I had not thought that victory in a good cause after a long campaign would make me so angry. And yet I was angry. It is only at such moments that we can test the real currency of conscience and eternity against the counterfeit of everyday.
For I and my allies have just undoubtedly won a protracted struggle to restore the good name of Bishop George Bell of Chichester, outrageously condemned as a child abuser by the Church of England he once adorned.
The headlines and the bulletins have all described it as a victory. We will probably get much of what we have always wanted—for instance the restoration of Bell’s name to the buildings and institutions from which it was Stalinistically stripped after the accusations were first made. Indeed, a statue of him, intended for the west front of Canterbury Cathedral, but left incomplete when the charges were made, is now to be finished and put in its intended place. This is a vindication, if ever there was one.
Yet confronted with the poor, sad burbling thing which is a modern Anglican bishop, refusing even now to withdraw doubts about Bell’s innocence (absolutely presumed in English law), refusing to retract insinuations against his defenders, and in general lacking what I regard as proper contrition—it is this failure to confess and seek absolution which predominates in my mind. I did not just want justice or restitution for George Bell (though I did want them). I wanted his accusers to accept that a man’s good name, after he is dead, cannot lightly be trifled with. If you damage it, and you are wrong, you have a far greater duty to make restitution than if your victim is alive to refute and forgive you.
And I genuinely could not understand their view, which seems to be that, while George Bell may in fact be guilty of the filthy crimes alleged against him, his wider activities in the great world are still somehow valid and worth “celebrating” or whatever the word is. This is such rubbish. The cruel violation of a trusting child, concealed by abuse of power, and unconfessed, as is suggested, would completely cancel out any public virtue and turn it into slime and ashes. One’s hands reach for a millstone.
But I have had to put away my rage, and my growing fear for those who will not admit to what they have done. This is because the political victory cannot properly be exploited unless we, George Bell’s defenders, assert it.
And so I do, and it is quite clearly such a victory. After a struggle lasting nearly as long as the First World War, we have plainly won.
For the second time, allegations against him have proved on inquiry to be weak beyond belief, nowhere near the standard of proof of any court—and in the case of some of the latest ones actually laughable. In one of these accusations, the bishop is supposed to have engaged in homosexual congress, nine years after he was dead, with a man whose body was spread over some part (presumably the hood) of a Rolls Royce automobile which Bishop Bell did not ever possess. It is just possible to be charitable about whoever put this fantasy forward. This is plainly a troubled mind. It is impossible to be charitable to those who took it seriously and spent a ponderous year pretending to assess its worth, while Bishop Bell’s 93-year-old niece was kept in suspense about the outcome. You may study the embarrassing details here.
I have written about this case for First Things and will not dwell on the details. George Bell was for many a pattern of courage when he spoke out, almost alone, against what is now increasingly recognized as having been the mistaken deliberate bombing of German civilians during the 1939-45 war. He knew it would damage him to say this, yet he still said it, which is what his Lord and Master would have wished, even though it was very much not what Winston Churchill would have wished.
Today’s Anglican Church, a poor shivering thing these days, first smeared George Bell in October 2015. It was very worldly in its actions. It had issued a rather coy and ambiguous written statement on allegations against him which had emerged decades after his death in 1958. It was in fact so nebulous that there was later a quarrel about whether it had actually said he was guilty.
It did not really matter by then, as several major newspapers, national and local, and the BBC had somehow or other gained the confidence to state beyond doubt and without qualification that Bishop Bell had been a child abuser. As a journalist myself, who knows how such things happen, I have always believed that somebody must have encouraged them to take this bold step. News organizations are wary of publicly condemning people even when they are dead. But I have never been able to find out who it was.
What I am sure of is that their confident condemnations served the purpose of a Church trying hard to look decisive and stern about priestly abuse—a problem it has in fact handled very badly. For the Church, it was a free lunch. They could hurl a dead man’s reputation onto the rubbish-heap. Nobody would care, and they would appear to be showing resolve. Because they are new men, from a new era, they had no idea of the power and importance of the reputation they were destroying. Another generation on, and I suppose they would have got away with it. But they didn’t, and for that we can give thanks to the God of Justice and Mercy. You can expect to do a lot of praying if ever you get involved in such a case, because very often, despite your confidence in the rightness of your cause, you will be overpowered by the world’s willingness to tolerate and indeed defend naked injustice.
