Top Barrister To Examine Evidence Of Sex Abuse Case Against Bishop George Bell
Lord Carlile of Berriew has been named as the independent reviewer in the case of George Bell, the Church of England former Bishop of Chichester who was accused of paedophilia 37 years after his death.
Lord Carlile, former head of chambers at Bell Yard in London, successfully defended Paul Burrell, butler of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, against charges that Burrell stole from her estate. He also headed the review into the behaviour of monks at Ealing Abbey, beset by scandal after David Pearce, a former monk, was imprisoned for eight years for a 36-year campaign of abuse of pupils St Benedict’s School.
Lord Carlile found in 2011 that governance at the school was “wholly outdated and demonstrably unacceptable”.
He has also prosecuted and defended a large number of non-recent child abuse cases, so is experienced in weighing up evidence in such cases.
The “lessons learnt” of the Bell case is expected to last until the end of next summer.
It follows months of controversy over Bell, a leading campaigner in the Second World War against the Nazi regime and in support of refugees fleeing Germany. He was also a close friend and supporter of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who was involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler and who was executed when found out.
The controversy began in October 2015 last year when the Church of England released a statement to say that the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, had apologised following a settlement regarding allegations of child sexual abuse by Bell in the 1940s and 1950s.
The Chichester diocese had paid compensation to the complainant, Carol, a month previously, in September.
Supporters of Bishop Bell have protested repeatedly at the damage caused to his reputation by allegations that have not been proven in court.
The accusation that Bell was a paedophile was then challenged by a group of lawyers, academics, politicians and senior Church figures who wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Peter Hitchens of the Mail on Sunday has been among the most vocal defenders of Bell.
Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church Oxford, tweeted today:
Good to see review happening on Bishop George Bell case, after 2 years of pressing the CofE: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/23/church-of-england-appoints-lord-carlile-to-review-george-bell-claim …http://www.georgebellgroup.org/
George Bell Group
Our analysis of the way in which the allegation against Bishop Bell has been handled by the authorities of the Church.
The aim of the Carlile review will be to look at the processes surrounding the allegations which were first brought in 1995 to the diocese of Chichester.
The compensation was paid and an apology issued after the same allegations were brought again to Lambeth Palace, office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 2013.
The review will also consider the processes used to inform the decision to settle the case in order to learn lessons for the future.
Lord Carlile told Christian Today: “I have been asked to do a review, to provide lessons learned. I will do it in a measured way, an evidence-based way. I will be willing to receive any new evidence people have. There will be an evidence base to what I write.”
He said he hoped this would ensure the “balance” of his review.
“I shall look with care at all the documentation that’s been created to date in relation to this case,” he said, adding that he would make any judgements necessary in a “calm and rational” way.
Lord Carlile said: “It is always the situation in every case like this that people have very strong views.” But he was confident that with the right approach, the review would be able to produce something “acceptable”. At present, he has not read the documents and so has no view at all on the case, he added.
The Bishop of Bath and Wells, Peter Hancock, the Church of England’s lead bishop on safeguarding, said: “I am grateful to Lord Carlile for agreeing to undertake the review, which will take a detailed look into how the Church handled the George Bell case; as with all serious cases there are always lessons to be learnt.
“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.”
Frank Field MP, a member of the George Bell Group which has been campaign for the case to be reexamined, said: “I welcome unreservedly the Archbishop [of Canterbury’s] decision to establish an independent reviewer on the George Bell case. In Lord Carlile there could not be a better independent person to conduct this inquiry. It speaks volumes that the Archbishop has made this move, all of which is to his credit.”
The Bell Society, another group that has also campaigned for the review, said: “Every opportunity will be taken up to put our concerns to the review – a review for which many have worked, hoped and prayed. There is every reason to be confident a fairer, more just, hearing will take place than Bishop Bell received initially – but saddened this has taken so long to achieve.”