December 14 2017 – “An apology and explanation for my recent absence from here” – Peter Hitchens’s Blog

14 December 2017 4:32 PM

An apology and explanation for my recent absence from here

I must apologise for having been so inactive here for the past few days, but the long struggle for justice for the late Bishop George Bell is now approaching its endgame.

This morning (Thursday 14th December) the following appeared on the website ‘Christian Today’.

….and I believe it releases me from any embargo on revealing (as I have known for some days) that the Church of England will at last be revealing the details of Lord Carlile’s review of the case tomorrow morning, Friday 15th December 2017, 69 days after it received the report, and more than two years after it first published unproven allegations that George Bell was a paedophile, as if they were the proven truth.

The ‘Christian Today’ report certainly did not come from me, and I would not wish to anticipate either its contents or the interpretation of it, until I have seen them myself.

I am most grateful for the support and encouragement (and tolerance, and patience) I have had from many readers here in what must have seemed, to many of you, like a Quixotic and indeed esoteric expedition into a strange and unknown region of public life.

It was an expedition I never intended to embark on. It has been my Dreyfus case. In fact I was taken wholly by surprise by the molten fury that came unbidden to my hands and tongue, when the allegations against Bishop Bell were first displayed as if they were proven fact. I had not known I had such wrath within me. It has not left me since.

My anger was only increased by the impossibility, to begin with, of getting major media even to publish letters criticising their treatment of the matter.

Eventually, my activities put me into contact with an astonishing group of men and women, some church people, some academics,  some citizens of the lovely old city of Chichester (in which I long ago spent some formative and influential years more than half a century ago, and first faintly heard the name ‘George Bell’, not knowing what it would in the end mean to me), some lawyers, retired policemen and judges, some who had known George Bell in person, and regarded him as the living embodiment of John Bunyan’s Mr Valiant-for-Truth, the character in The Pilgrim’s Progress we would surely all most long to be, if we could.

Is there anyone who is not moved by Mr Valiant-for-Truth’s words before dying, some of which are incised into the stones of the lovely, supremely English war memorial gardens at Christ Church in Oxford, Bell’s old college (where he has never ceased to be honoured).

‘Then, said he, I am going to my Father’s; and though with great difficulty I have got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who will now be my rewarder.’

So tonight I sit here on the edge of success or failure, and hope it has been worth it, and that justice will tomorrow flow down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.  But if they do, it will only be so because men and women have fought to make it so.


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“You are therefore personally doing an injustice to either Bell or to his accuser by presuming their guilt”.

No, the only injustice committed here was against Bishop Bell because it was him – and only him, not ‘Carol’ – who was presumed guilty as accused, when guilt should never be presumed against any one who is under accusation, and ‘Carol’ is not under accusation. Dead or alive, Bell should’ve been presumed innocent right from the beginning, but in turn this does not cast any presumption – innocence or guilt – upon the accuser as you incorrectly claim it does, because the accuser isn’t the one being placed under any scrutiny or investigation (whether in a court of law or not), unless as I’ve said previously, enough evidence subsequently became available to suspect the accuser of any criminal wrongdoing – so for example, had ‘Carol’ fabricated the entire story, wasted police time, and perverted the course of justice – and was subsequently accused and/or charged and placed under arrest, ‘Carol’ would then (or should) be presumed innocent of said hypothetical charges until proven guilty or acquited of them. Until such a time, which for obvious reasons is highly unlikely to happen, any presumption of ‘Carol’ does currently not factor into the equation. You appear to be mixing up and conflating two separate charges/accusations of two different people where there was only one charge/accusation against one person, simply because they shared a connection in this case. That is best I can currently do with the short time I have to explain the error in Mr Bunker’s thinking, without trying to go around in circles.


John Vernau

As it happens I was born in Battersea and Baptised in St Paul’s, and had never thought it, on balance, particularly important or even desirable to attend church regularly in order to lead a Christian life. Funnily enough I quite recently decided, for many reasons, to start attending church again, despite my feelings towards the Church of England having become progressively more negative over the years. The statements and lack of repentance by Welby and Warner of course mark a new low.

To be honest, I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep it up – this morning there was no mention of George Bell in the lady Deacon’s sermon, but a reference to “Archbishop Justin” in another context, the earlier lesson having included much from Isaiah about the Lord being a God of justice, and his followers oaks of righteousness. I felt very angry and a little sick, and don’t really want such feelings to be a regular feature of Sunday mornings.

Anyway, I totally understand your viewpoint, best wishes.


Congratulations to Peter Hitchens on all that he has achieved so far. But the craven failure of the authorities to apologise, confronted by the clear judgement of Lord Carlile, means that the campaign must continue until Bishop Bell’s reputation is restored. Meanwhile those responsible for this monstrous injustice should consider their position.


