Thursday, 14 July 2016
Further points on the George Bell case
Updated Thursday evening
We reported in March that the George Bell Group had 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 challenge was in a report published here as a web page, and also as a PDF file.
Yesterday, the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, Church of England lead bishop on safeguarding, issued this letter to the George Bell Group: Further points on the George Bell case.
Several questions were asked at General Synod on Friday 8 July relating to the George Bell case. The questions and answers are printed in this booklet, but for convenience they are copied below the fold. In addition I have transcribed the supplementary questions and answers from this recording; they are shown indented.
Mr David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) to ask the Church Commissioners:
Q17 It is understood that the Church Commissioners paid, or contributed to, the £15,000 paid in settlement of a civil claim regarding alleged sexual abuse by the late Bishop George Bell. Will the Church Commissioners please (i) confirm the accuracy of this information and, if others (whether insurers, the Diocese of Chichester or any other accountable Church institution) contributed to the settlement, state the amount(s) of their respective contributions, and (ii) state whether, in addition, the Church Commissioners made any, and if so what, financial contribution to (a) the complainant’s legal costs (including any success fee) and expenses, and/or (b) the costs and expenses (including the fees of experts) of the Diocese of Chichester incurred in relation to the said claim.
Sir Andreas Whittam Smith to reply as First Church Estates Commissioner:
A The Commissioners contributed to the settlement of the claim, but did not pay the whole. The damages paid were £16,800 and the claimant’s legal costs were £15,000. In addition, the Diocese of Chichester’s costs were £18,000. These figures include the costs of a medical expert instructed by the claimant and another instructed by the Diocese of Chichester. The Commissioners paid £29,800 towards the damages and costs, with the balance being funded by a donation from a private individual, not an insurer or another Church institution.
David Lamming: I thank Sir Andreas for his answer and for the additional information given. But in the light of the answer will you say whether insurers were asked to contribute to the settlement and if so whether they declined to do so, who in fact was the putative defendant on whose behalf the settlement was reached with the claimant, and I am assuming that court proceedings were not issued, and will you please state the particular speciality of the medical experts instructed respectively by the claimants and by the diocese of Chichester.
Sir Andreas Whittam Smith: Thank you. You are accrediting the Church Commissioners with far more involvement in this case than you might think. We have a discretion to pay bishops’ costs as you will probably know and we make judgments on what costs to bear depending on a variety of factors. In this case the answers are really clear in my answer; I don’t think I can add to them. There are the damages, there are the claimant’s legal costs, and there are the diocese of Chichester’s costs and we paid £29,800 of those and a private individual came forward, not an insurer, and paid the rest. I can’t add to that.
Martin Sewell (Rochester): There’s a very simple question on the table: Did any insurer decline to indemnify?
Sir Andreas Whittam Smith: I’ve no idea whether an insurer was involved. We were not told about such a case.
Martin Sewell: Who would know if an insurer …
Sir Andreas Whittam Smith: The diocese of Chichester would know.
Martin Sewell: Will that information be made available?
Sir Andreas Whittam Smith: I cannot speak for the diocese of Chichester, I’m afraid.
Mr Martin Sewell (Rochester) to ask the Chair of the House of Bishops:
Q32 The Chichester Diocese publishes on its website a comprehensive 54 page report by Dame Elizabeth Butler Sloss into its handling of the cases of sexual predators Roy Cotton and Colin Pritchard; that report balances victim confidentiality with the public interest in having confidence in due and proper process. Given the continuing public concern at the handling of the case of Bishop Bell, will the Church now issue a comprehensive explanation of why transparency can apply in one case but not the other?
Mr David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) to ask the Chair of the House of Bishops:
Q33 In answer to a question from Miss Prudence Dailey (Q.13) at the February 2016 Group of Sessions concerning the response of the Church to allegations made against the late Bishop George Bell, the Bishop of Durham stated that it was “legally impermissible for the Church to disclose any evidence used in the settlement [of the claim against the Diocese of Chichester]” and that the law “rightly affords [the complainant] protection to safeguard the confidentiality of their deeply personal information.” In the light of
i. The call by the George Bell Group  for a proper review of both the process and the evidence that resulted in the statement issued by the Church of England media centre on 22 October 2015 effectively branding Bishop Bell as a paedophile;
ii. The Opinion by His Honour Alan Pardoe QC and Desmond Browne QC  that there are no legal constraints to disclosure of the evidence and documents (suitably redacted to preserve the complainant’s anonymity) that the Church considered before settling the claim; and iii. The fact that Dame Lowell Goddard has stated that “Bell’s guilt or innocence is not a critical aspect of this Inquiry, or of the Anglican investigation, or of the investigation’s case studies,” [3 and 3] so that any reliance by the Church that the Goddard Inquiry will investigate this issue is misplaced;
Will the House of Bishops now commission an independent inquiry as called for by the George Bell Group and, if not, why not?
