“Injustice” by Richard W. Symonds

Chapter 1 – The Injustice Builds – 1912 to 2014

“George Bell was very conscientious in keeping this Caution List up-to-date” (RWS)

“By now a working relationship with the Caution List had been a part of almost Bell’s entire career” – Andrew Chandler

“It is difficult to believe someone responsible for a ‘Caution List’, which listed priests found guilty of ‘moral offences’, was as guilty as those on that List” – RWS

“No doubt there will be people who are going to think there is no smoke without fire. I can do nothing about that except to say such an attitude would be wrong” – Judge David Clarke

“Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss is critical both of Sussex Police and Chichester Diocese, for not taking complaints against Pritchard and Cotton  seriously enough. There was ‘a lack of understanding of the seriousness of historic child abuse’ – RWS

“The victims were effectively denied the opportunity of being believed in a meaningful sense and denied the opportunity of ‘timely’ justice. PJ spent many years trying to get the Church [and Sussex Police] to accept his allegations and respond with timely action and recognition of his abuse” – Roger Meekings

“Sussex Police receive dossier from Lambeth Palace relating to Bishop Peter Ball in the Chichester Diocese” – RWS

2012 – “The problems relating to safeguarding in Chichester have been specific to that diocese rather than a reflection of failures in the legal processes or national policies of the Church of England. Nevertheless…” – Archbishop Rowan Williams

2012 – “The inquiry by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office concluded that the West Sussex diocese has ‘an appalling history’ of child protection failures, with ‘fresh and disturbing’ allegations continuing to emerge” – David Batty

“Moral, legal and common sense appears to have deserted the Church of England” – RWS

28.10.15 http://www.churchnewspaper.com/42762/archives

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.

    The Church of England’s shameful betrayal of bishop George Bell

    This fair, just, brave man deserves the simple justice of the presumption of innocence.

    7 November 2015

    The Church of England has produced a lot of good men and women, but very few great ones. It is in its modest, cautious nature that it should be so. Greatness requires a lonely, single-minded strength that does not sit easily with Anglicanism’s gentle compromise.

    And I suspect the Church has always been hesitant and embarrassed about the one undeniably great figure it produced in the 20th century. To this day, George Bell, Bishop of Chichester from 1929 to 1958, is an uncomfortable, disturbing person, like a grim obelisk set in a bleak landscape. Many British people still disapprove of his lonely public denunciation of Winston Churchill’s deliberate bombing of German civilians in their homes. Some still defend the bombing and seek to reconcile it with Christian teaching, which is hard. Others simply refuse to believe, against all evidence, that this is what we did. It is often said, though it cannot be proved, that George Bell would have become Archbishop of Canterbury — a post for which he was well qualified — had he kept his mouth shut.

    And perhaps this is why he found so few defenders when, 57 years after his death, Bishop Bell was numbered among the transgressors by his old church, and said to have been a paedophilic abuser.

    The church itself issued a public statement which correctly referred to the anonymous accusations against the late Bishop Bell as ‘allegations’, but in all other respects treated the claim as if it were a proven fact. Money had been paid in compensation. The current Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, was said to have written to ‘the survivor’, apologising. He explained, ‘I am committed to ensuring that the past is handled with honesty and transparency.’ There were ‘expert independent reports’ (which have not been published). None ‘found any reason to doubt the veracity of the claim’.

    The Sussex police, meanwhile, ‘confirmed’ that the information obtained from their inquiries would have led to Bishop Bell’s arrest, had he not been dead. Who can doubt this, given modern police forces’ strong interest in investigating such allegations against prominent people? But it merely draws attention to the long delay between the alleged offence and accusation. Had the bishop survived until the first allegation was made in 1995, he would have been 112 years old. As it turned out, he had been dead for 37 years, which is perhaps why the church did little at the time, and the police were not called to arrest and interrogate the bishop’s bones. The charges go even further back, and refer to alleged events in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

    The church’s document on the affair was available online and quickly found its way to the desks of several newspaper correspondents. Unqualified headlines resulted, and stories which proclaimed without reservation that the late bishop ‘was’ a paedophile, and ‘committed’ sexual abuse. ‘Eminent bishop was paedophile, admits church,’ said one. ‘Church’s “deep sorrow” over abuse by bishop,’ said another. ‘C of E admits “saintly” bishop abused child,’ said a third. There were plenty of inverted commas on display but none were placed around the accusation. No doubt this did not distress the Church of England, which has suffered several undoubted (and poorly handled) cases of proven abuse and which is anxious to show that it is now sound and rigorous on this subject.

