Wednesday Feb 20 – 17.45-19.00 – Questions – David Lamming
“Has the House of Bishops considered encouraging the Archbishop of Canterbury to revisit the judgement he expressed on 15 December 2017 (on publication of the Carlile Review) that ‘a significant cloud is left over [Bishop Bell’s] name’, particularly in view of the Briden Report dated 17 January 2019 and the recent statement by Lord Carlile that ‘The Church should now accept that my recommendations should be accepted in full, and that after due process, however delayed, George Bell should be declared by the Church to be innocent of the allegations made against him’?”
40. The decision of the Right Worshipful Timothy Briden (acting in his capacity as commissary to the Bishop of Chichester) was published by the Bishop of Chichester and the Archbishops’ Council on 24 January 2019. The decision related to ‘fresh information’ brought to the attention of the Church following publication of Lord Carlile’s independent review into the Church’s original handling of allegations against the late Bishop George Bell. The terms of reference for the independent investigation and independent ‘decision-making body’ (Timothy Briden) did not involve re-investigating the allegations made by ‘Carol’, for which a civil settlement had already be made.
A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE RESPONSE OF THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND TO THE REPORT OF LORD CARLILE OF BERRIEW, CBE, QC
In the Christian liturgy a form of confession comes early on in the service. One would reasonably expect Archbishops and Bishops to be very good at it, not only in services but also in their reflections on the decisions they make in their episcopal and everyday lives. I have considered the responses of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Chichester and the Bishop of Bath and Wells (the Church of England’s lead safeguarding bishop) to the Carlile Report in the light of this expectation.
Lord Carlile QC was commissioned to conduct a review into the way in which the Church dealt with the complaint made by ‘Carol’, first in 1995 and again in 2012 and 2013, that the late Bishop George Bell had sexually abused her on occasions in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
In September 2015 the Church issued a formal apology to Carol, paid her a sum in damages and costs, and issued a public statement in terms which led to widespread reporting of the story, all to the effect that Bishop Bell had been guilty of appalling sexual abuse of a child – a conclusion which, though not expressly stated, was to be implied from the Bishop of Chichester’s “deep sorrow” while he acknowledged that “the abuse of children is a criminal act and a devastating betrayal of trust that should never occur in any situation, particularly the church”. He referred to “the survivor’s courage in coming forward to report the abuse”.
By its statement the Church pinned the label ‘Abuser’ on Bishop Bell as securely as it pinned the labels ‘Survivor’ and ‘Victim’ on Carol.
The inevitable (and eminently foreseeable) publicity led in turn to widespread and passionate responses in defence of the high reputation of Bishop Bell which the Church had destroyed; and the Church was challenged to demonstrate the quality of the process which it had adopted and which had led to such a shocking result.
Lord Carlile’s terms of reference did not include determination of the truthfulness of Carol or the guilt or innocence of Bishop Bell [para 9]. In essence, he was required to examine the procedures which the Church followed, the way in which it obtained and assessed evidence, and whether it was right to make a public statement of apology and pay damages.
In relation to the complaint which Carol made in 1995 Lord Carlile found that the Church did not serve Carol well [para 96]. There can be no argument about that, and the Church’s shortcomings at that time were specifically acknowledged by the Bishop of Chichester in October 2015 and by the Bishop of Bath and Wells in his response to the Carlile report: he described the failures at that time as “lamentable”. Those failures consisted in offering pastoral support but taking the matter no further. It is reasonable to expect the leaders of the Church, having dealt with the matter in recent years with the benefit of wisdom and practice accumulated over twenty years or so since the “lamentable” failures of its predecessors, to be equally willing to acknowledge and castigate any serious failings in their own conduct which Lord Carlile might identify in his report.
Lord Carlile made a large number of specific criticisms of the way in which the Church dealt with the complaint which was made in 2012 and 2013. He accepted that the errors which he identified had been made in good faith, and that they resulted from ‘oversteer’ in the direction of what were believed to be the best interests of Carol and of the Church, and without a calculated intention to destroy Bishop Bell’s reputation. This is unsurprising. It would be scandalous in the extreme if the Church had been found to have acted in bad faith with the specific intention of damaging (more accurately further damaging, having regard to the 2015 statement) Bishop Bell’s reputation. But equally unsurprisingly Lord Carlile found that in fact and in reality his reputation was destroyed in the eyes of all but his strongest supporters [para 119].