The Bishop of Durham to reply as Lead Bishop for Safeguarding:
A I will take Questions 32 and 33 together. I refer both questioners to the statement issued by the Church of England on 28 June in which it was announced that an independent review of the handling of the George Bell case would be launched shortly. The House of Bishops practice guidance states that once all matters relating to any serious safeguarding situation have been completed, the Core Group should meet again to review the process and to consider what lessons can be learnt to improve safeguarding practice in the future. It will be for the independent reviewer to consider what evidence they deem to be relevant and publish in due course their view of any lessons learned from the Church’s handling of the case.
It should be noted that the Church has always recognised Bishop Bell’s principled stand in the Second World War and his contribution to peace but it also has a duty to listen to those who make allegations of abuse.
David Lamming: I thank the Bishop of Durham for his answer and for the announcement, post the date for submitting questions, that there is to be an independent review, not just a review by the Core Group. However the review announced on the 28th June is only into the processes used to inform the decision to settle the claim by the woman know as Carol, but the review will not be credible unless it examines all the evidence, and in the House of Bishops [sic] the 30th June the Bishop of Chelmsford said “The Church remains satisfied of the credibility of Carol’s allegation.” Will the Bishop, and perhaps on behalf of his successor, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, please now acknowledge that the terms of reference of the review must enable the reviewer both to review the process and to look at all the evidence including that that was not looked at by the Core Group.
Bishop of Durham: Thank you for that supplementary. The independent reviewer has yet to be appointed, the terms of reference will have to be agreed with that independent reviewer, and it is that this will be around the process that was followed, and when that reviewer is there then that’s what they will be briefed to do.
Martin Sewell: You’ve answered two questions together. I’m going to have to refer. I refer first of all to Alan Pardoe’s opinion and Desmond Brown’s opinion, there are no legal restraints to disclosure of the evidence and documents suitably redacted to preserve the complainant’s anonymity. I refer back to comparing the Bell case to the Cotton and Pritchard case saying that in the one case that is already out there on the Chichester website it balances victim confidentiality with public interest in having confidence in due and proper process. So I then ask why does it apply to one case and not the other? It’s a very simple question. You tell us that there’s going to be a review. We don’t need to know if the review knows how to do this. We need to know if there is a core competence in the Church’s people to do this sort of thing and to understand the law on confidentiality and how it applies in each and every case. We can’t assume that tht competence is there because we’ve not seen it demonstrated.
Chair: Do you want to put that into a question then please?
Martin Sewell: Yes, it’s very simple. Will you issue a comprehensive explanation of why transparency can apply in one case, that’s Cotton and Pritchard, and not in the other, Bishop Bell. It’s a very simple question.
Bishop of Durham: The simple reality is you may quote two lawyers and I could quote others, which I won’t, who would disagree with that opinion. The review will take place and there is not an exact equivalence between the Butler-Sloss report and how the Bell case was handled and the report that has come out.
Miss Prudence Dailey (Oxford) to ask the Chair of the House of Bishops:
Q36 In the light of the Bishop Bell case, has any consideration been given to the view that offering pastoral support to the complainant, independently investigating the complaint, dispassionately evaluating the evidence, and simultaneously managing crises whilst protecting the good name of the Church are incompatible objectives; and will consideration now be given to establishing a properly resourced, consistent, professional and independent central complaint handling body, removing the responsibility from dioceses with potentially variable expertise and processes?
The Bishop of Durham to reply as Lead Bishop for Safeguarding:
A Developing a more consistent and professional approach to safeguarding across the dioceses and nationally is one of our key priorities as a church, recognising of course that good safeguarding is fundamentally something that takes place in a parish context. There are a number of key elements to achieving this through national policy and guidance, regulations, training and quality assurance, including the independent audits being conducted across all dioceses during 2016 and 2017. These audits provide an important benchmark and areas for further improvement for dioceses and the national church. The intention to develop a standards based approach will include how we provide pastoral and other support to those who are accused as well as those who make complaints of abuse. Indeed a recent case review conducted by the National Safeguarding Team has highlighted this very issue. The Church of England must remain committed to responding to non-current abuse and abuse in the present day, as well as building a safer church for the future based on prevention.
Prudence Dailey: Has any consideration been given to the potential for conflict of interest in the Church carrying out the various different functions alluded to in my question in relation to the Bishop Bell case?
Bishop of Durham: Quite specifically in all these the history of conflict of interest is always taken into consideration. Every core group has to work at that particular bit on every example that we have.
Simon Butler (Southwark): In view of the fact that many of the allegations are made against clergy, will the bishop, or his successor, consult with the House of Clergy Standing Committee about procedures for putting in place future support and the work around those who have been accused of abuse?
Bishop of Durham: Thank you for that question. One of the areas that has caused some concern is the level of support for clergy when they face allegations and that is firmly on the agenda to seek to make sure that they are given adequate pastoral support when going through such processes because they are deeply painful and difficult.
Posted by Peter Owen on Thursday, 14 July 2016 at 9:31am BST