Monthly Archives: November 2016

Bishop Bell and ‘The Cathedral Guide Letter’ to the Dean of Chichester


Chichester Cathedral

Monday, November 28 2016

The Deanery

Chichester Cathedral


West Sussex PO19 1PY

Dear Dean and Members of Chapter

We write concerning the recent publication of the Pitkin Guide to the Cathedral. In common with many people locally and nationally who have read it, we find your stance on the text concerning the late Bishop Bell unhelpful. We are given to understand the copyright is your responsibility and that you wrote the text in question.

When every effort is being made to heal the hurt and divisions occasioned by the way the Church locally and nationally has handled this affair, it seems to us unwise to leave in place any potentially damaging text about Bishop Bell.

As concern grows nationally regarding the handling of sexual abuse cases, we await the investigation into the Church of England’s handling of this affair.

In the meantime, we would suggest three possible courses of action:

1. The withdrawal of the Guide from sale pending the Review by Lord Carlile QC

2. The re-printing of the Guide, excluding – or re-writing – the text in question

3. The insertion of a Slip into every copy of the Guide, stating something along the lines of: “The accusation of child sexual abuse which has been made against Bishop George Bell is now the subject to an investigation – led by Lord Carlile QC – which will report in 2017”.

Thank you for giving this letter your consideration.


Yours sincerely


Timothy ADAMS









Professor Peter BILLINGHAM

Joanna BOGLE






Dr Colin CLARK

Brian COOK

Yvette COOK






Charlotte EVANS

The Reverend David EVANS

Anthony FRENCH

The Reverend Dr Jules GOMES


Dr Ruth Hildebrandt GRAYSON

Professor James GRAYSON

Annabelle HANCOCK


The Reverend Professor Martin HENIG



Christopher HILL

Christopher HOARE

Richard HOARE








The Very Reverend Professor Martyn PERCY

Thelma PERCY





Sandra SAER

Marguerite SAFFERY



Michael SHARP

Richard W. SYMONDS


Dr Geoffrey THOMAS

The Reverend John TIBBS

Michael TIBBS








For any reply and/or further information, please contact:

Richard W. Symonds The Bell Society 2 Lychgate Cottages Ifield Street, Ifield Village Crawley, West Sussex RH11 0NN
Tel: 07540 309592 (Text only – Very deaf)


cc The Rt Revd Dr Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester

Further Information:


Bishop Bell – “The Rule of the Lynch Mob” – Church of England Newspaper – October 2015 [Archives] – The Justice Gap – November 2016

[Source : The Justice Gap ]


The rule of the lynch mob

Well let’s get it out of the way. All child abuse is wrong and horrible. All claims of child abuse should be investigated properly and the offenders, if found to be guilty in a court of law, should be flung into prison for a very, very long time.

So now we’ve done the formalities. There is much discontent with the Church of England’s behaviour over the way it has handled abuse allegations against one of its greatest sons, George Bell – a great ecumenist, liturgist, wartime leader and friend to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church.

It was announced last week that a legal civil claim has been settled by the Diocese of Chichester regarding sexual abuse claims against Bishop Bell. The allegation was first made in 1995 and was not reported to the police. The case was reopened in 2013 and now an unknown sum of money has been handed over.

But why on earth is the Church of England traducing the reputation of one of its greatest wartime spiritual leaders on the basis of recent allegations about the events of 65 years ago? We talk about cases of historic abuse in reference to Jimmy Savile crimes during the 60s, 70s and 80s, but this case is truly prehistoric.

Bishop Bell died in 1958 and the crimes of abuse he is alleged to have committed against a young child date from the late 40s and early 50s when the Bishop himself was in his late 60s and early 70s.

He is effectively being tried and convicted by the Church of England with little thought for proper justice and due process.

“We are all diminished by what we are being told,” said the modern Bishop of Chichester. He goes on to explain: “Our starting point is response to the survivor. We remain committed to listening to all allegations of abuse with an open mind. In this case, the scrutiny of the allegation has been thorough, objective and undertaken by people who command the respect of all parties.

“We face with shame a story of abuse of a child; we also know that the burden of not being heard has made the experience so much worse. We apologise for the failures of the past.”

And here much of the problem lies. The starting point must be justice, not just a concern for the ‘survivor’, because that is to jump to conclusions. The Bishop, and the independent assessors, have missed out a vital part of the process of justice that is that the accused is presumed innocent and has the right to defend themselves.

