The publication by the Church of England of Lord Carlile’s review was accompanied by three episcopal statements. I look today at those by the Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
Dr Warner contends that “Lord Carlile’s Independent Review is a demonstration of the Church of England’s commitment to equality of justice and transparency in our safeguarding practice.”
This opening remark is ambiguous. Does Dr Warner mean that the report itself demonstrates …? If so, he is clearly mistaken, since the report does nothing to strengthen the Church’s reputation for seeking justice.
Or does he mean that the fact that the he asked for a report to be compiled demonstrates…etc? In that case his account is partial, for without public pressure the Church would not have perceived any need for a review.
Dr Warner goes on to apologise for the Core Group’s deficiencies, and seems to think that improving Its protocols will help in future. But the Core Group’s failure was nothing to do with protocols. It stemmed from lack of direction, (which the Bishop could have remedied) and from muddled thinking, which he could have prevented.
Warner refers to the complexity of the case, before making the statement that “The emotive principle of innocent until proven guilty is a standard by which our actions are judged…”Did he really mean ‘emotive’? Was the case really so complex?
Warner’s next remark is even more striking: “Irrespective of whether she is technically a complainant, survivor, or victim, ‘Carol’ emerges from this report as a person of dignity and integrity. It is essential that her right to privacy continues to be fully respected.”
Can he possibly have meant to write ‘technically’? The distinction between a complainant on the one hand, and a survivor or victim on the other is very far from technical, if by ‘technical’ is meant ‘unimportant’.
It is mysterious that Warner emphasises the need for the complainant’s privacy to be respected. The law is well known to all concerned, and none of the critics of the Church’s procedures has sought to break it.
Dr Warner concludes: “The good deeds that Bishop George Bell did were recognised internationally. They will stand the test of time. In every other respect, we have all been diminished by the case that Lord Carlile has reviewed.”
As I have remarked before, he is surely wrong to allege that we are ALL diminished. What is clear is that the reputations of those who lent themselves to the Church’s handling of the case have been diminished.
We come, finally, to a statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, which also accompanied Lord Carlile’s report. He begins that “Bishop George Bell is one of the great Anglican heroes of the 20th century. The decision to publish his name was taken with immense reluctance, and all involved recognised the deep tragedy involved. “
Lord Carlile’s account of the proceedings of the Core Group, the body that took the decision, does not indicate any great reluctance in its members, nor any deep sense of tragedy.
Welby correctly says that Carlile does not pronounce on whether or not Bell was guilty, but fails to point out that the question of guilt was not in his terms of reference.
He does apologise for the failures of the Church’s procedures, but spoils the effect by adding “We realise that a significant cloud is left over his name…No human being is entirely good or bad. Bishop Bell was in many ways a hero. He is also accused of great wickedness. Good acts do not diminish evil ones, nor do evil ones make it right to forget the good. Whatever is thought about the accusations, the whole person and whole life should be kept in mind.”
Welby here gives the impression that, if he has read Carlile’s review, it has not dented his determination to leave open the question of Bell’s guilt. It seems not to have occurred to him that, if there is a cloud over Bell’s name, it is there because the hierarchy allowed it to gather and has done nothing to remove it.
There are two more questions. Why are these prelates so obstinately wedded to their non-committal approach to the question of Bell’s guilt or innocence, and what can they do to salvage their reputations?
One possible answer to the first question is that the bishops know some real facts which remained unknown to Lord Carlile, and which they believe allow them to leave the door open to Bell’s guilt. That explanation seems too far-fetched for an otherwise prosaic group of men.
Yet they are not stupid men, and cannot be ignorant of the acrimony and disappointment that they have caused. Perhaps they are simply the victims (survivors?) of habit, in other words they are used to thinking of Bell as guilty; of collegiality, meaning that a self-reinforcing consensus has grown up among them and of pride, which speaks for itself.
As for their reputations, we must hope that the Archbishop will take note of the Bell fiasco in the book that he is writing on values, and that the whole subject will be fully aired at the Synod in February.
I wrote to The #Bishop of Chichester, @DrMartinWarner, on 14th November 2015, asking some basic questions about the Church’s handling of the allegations against @BishopGeorgeBell. Dr Warner sent a prompt and courteous reply, dated 19th November.
At that time it was not even known that the complainant, later known as ‘Carol’, was a woman, and no detail had been published of where the alleged molestation had taken place. Nor was anyone allowed to know who had seen the evidence in the case, though there is no legal requirement for such secrecy. Even the #DeanofChichester had no direct knowledge of the facts, but relied on an assurance that he had been given that the evidence was incontrovertible.
