The Bishop Bell affair; and the plea to unfrock
From the Diocesan Secretary of Chichester
Sir, – Marilyn Billingham (Letters, 19 August)
asks for an explanation of the basis on which the settlement of the claim made against Bishop George Bell was made public.
As the Bishop of Horsham, the deputy Lead Safeguarding Bishop for the Church of England, explained last year (Letters, 11 December 2015),
“Had we not published – and others would – we would also rightly have been criticised.”
In addition, the concern that there might be other victims, and the concern that to keep silent would have made us complicit in maintaining in public an image of Bishop Bell on which doubt had now been cast, meant that publication was important.
The diocese of Chichester participated in that decision and supported the national Church’s media release. A fuller explanation of the decision to settle with the survivor, and then to publish, can be found in a blog published last month by the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler ( http://cofecomms.tumblr.com/post/147338306887/further-points-on-the-george-bell-case ).
I would add that the Church shares the police’s regret that Bishop Bell’s niece was not informed before publication. The Bishop of Chichester apologised to her in January for the failure of the Church’s efforts to trace family members, shortly after she made herself known.
Diocesan Church House, 211 New Church Road, Hove BN3 4ED
Chichester needs to explain itself, publicly
From Marilyn Billingham
Sir, — The police are to say sorry to the surviving niece of Bishop George Bell because they did not take steps to let her know that the investigation about her uncle’s alleged abuse of a child in the late 1940s was to be made public. This much has been reported accurately in the national press and in the press local to Chichester. The police said far more than this, however.
In a letter to the journalist Peter Hitchens, prompted by his correspondence with the Police Crime Commissioner’s Office, the Head of Sussex Police Professional Standards Department stated that the handling of this affair was “complicated by the fact that the release was generated by the diocese, with whom (the police acknowledge) they should have been working more closely”.
Further, she continues, “It was never our intention to be pro-active; in other words, there was no intention to release a police statement about the alleged criminality of Bishop Bell.” The police, however, were asked by the diocese to make a statement — a statement which, they now acknowledge, was less than clear, and “could be considered contradictory”.
The people of Chichester diocese and your readers deserve a clear explanation about the basis on which the diocesan office made public this alleged uncorroborated crime that the police were not planning to pursue, and why, despite this, they have continued to besmirch the reputation of a man who can no longer defend himself.