Peter Hitchens is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday.
This Christmas I would like you to think of the plight of a 94-year-old woman, who has been atrociously mistreated by the Archbishop of Canterbury
Her name is Mrs Barbara Whitley.
More than three years ago, the Church of England publicly accused her beloved long-dead uncle of the filthy crime of child sex abuse.
The charge was based on the word of a single accuser, more than half a century after the supposed offence. The Church had presumed his guilt and made no serious effort to discover the truth. Key living witnesses were neither sought, found nor interviewed. A senior bishop admitted soon afterwards that they were actually not convinced the claim was true. Yet by some mysterious process, a number of newspapers and BBC stations, all on the same day, felt safe in confidently pronouncing that Barbara’s uncle had been a disgusting paedophile. No ifs or buts.
Who told them?
A later inquiry would show that this miserable episode was based on nothing more than a chaotic, sloppy kangaroo court. One of this country’s most distinguished lawyers, Lord Carlile, tore the case against Barbara’s uncle to shreds. He said there would have been no chance of a conviction on the evidence available, and made mincemeat of the shambolic committee that had published the original allegation.
After delaying the release of this inquiry for weeks, Justin Welby’s church eventually published it.
But did it admit its mistake and restore the reputation of Barbara Whitley’s wrongly defamed uncle?
Nope. Mr Welby, in defiance of all the rules of British justice, sulkily insisted that a ‘significant cloud’ still hung over the name of Barbara’s uncle. Thus, just as she might have been able to rejoice that her relative’s name had at last been cleared, the Head of the Established Church made it his personal business to prevent this.
And then, a few weeks later, another supposed allegation against her uncle was said to have been made. Why then? What was it? Who had made it? Nobody would say, but it served to stifle potential criticism of Mr Welby at the General Synod of the Church of England, which was about to begin. Details of the second allegation remain a secret. After nearly a year, Mr Welby’s church (which has a bad record of sitting on reports that it doesn’t like) still hasn’t come up with its conclusions. Yet Sussex Police, given the same information, dropped their investigations into the matter after a few short weeks.
It all looks a bit as if someone is trying to save someone’s face. But the cruelty to Barbara Whitley, who was 91 when this horrible saga began, is appalling. Who cares about some prelate’s pride (a sin in any case) when Mrs Whitley could be spared any more pain?
Because the cruelty to Mrs Whitley seems to me to be so shocking in a supposedly Christian organisation, I have deliberately left till last that the object of these accusations is the late Bishop of Chichester, George Bell.
Bell was, as people who knew him have told me, a kind, scrupulously honest, courageous man. He was, most notably, a beloved friend of the German Christians who fought against Hitler and a brave critic of the cruelty of war. I sometimes wonder if modern bishops and archbishops are afraid of being compared with him. They have reason to be. In the meantime, Mr Welby’s church should end Mrs Whitley’s agony.
Does anyone really doubt that, if the archbishop wanted to, he could end the whole business today?
~ Peter Hitchens
A short biography of George Bell, who had been Bishop of Chichester for 27 years when he died in 1958, begins by acknowledging a recurring pattern regarding the reputation of notable people. It points out that after such people die, their reputations are often reshaped and defamed by harsh criticism not voiced during their lifetimes – but that the Bishop had managed to be an exception to this rule.
This claim, published in 1971, would no longer be written today. Whilst the memory of George Bell has been cherished over the past 60 years due to his significant support of the Protestant opposition to Hitler, his work in bringing over many non-Aryan refugees from Germany and his emphatic opposition to the bombing of civilians during the Second World War, Bell’s reputation is now at risk of being utterly decimated. A complaint made to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2013 accused Bell of having committed grotesque acts of child abuse in the 1940s and 50s. In response, the Church apologised and paid the accuser £16,800 in compensation. Various memorials, such as one proclaiming him a ‘champion of the oppressed’ in Chichester Cathedral, faced removal. An Eastbourne school, formerly known as the Bishop Bell Church of England School, has changed its name altogether.