Francis Hodson and Peter Preston and Mike B – no, my logic is correct. The presumption of innocence is a legal term. I am not questioning that, nor am I speaking of “proving guilt” in a court of law. That has nothing to do with my argument. On the contrary, as I stressed, I am speaking only of a personal, not a legal, view of the matter. – Let’s look at the facts:

An anonymous person accuses Bell of wrongdoing. Either Bell was innocent and the accuser is lying (and therefore not innocent). Or Bell was guilty and the accuser is not lying (and is therefore innocent). I see no other possible permutation. Do you?

Consequently, if you presume Bell’s innocence, you are necessarily presuming that the accuser is not innocent – and vice versa. You are therefore personally doing an injustice to either Bell or to his accuser by presuming their guilt. THAT is my logical argument and I’d like to see anyone refute it. Please try.

It is therefore, in my opinion, better in this case not to presume (i.e. to take as true without proof – Chamber’ss) dicttonary) anything at all. – You can of course still have an opinion.

What I hope no one will misunderstand is that my argument has nothing to do with Mr Hitchens’ “campaign” against the shameful reaction by the Church and some of the media who stated Bell’s guilt as a fact. – disgraceful journalism. In that I support Mr Hitchens wholeheartedly as I’ve already made clear.

PS -a final word to Mike B: What if Carol is telling the truth? That’s something you’ve apparently not considered.


Contributor James Byron, replying to another contributor, wrote:

“Regarding the presumption of innocence, Mr Bunker, I’m not making any factual claims about Bell — for all I know, hard as it is to accept, he may have been guilty — but giving him a general, rebuttable presumption to which we’re all entitled.”

I mean you no disrespect, sir, but of what importance are your or my or anyone else’s “factual claims” (other than those of any actual accuser) about the guilt or innocence of anyone. It is the judiciary’s judgement surely that has any value and not yours or mine.
In any judicial system for which an accusation is not per se proof of guilt, surely the same rule holds also for multiple accusations against the same defendant. If I have not misunderstood the rights of us Britons, any person at all now deceased against whom no charges have been brought before a court of law during his or her lifetime is presumed innocent in British law – which is where it counts.
I know of no exceptions to that rule, sir, even for those ‘mistrusted’ by revered bishops.
Or have I got this “presumption of innocence” thing all wrong?. As I asked earlier, how many extra-judicial accusations are officially held to ‘add up’ to a conviction?


Mr Rob
Thanks for the reply. I fully expected the Church to react to the Carlile Report with more pious and evasive babbling about lessons learned and the rest of it. But when I read that they were immediately repudiating the idea that the settlement could and should have required confidentiality—citing a requirement for “transparency”—my blood boiled. This was the egregious error in the whole sorry business, and without it Bishop Bell’s reputation would have remained untarnished. They have learned nothing. They are so “transparent” that I see right through them and want nothing to do with them. I was born and Christened in Lambeth, as it happens, but I’m not a practising member of the Church, which is more or less defunct in Australia anyway.

I now prefer not to be even nominally associated with what seems to essentially be a sanctimonious and mediocre PR operation.


Contributor Mr Bunker wrote:

” If you “presume” Bell’s innocence, you automatically presume the guilt of the person making the charges against him. What about his/her “presumed innocence”?”

Not so, sir. The presumption of innocence, to which, I believe, under British law any person is entitled who has not been found guilty as charged by a court of law, does not presume guilt of anyone. Guilt has to be proved; innocence doesn’t.
Your logic here seems to me to be of the “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” type and open to similar logical refutation – a surprising error for someone of your wisdom and experience.


I congratulate Mr Hitchens on this important achievement in the cause of natural justice.


James Byron – just to make it clear, I was not criticizing you at all. You just supplied the “buzz words” (poi) that allowed me to make my points. Thanks.


@ John Vernau

***f I can find my Certificate of Baptism I’ll be mailing it, in pieces, to Lambeth Palace***

@ Mr Rob

*** I must admit, I think I would find it very difficult to persuade someone to *join* the church now, were I to be in such a situation. ***

I was given to understand it was the church of Christ, not of any of its fallible bishops. And as it happens, I had for some time considered seeking confirmation.

But the Church’s behaviour in the Bell case is something so revolting that it poses major obstacles. It’s a real test. How am I to take its bishops seriously ? One of them at least is required for confirmations. At least I’m not in the dioceses of Chichester or Canterbury. But what I’m really waiting for is a robust defence of the principles of justice and morality, from a bishop. I’d go with one, just one. Any offers ?


Mr Bunker writes:

“3. Because there is another angle to this: If you “presume” Bell’s innocence, you automatically presume the guilt of the person making the charges against him. What about his/her “presumed innocence”? Are you (illogically) presuming everyone is innocent – or are you being selective?”

