Monthly Archives: February 2018

February 28 2018 – “The Importance of Bishop Bell” – F.A.C.T. [Falsely Accused Carers & Teachers]

https://factuk.org/2018/01/25/the-importance-of-bishop-george-bell/

The importance of Bishop George Bell

January 25, 2018

Bishop George Bell (1883 – 1958) is famed for being one of the first to speak out against the dangers Hitler posed in the 1930s and for saving many lives during these years by guaranteeing refugees from Germany. He was one of the few to condemn our government’s obliteration bombing of German cities during the Second World War. He has been, and is, a revered and respected figure.

In 1995 (37 years after he had died) a complaint was made that Bell had abused a child in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The complaint was not passed to the police at the time but was passed to them when the complaint was repeated in 2013. The Church paid compensation to the complainant in 2015 and in 2016 the Church of England commissioned Lord Carlile to review their procedures concerning the investigation into the case. The resulting review was scathing in its criticism of the Church’s handling of the allegations against Bell. Lord Carlile concludes “The Core Group was set up in an unmethodical and unplanned way, with neither terms of reference nor any clear direction as to how it would operate. As a result, it became a confused and unstructured process, as several members confirmed” and “There was no organised or valuable inquiry or investigation into the merits of the allegations, and the standpoint of Bishop Bell was never given parity or proportionality.”

In spite of Carlile’s criticisms the Church remains undeterred in holding Bell responsible. Bell’s name stays removed from buildings, colleges and institutions and his reputation traduced. The problems inherent in a system, like the Church, concerning safeguarding and issues of justice affect all who work or are involved in a church. The case concerning Bishop George Bell has highlighted the flaws and gives no assurance that justice will be done for the accused as well as for the complainant.

As the George Bell Group writes, “Lord Carlile’s report has now left the Church with many searching questions, including how best to remedy the many defects in the current Practice Guidance so as to ensure that such an injustice can never recur.”

Unfortunately this injustice is already happening to innocent people in the Church.

Lucy

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February 26 2018 – “The Church of England should stand up for Bishop Bell” – OXSTU [Oxford Student]

http://oxfordstudent.com/2018/02/25/church-england-stand-bishop-bell/

The Church of England should stand up for Bishop Bell

A short biography of George Bell, who had been Bishop of Chichester for 27 years when he died in 1958, begins by acknowledging a recurring pattern regarding the reputation of notable people. It points out that after such people die, their reputations are often reshaped and defamed by harsh criticism not voiced during their lifetimes – but that the Bishop had managed to be an exception to this rule.

This claim, published in 1971, would no longer be written today. Whilst the memory of George Bell has been cherished over the past 60 years due to his significant support of the Protestant opposition to Hitler, his work in bringing over many non-Aryan refugees from Germany and his emphatic opposition to the bombing of civilians during the Second World War, Bell’s reputation is now at risk of being utterly decimated. A complaint made to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2013 accused Bell of having committed grotesque acts of child abuse in the 1940s and 50s. In response, the Church apologised and paid the accuser £16,800 in compensation. Various memorials, such as one proclaiming him a ‘champion of the oppressed’ in Chichester Cathedral, faced removal. An Eastbourne school, formerly known as the Bishop Bell Church of England School, has changed its name altogether.

Most would agree that this sort of action would be justified in the face of conclusive evidence against Bell. But it has since transpired that the church acted far too hastily. Following their acceptance of the abuse claims, a robust movement was sparked to defend Bell’s reputation, involving major journalists such as Charles Moore and Peter Hitchens. The Church then initiated an independent inquiry, led by Lord Carlile (one of the country’s top legal experts), which concluded that they had “rushed to judgement” and that the damage to Bell’s reputation was “just wrong”. Lord Carlile even went so far as to say that had he been prosecuting a case against Bell in court, Bell would have won. Nevertheless, this report was withheld by the Church for two months. After its eventual release, Justin Welby insisted that a “significant cloud” still hangs over Bell’s name in spite of Lord Carlile’s conclusions.

We should be equally concerned for protecting Bell’s reputation against false accusations as we are for spoiling his reputation over true accusations

This strange outcome highlights an element of mystery that has surrounded the Bell case. The initial claim against Bell was anonymous and the church revealed no details about the accusation when making their apology. As mentioned, it took two months for the Church to release the Carlile report after having received it. Once it was released, Justin Welby did not follow the logical implications of the report, but refused to retract his statements because of a vague belief in a “cloud”. On the 31st January, the enigmatic plot thickened when the Church announced that a further anonymous and unspecified accusation had been made and was being investigated. Some felt the timing of this was suspicious, given that a motion to debate the restoration of Bell’s reputation was due to be voted on at the Church’s General Synod the following week. Lord Carlile, who knew nothing of this accusation during his investigation, described the announcement as ‘unwise, unnecessary and foolish’. At the very least, we can all recognise the strange and stark asymmetry between the previous withholding of the completed Carlile investigation report and the eagerness of the recent announcement of an incomplete investigation. Things got worse when it emerged that the Church of England had refused to allow Mrs Barbara Whitley, Bell’s 93-year-old niece, to have the lawyer of her choice represent her side in the proceedings – instead choosing on her behalf someone who is neither a lawyer nor known to Mrs Whitley.