The indecent haste to describe Bishop George Bell as an abuser is a failure of nerve on the part of the Church of England. The diocese of Chichester may have failed to respond properly when the allegation of abuse was first reported in 1995, and although the accuser was offered pastoral support, this should not lead to any sort of admission of guilt on behalf of George Bell.

There is hysteria and a lynch-mob mentality surrounding some of the cases of historic abuse. We have seen this in the false allegations of murder, rape and ritual abuse made against politicians such as Ted Heath, Leon Brittan and Harvey Proctor. The Church is now as much a part of this overreaction as any other part of society.


Of course there are historic cases of abuse, and there was a long period of time when child protection procedures were unknown and reports of abuse were dealt with poorly. There were cover-ups and failures to believe the victims of abuse. But we’ve had at least two decades of improving things, legislating and regulating to make sure that protections are better, and that children are properly listened to and dealt with.

These improvements should have lessened the sense of hysteria and panic surrounding these cases. Abusers such as Jimmy Savile could never have thrived in today’s climate of safeguarding. Yet the case of George Bell proves that we are living in a state of perpetual and rising fears over allegations of child abuse and we in the Church of England have no answers to these fears. In fact, we are complicit in the lynch mob.

Remember the ritual abuse controversy of the 1980s and 1990s in which social workers and police were convinced that Satanists were involved in the mass killing and abuse of children. And there was no evidence at all in the end.

Remember also the mob that surrounded the home of a paediatrician. The witch-hunt is back and no prominent person is safe from being named – alive or dead. And if named their reputation is trashed.

This is the very opposite of the Christian faith that decries fear and says ‘judge not, lest ye be judged’.

George Bell, with his reputation for bravery, and his leadership in bringing the victims of Nazism to safety, opposing carpet-bombing of German cities and supporting the martyrs of the Confessing Church, is the type of church leader who would have confronted this lynch mob with calm courage.

There may be a stain on his reputation for a short time but his memory will be cherished again in future especially when we look back at this time of witch-hunting with a proper sense of perspective.

6 Responses to “The rule of the lynch mob”

  1. EveOxford  07/11/2015 at 15:29

    “We are all diminished by what we are being told,” – actually, no. But we are diminished by the Church, in our name, presuming to judge, to apologise and then to pay compensation. If George Bell were still alive then perhaps we would have been treated to BBC film of a dawn raid of his palace (before the police admitted they shouldn’t have done that). Perhaps we’d have had a policeman standing in front of the Bishop’s Palace inviting “people who will be believed” to step forward. Perhaps his career would have been ruined and after a year of investigations the police would say they had nothing on him after all (as with Paul Gambaccini). Who on earth was selected by the diocese of Chichester to sit in judgment on the reputation of this bravest of Christians?

  2. Tony Foreman  07/11/2015 at 15:40

    In a wicked world we cannot, unfortunately, do without suspicion. But that suspicion has to be equally apportioned – to Bishop Bell, to the complainant and in regard to the competence of the C of E committee that saw fit to take the matter into its own hands and tacitly admit Bishop Bell’s guilt by issuing an apology. This is not justice: open and honest. It is an illegitimate, anonymous, unaccountable exercise of power. It is wholly against everything the C of E ought to stand for.

  3. Fr David Lawrence-March  07/11/2015 at 21:50

    Well doe, CofE Newspaper for a measured, Christian response.

  4. Fr David Lawrence-March  07/11/2015 at 21:52

    Whoops, ‘done’ !

  5. Richard  08/11/2015 at 07:35

    In 1995 Bishop Bell had been dead for 37 years. Dead people are beyond the reach of civil justice so how could the bishop at that time have gone to the police? And why, if they could have done, didn’t the acuser. Something stinks about this whole witch hunt.

Cathy Presland on Coaching and Leadership


Hi, it’s Cathy here and I was talking to a group of coaches last week about leadership and deep coaching. About what it means to lead in our role as a coach, and what a client should expect from the coach they choose to work with.

I’ll share more of the content of the talk in future emails; I don’t think it applies only to coaching — we are all leaders — and the concepts of how to co-create with someone else applies to each and every one of us in the work we do in the world.

Anyway…. this question came up in the Q&A:

What’s the difference between a coach and a leader?