Err, no you don’t. To presume innocence on the accused is not to presume guilt on the accuser. Guilt is never presumed, because it must be first established. Innocence is presumed because it can’t always be established, and doesn’t need to be, because the burden of proof is on those accusing, not on those accused. It is the accused whose name, reputation, and future (if they’re still living in the latter case) that are on the line, not the accuser’s, especially in these cases where the accuser is protected by anonymity. The accuser isn’t being put on trial, and therefore the presumption of innocence doesn’t factor in, unless there is a subsequent turn of events that places them in an acussory light, which may result in a separate trial entirely in which they become the accused. As Mike B has correctly stated, if you had used ‘know’ instead of ‘presumed’, there would be no issue here. It would appear you’re having trouble understanding what ‘presumed’ means, especially in the context of this issue.


@Mr Bunker16th December at 03:08PM

Yet more empty-headed self-righteousness from the hubristic Mr Bunker, who assumes that “any reasonable person would have to agree” with him, as he invariably does. At least he has refrained, this time, from describing his vacuous arguments as ‘elegant’, so I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies.

Of course, we are not a court of law, but if a man is accused of a criminal abomination, then even outside a law court, he is entitled to a presumption of innocence, particularly if he is dead and unable to speak for himself. Not that I would expect such niceties to bother Mr Bunker. In any argument, debate or court, the “onus probandi” is on the person making an allegation to produce evidence to substantiate it. Clearly, no such evidence has been produced here. Had it been, then doubtless it would have found its way into the public domain, so that the Church could defend its lily-livered, pusillanimous actions.

As for you “point” number 3, what drivel. If a person makes such a devastating allegation as “Carol” has done, then she must be asked to substantiate it. To suggest otherwise, on the spurious grounds that non-acceptance of her story casts doubt on her veracity and implies that her integrity (or perhaps just her memory) is not all that it might be, is a ludicrous notion. Taking your obtuse argument at face value, that would imply that anyone who makes an allegation of any sort against another person must not be held to proof of it for fear of hurting her feelings

Poor snowflake..

Anyway, if you wish to continue your charade, you may do so, but it will have to be with someone else. I have no interest in continuing to debate with someone who holds himself in such high regard that he always maintains that anyone whose opinion differs from his own is, axiomatically, lacking in reason.


Mike B – I reject your baseless charge of weasel-wordiness. I am stating what I think any reasonable person would have to agree with if he gave the matter a moment’s thought:

1: I personally presume nothing – neither Bell’s guilt nor his innocence because I see no credible evidence one way or the other, It would be “presumptuous” in the true sense of the word to opine otherwise.

2. Before a court of law, of course Bell must be presumed innocent until guilty. But neither you nor I are a court of law. The only rational and sensible *personal* position left to us is to admit our ignorance and … refrain from presuming.

3. Because there is another angle to this: If you “presume” Bell’s innocence, you automatically presume the guilt of the person making the charges against him. What about his/her “presumed innocence”? Are you (illogically) presuming everyone is innocent – or are you being selective?

4. If you nevertheless still presume Bell’s innocence in the absence of hard evidence either way, exactly what do you base that presumption on? A mere wish that he was innocent, perhaps? – “Wishful presuming”? – that’s what it sounds like to me.


Good work by Mr Hitchens and the George Bell Group. The review, although unsurprisingly understated, made some pretty cutting remarks I thought. There were many acid comments like:

‘I have been told, and have to accept, that several members of the Core Group ‘had considerable experience of the criminal justice system’. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that they shared, let alone harnessed that experience – which is surprising and disappointing.’

Section 265 on the Archbishop of Canterbury was bordering on funny.

The evidence from Pauline and Professor Maden was circumstantial but enlightening.

Lord Carlile’s noting the Core Group’s lack of concern for the truth and for the reputation of Bishop Bell (apart from the legal fiasco) was pretty damning.

I just wish that Lord Carlile could have his remit broadened to include all church committee meetings.


I don’t know whether this was my interpretation, but I didn’t see much of a ‘change of mind’ in the BBC’s article on it’s web site yesterday. I think there is probably someway to go on this yet to get any redress I’m afraid. Maybe this will be in the column tomorrow?


John Vernau, I too feel angry, essentially in two main ways. One, for the way in which Bishop Bell has been besmirched in such a sordid fashion. And two because the institutions involved, that is the news media and the church, along with high placed individuals, have trampled all over our ancient privilege of the presumption of innocence.
I also feel sad because I see Bishop Bell as one of those clergy from an earlier era where on the whole, we still had values and certain ways of behaving, recognised in general by those of that time. My grandmother’s time I suppose, when people still called each other ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’, where they took care with their appearance, were polite and well mannered and adhered to well known social values and behaviours. And also where there was respect for those like Bishop Bell and doctors and head masters and so on. This was because these people had earned this respect.