Lord Carlile made sixteen criticisms which fall into five categories.
Approach to the investigation
(1) The allegation being serious and apparently credible, the Church implicitly accepted it without serious investigation or enquiry. This was an inappropriate and impermissible approach [para 43]. There was an underlying acceptance of Carol’s case; she was referred to as the ‘victim’, not the ‘complainant’ [para 155(iii)]. The use of this term and ‘survivor’ contributed to decisions which might otherwise have been scrutinised more critically [para 274].
(2) The Church concluded that the needs of a living complainant who, if truthful, was the 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. This approach was wrong in principle, for three separate reasons [paras 43-48].
(3) No steps were taken to ensure that Bishop Bell’s interests were considered actively by an individual nominated for the purpose. His reputation, and the need for a rigorous factual analysis of the case against him, were swept up by the focus on settling Carol’s claim and the perceived imperative of public transparency [paras 142, 155(ii), 159(i) and (ii), 188]. The Core Group never seriously engaged with protecting the legitimate interests of Bishop Bell [para 263].
(4) The reputation of the Church was apparently treated as of greater importance than the justice of the case [para 155(i)].
Assembling and dealing with evidence and advice
(5) The Church reached a conclusion without actively seeking the widest available
evidence [paras 36, 140-141, 155(iv), 229]. Significant evidence was readily available [paras 214-220 (‘Pauline’), and 221-225 (Canon Adrian Carey)]. See also (10) below, and the detailed points made by the George Bell Group in its Review dated 18 March 2016.1 The Bishop of Chelmsford, who had a very limited knowledge of the case, was wrong to assert in a debate in the House of Lords that the allegations had been “tested ….. so far as possible”.
(6) The Core Group failed to appreciate the appropriate test for prosecution, viz whether there is a realistic prospect of conviction, and the duty of prosecutors to be impartial, following leads which might cast doubt on the complaint as well as those which are likely to support it [para 41].
(7) The Core Group failed to give the considerable weight which should have been given to Bishop Bell’s good character, his inability to defend himself, and the lack of any other allegations [para 56].
(8) Although counsel’s advice was obtained on the issue of which part of the Church (if any) would have to meet an award of damages, no specialist criminal lawyer was asked to advise on the strength of the evidence [para 170]. Such advice probably would have been to the effect that the prospects of a successful prosecution would have been low [para 171]; and it would have affected the approach to negotiations [para 172].
(9) Only some members of the Core Group were shown the full report of the Consultant Psychiatrist who was consulted. Had they all seen the report they would have seen his advice that
the delays in reporting in this case were exceptional, that memory is not reliable over such long periods, and that the only way to establish the truth of the allegations would be through corroborating evidence [paras 178-181].
(10) Evidence that Bishop Bell had access to many young girls during World War II2 and that this had given rise to no complaints was wrongly treated as not undermining the Core Group’s conclusion that the allegations against Bishop Bell were true [para 233].
Treatment of relevant people
(11) The response of the Archbishop’s staff to the complaint which Carol made in September 2012 was inadequate [para 107].3
(12) Nothing was done to identify living relatives of Bishop Bell and to ensure that they were informed of the allegations, let alone asked for or offered guidance [paras 142, 207].
Constitution of the Core Group
(13) There were unacceptable variations in membership and attendance at meetings ofthe Core Group [para 176].
The various criticisms of the establishment, structure and work of the Core Group were summarised in fourteen separate points in para 254 of the Report.
Settlement of the claim
(14) Insufficient attention was given to points which were available for use in negotiations: the fact that Bishop Bell had been dead for over half a century and a fair trial would be extremely difficult; the absence of any corroborative or similar fact evidence; and that Carol had alleged abuse in 1995 but had not made a claim for many years afterwards [paras 146-147, 155(v), 188, 190].
(15) The Church was wrong to settle Carol’s complaint without an admission of liability, while knowingly and apparently deliberately destroying the reputation of Bishop Bell [para 52].