At this point, while many will sympathise with the active supporters of George Bell, which now includes leading groups of historians, theologians and church leaders who have written public letters asking for Welby to retract his statement, others feel a sense of unease. After all, it is of course possible that the accusations are true. Justin Welby, in a recent interview with the Church Times, said that the alleged victims should be “treated equally importantly” as the reputation of George Bell. Some would say this does not go far enough: surely we must be more concerned for the alleged victims, who are still living, over the reputation of someone who died 60 years ago?

The general nervousness of the Church of England’s handling of the Bell case must be related to the fact that the Church currently faces over 3,000 complaints of sexual abuse

Perhaps a better way of framing this would be to say that we should be equally concerned for protecting Bell’s reputation against false accusations as we are for spoiling his reputation over true accusations. The trouble is that most people have an instinctive tendency to find the latter much easier than the former. When the Church of England apologised and paid the first alleged victim in 2015, The Guardian ran the story with the headline “Church of England Bishop George Bell abused young child”. At that stage, nothing was known about the identity of the accuser nor the accusations, and yet headlines announced the claims as fact. Once the Carlile report was made public, it would have been no less factual to run the headline ‘George Bell declared innocent of abuse claims’, yet nobody did so. In fact, most would consider this overstepping the mark.

The general nervousness of the Church of England’s handling of the Bell case must be related to the fact that the Church currently faces over 3,000 complaints of sexual abuse (including both long-standing and recent accusations). Other high-profile cases of clergy committing child abuse, such as that of former bishop Peter Ball, have highlighted the shocking failures of senior clerics to listen to victims and pass allegations on to the police. Taking into consideration the sharp spike in awareness of the prevalence of sexual abuse in society more broadly, following Weinstein, Larry Nassar and the #MeToo movement, it is not hard to imagine why the Archbishop of Canterbury would not want to stick his head above the parapet and defend the innocence of an archetypal establishment figure: a dead, white, male clergyman.

Courage, after all, comes at a cost. George Bell discovered this himself when his opposition to the bombing of innocent civilians during the Second World War put him on the wrong side of Winston Churchill, probably the main reason why he was never appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. In the absence of substantial evidence in support of the accusations against him, Bell’s reputation deserves to be defended. This is not only in the interest of truth, but also in the interest of maintaining a legacy of courageous leadership which is desperately needed among Bell’s clerical successors today.

February 24 2018 – “Proof, not reputation, is crux of Bell affair” – Church Times – Letter – Marilyn and Peter Billingham

https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2018/23-february/comment/letters-to-the-editor/letters-to-the-editor-abuse-nuclear-disarmament-brexit-border-control-bell

Proof, not reputation, is crux of Bell affair

From Marilyn and Peter Billingham

Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby (Comment, 16 February) is indeed right to say in her column that those fighting for Justice in the George Bell case would be naïve to rest the case for his defence on his fine reputation. But they don’t.

The George Bell Group, the theologians, the lawyers, historians, academics, journalists, and, indeed, the independent reviewer Lord Carlile QC together present an overwhelming case that the evidence against Bishop Bell would not find its way to the criminal court at all were he to be alive.

Further, the evidence does not even meet the lower standard of proof, “the balance of probabilities”, required by the civil courts, now that he has passed away. In English law, he is innocent. The evidence would be too weak to take to court at all. Character references would not be required. Nevertheless, since when have character references been inadmissible in a court of English law?

MARILYN BILLINGHAM
PETER BILLINGHAM
Chichester

February 23 2018 – “The overreaction to Oxfam’s failings is part of a deeper, and more damaging, malaise” – The Independent – Patrick Cockburn

https://uk.news.yahoo.com/overreaction-oxfam-apos-failings-part-150700952.html

The overreaction to Oxfam’s failings is part of a deeper and more damaging malaise

Patrick Cockburn
The Independent
People walk past an Oxfam sign in Corail, a camp for people displaced after 2010 earthquake, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti: Reuters
People walk past an Oxfam sign in Corail, a camp for people displaced after 2010 earthquake, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti: Reuters

The news agenda is dominated by melodramatic scandals that act as simplified versions of reality in which roles are allocated to accusers, victims, perpetrators and those condemned for failing to prevent wrong-doing. A few scandals are rooted in reality, such as those focused on Harvey Weinstein or Jimmy Saville, but others are becoming ever more exaggerated or phoney.

The media knows a good story when it sees one, regardless of whether it is true or false. It is interesting how the same characteristics crop in each scandal, however different they might at first appear: the most dubious sources of information are treated as credible; these sources gain the status of “victims” whom it is forbidden to criticise; the accusations against the person or institution under attack are vague, multiple and toxic; the trivial or shaky nature of the original crime is forgotten as the scandal is spiced up with claims of a cover-up, something which can never be wholly disproved even by the most thorough going disclosure.

