Bishop Bell – Complete justice denied after second inquiry
For three years Alistair Lexden has been part of a campaign to establish the truth about allegations of child sex abuse made, long after his death over sixty years ago, against the great Anglican Bishop, George Bell.
He spoke at length about the Church of England’s deeply unsatisfactory handling of the allegations in a Lords debate on 20 December (see below). The Church was gravely at fault in paying compensation of some £15,000 in 2015 to a complainant on the basis of her uncorroborated testimony after a deeply flawed internal inquiry, on which Lord Carlile of Berriew QC produced a damning report, published in December 2017.
A second inquiry by a senior ecclesiastical lawyer, Timothy Briden, was established at the beginning of 2018, after a further allegation had been made. His report, which was published on 24 January, stated that this allegation, and one other which also surfaced in 2018, were “ unfounded”. Here justice has been done.
The Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed the Briden report and praised Bishop Bell as “ a remarkable role model”. He also “ apologised unreservedly for the mistakes” made during the investigation of the first allegation, but he nevertheless stood by the decision to accept the wholly uncorroborated complaint despite the damning Carlile report—as a result of which Bishop Bell’s towering reputation has been traduced.
The overall interests of justice required the Archbishop to admit that the first allegation was not proved and Bishop Bell is therefore innocent. He refuses to do this. Desmond Browne QC, a former Chairman of the Bar Council, has followed everything that has happened since 2015. He said on 24 January: “ What is now clear is that the investigations by two experienced lawyers have established George Bell’s innocence. But not once has the Archbishop of Canterbury offered Bell the presumption of innocence.” Justin Welby has failed in his clear duty.