December 17 2017 – “If a saintly man can be branded a sex abuser, none of us is safe” – Peter Hitchens – Mail on Sunday

17 December 2017 1:20 AM

If a saintly man can be branded a sex abuser, none of us is safe

This is Peter Hitchens’s Mail On Sunday column

Lord bishop of Chichester

If we won’t fight injustice wherever we see it, then we are not safe from suffering injustice ourselves. If a man’s reputation can be destroyed in an afternoon by a secret kangaroo court, then we too can one day be propelled into a pit of everlasting shame by the same process.
If it can happen to anyone, it can happen to you. And it does happen. Accusations of long-ago sexual crime have become a sort of industry in this country. People are so horrified by them that they almost always believe them.
Because the crime is so foul, we stop thinking. To their shame, police and prosecutors use our horror to get easy convictions, when they must know that their cases are weak. The less actual evidence they have, the more they stress the disgusting nature of the alleged crime. And they forget to remind us that it is alleged, not proved.
Equally shamefully, judges do not stop these trials and juries leave their brains at the door. They convict not because they are sure the case has been proved beyond reasonable doubt, but because they are angry and revolted.
I am miserably sure there are disturbing numbers of people in British prisons now, prosecuted on such charges, who are innocent of the accusations against them. It is our fault, because we have forgotten what justice is supposed to be like, and that, if we do not guard it in our hearts, it will perish in the country.
This is why I have spent a shockingly large part of my life in the past two years trying to rescue the reputation of a dead bishop, George Bell of Chichester. I had known of him for many years and thought him a man of saintly courage. I had also spent a very sunny part of an extraordinarily happy childhood in and around Chichester. I learned to be an Englishman, in many ways, in that beautiful, ancient city. Even so, when the Church of England publicly denounced him as a child abuser, I was astonished by the instinctive, molten fury that I then experienced. This was not just an opinion. It kept me awake at night.
Fortunately, I found allies who felt the same. At first slowly and then with gathering strength and confidence, we assembled the evidence which showed that grave wrong had been done. The Church of England, whose senior figures are astonishingly unimpressive and tricky, tried to smear us with false claims that we had attacked the complainant. But they failed, and at last grudgingly agreed to review the case.
When the review told them that they had run an incompetent, miserable kangaroo court and that they had condemned a great man on evidence too weak to hang a hamster, they sat sulkily on that report for nearly ten weeks, until they were jeered into releasing it.
Even then, when it came out on Friday, a Church which supposedly believes in penitence was still wriggling like a basket of embarrassed eels. The distinguished and impartial lawyer who conducted the review, Lord Carlile QC, made it quite plain that no court would have found George Bell guilty on the evidence (indeed, the Crown Prosecution Service would not even have brought it to court).
He concluded the Church had hung one of its greatest figures ‘out to dry’. He even said ‘if I had been prosecuting this case, I would have lost it’, which is as near as such a person could come to saying George Bell is innocent.
And what of the Church, supposedly the guardian of moral good? The Archbishop of Canterbury petulantly persisted in claiming, despite all the evidence, that there was still a ‘cloud’ over George Bell’s name. Lord Carlile remarked that this statement was ‘less than fully adroit’, which is QC-speak for something much ruder.
I will go further. Archbishop Welby had a chance to stand for moral courage against the easy, popular thing. And he did the easy, popular thing. George Bell, facing much sterner tests in much tougher times, repeatedly chose moral courage over popularity. And that is why Justin Welby is not fit to lace up George Bell’s shoes, and why his pretensions to be a moral leader of this country are taken less and less seriously by thinking people.


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Mr Rob comments, simply but brilliantly: “… the Archbishop of Canterbury will weigh a single uncorroborated, untested historical allegation against the proven, documented deeds of a man, and decide that the scales balance?”

I read these words about ten times. Each time I felt the weight of them press ever more upon me, until I truly understood the disturbing position taken by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Such clarity and brevity is not always easy to come by, so thank you.

What can one say?

That the Archbishop of Canterbury does not repent of the gross unfairness of the Church of England’s handling of the claim made against George Bell as detailed by an independent QC?

That the Archbishop of Canterbury will weigh a single uncorroborated, untested historical allegation against the right of a man (who is unable even to defend himself) to be afforded the presumption of innocence – and find that the allegation overrides that right?

That the Archbishop of Canterbury will weigh a single uncorroborated, untested historical allegation against the proven, documented deeds of a man, and decide that the scales balance?

That the name of this Archbishop, Justin Welby, will be mentioned in the same service as his clergy tell us that the Lord is a God of justice, and the congregation will be expected not to have any misgivings?

Each day Justin Welby remains in office, the Church of England is brought further into disrepute.