Most would agree that this sort of action would be justified in the face of conclusive evidence against Bell. But it has since transpired that the church acted far too hastily. Following their acceptance of the abuse claims, a robust movement was sparked to defend Bell’s reputation, involving major journalists such as Charles Moore and Peter Hitchens. The Church then initiated an independent inquiry, led by Lord Carlile (one of the country’s top legal experts), which concluded that they had “rushed to judgement” and that the damage to Bell’s reputation was “just wrong”. Lord Carlile even went so far as to say that had he been prosecuting a case against Bell in court, Bell would have won. Nevertheless, this report was withheld by the Church for two months. After its eventual release, Justin Welby insisted that a “significant cloud” still hangs over Bell’s name in spite of Lord Carlile’s conclusions.
We should be equally concerned for protecting Bell’s reputation against false accusations as we are for spoiling his reputation over true accusations
This strange outcome highlights an element of mystery that has surrounded the Bell case. The initial claim against Bell was anonymous and the church revealed no details about the accusation when making their apology. As mentioned, it took two months for the Church to release the Carlile report after having received it. Once it was released, Justin Welby did not follow the logical implications of the report, but refused to retract his statements because of a vague belief in a “cloud”. On the 31st January, the enigmatic plot thickened when the Church announced that a further anonymous and unspecified accusation had been made and was being investigated. Some felt the timing of this was suspicious, given that a motion to debate the restoration of Bell’s reputation was due to be voted on at the Church’s General Synod the following week. Lord Carlile, who knew nothing of this accusation during his investigation, described the announcement as ‘unwise, unnecessary and foolish’. At the very least, we can all recognise the strange and stark asymmetry between the previous withholding of the completed Carlile investigation report and the eagerness of the recent announcement of an incomplete investigation. Things got worse when it emerged that the Church of England had refused to allow Mrs Barbara Whitley, Bell’s 93-year-old niece, to have the lawyer of her choice represent her side in the proceedings – instead choosing on her behalf someone who is neither a lawyer nor known to Mrs Whitley.
At this point, while many will sympathise with the active supporters of George Bell, which now includes leading groups of historians, theologians and church leaders who have written public letters asking for Welby to retract his statement, others feel a sense of unease. After all, it is of course possible that the accusations are true. Justin Welby, in a recent interview with the Church Times, said that the alleged victims should be “treated equally importantly” as the reputation of George Bell. Some would say this does not go far enough: surely we must be more concerned for the alleged victims, who are still living, over the reputation of someone who died 60 years ago?
The general nervousness of the Church of England’s handling of the Bell case must be related to the fact that the Church currently faces over 3,000 complaints of sexual abuse
Perhaps a better way of framing this would be to say that we should be equally concerned for protecting Bell’s reputation against false accusations as we are for spoiling his reputation over true accusations. The trouble is that most people have an instinctive tendency to find the latter much easier than the former. When the Church of England apologised and paid the first alleged victim in 2015, The Guardian ran the story with the headline “Church of England Bishop George Bell abused young child”. At that stage, nothing was known about the identity of the accuser nor the accusations, and yet headlines announced the claims as fact. Once the Carlile report was made public, it would have been no less factual to run the headline ‘George Bell declared innocent of abuse claims’, yet nobody did so. In fact, most would consider this overstepping the mark.
The general nervousness of the Church of England’s handling of the Bell case must be related to the fact that the Church currently faces over 3,000 complaints of sexual abuse (including both long-standing and recent accusations). Other high-profile cases of clergy committing child abuse, such as that of former bishop Peter Ball, have highlighted the shocking failures of senior clerics to listen to victims and pass allegations on to the police. Taking into consideration the sharp spike in awareness of the prevalence of sexual abuse in society more broadly, following Weinstein, Larry Nassar and the #MeToo movement, it is not hard to imagine why the Archbishop of Canterbury would not want to stick his head above the parapet and defend the innocence of an archetypal establishment figure: a dead, white, male clergyman.
Courage, after all, comes at a cost. George Bell discovered this himself when his opposition to the bombing of innocent civilians during the Second World War put him on the wrong side of Winston Churchill, probably the main reason why he was never appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. In the absence of substantial evidence in support of the accusations against him, Bell’s reputation deserves to be defended. This is not only in the interest of truth, but also in the interest of maintaining a legacy of courageous leadership which is desperately needed among Bell’s clerical successors today.
What would you think of a country or a company which publicly claimed that someone was a wicked paedophile, was found to be mistaken – and then refused to apologise and did it again? Hang on, I haven’t finished. What would you think if that country or company then refused to allow the accused person’s 93-year-old niece to have the lawyer of her choice at the hearing? You’d think you were dealing with arrogant, tyrannical fat cats. But actually, the culprits in this are the Church of England, still unable to admit a grave error in besmirching the name of the late Bishop George Bell. Why and how does Archbishop Justin Welby permit this behaviour?