So many leaders are being asked–or told–to acquire coaching skills, so what’s the difference and why do we still need coaches if our managers can ‘coach’ us?

Hmm, that’s a pretty interesting question.

I could see the reasoning behind it, yet I also see the role of of a coach and the role a leader (or manager) as very different.

One of the other speakers answered before me. She talked about a commitment to the outputs, an allegiance to the organisation, sensible stuff.

And then it was my turn. I hadn’t really thought about what to say until that moment, and what came out surprised me.

“It’s about love,” I said.

“A coaching relationship is one of the few places where you can expect unconditional love.

“Your coach doesn’t demand anything of you. Your coach is never there to judge or to tell you to do something you don’t want to do. Even when — in fact especially when — you mess up. Your coach just wants to you be yourself and to do what inspires you. He or she will give you that love whatever happens.

“And it comes with an unconditionality so rare in most adult relationships.

“Now, you might also get this from your manager or leader, but that isn’t guaranteed. That you should get it from your coach is a given.”

The L.O.V.E word

We don’t often talk like that in our professional relationships, especially in business. I don’t think you’ll find the L… word on many sales pages or even in many coaching conversations.

And yet, it is completely true.

I don’t mean love…” in the way I might mean romantic love; I don’t mean a passionate love, or the deep, powerful love that we have for our children.

The love we give, and receive, as a coach is about a calmness, a non-judgemental, unconditionally supportive kind of love that transcends everyday transactional business and personal relationships.

It comes from a deep knowing that, at the end of the day, we are going to be OK, no matter what the world throws at us. That, together, we will find the answers, find a way through our challenges, and find the strength to achieve what we want to achieve.

And I think being in that relationship is very special.

Here’s to creating more of that unconditional understanding and caring this week!

With love,


Helping you see things differently. Find out more at Cathy Presland

P.S. If you want to be in the kind of supportive, intimate, professional relationship where you can shine and grow, then maybe you’re ready for my World-Changers’ Circle. For those who join, it’s a chance to share your dreams with a hand-picked group of people who truly understand your dreams and your challenges. Reply and tell me more about those dreams…

“Review of George Bell child abuse case will be rigorous, Lord Carlile insists” – The Church Times – November 25 2016

Review of George Bell child abuse case will be rigorous, Lord Carlile insists

Tim Wyatt

by Tim Wyatt

Posted: 25 Nov 2016 @ 12:07


Click to enlarge

Expecting to report “in a timely fashion”: Lord Carlile


LORD CARLILE, who is to review the Church of England’s handling of the George Bell child-abuse allegations, insists that his inquiry will deliver a robust and independent verdict.

It was announced on Wednesday that the peer, an experienced lawyer and judge and former Liberal Democrat MP, would be leading the review of the affair, in which a woman, referred to under the pseudonym Carol, complained that Bell, a former Bishop of Chichester, who died in 1958, had sexually abused her at his palace when she was a child. She received £15,000 compensation in recognition that the complaint had been handled badly over a number of years (News, 23 October 2015).

A church statement to the media about the compensation settlement accepted Bell’s guilt, and prompted campaigning in his defence. The Church of England has been accused of destroying a revered churchman’s reputation on flimsy evidence (News, 24 March). The review of the case was announced in July (News, 1 July).

Lord Carlile has been asked to review both how the diocese of Chichester dealt with Carol’s initial complaint in 1995, her subsequent complaints sent to Lambeth Palace, and how the Church’s own investigation came to conclude that, on the balance of probabilities, Bishop Bell had abused Carol.

“The important thing about my review is that is should produce an objective assessment and lessons learned on an evidence base,” Lord Carlile said on Tuesday. Investigating the Church’s own inquiries into the truth of Carol’s complaint would be the “heart” of his job.

“I shall be crawling into files like a mole and looking at every detail in them,” Lord Carlile said. Material from both inside and outside the C of E would be considered, including any written evidence submitted by Bell’s defenders. He said that he was well aware that there were “strongly held opinions both for and against Bishop Bell”, but he was only interested in what evidence was available to substantiate those views.

The Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, the lead bishop for safeguarding, said that there would always be lessons to be learnt from every significant case. “The Church of England takes all safeguarding issues very seriously, and we will continue to listen to everyone affected in this case while we await the findings of the review. The diocese of Chichester continues to be in touch and offer support to the survivor known as Carol, who brought the allegations,” he said.