There is a high degree of hypocrisy in the media pretence that it is duty-bound to report the most unlikely and obviously partisan allegations. In fact, it loves these stories of gladiatorial combat between angels and devils, though the scenario has often been concocted for partisan political purposes. The aim of any PR or propaganda person is to create stories that they know the press will be unable to leave alone. Fabricating a scandal is not difficult: an example of this is Hillary Clinton, who was cumulatively damaged by a series of fake scandals: the Whitewater real estate scandal in the 1990s from which she made no money; her use of a private email account that revealed no secrets; and the absurd attempt to hold her responsible for the murder of the US ambassador in Benghazi in 2012. As with most fake scandals, the aim was to slide away from any substantive charges but create a general belief among voters that she was slippery and evasive.

In Britain most scandals have a sexual element, but allegations of a cover-up are now so prevalent that anybody is vulnerable, however innocent. Even the most bizarre accusations are taken seriously. Take two recent cases: in 2015, the Church of England announced that George Bell, one of the most distinguished Anglican bishops of the twentieth century, famous for his principled criticism of the carpet bombing of German cities in the Second World War, was denounced by his own church for sexually abusing a child some 63 years previously. Having died in 1958, he could not defend himself and the accusation came from a single woman, “Carol”, while nobody else had complained about his behaviour. Yet without any real evidence being produced, the church decided to say it believed her, paid compensation and denigrated one of its most highly regarded members.

An independent inquiry was established by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, which found that the original report was shoddy and ill-informed. This should have elicited an apology from Archbishop to the memory of Bishop Bell since there was no evidence that he had done anything wrong. But Welby was evidently more frightened of being accused of a “cover-up” in defending Bell and did no such thing.

Instead, the Archbishop agreed that Bell has great achievements to his name – such as looking after Jewish children in flight from the Holocaust and helping German Christians resist Hitler – but it turned out that a single unsupported allegation made 50 years after the event outweighed this. “We realise that a significant cloud is left over his name,” said the Archbishop, adding that Bell had been accused of great wickedness.

There are echoes here of the psychology and behaviour that fuelled the great witch craze in Europe of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, during which anybody who did not support the most crazed allegations of the witch-finders feared the accusation that they themselves were complicit with the witches.

The same point is made by the story of another pretended scandal even more bizarre than that of Bishop Bell. This time the accuser, called “Nick”, claimed that he had been the victim of a VIP paedophile ring operating from the Carlton Club and an apartment block called Dolphin Square in London. Members of the supposed ring included Edward Heath and Leon Britain, the former Home Secretary, along with Field Marshall Lord Bramall. The ring, according to Nick, had murdered three boys, one of whom was knifed by an MP. The Metropolitan Police opened an investigation which found these allegations “credible and true”, despite a complete lack of evidence other than from Nick himself. The police even held a press conference in 2015 outside Heath’s old home in Salisbury appealing for his victims to come forward.

Why should such obvious nonsense receive such publicity? In part, because the press and public alike enjoy stories in which members of the establishment are unmasked as child molesters. But such is the merciless nature of modern scandal generation that few dare defend those who should be very defensible such as Bishop Bell, Edward Heath or Oxfam.

Those accused in such cases are in a particularly vulnerable position because it is difficult to disprove a fantasy, particularly if the accusation is lurid and disgusting. Those targeted know that even the most convincing denial will simply give the story legs and further damage their reputations.

The Oxfam “sex scandal” is the product of much the same script that has produced fake or exaggerated scandals in the past. The media has been lapping it up because it has all the elements of the classic British scandal, including the claim that high moral issue is involved.

There is a strong defence for Oxfam which is that the offences of which a small number of their staff accused are relatively trivial and have, as far as I can tell, not increased the sum of human misery in Haiti or anywhere else. Prostitution in the island is the result of the terrible poverty, not the availability of aid workers as clients. Most of the media revelations about Oxfam’s failings in Haiti come in any case from the aid agency’s own report, but critics have used this copiously as a stick to beat Oxfam, then turn round and accuse it of a “cover-up”, though most of the contents of the report were published by the BBC in 2011.

The hypocrisy is breathtaking: had Oxfam not reacted so quickly to allegation of bad behaviour by its staff in Haiti, there would have been no report and probably no scandal. Instead, it sent an expert investigation team, identified those responsible for misbehaviour and dismissed them. It did all this in the middle of a cholera epidemic which was to kill 7,500 and which Oxfam was trying to stem. Had it not done so, and had there been no report, it would not be in such trouble now.

Senior Oxfam figures tried briefly to defend themselves on the rational grounds that they had done little wrong and much right, but such a defence is not acceptable when the public mood is one of undiluted self-righteousness. They rightly concluded that they were much better off firing off volleys of apologies and showing extreme contrition for their over-exaggerated failings. One day the Oxfam scandal, along with those that denigrated Hillary Clinton, Edward Heath and Bishop Bell, will be recognised as the fake that it is.