22 January 2018 5:23 PM
What Does the Archbishop Think He is Doing?
I cannot say that I care much who occupies the throne of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Church of England, for me, has a ghostly existence in poetry, music, arches and stained glass, quite independent of the banal persons who tend to hold this post. It’s not for me to go round calling for resignations or such things. My only concern with the man who currently holds this office is the pointless, easily cured injustice he has done to the great George Bell, to those who rightly revere him for Christian self-sacrifice and true moral and civil courage over great issues,, and to his surviving niece, Mrs Barbara Whitley. I know this is an unpopular preoccupation, obscure to many of my readers. But it is based on a universal, simple desire for justice to be done and truth told, wherever possible.
But those who do care about the C of E’s temporal structures and authority must surely be worried about the behaviour of the current Archbishop, the Most Revd Justin Welby. Mr Welby will not climb down from his assertion that a ‘significant cloud’ still hangs over the name of George Bell. Why not? What good does this stance do him or the Christian faith? What, in short, is he on about?
On Monday afternoon, after being the target of powerful criticism by a group of eminent historians, and then by a group of eminent theologians, he issued an astonishingly unyielding statement on the subject.
Yet I can find nothing in this text to justify his position. He refers repeatedly to the wholly different case of a living Bishop, Peter Ball, convicted beyond doubt, in an open court of law, of sexual offences.
In an astonishing passage, he responds to the concerns of the historians, who are urging him to reconsider, by ludicrously comparing them to emotional defenders of Ball. He says ‘As in the case of Peter Ball, and others, it is often suggested that what is being alleged could not have been true, because the person writing knew the alleged abuser and is absolutely certain that it was impossible for them to have done what is alleged. As with Peter Ball this sometimes turns out to be untrue, not through their own fault or deceit but because abuse is often kept very secret. The experience of discovering feet of clay in more than one person I held in profound respect has been personally tragic.’
What sort of non-logic is this? It may *have been* suggested, before Ball was convicted and sent to prison, that what was alleged could not have been true. But is there any serious person (as serious as, for instance, Sir Ian Kershaw) who is suggesting it now? Who? How can Mr Welby possibly compare opinions held mistakenly before a fair trial and conviction showed them to be wrong, and opinions held where there has not been and cannot be any such trial, and where the evidence against the accused is solitary and weak?
The police arrested Ball, the CPS charged him, and Ball, who was able to ensure that he was professionally defended throughout, and was able to avail himself of the presumption of innocence, eventually pleaded guilty in court to serious charges and was sent to prison. I have not since heard it suggested by any of his former defenders that he is innocent of the charges he himself admitted. So those who may have found it difficult to believe that Peter Ball was a wicked abuser were shown to have been wrong in a fair and due process.
How on earth can Mr Welby equate this case with that of George Bell, who faced one uncorroborated accusation made years after his death, and was then condemned without any defence by what Lord Carlile found to be a sloppy and inadequate process in which key evidence undermining the accusation was not even seen by some of those involved, and in which key witnesses were neither found nor interviewed.
Mr Welby, in his very thin responses to the Carlile report, has never really addressed this. He has said that the report didn’t rule on Bell’s guilt or innocence, an almost childishly absurd response, since Mr Welby had told Lord Carlile in his terms of reference that he could not rule on this. In any case, Lord Carlile has repeatedly said since, in response to media questions, that no court would have convicted George Bell on the evidence which has been produced against him. It is clear that had Lord Carlile been asked to rule on George Bell’s guilt or innocence, he would have pronounced him ‘not guilty’. So what, precisely is the evidence on which the Archbishop of Canterbury, supposedly spiritual leader of millions, guardian of the foundations of truth and justice, maintains that there is still a ‘cloud’over George Bell’s name? Does he have second sight? Does he know something he is not telling us? If so (though I cannot see how this can be so) , why will he not say what it is? If not, why is he of all people exempted from the good rule, surely Biblical in origin, that if you cannot prove that a man is guilty, he is innocent and you shouldn’t go round saying that he is guilty just because in some way it suits you to say so. Some miserable rumour-monger in a pub might be entitled to drone that there is ‘no smoke without fire’, but not the inheritor of the See of Saint Augustine, I think. I doubt Mr Welby is familiar with the catechism in his own Church’s Book of Common Prayer, it having fallen rather out of use since that Church became happy and clappy. But I am sure the Lambeth library can find him a copy, and point him to the passage in which the candidate for confirmation is asked ‘What is thy duty towards thy neighbour’? I commend it to him.