Desmond Browne QC, a member of the George Bell Group, which seeks to rehabilitate his reputation, told the BBC: “I’ve obviously had to look closely at the settlement, and nothing that I have seen either about the evidence or the process adopted by the Church has led me to believe that there is any substance in the allegations.”

To protect Carol’s identity and for legal reasons, not all of the report will be made public; but Lord Carlile expected that as much as possible would be.

“My intention is to produce a public report, and I’m confident that the Church of England will release everything that is material in this report. I would not be doing this if I did not have the right kind of assurances about the outcome.”

The review is due to be completed by the summer. Lord Carlile said that he had cleared his diary to dedicate “some quality time” to it, to report in a “timely fashion”.

An inquiry into sweeping allegations of child abuse by prominent figures in Westminster, the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Midland, was the subject of stinging criticism by its reviewer, Sir Richard Henriques, earlier this month. The findings led the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, to apologise for “serious failings” to prominent figures who were publicly accused of child abuse but later found to be innocent.

Lord Carlile said that he held Sir Richard’s judgement in high regard, and would take his findings into account.

Anonymity for those accused of sexual offences would ‘jeopardise open justice’ – The Justice Gap

Anonymity for those accused of sexual offences would ‘jeopardise open justice’

Paul Gambacinni NY weddingThe high profile campaign to give anonymity to those accused of sexual offences until charge has faced criticism from an alliance of women’s rights groups. Sir Cliff Richard and DJ Paul Gambaccini are pushing for a change in the law, alongside MP Nigel Evans and the widow of former Home Secretary Leon Brittan, all of whom were publicly accused of historic sexual abuse but never charged.

In a public letter to Sir Cliff Richard, the End Violence Against Women Coalition suggested that defendant anonymity would jeopardise the principle of open justice, and make it harder to find corroborating evidence. The harm done to innocent suspects is better dealt with, not by anonymising defendants, but by tackling ‘media sensationalism and protecting the presumption of innocence’, they say.

The letter continues:

The request for anonymity for defendants is a request for an extremely unusual exception for defendants accused of one special category of crimes: sexual offences. The reason often given is shame and harm to reputation. But is it really more shameful to be accused of a committing a sexual offence than to be accused of murder?

At a private meeting at the House of Lords earlier in the week, Sir Cliff stated that despite being exonerated, the allegations against him had damaged his dignity, standing and self-esteem and had ended his hopes of returning to a normal life.

In an interview with Jon Robins, editor of the Justice Gap, Paul Gambaccini described his ‘12 months of trauma’ as the police investigated allegations of sexual abuse made against him.

When the DJ appeared before the House of Commons’ justice committee, he told its members that he had been a victim of a ‘flypaper’ investigation: a high profile suspect’s name is hung up in public, endlessly re-bailed to keep the investigation ‘live’, with the hope that the original accusation draws further complainants out of the wood-work. The MPs agreed. The practice of ‘endlessly re-bailing… in the vague hope that other people come forward’ was ‘unacceptable and must come to an immediate end’, warned the group’s then chairman Keith Vaz.

‘The police are interested in results not justice and public relations rather than truth. If it helps their PR to paint elderly gay people as paedophiles, they will – even if it is intellectual preposterous and morally repugnant.’
Paul Gambaccini

Alison Saunders, The Director of Public Prosecutions, yesterday backed Sir Cliff’s plea for sexual offence suspects to remain anonymous until they are charged. ‘You don’t shout about it before you come to any conclusion,’ she told the Times.

Government plans to introduce defendant anonymity in rape cases were dropped in 2010 following a Ministry of Justice report which found there was insufficient empirical evidence to support the measure.


About Mehdi Shakarchi

Mehdi Shakarchi is a solicitor with a particular interest in criminal defence and human rights. He is currently an intern with Reprieve’s Middle East death penalty team and a commissioning editor with the Justice Gap

Print Friendly

“False Allegations – Emotional Truth – Actual Lies” – The Justice Gap – Barbara Hewson


After all, what is a fine lie? Simply that which is its own evidence.’
Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying (1891)

The present preoccupation with sex crime and victims of crime has given rise to a new type of victim: the falsely accused. These victims rarely receive the attention from policy-makers that they deserve, although the collapse of some recent high profile investigations into allegations of historic abuse has belatedly prompted a more sceptical approach to some complainants.  I believe that victims of false accusations now deserve more consideration.