(16) Lord Carlile stated that if the criticisms which he made were substantially valid the decision to settle the case in the form and manner which was followed was indefensibly wrong [para 258]. With the evidence which he found to be readily available a denial of liability would have been the right initial response by the Church [para 260]. There could have been an economic case for a ‘litigation risk’ settlement with an express denial of liability [para 261]. A confidentiality clause probably would have been complied with, and in the event of breach the repayment aspect of it could have been enforced, and cogent reasons for the settlement could have been given [para 262]. Had this been done the legitimate interests of Bishop Bell would have been protected, and he would not have been cast out into the moral wilderness in any statements by the Church [para 263]. This is what should have been done [para 283].
In reading the report all those who had participated in producing the result which led to the review should have considered carefully (i) the extent to which their acts and omissions were criticised, (ii) to what extent the situation in and after September 2015 would have been different had they acted in such a way as not to have attracted criticism; and consequently (iii) to whom and in what terms they should make apologies. This duty should have been undertaken with humility and frankness, particularly in the light of the unqualified nature of the apology which had been offered for the acts and omissions of Bishop Eric Kemp, the then Bishop of Chichester, in and around 1995.
2 Through his active participation in the Kindertransport scheme.
3 At the time of the complaint the Archbishop was The Most Revd and Rt Hon Rowan Williams. The present Archbishop was elected on 4 February 2013 and enthroned on 21 March 2013.
It is my firm conclusion that in view of the catalogue of faults which Lord Carlile found in the Church’s approach to dealing with Carol’s complaint and in its processes the one word answer to (ii) is ‘massively’; and that the appropriate apologies would have been deeply penitential.
Bishop Peter Hancock, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, responded to the report on behalf of the Church. As mentioned above, he used the word “lamentable” to describe the handling of the case in 1995. He rejected the recommendation of a confidentiality clause. He accepted that the Church’s processes had been deficient in a number of respects. He claimed that much professional care and discussion were taken over agreeing the settlement and the decision to make it public; and that the Church had acted in good faith throughout with no calculated intention to damage Bishop Bell’s reputation. He apologised for adding to the additional pain suffered by Carol and the Bishop’s surviving relatives by the handling of the case.
The Bishop of Chichester started his statement by asserting that Lord Carlile’s review was a demonstration of the Church’s commitment to equality of justice and transparency. He apologised for failures in the work of the Core Group and for inadequate attention to the rights of the dead. He accepted that there should be further consideration to the complexity of the case, such as what boundaries should be set to the principle of transparency. He described the principle of innocent until proven guilty as “emotive”. He praised Carol’s dignity and integrity, whether she was technically a complainant, survivor or victim.
The Archbishop of Canterbury referred to Bishop Bell’s heroic stature, saying that the decision to publish his name was taken with immense reluctance. He disagreed with the recommendation as to a confidentiality agreement. He observed that Lord Carlile did not seek to say whether Bishop Bell was responsible for the acts alleged. He apologised for failures in the process. He accepted that a significant cloud was left over Bishop Bell’s name, saying that no human being is entirely good or entirely bad, and that while Bishop Bell was in many ways a hero he is also accused of great wickedness.
The most striking aspect of this trio of responses is that in none of them is found any recognition of the radical and damning observations which Lord Carlile made about the Church’s approach to the matter: see (1) to (4) above. Lord Carlile tactfully used the word “oversteer” to describe the Church’s approach and the detail of its work. An equally appropriate term is bias. In the points which Lord Carlile made we can see manifest bias in favour of Carol and against Bishop Bell. This is consistent with the doctrine which has been adopted in recent years by, in particular4, the police. Widely criticised for failing to take seriously complaints of sexual abuse and to deal sensitively with those complaining of it, the police adopted a principle that such complainants were always to be believed and were to be assured that they were believed. This has led inexorably to an inherent disbelief in the alleged abuser; and in practice there has been shown in many cases a sharp contrast between diligence in pursuing lines of enquiry likely to support a complaint and a lackadaisical approach to the equally important duty of pursuing lines of enquiry which may cast doubt on it. This is a duty owed in law by the prosecution in a criminal case. I suggest that the duty is equally owed by all those responsible for dealing with complaints of serious misconduct, not least the Church.
4 See, for example, the recent case of R v Allen, where the officer in the case not only failed to review the complainant’s telephone records, which served to exonerate the defendant, but also asserted that they contained nothing relevant to the issues in the case. In the light of this case and others it seems that there is now a prospect that this intrinsically unjust principle is being abandoned.