I wonder if a turning point in the treatment of those making allegations of sexual assault was the BBC documentary Police from 1982, the most famous episode of which featured a woman alleging rape by three men. Her questioning was considered dismissive and harsh to the point of cruelty. I only dimly remember it, but recall that it was considered shocking at the time, and seems to remember that it did lead to real changes in police handling of such cases. Perhaps the understandable indignation the episode generated set the pendulum swinging and has led us to a position where all complainants are automatically believed, not out of sympathy, but for fear of the consequences of doing otherwise. The clerics who behaved so cravenly with the bishop Bell allegation were no doubt terrified of the possibility of appearing uncaring or unsympathetic, especially if more complainants appeared, though there seems no reason to suspect any would. It looks like they chose to sacrifice one man’s reputation to protect themselves from any potential future consequences, however unlikely. Powerful institutions will do whatever it takes, and sacrifice whoever necessary, to protect themselves. Religious organisations are no different. It all puts me in mind of that wonderful film The Verdict which deals with similar themes.

Jails will be abolished in the age to come apart from those who support them who will be locked up.

Having spent over 20 years in the probation service, I can attest to the futile nature of the duties its staff are expected to carry out, which have virtually no effect on offending behaviour. I keep in touch with people who still work in the service and heard recently of an experienced officer leaving as she couldn’t cope. Her caseload was 130 offenders. Yet, she was only contracted to work 30 hours a week. I honestly believe that they could scrap the private community rehabilitation companies and no one would notice. They’ve ripped the heart out of the service.

Is it any wonder we have such mealy-mouthed, political, temporising shepherds in the C of E? Quite apart from the commitment to celibacy, a Catholic priest has to train for five to six years before being ordained. At the C of E you can do it in two or three. Our current Archbishop worked in the oil industry for 11 years before switching to the church, by which time, presumably, he could afford faith.

The whole sorry crew are an embarrassment.

A victory for truth and justice against more dark actors playing dark games – from an institution that ought to know and behave better – and who, even in light of the facts set out in the Carlile report, are still trying to peddle their dark message and protect their own reputation no matter how painfully deluded and pathetic they appear now more than ever before. If they were any sort of men, let alone Christian men and leaders, they would show honour and decency and make an official public apology and retraction of their previous handling of this whole sordid affair. If there is any sort of “cloud” above George Bell’s name, reputation, and legacy, it is one Welby and his acolytes have placed there – and in the case of the Archbishop at least – are still trying to keep there through their total lack of honesty and personal contrition. I have felt so disgusted by Welby’s untenable obstinance since the report that I have sent a brief correspondence to tell him such.

I’m glad your tireless campaigning on the innocence of Bishop Bell has got this far Peter and I think Archbishop Welby should be seriously considering his position over this, though I suspect he is not given his behaviour thus far. We can only hope the CofE now works as hard as yourself and other campaigners to undo the reputational damage it has done to the late Bishop.

I agrre wholeheartedly with Mr Hichens on all but one point in his articles. That is: why the “National Probation Service is so overwhelmed…”. It is overwhelmed due to its privatisation and the axing of so many jobs. See Private Eye.

Mr Hitchens has argued he critical issue here concerns what is right, what is just — not the balancing of benefits.

The COE have decided to proceed from the benefits angle , in the process reducing the reputation of a former senior COE churchmen , who as far as I can see has had no other allegation of wrongdoing levelled against Him .

They are a poor lot , what will they stand up for and against ?

Justice is itself the great standing policy of civil society; and any eminent departure from it, under any circumstances, lies under the suspicion of being no policy at all.

My daughter is a police officer , she was seconded to a sexual offences team for two years , dealing with such accusations , based on what I told her about the Bishop Bell allegation , when it was allegedly done , She thinks it would have gone no further than confidential questioning , she stressed that part , of the accuser and any people who are still alive from that period , to find any FACTS , she stressed that part as well . to pass onto the CPS , It is up to the CPS , not the Police to proceed to Prosecution , in her experience , this would not have been prosecuted .

I find it hard to believe that article about prisons, as I know of someone who was given a seven-month sentence for a first offence. His crime – registering fictitious candidates for a local election. Guess that’s a very serious crime.

On the matter of swearing, I wonder if the BBC understand that swearing is purposefully abrasive (raising the temperature and putting people on edge – its point being a verbal snarl or hiss) and so an enemy of peaceful, harmonious, society (which is why the prudent guard against it).

Then again, perhaps they know that all too well…

A few weeks ago, Peter Hitchens was the subject of a protest at which a young lady brandished a placard bearing the legend “History will forget you”.

I am confident, that for his writing and campaigning on behalf of Bishop Bell, and therefore on behalf of natural justice, so ultimately on behalf of us all, that history will remember and honour Peter Hitchens.

@ David Brown: “Archbishop Welby . . . would have been better suited to a political career”.
Welby is a left-wing globalist plant into the CofE, and being Archbishop of Canterbury *is* his political career.

A brave and worthwhile crusade to honour the memory of Bishop George Bell.
And when you are confident of right and justice on your side, it makes the journey easier. But where it does it leave the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury in particular this Sunday morning only a week before Christmas?

I’m pleased Mr Hitchens pulled no punches in his comments about The Archbishop of Canterbury. His comments are highly commendable for their honesty. They tell the truth. I’m also pleased Mr Hitchens and others have achieved some sort of victory, if one can put it like that.

