Lord Lexden on Bishop Bell and Presumption of Innocence – House of Lords – November 16 2016

https://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/2016-11-16/debates/DE488DE7-5743-45D2-9EB1-6C8AEEF6908E/PolicingAndCrimeBill#contribution-2F79B283-7175-4D3E-A25F-775AAFEFC2E4

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My Lords, much gratitude is due to the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Campbell-Savours, for introducing and seconding this amendment, drawing on their long experience of work and reflection in relation to a very important issue. I shall return briefly to a question that has come up naturally in the course of our discussion—the simple question of whether the presumption of innocence until proved guilty is still in practical, effective existence where allegations of sexual abuse are concerned. Last week’s Henriques report showed that during Operation Midland innocent people were treated as if they were guilty, even though there was no serious evidence against them. A recent detailed study by the Oxford University Centre for Criminology concluded that there has been a cultural shift towards believing allegations of abuse and the presumption is now in favour of believing those who present themselves as victims. The study documents in great detail the immense harm done to very large numbers of ordinary, innocent people who had unfounded allegations made against them. In any walk of life, a person whose name appears publicly in relation to a mere allegation of abuse can expect to suffer much hardship. This wholly unsatisfactory state of affairs extends from state to Church, from the living to the dead.

As I have mentioned on previous occasions in your Lordships’ House, grave damage has been inflicted on the reputation of one of the greatest 20th century bishops of the Church of England, George Bell, after a completely secret and internal investigation of a single, uncorroborated complaint, made many decades after his death. At least the injustice done as a result of Operation Midland has been the subject of a thorough authoritative inquiry. In June, the Church announced an independent review of the case involving Bishop Bell. Four and a half months later, we still await the name of the review’s chairman and his or her terms of reference. There is no right reverend Prelate in the Chamber at the moment but I hope that these comments will be noted by the Lords Spiritual.

The authorities of Church as well as state must recognise that we need not just to halt but to reverse the trend that has eroded the presumption of innocence. We need another cultural shift, a decisive, morally responsible one that will stop the ruin of innocent lives and reputations. This amendment, I believe, would help us to achieve that shift.

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