Even a nascent rebellion against the fashionable ideology of ‘believe the victim [of sexual abuse]’ supported by former DPP Keir Starmer QC is out of step with current CPS practice (Human rights, victims and the prosecution of crime in the 21st century, (2014) Crim LR 777, 782). A Manchester barrister who prosecutes allegations of sexual assault for the CPS was recently quoted as saying: ‘Rape has become the bread and butter of the CPS. Basically if someone complains, we prosecute.

Various victims of false accusations, of whom the most high profile and outspoken is the well-known BBC radio presenter Paul Gambaccini, have voiced dismay at the authorities’ willingness to entertain complaints that in the past would have been seen as outlandish, even vexatious.

Modern Gothic
Perhaps the most extreme example of fantasy at work is Operation Midland, looking into allegations of alleged VIP abuse centring on a Westminster apartment block popular among MPs: Dolphin Square. This exercise, which cost the public purse £1.8 million in police staffing costs alone (here), was prompted by sensational reports on an online news source named Exaro.

Its star witness is an anonymous accuser, whose multiple personalities include Nick, Carl “Survivor” and Stephen. He claims to have witnessed a number of murders, and attempted genital mutilation, as well as being repeatedly assaulted himself by his army step-father and various MPs and other dignitaries, including the former Home Secretary, Sir Leon Brittan.  In November 2014, Detective Superintendent McDonald, who led the Metropolitan Police inquiry into Nick/ Exaro’s claims, called them ‘credible and true’.

Professor Jenkins, an eminent historian, has patiently explained that the evidence for Nick’s claims has been weak to non-existent. In two recent articles for The American Conservative (here and here), he points out that, conspiracy theories about a dastardly group of child-raping, boy-murdering VIPs is a rehash of 1980s scare-mongering:

‘The “elite paedophilia” charges circulated very widely in tabloid media of the 1980s, usually in the context of lunatic theories of Satanism and supposed “ritual child abuse,” sometimes linked to anti-Masonic hysteria. Then as now, these fevered rumors named names, including cabinet members and members of the royal family, as well as prominent Jews, like Brittan himself.’

Why are such preposterous tales taken so seriously today? Jenkins argues that this is because those hearing them have an ideological need to believe in a litany of horrors: ‘When I say that X is “credible”, what we mean is that I find what he has to say believable, and that fact depends as much on my willingness to accept his statement as on any quality in his character or demeanor.’

Yet Sir Keir Starmer and the present DPP Alison Saunders have both popularized the idea that it is possible, indeed desirable, to separate the credibility of an allegation from the credibility of its maker.

11 ways to falsity
It’s time for a much more rigorous and open discussion about why some people  – whom we should call ‘pseudovictims’ – make false allegations.  But first I should clarify what is meant by ‘false’. The word is ambiguous, covering a spectrum of claims that are simply unfounded, to those that are mistaken, to those that are dishonest.

In their 2012 paper, Jessica Engle and William O’Donoghue proposed 11 pathways to false allegations of sexual assault. These are:

  1. Lying;
  2. Implied consent;
  3. False memories;
  4. Intoxication;
  5. Antisocial personality disorder;
  6. Borderline personality disorder;
  7. Histrionic personality disorder;
  8. Delirium;
  9. Psychotic disorders;
  10. Dissociation; and
  11. Intellectual disability.

Crucially, they omit the honest but mistaken person: Pathway 12. A classic example of this is the rape victim who misidentifies her assailant in an identity parade.

People may lie about sexual assaults for a variety of motives: to inflict harm on the accused and his family; as revenge for some perceived slight or failure; for monetary gain; to get out of trouble; to explain a pregnancy; to gain the upper hand in a custody dispute, or to fit in with a group that is making accusations against a particular person or institution (the ‘bandwagon effect’).

Engle and O’Donoghue call these secondary gains. It should also be recognized that people who start by lying may come to believe in their own stories.

Confusion over consent
Another problem has emerged as a result of the redefining of what is meant by consent. Many feminists – especially those at universities – have campaigned for the introduction of ‘affirmative consent’ policies, which place the responsibility on male partners to obtain consent to every stage of a sexual encounter. In San Francisco last autumn, one health educator told a class of 16 year-olds that they should obtain consent every ten minutes.

