Category Archives: The Guardian

December 15 2017 – “‘An example of human goodness’: how child abuse claims shredded George Bell’s reputation” – The Guardian – Harriet Sherwood

‘An example of human goodness’: how child abuse claims shredded George Bell’s reputation

The former bishop of Chichester was the closest thing to an Anglican saint, until in 2015 the church apologised to a woman who claimed she had been raped as a child

George Bell, right, chats with the bishop G Bromley Oxnam during the World Council of Churches in Illinois, US, in 1954.
 George Bell, right, chats with the bishop G Bromley Oxnam during the World Council of Churches in Illinois, US, in 1954. Photograph: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

When the Church of England issued a statement in October 2015 expressing “deep sorrow” over the sexual abuse of a child by one of its most revered 20th-century figures, it caused shockwaves.

Many of those who admired and respected George Bell, who was bishop of Chichester from 1929 until his death in 1958, simply could not believe that a man described as “a rare example of self-sacrificing human goodness” had committed such a deed. At the very least, they said, the church had “condemned as a paedophile” someone who could not refute the claims against him.

In the two years that followed the C of E’s apology, Bell’s supporters fought to salvage his reputation while the church quietly insisted that, “on the balance of probabilities”, it believed the woman who claimed to have been abused. Now the findings of an independent inquiry undertaken by Lord Carlile have been made public.

Bell was seen as a champion of the underdog. He helped organise the kindertransport rescue of Jewish children from the Nazis, and later controversially criticised the RAF bombing of German civilians during the second world war. He described the killing of women and children as “barbarian” and a crime against humanity, asking: “How can the war cabinet fail to see that this progressive devastation of cities is threatening the roots of civilisation?”

His comments – deeply unpopular in a country at war – were widely thought to have cost him the job of archbishop of Canterbury when it twice became vacant in the 1940s. But in some quarters, his outspokenness made him a hero.

George Bell, left, at the World Council of Churches in 1954.
 George Bell, left, at the World Council of Churches in 1954. Photograph: John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

The George Bell Institute was founded in 1996 in honour of the former bishop, whom it described as “a friend of the oppressed … [and] a generous advocate for humanity at large”. He had an Anglican holy day named after him – the nearest thing in the C of E to beatification. In 2013, a BBC Great Lives radio documentary hailed him as a man of moral courage.

But that same year, a woman known as Carol wrote to Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, claiming Bell had sexually abused her when she was a child in the 1940s and 50s. It was not the first time Carol had come forward: in 1995 she told the then bishop of Chichester, Eric Kemp, and in 2012 she wrote to Lambeth Palace. No action was taken.

According to Carol’s account, the abuse began when she was five years old, when she was taken regularly to the bishop’s palace in Chichester by a relative who worked there. Bell, then in his 60s, would offer to read to the child while the relative worked.

“Then he’d start wriggling about with me on his lap. He started wriggling and then he started touching me, between my legs,” Carol told the Brighton Argus in February 2016. The bishop pulled her knickers aside to interfere with her. He told her not to tell anyone what happened. “He said it was our little secret, because God loved me.”

In a police statement, she said sometimes he made her touch his genitals; on other occasions he attempted to penetrate her with his penis after pulling her underwear aside. He ejaculated, telling her she was being anointed by God.

The alleged abuse continued until she was nine, when her family moved away, she said. Now in her 70s, she added: “It’s something that lives with you for the rest of your life. It never goes away.”

Two years ago, the C of E issued a formal apology to Carol and paid her £16,800 compensation. The current bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, spoke of a “devastating betrayal of trust” and the church cited a police statement that said Bell would have been arrested if he had still been alive.

Bell’s supporters were staggered. The swiftly established George Bell Group, which included academics, lawyers, politicians and church groups, accused the church of failing to properly investigate Carol’s claims and of not consulting Bell’s papers and diaries. “The valuable reputation of a great man, a rare example of self-sacrificing human goodness, has been carelessly destroyed on the basis of slender evidence sloppily investigated,” it said.