Regrettably, the three responses show not a hint of recognition of this duty; and the damning indictment of the breach of it has been lightly brushed aside by prelates who are all too keen to show pride that their “good faith” has been recognised. All that this means is that they did not set out deliberately to destroy Bishop Bell’s reputation. But this is not much of a point in the Church’s favour when that result was eminently foreseeable, indeed virtually certain, as the consequence of the Church’s approach; and we have seen that this approach was replicated throughout the investigation. Moreover, the statement by the Bishop of Chichester that Lord Carlile’s review was “a demonstration of the Church’s commitment to equality of justice” is startlingly inaccurate. On the contrary, it is a demonstration of the Church’s devotion, not to the principle of justice simpliciter, but to the fashionable but misconceived principle of justice for the particular class of persons who claim to be victims and/or survivors. As this case vividly demonstrates, the application of this principle foreseeably, if not inevitably, makes victims of people such as Bishop Bell and those who honour his reputation.
In a very broad way the statements did recognise that there had been faults in the process of investigation. But in view of the wide range of Lord Carlile’s criticisms it was inappropriately boastful of Bishop Hancock to refer to “much professional care and discussion”. Further, although the Bishop of Chelmsford had no more than a walk-on part, he had no justification for saying that the allegation had been “tested ….. so far as possible”.5 This is an example of the Church’s readiness to be reckless in its self serving response to criticism.
The statements showed no recognition of the wholly different result which would have come about had the Church proceeded in the proper manner, based on sound principles, clearly described by Lord Carlile.
It would have been clear that there was not a single shred of corroborating evidence, in circumstances in which, in spite of the passage of time, such evidence could have been found if it existed. Proper attention to the advice of the Consultant Psychiatrist6 would have led to the conclusion that it would be wrong to admit any possibility of Bishop Bell’s guilt. For all Carol’s honest belief in the accuracy of her story, there was no good reason for the Church to share that belief. Quite simply, her memory could not be relied upon after such a long lapse of time, and the absence of any corroboration demonstrated that her memory was at fault.
It was therefore culpably wrong of the Bishop of Chichester to equivocate as to whether Carol was “technically” a complainant, survivor or victim; and the Archbishop of Canterbury was equally culpable in qualifying his recognition of Bishop Bell’s high reputation with the gratuitous comment that “he is also accused of great wickedness”. It appears to me that so wedded is he to the fundamentally flawed approach which Lord Carlile described that he cannot contemplate going any further than admitting that it is equally likely that Bishop Bell was an abuser as it is that he was not. Moreover, it was discreditable of him to support this stance with the assertion that “Lord Carlile does not seek to say whether George Bell was in fact responsible for the acts about which complaint was made”. Of course he does not do so: this question was outside his terms of reference, as he recognised [para 9].
While the Bishops of Bath and Wells and of Chichester in their responses appeared to disclose a measure of willingness to look again at what the Bishop of Chichester called “the
5 See (5) above.
6 See (9) above.
principle of transparency”, the Archbishop makes it clear enough that for him this principle trumps all others. It is eminently foreseeable that other people, whether of high reputation or not, will be sacrificed on the altar of transparency before his archiepiscopate comes to an end.
Reading and analysing the material in this case leaves me as a lifelong Anglican with a deep sense of sadness that between my sense of justice, formed and developed over a long period in the law, and that of at least some of the leaders of my Church there is “a great gulf fixed” [Luke 16.26]. I fear that, unless we see a recognition of, and repentance for, the great wrong which has been done to Bishop Bell, to those who treasure memories of him and those who admire him for what he did for the Church and for the moral and spiritual life of the country, that gulf will remain unbridgeable.
His Honour Charles Gibson
Since I wrote the Analysis just before Christmas 2017 widespread criticism of the Church’s response to Lord Carlile’s review has been published. Prominent among this body of criticism was a letter dated 17 January 2018 and signed by seven eminent historians.
They asserted that the Church’s response involved perpetuation of a single allegation, and that this flew in the face of the review, which had devastated the Church’s claim that its view was based on an investigation which was “very thorough”. They emphasised that the allegation against Bishop Bell was not only wholly uncorroborated but was contradicted by considerable and available circumstantial material which any historian would consider credible. They claimed that the allegation was unsupported and unsupportable, asserting that there was no credible evidence that Bishop Bell was a paedophile.
