November 18 2017 – ‘Bishop Bell’ Letter by Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson – Church Times – Nov 17 2017

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From Dr Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson

Sir, – I was appalled to read the Revd Tom Brazier’s assertion that we “do no further harm” to anyone, if we happen to ruin the reputation of a deceased person against whom allegations of abuse have been made by apologising to the complainant (Letters, 10 November).

I am the daughter of one of the late Bishop Bell’s closest friends. I have been privileged to work over the last two years with many people who are seeking justice for George Bell: as relatives, friends, biographer, clergy, lawyers, journalists, and other supporters.

We have been deeply dismayed by the possibility of a miscarriage of justice in this case, and I am sure none of us would endorse the statement that “no further harm” has been done to the reputation and legacy of one of the country’s greatest Bishops.

I would suggest that Mr Brazier visit Chichester and find out for himself just how much harm has been done.

While we await the publication of the Carlile report on the procedures followed in this instance, the House of Bishops has produced two policy statements in 2017 which are relevant to it.

One [policy] notes that when investigating a complaint against an accused church officer, “a legal presumption of innocence will be maintained during the statutory and Church enquiry processes.” As the Revd Clifford Hall pointed out (Letters, 3 November), this did not happen in the case of the late Bishop Bell, who was presumed guilty on the basis of a single unchallenged accusation, without the production even a shred of hard evidence against him; and it may indicate that correct procedures – as required by the law of the land – were not followed here.

The other policy was published on 13 October, immediately after the Church’s receipt of Lord Carlile’s report. It states that those receiving safeguarding allegations against a church officer must “ensure that [the complainants] feel heard and taken seriously”.

This is not the same as saying that only their account of the matter should be considered. Indeed, it may well mean that it is not appropriate to apologise to a complainant without a complete and impartial investigation of both sides of the case, even when the accused is dead. The defendant may no longer be able to speak for himself, but other sources are often available.

Many of us are concerned that there appears to be a delay in publishing Lord Carlile’s findings in the George Bell case. I trust that the church authorities will see fit to release the report in its entirety soon.

Otherwise, rumours about the rights and wrongs of the case will continue to circulate that can only further damage the Church’s reputation over the handling of this matter.

To support a potential miscarriage of justice in this or any other case, on the grounds that the accused is already “entrusted to the Father”, beggars belief.

R.H. GRAYSON

Sheffield

 

UNEDITED VERSION

Sir,

I was appalled to read the Revd Tom Brazier’s assertion that we ‘do no further harm’ to anyone if we happen to ruin the reputation of a deceased person against whom allegations of abuse have been made by apologising to the complainant (Letters, Church Times, 10 November 2017). His comment was made in response to the Revd Clifford Hall’s question of the previous week regarding apologies made by senior clergy in the case of another deceased bishop: ‘Have they learned nothing from Bishop Bell’s case?  When will the persecution of those conclusively presumed innocent until the contrary is proven cease?’ (Letters, Church Times, 3 November 2017)

For the Revd Brazier’s information, I am the daughter of one of the late Bishop Bell’s closest friends.  I have been privileged to work over the past two years with many people who are seeking justice for George Bell: as relatives, friends, biographer, clergy, lawyers, journalists, and other supporters.  We have been deeply dismayed by the possibility of a miscarriage of justice in this case; and I am sure none of us would endorse the statement that ‘no further harm’ has been done to the reputation and legacy of one of the country’s greatest bishops.  I would suggest that Revd Brazier visit Chichester and find out for himself just how much harm has been done.

While we await the publication of the Carlile report into the procedures followed in this instance, the House of Bishops has produced two policy statements in 2017 that are relevant to it.  One notes that when investigating a complaint against an accused Church officer, ‘a legal presumption of innocence will be maintained during the statutory and Church enquiry processes’.  As Revd Hall points out, this did not happen in the case of the late Bishop Bell, who was presumed guilty on the basis of a single unchallenged accusation without a shred of hard evidence ever being produced against him; and it may indicate that correct procedures – as required by the law of the land – were not followed here. It is unbelievable that a member of the clergy could publicly advocate ignoring such a fundamental precept of English law.  Moreover, it is simply not correct to claim that because an alleged perpetrator is dead, the truth may never be discovered.

The other policy was published on 13 October 2017, immediately after the Church’s receipt of Lord Carlile’s report.  It states that those receiving safeguarding allegations against a church officer must ‘ensure that [the complainants] feel heard and taken seriously’.  This is not the same as saying that only their account of the matter should be considered.  Indeed, it may well mean that it is not appropriate to apologise to a complainant without a complete and impartial investigation of both sides of the case, even when the accused is dead.  The defendant may no longer be able to speak for himself, but other sources – including family members and other witnesses – are often available.

Many of us are concerned that there appears to be some delay in publishing Lord Carlile’s findings in the George Bell case.  I trust that the Church authorities will see fit to release the report in its entirety in the very near future.  Otherwise, rumours as to the rights and wrongs of the case will continue to circulate that can only further damage the Church’s reputation over its handling of this matter.  To support a potential miscarriage of justice in this or any other case on the grounds that the accused is already ‘entrusted to the Father’ beggars belief.

Dr Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson

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One thought on “November 18 2017 – ‘Bishop Bell’ Letter by Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson – Church Times – Nov 17 2017

  1. Pingback: November 20 2017 – An Open Letter to the National Safeguarding Steering Group [NSSG] and National Safeguarding Panel [NSP] – The Bell Society

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