The former archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said he was “frankly appalled” at the way the church had handled the allegations of abuse. Bell “was without question one of the greatest church leaders of the 20th century. The church has effectively delivered a guilty verdict without anything resembling a fair and open trial,” he wrote in a letter to Bell’s niece.

Carol, meanwhile, acknowledged that Bell “did some good”. But, she added, “to me he did harm. And sometimes I think the church likes to sweep those kinds of things under the table.”

All too mindful of that sentiment, the church commissioned Carlile to conduct an independent review into the case. “There are always lessons to be learned,” it said at the time.

December 15 2017 – “Anglican church ‘rushed to judgement’ in George Bell child abuse case” – The Guardian – Harriet Sherwood

Anglican church ‘rushed to judgment’ in George Bell child abuse case

Lord Carlile report says Church of England was wrong to accept claims of alleged victim against former bishop ‘without sufficient investigations’

George Bell was the bishop of Chichester from 1929 until his death in 1958.
 George Bell was the bishop of Chichester from 1929 until his death in 1958. Photograph: PA

The Church of England has been criticised for a “rush to judgment” in its handling of allegations of sexual abuse against one its most revered figures of the 20th century in a highly damaging independent inquiry.

The report by Lord Carlile, released on Friday, said that although the church acted in good faith, its processes were deficient and it failed to give proper consideration to the rights of the accused.

The findings, which the church has made public two months after receiving them, concerned claims made against George Bell, the former bishop of Chichester, who died in 1958. A woman now in her 70s alleged that Bell had abused her in the bishop’s palace over a period of four years, starting when she was five years old.

In 2015, the church issued a formal public apology and paid £16,800 to the woman, known as Carol. Its statement triggered furious protests among Bell’s supporters, who said his reputation had been trashed, the evidence against him was thin and that he could not defend himself from beyond the grave.

The church commissioned Carlile last year to review its processes in the case. Speaking at a press conference on Friday, he said Bell had been “hung out to dry” and there were “many errors” in the church process. There were preconceptions about the outcome of the process and “therefore obvious lines of inquiry were not followed”.

The case bore “some of the hallmarks of the unacceptable way accusations against Lord Bramall and the late Lord Brittan were dealt with”, he added.

His report concluded that the “core group” established by the church to consider the claims “failed to follow a process that was fair and equitable to both sides”.

“The church, understandably concerned not to repeat the mistakes of the past, when it had been too slow to recognise that abuse had been perpetrated by clergy and to recognise the pain and damage caused to victims, has in effect oversteered in this case.

“In other words, there was a rush to judgment: the church, feeling it should be both supportive of the complainant and transparent in its dealings, failed to engage in a process which would also give proper consideration to the rights of the bishop. Such rights should not be treated as having been extinguished on death.”

He added: “In my view, the church concluded that the needs of a living complainant who, if truthful, was a victim of very serious criminal offences were of considerably more importance than the damage done by a possibly false allegation to a person who was no longer alive.”

Carlile said the purpose of his review was not to determine the truthfulness of Carol’s claims, nor Bell’s guilt or innocence. Rather his remit was to examine the church’s processes and determine whether it was right to make a public statement of apology and pay damages.

The church was “motivated by a desire to do what it perceived to be the right thing by the complainant” and “its actions were informed by history in which the church has been, at best, slow to acknowledge abuse by its clergy and, at worst, believed to have turned a blind eye”, he said.

But, he went on, “even when the alleged perpetrators have died, there should be methodical and sufficient investigations into accusations levelled against them”.

In this case, “the truth of what Carol was saying was implicitly accepted without serious investigation or inquiry. I have concluded this was an inappropriate and impermissible approach.”

His report was seen as vindication by high-profile figures who have fought to salvage Bell’s reputation for the past two years.

The George Bell Group welcomed the review’s findings. Carlile’s “devastating criticism of the church’s process shows that Archbishop [Justin] Welby was wrong in 2016 when he described the investigation as ‘very thorough’ and the finding of abuse as clearly correct on the balance of probabilities”, it said. The report “thoroughly vindicated the reputation of a man revered for his integrity across the Christian church”.