This excessively prescriptive approach may cause some young people to redefine an encounter as non-consensual, with the benefit of hindsight.  What they do not understand is that their behaviour could plausibly be interpreted as consensual at the time. What does not help is if others, who are consulted, become obsessed with trying to establish if the scenario amounts to a rape case.

The intoxication of both or one party to a sexual encounter can create particular difficulties.  Alcohol and other drugs can disinhibit; they can also create cognitive distortions, memory gaps and blackouts. Persons recovering from a drugged state may confabulate to fill in memory gaps and develop a narrative of what they think ‘must have’ occurred.

People can also develop false memories of abuse, for example as a result of contact with therapists, pressure from peers or from significant others (such as partners or parents), or even from reading stories in the media.  There is not space here to discuss this important topic in detail.

Mental disorder
It is a sad fact that those with mental disorders or learning disabilities are disproportionately vulnerable to sexual assault.  But it should also be recognized that third parties – such as care providers – may stand to benefit from a false allegation.

That mental problems could potentially lead to false allegations is rarely discussed. But it is a very serious issue, which would benefit from wider debate. Those with personality disorders may be motivated to make false accusations out of motives of revenge, or attention-seeking.  Some may misperceive non-sexual events as sexual. Those who are delusional may also make false accusations of sexual misconduct.

Those who are learning disabled may innocently make sexualized comments, which may be seized on by those caring for them as a sign of abuse. They are highly suggestible.

The power of story-telling
In my opinion, far too little attention has been paid to the lure of the victim narrative, and the rewards of victimhood (for those who are competent).  These rewards can include the sympathy and attention which those proclaiming to be victims can expect, and the seduction of the ‘truthful lie’, both for its narrator and its audience.

Those who confabulate about their past experience so as to come to terms with it may be expressing an emotional truth (such as a perception of a violation of the self), but an actual lie. As the psychologist Professor Janice Haaken acknowledges:

‘The art of storytelling is not based merely on chronicling a sequence of facts but on the artful juxtaposition of dramatic elements. The power of the story to stir others…depends on its felt truth and plausibility rather than on its mere facticity… .  This may be the age of testimonial, as Elie Wiesel suggests, but testifiers do not inevitably speak the truth, as virtuous as they may perceive themselves to be.’
Professor Janice Haaken, Pillar of Salt: Gender, Memory and the Perils of Looking Back (Rutgers University Press, 1998)

The VIP-accuser Nick seems to be an epic storyteller. The fact that the highest echelons of the UK’s police fell for his tall tales is surely a tribute to his narrative powers. Whilst he may indeed have been a victim of some form of sexual abuse, his story seems to have taken on a life of its own. I am convinced that others have played a part in the creation of his Gothic tableaux. The deconstruction of this remarkable episode will no doubt occupy researchers and journalists for much time to come.
This article originally appeared in The Barrister magazine here


Profile photo of Barbara HewsonAbout Barbara Hewson
Barbara is a barrister practising at 1 Gray’s Inn Square. She specialises in public and administrative law; human rights & civil liberties; and professional discipline and regulatory law. Her practice includes mental capacity and court of protection work, judicial review, inquests, healthcare law, professional discipline and employment law.

Print Friendly

Bishop Bell and Miscarriages of Justice – The Justice Gap – Jon Robins – November 25 2016

‘A perfect storm from which injustice emerges’

george-bell-2A leading barrister has been appointed to conduct an independent review into how the Church of England handled allegations of child abuse made against one of its most revered bishops after claims that he was the victim of a ‘grave miscarriage of justice’.

Lord Carlile of Berriew will look into allegations made against the late Bishop George Bell, described by the historian Ian Kershaw as ‘the most significant English clergyman of the 20th century’. As well as being Bishop of Chichester for close to 30 years, Bell was a supporter of the German resistance, a friend to the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who plotted to assassinate Hitler and an outspoken critic of the Allies’ carpet bombing of German cities such as Dresden. His reputation was until October last year regarded as ‘close to saintly’ but now it is left in tatters.

Some 37 years after Bell’s death a woman known as ‘Carol’ made complaints that he had abused her when she was a young girl in the late 1940 and early 1950s. The allegations first arose in 1995. Last October a claim was settled by the Church of England and compensation reported to be £15,000 was paid out. The current Bishop of Chichester Dr Martin Warner issued a formal apology. ‘I am committed to ensuring that the past is handled with honesty and transparency,’ he said.

