to say, that in the context of unproven allegations of past abuse, the better terms are “complainant” and “accused.”

Matthew
Guest

I have to say I’m in agreement with Susannah. The statements by the Archbishop and the Bishop seem to me far more measured and reasonable than the statement by the George Bell group.

Richard W. Symonds
Guest

“The statements by the Archbishop and the Bishop seem to me far more measured and reasonable…”

I know most of the statements made by Archbishop Welby and Bishop Warner regarding Bishop Bell – ever since the first monstrous Statement on Oct 22 2015. Some of their statements have been “measured and reasonable”. Most of their statements have been quite the opposite.

Jill Armstead
Guest
Jill Armstead

I am afraid these people are ‘thinking’ Anglicans, Richard – rather like the safeguarding team that found Bishop Bell guilty as charged and ‘Carol’s’ deeply flawed and confused evidence entirely credible. Don’t waste your time arguing with them. I don’t think anyone doubts that ‘Carol’ suffered abuse on Cathedral/palace premises by a person unknown but it is unworthy of the Church of England to use George Bell as a scapegoat for its own shocking incompetence. We fight on and will not rest until 4 Canon Lane (with its Dresden room) is restored to its rightful title. Whenever I go into… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

There aren’t easy answers. Carol has had such a rough time that she deserves to be, and should be, left in peace. What hasn’t yet been said (as far as I am aware) is that a proper, technically and legally competent investigation might have established the facts and the identity of the assailant – whether or not Bishop Bell. This is always going to be difficult and potentially unfair to a deceased person and their surviving family – I have dealt with such cases (more than one involving deceased people) in my working life (in the public sector – not… Read more »

Jill Armstead
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Jill Armstead

The alleged abuse took place around 70 years ago.

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

Fully understood, of course. I have followed this sad saga from the beginning and have never sought to “judge” the events of 70 years ago. But with two decades of experience – actual, not theoretical – of dealing with historical abuse, my real point is that Bishop Bell’s case provides many lessons for dealing with future cases and, goodness, it will be a disaster if those lessons have not been learned.

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

“Susannah, if you make an allegation I raped you when you were 5-years-old” Stay classy, eh? You could choose an example slightly less intended to shut down discussion. “the onus is on you to provide evidence that I raped you” And on that, you are factually incorrect (since you’re so keen on facts). The onus is on the prosecution to provide evidence. The prosecution has many avenues available to it, and it is perfectly possible to prosecute people for crimes against the person without any evidence from the victim. That happens every time there is a murder trial, for example.

Richard W. Symonds
Guest

“You could choose an example slightly less intended to shut down discussion” ‘Interested Observer’, I had – and have – no intention in shutting down discussion. ‘“the onus is on you to provide evidence that I raped you” And on that, you are factually incorrect….The onus is on the prosecution to provide evidence’. I apologise [to Susannah] for the indelicacy of my choice of words. I had no intention to offend or wound – only to make a point clear. Yes, ‘Interested Observer’, you are right: “The onus is on the prosecution to provide evidence”. And in this case, the… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

Richard, thank you, but please don’t worry: I wasn’t wounded or offended. I just preferred not to be cited in any kind of scenario like that. But I know and trust that no personal offence was meant. Incidentally, although we have taken different views on this whole affair several times, I want to affirm that I get every impression that you are a decent person and a faithful Christian, and I can even admire qualities of principle and loyalty that I see in you. It may not stop me having a different viewpoint, but I think in these online forums… Read more »

Richard W. Symonds
Guest

Thank you for your kind words Susannah – appreciated more than you know at this time. I also wish you well.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

Not so fast, IO. In a criminal context, there would be a prosecutor. And in that case the prosecutor would have to carry a very heavy burden: guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But in the civil context, as you surely know, there is no prosecutor. And in the civil context, the lesser, balance-of-probabilities burden is indeed on the complainant. As for which should apply to Carol’s allegations, may I refer us all to paragraph 3 of the Briden report, which is linked to above? There it is said that the balance-of-probabilities burden is indeed, and quite properly, on the complainant.… Read more »

peterpi - Peter Gross
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peterpi - Peter Gross

You make an absurd and toxic scenario in your first sentence. I fully agree with Interested Observer in his/her comment. The supporters of George Bell will not make allies by attacking anyone who dares to suggest that, at this late date and because of the initial botched investigations by the CofE, we can never know the full truth of what happened to Carol, beyond the fact that she was undoubtedly sexually abused. George Bell is legally innocent until proven otherwise, but Bishop Bell is beyond legal trial at this point. Nothing in British law prevents people from saying that his… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

OJ Simpson was acquitted of the murder of Nicole Brown. Did that make him innocent? Technically maybe, but that didn’t stop a jury awarding civil damages of $33.5m.

The whole point is that if a crime cannot be proven to a criminal standard that doesn’t in the everyday sense of word make someone innocent – just not proven guilty. That is why the verdict in England is “not guilty” rather than “innocent”.

Richard W. Symonds
Guest

So what?

Richard W. Symonds
Guest

The Reports of Lord Carlile QC and Timothy Briden [and the findings of the original Core Group] make it abundantly clear the allegations of ‘Carol’ against Bishop Bell would never have met the criminal standard of proof. In other words, if the case ever reached a criminal court it would be immediately thrown out by the judge through lack of evidence – and Bishop Bell would be declared “not guilty”. In other words, Bishop Bell would be declared innocent.

peterpi - Peter Gross
Guest
peterpi - Peter Gross

A very thorough and nuanced argument.
Thank you.

Richard W. Symonds
Guest

‘Carol’ and Bishop Bell are both victims of a monstrous injustice created by a powerful cabal within the Church who are still responsible for, and in control of, Safeguarding. All of us – whatever our view – need to ensure we are not being played and manipulated.

Richard W. Symonds
Guest

The local community in Chichester are beginning to make their presence felt, and their views known, regarding this ongoing injustice:

https://www.change.org/p/the-dean-chapter-of-chichester-cathedral-justice-for-george-bell-479a626f-47aa-400d-8fc3-61b19fcc5d98?recruiter=834778373&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Regarding the link between legal and factual innocence: the two aren’t unconnected. Yes, we all know that guilty people get acquitted; but absent compelling evidence of guilt, we have no grounds to presume it. Claimants always bear the burden. The allegations against Bell are so riddled with factual errors that I have no basis to presume him anything other than innocent. They may be true for all that — witnesses can of course make serious errors and still be truthful — but since we’re not omniscient, we must go where there evidence leads.