In a letter dated 19 January 2018 the Archbishop of Canterbury, writing with the support of the Bishops of Chichester and of Bath and Wells, rejected the contention that the Church should amend its response to the Carlile review.
The letter contains a number of points which in my opinion are wholly without merit.
The Archbishop made much of the Church’s having taken the allegation seriously, implying that in the past the Church had failed to treat such allegations with the seriousness which they deserved. I hope that he was not implying that the historians or any other of those who have expressed criticism have suggested that any such allegation need not be taken seriously, for any such implication would be insulting. In making so much of the seriousness of the Church’s intent and its determination to listen carefully and sympathetically to those making allegations the Archbishop is pushing at an open door. None of the critics would suggest otherwise.
Taking an allegation seriously involves investigating it thoroughly, and the Archbishop appears to persist in the contention that the Church passed this test, in spite of Lord Carlile’s unequivocal opinion that it did not: see in particular items (1), (2), (3), (5), (7), (8), (9), (10) and (13) in my Analysis. For him and the Bishops it seems that performance of the duty to treat the complainant seriously absolved the Church from the equally important duties to avoid bias and ‘oversteer’, to seek out and investigate all potentially relevant evidence, and to be prepared not to shirk from drawing the conclusion to which the evidence inexorably leads.
In this case that conclusion was clear. It was ignored because of the Church’s incorrect approach to the matter, and as a result of a particular example of the shoddiness of its processes. Not all members of the Core Group, which in any event had a variable membership, saw the full report of the Consultant Psychiatrist whom the Church consulted. Those who did see it cannot have read it thoroughly. His advice was unequivocal. Memory is not reliable over the long periods which elapsed in this case, and the only way to establish the truth of the product of such memory is through corroborating evidence. In its investigation the Church failed to seek such evidence. Had it done so it would have found none. Moreover, as the historians point out, there was a wealth of persuasive circumstantial evidence which was not neutral: it contradicted and undermined the allegation.
The Church has shirked the difficult, but necessary, task of explaining to Carol that after thorough investigation of her complaint her honesty was accepted, but that the Church could not
in good conscience and with fairness rely on her memory. The reasons for that conclusion could have been explained to her in a pastoral way, without derogation from the policy of taking allegations seriously.
The Archbishop states that “claims are from time to time dismissed because we do not accept the allegations. However, we do take all allegations seriously”. That being the case, why was this claim not dismissed? On the expert evidence, it was not to be accepted unless it was corroborated. The Archbishop, in a comment which is as patronising as it is inaccurate, suggests that the historians in their letter seem to confuse the two standards of proof, beyond reasonable doubt and on a balance of probabilities. The point which he wilfully ignores is that the evidence in this case was such that no reasonable tribunal, applying the latter standard which all agree was the appropriate one, could have concluded that Bishop Bell was guilty in any respect.
That conclusion would have disposed of the allegation. Once a tribunal has found that an allegation is unreliable it has no business to give it further currency. The Archbishop compounds the wrong he and others have already done by repeating that Bishop Bell is “accused of great wickedness” and that a “significant cloud” still hangs over him.
It is disturbing to see the Archbishop recording that “the Diocese of Chichester was given legal advice to make a settlement based on the civil standard of proof”. Maybe it was; but, as Lord Carlile observed, legal advice was not sought on the strength of the evidence. The advice must have been tendered on the basis of the conclusions of the Core Group, which, as has been clearly demonstrated, were fatally flawed.
On the insupportable basis that the allegation has a continuing validity the Archbishop insists that to achieve transparency Bishop Bell had to be named. What happens in those cases, which he says do occur, when claims are dismissed, as this claim should have been? Is the alleged perpetrator against whom there is no reliable evidence to be hung out to dry as Bishop Bell continues to be? If this is the case, the sooner the Archbishop treats Lord Carlile’s opinion and recommendation with the seriousness which he accorded to Carol’s allegation the better.
Unless he does so, any pronouncement of his as to where justice lies in any situation is not to be treated with respect by those, whether or not they are members of the Church which he leads, who are seriously concerned with justice.
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.
The Bishop of Chichester is under fire over his claim, made after the Carlile report into the Church of England’s handling of an allegation of sexual abuse against Bishop George Bell, that the Church did not proclaim the late Bishop Bell’s guilt.
