After T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral” – abridged and directed by Peter Billingham – Peter Hitchens fielded questions in a packed Friends Meeting House
A lady asked Peter H. about his use of the term “the Church” (eg “allegations against Bishop Bell by the Church”) and asked to whom he was referring exactly.
Peter H wanted to avoid attacks on individuals – this being counter productive – but yes, it was from the Archbishop down.
Hubert Doggart pursued the issue: Chichester’s Dean & Chapter failed to use the word “alleged” when making pronouncements on Bishop Bell’s guilt. Could we not insist on their retracting from this stance?
Peter H replied the word “alleged” was used in the Diocesan statement of October 26 2015.
Mr Doggart doggardly pressed on : Could we not isolate our Dean and Chapter from the Diocese?
Peter H replied that the Diocesan lawyers appeared to him out of their depth, especially unable to respond adequately to the legal minds of the George Bell Group. However, he did not think it appropriate or feasible to attack the Dean and Chapter at this point – reiterating the need to concentrate on Bell’s reputation – and its restoration. That is what he is fighting for.
Peter H advised not to pursue investigation into ‘Carol’. Yes, he thinks she was abused, and needs every bit of sympathy we can give. We should avoid hounding, outing or dishonouring her.
From his experience of reputations and institutions, Peter H believed only persistence will bring results, and in the long-term, it will in this case. He encouraged to keep ‘chipping away’; keep at it, and seize every opportunity.
It was noted that in Chichester, Bishop Bell’s name was to be remembered on October 3rd; but in other Dioceses he has already been erased from the List. There are unconfirmed reports the Episcopal Church USA has already expunged Bishop Bell from their List. Confirmation is being sought
Peter H thought much of the City Council’s rehanging of the Bell portrait: a brave, unusual forthright action.
Play reading as part of “Justice for George Bell” campaign Bishop Bell
Phil Hewitt – firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday 26 September 2016
An abridged, dramatised reading of T S Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral will take place in Chichester as part of the campaign to clear the name of the city’s wartime Bishop Bell, a man accused last year of child abuse more than half a century after his death (October 2, 6.30pm, The Friends’ Meeting House, Priory Road, free admission).
Taking part will be Mail on Sunday columnist and author Peter Hitchens, a key figure in efforts to argue nothing has ever been proved against Bell: “The Church of England gave George Bell a kangaroo court. It was about as marsupial as it could be.”
As Peter says, it is documented that Bell would always travel third class by train; and that travelling on the little branch lines, there would be times when he would have to travel without a ticket. Without fail, he would then get his secretary to find out what he owed and send off a cheque: “Does a man who is so open and honest in such small things fit with a man who was supposed to have led a life of predatory child abuse? I don’t think so.”
Peter believes the campaign has made significant progress: “It has allowed what was initially an allegation to become an allegation again rather than being accepted as undisputed truth, which the church did wrongly to begin with.”
Peter’s argument is that the church and some of the media ignored “the presumption of innocence which is not just a principle in law but a principle in life. The statement that they put out never at any stage says George Bell is guilty, but somehow or other three national newspapers and the BBC all came to the conclusion that he was guilty.”
Peter, who spent some formative years in Chichester, just after George Bell’s death, living in Brandy Hole Lane and attending (as a non-choirboy) the Prebendal School, insisted he is not afraid of the truth: “If it is true, then no harm will have been done by insisting on the presumption of innocence. If it is not true, then a great deal of harm will have been done.
“But I find it hard to see how it could be proved conclusively. It is so long ago. We only have a witness from one side of the alleged events. The accused person is not there to defend himself. One hopes for some sort of event that might bring it about but I doubt it.
All I have ever wanted to stress is that it is an allegation rather than something proven.
“I have no doubt that the reason they threw George Bell under the bus was to make themselves appear tough and decisive which is the opposite to how they have appeared. Their mistake was to think that nobody cared about George Bell any more. I have been in touch with a huge number of people who care very much.”
Peter says he himself reluctantly came to the conclusion, as Bell did during the war, that area bombing of Germany was wrong: “There was one just man who was prepared to stand up and say it was wrong, and that is an important salve to our national conscience for something we cannot feel terribly proud about.”
And that has been thrown away: “This was a solitary uncorroborated allegation.”
“Murder in the Cathedral” by T.S. Eliot
Abridged and Directed by Peter Billingham – In Memory of Bishop George Bell