Supporters of the late Bishop claim that the investigation was anything but transparent. In July this year two members of the General Synod, Martin Sewell and David Lamming, both retired lawyers, proposed a motion of ‘no confidence’ in the investigation.

Speaking to the Justice Gap, Martin Sewell says: ‘The Bell case is almost unique in having been placed in complete purdah. You can’t get anything out of the Church and that is what raised our hackles. It must deal with these matters with transparency and accountability.’ Shortly after the motion of ‘no confidence’, which so far has 40 out of the necessary 100 signatures, the independent review was announced and this week it was confirmed that Lord Carlile would head it up.

‘My job is neither to damage nor salvage anybody’s reputation,’ the Liberal Democrat peer said this week. ‘My job is to report on the way in which the Church of England looked into these issues and people will be able to draw their conclusions from the review that I produce.’

george-bellA perfect storm
Martin Sewell spent 30 years as a lawyer specializing in child protection. ‘The Bell case represents the perfect storm from which injustice emerges,’ he says. ‘We had a Church fearful and sensitive to allegations that it might be covering up abuse, a plausible complainant, a long dead Bishop with no living heirs, and a culture which had abandoned the presumption of innocence in favour of asserting that all complainants are entitled to be believed. When you add that the whole process was veiled in secrecy it is no surprising that those who treasured Bishop Bell’s memory and those who assert the importance of due process for all should combine to insist upon a truly independent review.’

As reported in the Justice Gap in a debate in July, Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, spoke of his ‘distress’ at the Church’s treatment of the case and claimed that its procedures ‘had the character of a kangaroo court and not a just, compassionate and balanced investigation of the facts’.

The George Bell Group was set up in response to the perceived unfairness at the late Bishop’s treatment. The campaign – supported by former chairman of the Bar Desmond Browne QC, historian Andrew Chandler, Frank Field MP and the Conservative Peer and historian Lord Lexden – calls the wording of the October statement ‘(at best) reprehensibly equivocal, and (at worst) positively misleading’. As a result of that statement it was widely and incorrectly reported that Bell was a proven paedophile. Critics claim that the church’s conduct of the case have fallen considerably short of even a civil standard of proof (i.e., balance of probabilities).

In his statement Bishop Warner insisted that ‘the scrutiny of the allegation has been thorough, objective and undertaken by people who command the respect of all parties’. The George Bell Group point out that the Bishop did not identify the ‘parties’ to whom he was referring and ‘provided no information about the scrutineers, their number, their professional backgrounds or (most important of all) the nature of the process they undertook’. This last point was ‘especially relevant’ since the statement did not suggest that any corroboration of the allegations had been found, the group added. They also point out that the inquiry team did not have a lawyer to assist them on the assessment of their evidence.

Supporters of George Bell highlight a number of striking omissions from the Church’s investigation. Most notably, it failed to interview Canon Adrian Carey, Bell’s chaplain at the time of the allegations who is still alive. ‘He was virtually the bishop’s butler and would have been with him at all times,’ explains Martin Sewell. ‘When there was a knock on the door, it would be Adrian Carey who would answer.’ Canon Carey has said it would have been impossible to imagine how abuse could have taken place. The George Bell Group points out there appears to have been no attempt to access Bell’s papers and diaries. Dr Andrew Chandler, Bell’s biographer, has said that Bishop’ daily life was ‘meticulously documented by himself and almost constantly observed by those who lived and worked with him. Bell shared almost all his time with his wife, secretary, domestic chaplain and driver.’

In an article that appeared in the Church of England Newspaper last October (The Rule of the Lynch Mob) spoke of the ‘discontent with the Church of England’s behaviour over the way it has handled abuse allegations against one of its greatest sons’. It talked of the ‘hysteria and a lynch-mob mentality’ surrounding some cases of historic abuse citing the false allegations made against politicians such as Ted Heath, Leon Brittan and Harvey Proctor. ‘The Church is now as much a part of this overreaction as any other part of society,’ it said.

You can download the George Bell Group review here

Profile photo of Jon RobinsAbout Jon Robins
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon’s books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council’s journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year’s Criminal Justice Alliance’s journalism award

Print Friendly