The journalist Peter Hitchens, who has vigorously campaigned on Bell’s behalf, said the church had “convicted Bishop Bell in a kangaroo court of chaotic incompetence” and demanded it withdraw its 2015 statement.

Responding to the report on behalf of the church, Peter Hancock, its lead safeguarding bishop, said: “It is clear from the report … 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. Lessons can and have been learned about how we could have managed the process better.”

He added: “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.”

In a statement notable for its lack of apology to Bell’s family, Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, said Bell was “one of the great Anglican heroes of the 20th century”.

Saying a “significant cloud is left over his name”, Welby added: “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 good.”

Martin Warner, the bishop of Chichester, in whose name the 2015 statement was issued, apologised for the church’s failures. He said: “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.”

Among Carlile’s recommendations is that alleged perpetrators, living or dead, should not be identified publicly without adverse finding of facts or a decision that identification is in the public interest.

If a settlement is made without admission of liability, as in the Bell case, there should be a confidentiality provision.

In response, Hancock said that while the church accepted the main thrust of his recommendations, “respectfully, we differ from [the] judgment” on confidentiality clauses. “The church is committed to transparency. We would look at each case on its merits but generally would seek to avoid confidentiality clauses.”

October 18 2017 – “Former Bishop of Chester Hubert Whitsey investigated over abuse allegations” – The Guardian

Former bishop of Chester investigated over abuse allegations

Victor Whitsey, who died in 1987, would have been interviewed over allegations if he were alive, police say

Chester Cathedral. The allegations date from when Whitsey was bishop of Chester and from when he had retired.
 Chester Cathedral. The allegations date from when Whitsey was bishop of Chester and after his retirement. Photograph: Alamy

The former bishop of Chester, Victor Whitsey, is being investigated 30 years after his death over allegations of sexual abuse in the latest scandal involving high-profile figures in the Church of England.

A lawyer representing four of the alleged victims has claimed the abuse was covered up by the C of E and has called for a independent review.

The allegations date from the late 1970s when Whitsey was bishop of Chester, and in the 1980s after he had retired and was living in the diocese of Blackburn.

The C of E said it had supported a police investigation into allegations of sexual offences against children and adults. The police told the church that, had Whitsey still been alive, he would have been interviewed in relation to 10 allegations. Whitsey died in 1987.

In a statement, the archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, and the bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, said: “We are deeply sorry and apologise to those individuals who have come forward to share their account of abuse by a bishop in the Church of England who was in a position of power and authority. We appreciate that it is very difficult for individuals to come forward and to give their account.

“Sexual abuse is a heinous crime – and is an absolute and shameful breach of trust. We acknowledge that for survivors the effects of sexual abuse are lifelong. We are offering pastoral support to all those who have come forward and continue to hold them all in our prayers.”

It added: “The church will consider what lessons can be learned from this case and whether any action needs to be taken as a result of what these inquiries have shown.”

Cheshire police said the allegations related to 13 people, five males and eight females. “The abuse is alleged to have taken place whilst the bishop was living and working in Chester and one incident is reported to have taken place outside the county,” a statement said. The police investigation had spanned 13 months, it added.

Richard Scorer, a specialist abuse lawyer from Slater and Gordon, which represents four of Whitsey’s victims, said: “The abhorrent and disgusting abuse perpetrated by Bishop Whitsey destroyed many lives, driving some to attempt suicide. What is equally abhorrent is that the Church of England knew of his abuse, did nothing to stop it and covered it up. It is crucial that there is now an independent review into Whitsey abuse and who failed to act when they learnt of his heinous behaviour.”

The law firm understands that a complaint was made to the C of E while Whitsey was still serving as bishop of Chester, but it was not passed to police. The church was believed to have been made aware of further allegations following Whitsey’s retirement, but no action was taken.