The Mail on Sunday journalist Peter Hitchens, who has vigorously campaigned on behalf of the late bishop since the Church made public the claims against Bell in 2015, penned a hard-hitting letter to Martin Warner this week.
In his letter, Hitchens focused on the impression that was left in the press after the Church issued a formal public apology and announced that it had paid £16,800 to the woman in question, known as ‘Carol’.
Hitchens wrote: ‘You said on Friday [the day the Carlile report was published], and yet again in your Radio 4 interview on Sunday that you had never proclaimed George Bell’s guilt. On Radio 4, you said ‘What we did not do and have not ever done is to make a clear statement which says “We have found George Bell guilty”. We have never done that’.
‘I must ask, in that case, why you did not write to The Times, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the BBC, the Argus of Brighton or the Chichester Observer, correcting their reports of your statement, reports which proclaimed that George Bell was guilty? Is it possible that you did so and they ignored your letters? Or did you choose to leave the impression of guilt which your statement had created, which you now insist you had not intended to create? Had you written to complain, it would have been very helpful to my own unending efforts to get these media to change their tune.’
The Church of England was criticised in the Carlile report for a ‘rush to judgment’ in its handling of the allegations against Bishop Bell, who died in 1958.
The report by Lord Carlile 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.
Hitchens dramatically clashed with Bishop Warner and Peter Hancock, the Church of England’s lead safeguarding bishop, at the press conference for the release of the report on Friday, accusing the Church of behaving in a ‘Stalinoid’ fashion towards the memory of the late Bishop Bell.
The columnist also raised the removal of Bishop Bell’s name from buildings, institutions and guide books in Chichester including from the former George Bell House. He said that ‘many mentions of George Bell have been excised from the Cathedral guide book, his name has been removed from the House which used to bear it at Bishop Luffa school where I should think you might have some influence, and also from a hall of residence at the University of Chichester.
‘I pointed out to you last Friday that even the Soviet Union had eventually rehabilitated those whom it had unjustly condemned in unfair show trials (whose memories, names and pictures were likewise removed from buildings, streets, photographs, encyclopaedias and so forth).’
Hitchens concluded: ‘The Church of England is surely judged by (and should regulate itself by) a higher standard than an atheist secret police state.’
A spokesperson for the Bishop of Chichester said: ‘We have received a copy of the letter and as it is a long, detailed document Bishop Martin will be responding in the New Year. There is no actual time to do it properly between now and Christmas as this is obviously a hugely busy week.’
Bishop Warner said on Friday: ‘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. The diocese of Chichester requested this “lessons learned” Review.
‘We welcome Lord Carlile’s assessment of our processes, and apologise for failures in the work of the Core Group of national and diocesan officers and its inadequate attention to the rights of those who are dead. We also accept the Report’s recognition that we acted in good faith, and improvements to Core Group protocols are already in place. Further work on them is in hand.
‘The Report demands further consideration of the complexities of this case, such as what boundaries can be set to the principle of transparency. Lord Carlile rightly draws our attention to public perception. The emotive principle of innocent until proven guilty is a standard by which our actions are judged and we have to ensure as best we can that justice is seen to be done. 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.
‘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.’
Bell’s niece Barbara Whitley, 93, has said she wants the reputation of her uncle restored and has asked for a face-to-face apology from the Church of England.
‘I’m determined to clear his name before I die,’ she told the BBC.
Publication of Bishop George Bell independent review
The Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team (NST,) has today published the key findings and recommendations, along with the full report, from the independent review into the processes used in the Bishop George Bell case.
The review, commissioned by the NST on the recommendation of the Bishop of Chichester, was carried out by Lord Carlile of Berriew. As he writes in the introduction, his purpose was not to determine the truthfulness of the woman referred to as Carol in the report, nor the guilt or innocence of Bishop Bell, but to examine the procedures followed by the Church of England. The objectives of the review included “ensuring that survivors are listened to and taken seriously”, and that recommendations are made to help the Church embed best practice in safeguarding in the future.
The report made 15 recommendations and concluded that the Church acted throughout in good faith while highlighting that the process was deficient in a number of respects.
Bishop Peter Hancock, the Church of England’s lead safeguarding bishop, has responded on behalf of the Church:
“We are enormously grateful to Lord Carlile for this ‘lessons learned’ review which examines how the Church handled the allegations made by Carol in the 1990s, and more recently. Lord Carlile makes a number of considered points as to how to handle such cases in future and we accept the main thrust of his recommendations.