Dr Warner’s letter to me contained some difficult passages. To start with, having said that the allegation against Bell was indeed disturbing, he asserted “We are all diminished by this.”
I do not know what this flourish means. It is plainly false to say that we are ALL diminished, but perhaps the Bishop meant that he and other church people were diminished in the public estimation by the way in which they had handled the case.
Dr Warner went on: “All facts that were capable of independent corroboration were corroborated.” Again, I do not know what this means. @LordCarlile’s review of the Church’s procedures yields little evidence of anyone trying to corroborate any facts.
Dr Warner went on to say that “evidence was exchanged.” This is uninformative, without any details being given of the parties to the exchange.
With regard to the conduct of the investigation he said “independent advice from all the professional disciplines which are usually involved in such claims was obtained, including of course independent legal advice, and the survivor ( this is what Church insists on calling her) was questioned in person about their (sic) evidence.”
I do not know what professional disciplines Dr Warner had in mind. Lord Carlile does record that two psychiatrists were instructed, with different terms of reference. @ProfessorAnthonyMaden, the one who was asked to comment on Carol’s credibility, said that the truth of her allegations could not be established without corroborative evidence, and that false memory could not be excluded.
An illustration of the unusual procedures of the Core Group, the investigative and decision-making body set up by the Church, is that Professor Maden’s report was circulated to some members in full, and to others only in summary.
Apart from the psychiatrists, there was contact with the police. Are these the “usual disciplines”?
As for legal advice, It was indeed available from a solicitor who advised the Group, but Carlile comments several times on its failure to instruct any criminal lawyer to advise it on the strength of the evidence.
Finally, in response to my question about the removal of Bell’s name from #GeorgeBellHouse, the Bishop answered that this was a matter for the Dean and Chapter. Yet they seem to have been almost as much in the dark as everyone else.
From these remarks by Dr Warner it does seem that he was not well informed about the proceedings of the Core Group, which appears to have been unable to investigate systematically, or to make decisions based on rational assessments. His relative ignorance is in a way understandable, as his attendance at the Group had been sporadic,and he was apparently not even invited to its fifth and final meeting.
But surely he must have been aware of the consensus to which the Group found its way, first that Bell was probably guilty, then that he probably had abused other children, and in the end that his name must be published, a public apology made and compensation paid? After all,in the end it was he who had to accept responsibility and sign thx letter.
One cannot tell what was going through Dr Warner’s mind, but he does seem to have been the victim of lax procedures and muddled thinking, which somehow affected his own assessment of the case.
In a day or two I shall continue the exegesis of pronouncements on the Bell matter by Dr Warner, @DrJustinWelby (the #ArchbishopofCanterbury) and perhaps other prelates.
Follow me on Twitter: @ChristoHill3
At this hopeful time of year it is a pleasure to congratulate @LordCarlile QC on his review of the procedures followed by the @ChurchofEngland in dealing with sexual allegations against @BishopGeorgeBell of Chichester, who died in 1958. The allegations were first made in 1995 by a woman known only as ‘Carol’, and renewed in 2012 and 2013.
Carlile had not been asked to pronounce on Bell’s guilt or innocence, and he did not do so. What he did was to expose the startling deficiencies in the conduct and administration of the “ Core Group” set up by the Chichester diocese and the national church to look into the whole question. The Group was chaired by members of the diocesan Safeguarding Team, with the current @BishopofChichester , @DrMartinWarner, as a member, though he only attended three (or perhaps fewer) of its five meetings. It came to the conclusion that Bell was probably guilty, whereupon Warner publicly apologised and paid off the complainant.
The Core Group’s deficiencies, identified by Carlile, provide a lesson in how not to run an enquiry which might well be included in university courses. There was unacceptable discontinuity of attendance and chairmanship, papers were not always distributed in the same format to all members, no Advocatus Diaboli was appointed to watch Bell’s interests, the complainant was regarded as a ‘survivor’ or ‘victim’ rather than as a complainant, no attempt was made to find any relations of Bell, nor his chaplain, who was still alive and well, though very old, and it seems that no serious attempt was made to test Carol’s allegations, nor to find any corroborative evidence. Carlile tartly says that he had to accept what he was told, that several Group members had extensive experience of the criminal justice system, but that unfortunately there was no evidence that they had shared it.