And, in my view, the statements by Justin Welby, Martin Warner and Peter Hancock, about Carlile’s report, show each as having a desire to hide behind the excuse of deficient ‘processes’. They seek sanctuary in too much corporate-speak. When I read their statements, parts of them could have been from an ‘apology’ from Unilever, Facebook or Uber about some poor service or product. You must know the type I mean: the safety of our customers is our priority, etc., etc. – often ignoring the core issue while pretending to address it and hoping you’ll now forget the whole thing.

Finally, I would particularly like to know, from Justin Welby himself, what relevance he thinks his following words have: “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.” (my emphases)

On BBC cultural bias: the Today programme had a feature yesterday (just after 7.30 am I think) talking about nationalism and asking such questions as how easy is it for such beliefs to lead to violence and murder. The whole tone was that they very easily could and that anyone holding such views is automatically a great danger to the progressive transformation of society into something completely perfect. The presenters and editors in general see the world through a left-wing prism. Anything centrist ten years ago is now viewed as nasty and intolerant.

Mr Hitchens,

I want to thank you for your outstanding work combatting the George Bell smear campaign. I would never have heard of this man and his achievements if not for your blog, nor would I have had the sense to question his alleged crime, reported by the media and CoE as if he was proven guilty. Although justice has prevailed, I am dismayed (though not surprised) at the non-apology from the Church of England.

Best regards,
Philip B

I have often in these strange times thought of the scene from a Man for all Seasons I which Thomas More angrily retorts to William Roper about the Devil and the law ( I am not saying Bishop Bell is the Devil) But without The Law and Due Process we are all in deep trouble.
I have fully supported you and others in the Bell case and the Church should hang it’s head in shame in this matter !
From Christian to Agnostic to Athiest back to Agnostic many thanks for making me think being Agnostic is a sustainable position doubting Thomas I guess for me bring back a proper Christmas not the shallow consumer driven mess it is now.
As a serving Prison Officer I am made to feel like the Criminal it’s no wonder no one stays let alone wants to join, time to join my many friends and leave !

The disorder of 2011 is the only time I can think of when those caught were dealt with severely by the courts. They were probably expecting to be let off with a caution or some community service. This only happened, I think, because the Olympics were due next year, but it has ensured that no such behaviour has happened since.

Teachers are at risk of malicious allegations of impropriety being made by maladjusted adolescents. Even if these allegations are not believed, they can be may be recorded on the police intelligence database as schools cover their backsides against possible later criticism. The teacher need never know that a libel has been recorded against them. When that teacher then applies for a job elsewhere, the recruiting school will get access to an enhanced disclosure, which will display this libel. What are the odds of that teacher being shortlisted?


*** “The so-called ‘riots’ of August 2011 – in fact, a general breakdown of order – may be the last warning we get.” ***

7billion (and rising) human beings, increasingly traveling at ever higher speeds, over longer and longer distances (many globally), in their masses, across borders, in a mediasphere of billions of babbling voices constantly streaming a deluge of data at us that increasingly has to shout to win attention, and all coming to be taught to believe in the individualism/relativism that puts subjective feelings before objective facts.

Society decayed into deafening white noise.

Chaos is our imminent future Mr H, and no number of prisons is going to change that, because the human race is driving itself mad with the noise made by its own power.

We don’t need a prison for the rioters, there are just too many to contain. We are beyond that point now. What we need are arks for the decent or a species-wide epiphany.

Mr Hitchens puts the boot in: “…Justin Welby is not fit to lace up George Bell’s shoes…”

Little Welby has clearly forsook
And deleted great George from the book
I suppose he just might
Pull the saint’s laces tight
By deploying his arch-bishop’s crook

I’m sorry to say this, but I sometimes wonder if they are not jailing killers in order to control the rampant population.

The fact that I have had that idea should in itself by worrying.

Yet in this liberal utopia (utopia is Greek for no-where), what I say or think means absolutely nothing.

Bishop Bell has long been as they say promoted to glory. ArchBishop Welby seems lacking in moral conviction and would have been better suited to a political career.
I actually know a women who was subject to very bad abuse as a child by a close family member. She forgave that person since deceased and got compensation after getting her medical records under the freedom of information act.
The problem mostly is these cases real or false stir up very strong emotion and their is the incentive for some of compensation money . As with witchcraft allegations in the 16th century the accusation alone is enough to stir an irrational mob.
The Crown Prosecution Service knows this and is run by people obsessed with prosecuting sex crimes even when it is only the word of one person against another with no collaborating evidence. In the celebrity cases when due to the publicity others come forward over claims about events decades ago one can never be sure if its driven by the chance of winning compensation money.
No one is ever prosecuted when its been proven that they bore false witness they just have sometimes to return their winnings

“evidence too weak to hang a hamster” Quite. Though this aspect of the affair doesn’t seem to have been reported that much.

If I were Mr Hitchens I’d go out an buy a bottle of my favourite wine and treat myself – and maybe some of my supportive friends – to a glass or two of it.

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