In the easy for all, badly dressed, swearing and vulgar, porn watching society in which we now live, with fake idols and consumer led constant tv, we barely recognise the likes of the Bishop and all he stood for and I’m sure it is partly because of this sea change in society, that people were so ready to find the Bishop guilty and believe ‘Carol’.

You could say that there are bigger issues in our country that need attention and that these social ways of the past are just small things; but as we know, it is in part the small things, politeness, kindness, respect, dignity, unselfishness (what you can do for others) and so on that make a society.

It is possible that ‘Carol’ has been treated badly in her life, and that she truly believes what she is saying, but the way in which the matter was dealt with puts us all to shame. But largely thanks to PH, we have redeemed ourselves to some extent by standing up, (for once), for truth and justice and the privileges that we so carelessly cast aside in this case.


Regarding the presumption of innocence, Mr Bunker, I’m not making any factual claims about Bell — for all I know, hard as it is to accept, he may have been guilty — but giving him a general, rebuttable presumption to which we’re all entitled. In the absence of evidence, I’m assuming innocence, not making a positive factual claim. It’s a small but crucial difference.


@ Mr Bunker 15 December at 10:44PM

“I personally do not presume that Bell was innocent.”

Had Mr Bunker stated that he did not *know* whether or not the Bishop was innocent, then nobody could have had any concern with the statement. That state of ignorance is shared by all except, perhaps (and I use that word advisedly) his accuser.

However, the Bishop has been accused of a criminal abomination and, as such, should be entitled to a *presumption* of innocence. He may not be able to be tried in a criminal court, but, unless and until evidence of an overwhelming standard is produced to demonstrate his guilt, he should be presumed innocent.

The uncorroborated, unsubstantiated testimony of his accuser, who remained silent on the subject for decades, made against a dead man, unable to respond to these horrific allegations, falls so far short of such a standard that anyone who fails to appreciate the necessity to presume this man’s innocence has not the slightest conception or understanding of the meaning and vital importance of that presumption. Mr Bunker’s assertion that neither does he presume the Bishop’s guilt amounts to a weasel worded cop out and further demonstrates his incomprehension of the concept of, and reasons for, the presumption of innocence.


Very well achieved, Peter, for the time, effort, frustration, contempt, and hostility that you have experienced on this issue. I think it is an appalling indictment of our society that you felt the need to get involved in the first place, and a shameful disgrace that the C of E behaved so contemptibly. It was a heroic effort on your part. Very well done.


Good show PH. Another campaign victory to add to the Arctic convoys recognition. Well done.

***PH replies, that is very kind of you but I must courteously reject the compliment about the convoys. I played no part in that recognition. I wish I had, but I didn’t.***


And Bishop Hancock says: ‘… we acted in good faith throughout with no calculated intention to damage George Bell’s reputation.’ Whatever this self-justification says about ‘intention’, we are judged on our acts of commission or omission. The ‘Core Group’s’ glaring acts of omission directly resulted in a grave and unnecessary calumny. An apology is not enough.


Mr Bunker (again)

I say cold and logical because while logical, in the absence of the legal expression ‘innocent until proven guilty’, your cold, Spock-like approach to the matter is essentially correct. The absence of proof either way means agnosticism is the only option. However, we humans all quite often tend to think and act very differently than the Spock character, adding a bit human emotion here or taking a bit away from the odd assumption there, don’t we?


How ridiculous of Justin Welby to write ‘No human being is entirely good or bad. Bishop Bell was in many ways a hero. He is also accused of great wickedness…’, ‘[l]et us therefore remember his defence of Jewish victims of persecution, his moral stand against indiscriminate bombing…’ (statement, Chichester Observer 15.12.17)

The crime in question is of a distinct class, far from normal ‘luxuria’. A person committing this crime performs at least two ‘intrinsically evil’ acts, both evidence of unusual moral deformation. It is impossible for such a person to have a virtuous character. Isn’t that obvious? And this Archbishop was supposed to be an expert in ethics.


Mr Bunker

You might be (un)surprised to learn that your comment about Bishop Bell’s supposed innocent or guilt doesn’t cause me the least bit consternation. You say you do not presume either innocence or guilt, and remain open minded on the matter. In other words, in the absence of proof either way, your position is one of an agnostic. Sounds perfectly cold and logical to me.


As contributor Colin quoted from Jeremiah, there are many verses in the Scripture that urge us not to be indifferent to injustice especially done upon those who cannot defend by themselves.

”Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.

Open thy mouth, judge *righteously*, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.”

(Proverbs 31:8-9)

It is interesting that this was what a mother to a king taught him.

However, to *judge righteously* has very much to do with *transparency* that Ms Vikkib mentions, I think. I also think it is a odd use of the word by the Archbishop Welby:

“The Church of England is committed to transparency and therefore we would take a different approach.”

I think I will come back later on this subject. Now we have to go to a *forest* to find a Christmas tree (of course we pay for it…)

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