Slater and Gordon released a statement from one of Whitsey’s alleged victims. It said: “When I met Victor Whitsey I was young, innocent, and naive. I longed for his blessing to achieve my wish of a future as a vicar, serving God and the community. He told me he agreed I had a calling from God. He also told me he had the power to give me everything I wanted in life and the power to take it all away. He then proceeded to abuse me sexually and psychologically. I was powerless to stop him.

“I blamed myself, though I was the only victim and rationalised that it was my fault … I told no one; who would believe a teenage boy’s word against a bishop of the Church of England? I became reclusive and came to the ultimate conclusion. The prospect of ever seeing Victor Whitsey again was so abhorrent to me that I turned my back on my beloved church and my calling to serve God. I self-harmed and have spent a lifetime focusing on resentment and bitterness.

“Twenty years after my abuse, I suffered a complete mental nervous breakdown which included attempted suicide. Because of the sexual abuse I suffered at the hands of Victor Whitsey I lost my faith, my chosen life as a vicar, my self-belief, my freedom from worry and my dignity. Child sex abuse is a crime which stays with you for a lifetime. As a child you don’t understand why or what is happening, but as you grow older you realise the enormity of the abuse and it hurts you all over again – you blame yourself for allowing it – you hate yourself for being weak.

“Since my abuse, not a day has gone by that I have not thought about what happened to me.”

The author of the statement said he hoped there would be a public inquiry “to understand not only what Whitsey did to his victims but to also learn who knew what he was doing, to what extent his actions were intentionally covered up, and who else was complicit in the crimes that he committed, and for which, I continue to suffer every day of my life”.

The church has faced a number of high-profile cases of sexual abuse.

Peter Ball, a former bishop of both Gloucester and Lewes, was jailed in October 2015 for the grooming, sexual exploitation and abuse of 18 vulnerable young men aged 17-25 who had sought spiritual guidance from him between 1977 and 1992. He was released from prison in February after serving 16 months.

A damning independent report, published in June, found that senior figures in the C of E had colluded over a 20-year period with the disgraced former bishop.

The report made harrowing reading, the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said. “The church colluded and concealed rather than seeking to help those who were brave enough to come forward. This is inexcusable and shocking behaviour,” he said.

George Carey, a former archbishop of Canterbury who was criticised in the report, resigned as honorary assistant bishop in the diocese of Oxford.

Two years ago, the church issued a formal apology for alleged sexual abuse committed by one of its most senior figures, George Bell, the late bishop of Chichester, who died 57 years ago. It also settled a civil claim brought against Ball by a survivor.

However, critics accused the church of acting improperly and without sufficient evidence, saying Bell’s “condemnation as a paedophile” had irreparably damaged his reputation.

An independent report into the church’s handling of the case is expected to be published next month.


October 6 2017 – “We don’t know if Ted Heath abused boys, but it’s right to try to find out” – The Guardian

Illustration by Robert G Fresson
Illustration by Robert G Fresson

How could it possibly be true? The idea that Britain could have unknowingly harboured a paedophile prime minister, a man whose predilection for assaulting children didn’t stop him reaching the highest office in the land, is so grotesque as to be almost inconceivable.

We know about Jimmy Savile, about the MP Cyril Smith, about how horribly easy it can be to abuse in plain sight if enough people choose not to see. We know too about the suppression of inconvenient truth in scandals from Hillsborough downwards.

But still, a senior politician so obviously in the glare of the spotlight and so vulnerable to blackmail, raping and getting away with it? Even half a century ago, it’s still hard to imagine nobody would have known or had the decency to act.

Yet the findings of Operation Conifer require us at least to imagine such a thing. Were he still alive, Ted Heath would be in a police station now being interviewed under caution about seven separate alleged assaults, on boys as young as 10 and 11 as well as adult men. Indeed, it may only be the failure to imagine such a thing that prevented Heath from being interviewed while he was still here to defend himself.

We still await a ruling from the Independent Police Complaints Commission on three alleged historical failures by police to deal appropriately with concerns raised about Heath, and whether these were indeed missed opportunities to get at the truth. But it is surely not the alleged victims’ fault that Wiltshire police’s verdict – that it is impossible to say Heath was guilty, but equally impossible to find him innocent – feels so horribly unsatisfactory.