One of the.most shocking details is that the Group seems to have been determined to believe that Bell must have abused more than one child. Having discovered that he had been in close touch with the German Kindertransport, and had put up young British evacuees at the Palace, it apparently convinced itself that these opportunities for wrongdoing strengthened the case for believing in Bell’s guilt. In fact they strengthen the opposite case, for no whiff of complaint from anyone except Carol had ever been detected. The opportunities were there, but there is no evidence that Bell took them.
Carlile’s devastating review does not explicitly assign responsibility, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that it rests with Dr Warner, and with the @ArchbishopofCanterbury himself, who was kept intermittently informed.
Tomorrow I hope to compare with Lord Carlile’s findings some statements made by Dr Warner in November 2015.
Follow me on Twitter: @ChristoHill3
When the Church published @LordCarlile’s review on 15 December it was accompanied by statements by three prelates, Hancock, the “#LeadSafeguardingBishop”, @Warner (#Chichester) and @Welby, (#Canterbury). All three managed to play down Carlile’s adverse findings and adopted a tone of half-hearted contrition, whilst evading or weakening Carlile’s main points.
Carlile’s findings were often biting, terse and trenchantly expressed. He can hardly be pleased with the gloss that has been put on them.
Carlile found that the Church’s procedures in arriving at its guilty verdict on @BishopBell, and in deciding to publish his name,had been very far from best practice. To the careful reader of his review the Core Group sounds amateurish and verging on the shambolic.
It is clear that a consensus, confirmed by majority vote, grew up within the Group, but the arguments that led its members to commit themselves are not stated. There seems to have been little effort to find facts, beyond the allegations made by the complainant, ‘Carol’, whom the Church’s spokesmen insist on describing as “the survivor”.
Against this background the prelates’ task was not easy. The first apologist, Hancock, did his best:
“At the heart of this case was a judgement, on the balance of probabilities, as to whether, in the event that her claim for compensation reached trial, a court would have concluded that Carol was abused by Bishop Bell. The Church decided to compensate Carol, to apologise and to be open about the case.”
Hancock says nothing about how or why the Church reached these decisions, but went on to admit “It is clear from the report, however, that our processes were deficient in a number of respects, in particular the process for seeking to establish what may have happened. For that we apologise”
Since the whole point of the Core Group was “to establish what may have have happened” this admission is crucial, though Hancock seems not to realise how fundamental it is.
He went on: “The Bishop Bell case is a complex one and it is clear from the report and minutes of Core Group meetings that much professional care and discussion were taken over both agreeing the settlement with Carol and the decision to make this public. As Lord Carlile’s report makes clear, we acted in good faith throughout with no calculated intention to damage George Bell’s reputation.”
The reader of Carlile’s review will not have gained an impression of “much professional care and discussion”. Nor does the case see particularly complex, resting, as it does, on uncorroborated allegations. As for the damage to Bell’s reputation, could the Group have done more damage if it had acted in BAD faith?
Hancock concludes with proper genuflection to Bell’s wartime record, but adds: “ At the same time, we have a duty and commitment to listen to those reporting abuse, to guard their confidentiality, and to protect their interests.
“We recognise that Carol has suffered pain, as have surviving relatives of Bishop Bell. We are sorry that the Church has added to that pain through its handling of this case.”
It is fair to comment that the Church did not ADD TO Bell’s relations’ pain: it created it.
Hancock’s statement is well drafted, but is unlikely it to satisfy anyone, for the overall impression that it leaves is of studied reluctance to say anything that would tend to exonerate Bishop Bell, whatever the evidence, or lack of it.
Follow me on Twitter: @ChristoHill3
Who’s really preaching fake news, Archbishop?
I see the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has been complaining about ‘fake news’. As well he might, since ‘fake news’ is a good description of the statement which Archbishop Welby’s church put out to the media, insinuating incorrectly that the late George Bell was a child molester.
Lord Carlile has now produced a devastating report which shows that statement was full of false claims. It said Bishop Bell would have been arrested if he’d still been alive, when he wouldn’t have been. It said there had been a thorough investigation, when there hadn’t been.
It said experts had found no reason to doubt the charges, when one expert most definitely had found such a reason and clearly said so.
Yet despite this total demolition of a case that any court would have thrown out, Archbishop Welby continues to claim (more fake news?) that there is a ‘cloud’ over George Bell’s name, like some dim wiseacre in a pub, utterly defeated in an argument by facts and logic, intoning doggedly that ‘there’s no smoke without fire’.
The only cloud over Bishop Bell’s name hangs there because Justin Welby’s pride prevents him from admitting he got it wrong. He knows what he needs to do.