“In responding to the report, we first want to acknowledge and publicly apologise again for the Church’s lamentable failure, as noted by Lord Carlile, to handle the case properly in 1995.
“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.
“Lord Carlile states that ‘where as in this case the settlement is without admission of liability, the settlement generally should be with a confidentiality provision” but respectfully, we differ from that judgement. The Church is committed to transparency. We would look at each case on its merits but generally would seek to avoid confidentiality clauses.
“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. Lessons can and have been learnt about how we could have managed the process better.
“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 Church has always affirmed and treasured Bishop Bell’s principled stand in the Second World War and his contribution to peace remains extraordinary. At 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.”
Statement from Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner
“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. The diocese of Chichester requested this “lessons learned” Review.
“We welcome Lord Carlile’s assessment of our processes, and apologise for failures in the work of the Core Group of national and diocesan officers and its inadequate attention to the rights of those who are dead. We also accept the Report’s recognition that we acted in good faith, and improvements to Core Group protocols are already in place. Further work on them is in hand.
“The Report demands further consideration of the complexities of this case, such as what boundaries can be set to the principle of transparency. Lord Carlile rightly draws our attention to public perception. The emotive principle of innocent until proven guilty is a standard by which our actions are judged and we have to ensure as best we can that justice is seen to be done. 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.
“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.”
Statement from Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby
“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. However we have to differ from Lord Carlile’s point that ‘where as in this case the settlement is without admission of liability, the settlement generally should be with a confidentiality provision”. The C of E is committed to transparency and therefore we would take a different approach.
“Lord Carlile does not seek to say whether George Bell was in fact responsible for the acts about which the complaint was made. He does make significant comments on our processes, and we accept that improvement is necessary, in all cases including those where the person complained about is dead. We are utterly committed to seeking to ensure just outcomes for all. We apologise for the failures of the process.
“The complaint about Bishop Bell does not diminish the importance of his great achievement. We realise that a significant cloud is left over his name. Let us therefore remember his defence of Jewish victims of persecution, his moral stand against indiscriminate bombing, his personal risks in the cause of supporting the anti Hitler resistance, and his long service in the Diocese of Chichester. 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.”
Gathering: The Bell Society met in St Margaret’s Parish Rooms, Ifield
A LOBBY group formed to save the reputation of the late George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, from the accusation of child sex abuse in the 1940s has suggested that the victim, “Carol”, may have wrongly identified her abuser.
The Bell Society met on Monday in St Margaret’s Parish Rooms, Crawley, to “celebrate” the more than 2000 supporters to have signed its petition to investigate claims against the late Bishop Bell further.
Richard Symonds, who created the petition, told a small gathering: “There is little doubt Carol was sexually abused by a man of the cloth in Chichester, but was it Bishop Bell?” His presentation also considered whether the Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, newly appointed to safeguarding, “can ensure justice is done”.
The Bell Society is informally connected to the George Bell Group, formed in March by clergy, lawyers, MPs, and historians (News, 24 March 2016). The George Bell Group website openly questions the consistency and validity of Carol’s account of her ordeal (News, 5 February), and states: “It confirmed nothing, neither provided any proof of the allegations.”
But the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, has rebuffed the demands of the group for a re-examination of the evidence. He wrote last week: “It is singularly unattractive to suggest that, because there might be no legal consequences to breaching Carol’s confidence, the Church should simply provide sensitive material to a group of individuals with a keen interest in, but no connection with, the case. The Church has a wider duty to Carol than that.”
The diocese of Chichester settled a claim for sexual abuse, said by Carol to have taken place when she was a young child in the late 1940s and early ’50s (News, 22 October 2015).
Meanwhile, lawyers representing the victims of Peter Ball, who was imprisoned last year for sex offences in the 1980s and ’90s, have called for the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey to be investigated over a possible perversion of the course of justice, The Times reported.
Ball resigned as Bishop of Gloucester in 1993, after being cautioned for gross indecency with a teenage boy, but was later given permission to continue some ministerial duties. Senior church leaders, including Lord Carey, then Archbishop, are accused of failing to pass on to the police six letters from victims, and verbal correspondence, which could have been used as evidence.