    All this is completely understandable. And yet it fills me with a powerless sense of outrage and injustice. It is perfectly possible that the allegations are true. But this is not some Jimmy Savile affair in which a great cloud of witnesses testify against a person, recently dead, whose life and works do not do very much to undermine the charges against him.

    George Bell, among much else to his credit, was one of the first in Britain to see the National Socialist menace. He was the dauntless ally and reliable friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He opened his beautiful palace to exiles and handed it over to evacuees during the war. Against the tide of opinion, he pleaded the cause of anti-Nazi refugees in this country who were foolishly rounded up during the invasion panic of 1940.

    Such a person may conceivably have been a secret abuser of children. But didn’t this fair, just, brave man (these things are proven) deserve the simple justice of the presumption of innocence, and those protections so majestically summed up in the sixth amendment to the US constitution — to be given speedy and public trial by an impartial jury, to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation, to be confronted with witnesses against him, to have compulsory process to obtain witnesses in his favour, and to have the assistance of counsel in his defence?

    Well, he cannot have any of these things because he is dead. And he left no descendants to defend his honour. In which case it is surely up to us, not least to those in the church (whose main duty is to uphold the good even if they are reviled for it) to try to provide some sort of justice.

    By all means comfort and assuage the accuser, and compensate him or her (we are not even allowed to know the sex of the person involved). But in the absence of a timely, fair trial, did it serve the purposes of justice and goodness to make the matter public? To a secular mind, there is no difficulty in sacrificing the reputation of a dead man for what you think is a good cause. To those who believe in the immortal soul, or say they do, it is surely not quite so simple. As for those journals of record who presented allegations as proven fact, would they have dared treat any living person of such reputation in this way? Surely one of the things my trade most needs to prove is that it can and will act fairly without a judge or a regulator breathing down its neck.

    Peter Hitchens is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday.

Justice demands the presumption of innocence until found guilty in a Court of Law. Certain newspapers have published an allegation as if it was proven. It has not been proven. If this case does not disturb us, nothing which matters will….Bishop Bell’s niece, Barbara Whitley, hits back at accusers: “The history books are all going to say this man was an abuser when nothing is proven.” The Church – especially the Diocese of Chichester – would do well to ask whether or not they are breaking the ninth of the ten commandments when it comes to Bishop Bell of Chichester [‘Thou shalt not bear witness’], as well as breaching a fundamental right under English and international law: innocent until proven guilty. Silence says it all.





“A small team of investigative journalists at the Boston Globe (US) – known as ‘Spotlight’ – investigate allegations of sex abuse within the Catholic Church, and expose the scandal that the Archdiocese of Boston knew of the abuse, but did nothing – or not enough – to stop it. Disturbing parallels with the Church of England’s Diocese of Chichester” – RWS




Sussex Police has said sorry to the living relatives of Bishop George bell.

Superintendent Jez Graves has written to journalist Peter Hitchens, who is acting on behalf of a surviving relative.

The Chichester Diocese last year settled a civil claim to a woman who said she was abused as a young girl.

Police said to the Observer: “Yes, the letter apologises because the force did not take steps to try to contact any living relatives of Bishop Bell, to let them know that the statement about our investigation was to be made public by the Church of England last October.

“However the letter does not apologise for the police investigation or for the statement itself. It apologises solely for our not trying to ensure in advance that any surviving relatives knew of our statement, which was included in the Church statement.”

Bishop Bell served as Bishop of Chichester until his death in 1958.



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