For if true, these allegations are cataclysmic, shaking whatever trust remains in the establishment to its foundations. Yet it is very much an “if”. Had Heath been questioned before his death, it is perfectly possible he would have been cleared. The ignominious collapse of the recent Metropolitan police inquiry into alleged abuse by a string of public figures, after its star witness “Nick” was discredited, is an uncomfortable reminder that victims can also be liars. (It remains hard not to see both Nick, and those whose lives he wrecked by accusing them, as victims, if only in Nick’s case of his own demons.)

Sir Edward Heath
‘It may only be the failure to imagine such a thing that prevented Heath from being interviewed while he was still here to defend himself.’ Photograph: Johnny Eggitt/AFP/Getty Images

It’s rare, but it happens, and perhaps especially when big names are involved. In the Heath case, police concluded that at least two of the many allegations against him they dismissed were deliberate attempts to mislead. Nothing in this murky affair is clear. Yet that hasn’t stopped a public rush to judgment, with some commentators crying witch-hunt while others claim there is no smoke without fire.

But if Wiltshire police couldn’t be sure about Heath after two years of investigation, then the rest of us aren’t going to crack the case based on gut prejudice alone. You don’t know. I don’t know. And yet there may be lessons to learn from this collective ignorance.

The Heath case is in that sense a prelude to the historical child abuse inquiry set up by Theresa May, which faces similar difficulties in following trails that may have long gone cold, but on a vastly bigger scale.

Despite the warnings that they weren’t set up to try individual cases, that their purpose was to give victims a voice and draw overarching general lessons rather than to prove guilt or innocence beyond the grave, the inquiry now led by Alexis Jay (after several false starts) also faces expectations it surely can’t hope to meet.

Yet the alternatives to opening this Pandora’s box all seem worse. Difficult as it has been, Chief Constable Mike Veale (who led the Heath inquiry for Wiltshire police) was right that it would have been a “dereliction of duty” not to investigate claims against such a senior politician. Silence would have been deadly not just for the victims – if that is indeed what they were – but for a wider establishment that now feels itself under siege. Into the vacuum would have crept any number of conspiracy theories.

Abuse victims everywhere would have felt publicly disbelieved and perpetrators, perhaps, relieved. The unforgivable failure by previous generations to ensure justice was done in child abuse cases confers a moral responsibility on this one to try. What the Ted Heath example provides is an early test of our ability to deal with the resulting messy ambiguity.

We don’t need to know whether Heath himself was guilty to grasp how such things could have been theoretically possible, and that is the key to knowing how to stop them. It could have been possible not only because of the culture of deference surrounding politicians 50 years ago, but because the word of a prostitute (several of the allegations relate to paid sexual encounters) or child could so easily not have been believed over that of the leader of the opposition. Time and time again, we see abuse going unchecked when the abuser is deemed more significant or credible than the victim.

That’s how it happened with the grooming gangs operating in so many British cities, exploiting girls in care and getting away with it because those girls were dismissed as trouble. That’s how it happened at the BBC, where nobody questioned the teenagers passing in and out of Savile’s dressing room because he was “the talent” and the talent was to be indulged.

It’s how it happened in churches and boarding schools, doctors’ surgeries and football clubs, and anywhere else – including within families – women and children were taught to submit to a higher authority who could not be questioned. It’s how it happens still in jury deliberations on so-called date rape cases, where he comes across as such a promising young man, and anyway wasn’t she drunk? To this day, opportunist attackers and abusers still single out the victims least likely to be believed; the troubled, the marginalised, the easily blamed.

But the lesson from all this is not to believe all victims unquestioningly. Rather, it is to refrain from disbelieving any group of people without good reason, and to follow instead where the evidence leads. Ironically, the single greatest danger to potential future victims may be precisely that rush to judge so many instinctively feel in the Heath case; the unthinking assumptions we all harbour, if we’re honest, about who looks most like the liar.

Gaby Hinsliff is a Guardian columnist