He has rejected one of the report’s conclusions on how the case should have been handled. But I have never seen him acknowledge the Carlile report’s clear demonstration that the secret trial of George Bell was what it was, a badly-run, one-sided mess which failed to find key evidence or witnesses, and even failed to tell some of its members about key evidence which greatly undermined the accusation.
Yet Mr Welby continues to describe this marsupial outfit as if it was serious, saying ‘The Diocese of Chichester was given legal advice to make a settlement based on the civil standard of proof, the balance of probability. It was not alleged that Bishop Bell was found to have abused on the criminal standard of proof, beyond reasonable doubt. The two standards should not be confused.’
Indeed they should not, and it was the Chichester diocese which deliberately confused them when it claimed (wrongly) that Bishop Bell would have been arrested if alive, so unsurprisingly poisoning many trusting and naive minds against George Bell. But in fact, as was discussed at length when this subject was raised in a House of Lords debate attended by some of the country’s most eminent lawyers, the civil standard of proof requires that both sides are properly considered. In civil cases, plaintiff and defendant have lawyers and the chance to plead and the secret trial of George Bell did not even contain anyone arguing for his side. The idea that this farce met even the civil standard of proof is unsustainable, and I am amazed that anyone who has read the Carlile report could persist with this nonsense. It was one of the Church’s very early attempts to defend itself, back in 2016. It didn’t work then, when we still didn’t know how bad the secret trial had been. It certainly doesn’t work now.
We have all done wrong things. Some of them are irrevocable, and we can make no restitution to those whom we have hurt, in which case we shall just have to hope for mercy.
But where we *can* put right what we have done, things are different. I am haunted and much influenced by this passage of scripture. I commend it to the Archbishop. It begins with the 25th verse of the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to St Matthew. The words are those of Our Lord himself, and I take them to mean that when we have been found to be wrong, we do all we can to put that wrong right while we can, for if we do not we condemn ourselves to a long and needless grief which can only be expiated and assuaged at a far greater cost. He knows who the judge is in this reference, I think.
‘Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.’
24 January 2018 11:39 AM
Mr Bunker is back in his bunker.
I felt this exchange from the latest George Bell thread deserved a post of its own, and some emphases that cannot be given in the text of comments:
Mr Bunker writes:’ No need to re-read the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement to know that he did not “compare opinions held mistakenly before a fair trial and conviction showed them to be wrong” with current opinions on the Bishop Bell case. Far from it.
The Archbishop merely pointed out the following: That what is “alleged could not have been true” (because someone is “absolutely certain that it was impossible”) “sometimes turns out to be untrue” as it did, for example, in the case of Bishop Ball.
And that is a simple statement of fact. Not a comparison. – I can’t put it more plainly than that.
****PH responds: here is the Archbishop’s statement in full :
‘Following a letter sent to Lambeth Palace and also to the Telegraph newspaper by a group of academics, I felt it important to send a considered, personal response and this statement reflects the essence of my reply.
I cannot with integrity rescind my statement made after the publication of Lord Carlile’s review into how the Church handled the Bishop Bell case. I affirmed the extraordinary courage and achievement of Bishop Bell both before the war and during its course, while noting the Church has a duty to take seriously the allegation made against him.
Our history over the last 70 years has revealed that the Church covered up, ignored or denied the reality of abuse on major occasions. I need only refer to the issues relating to Peter Ball to show an example. As a result, the Church is rightly facing intense and concentrated scrutiny (focussed in part on the Diocese of Chichester) through the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). Our first hearing is in March.
The Diocese of Chichester was given legal advice to make a settlement based on the civil standard of proof, the balance of probability. It was not alleged that Bishop Bell was found to have abused on the criminal standard of proof, beyond reasonable doubt. The two standards should not be confused. It should be remembered that Carol, who brought the allegation, was sent away in 1995, and we have since apologised for this lamentable failure; a failure highlighted by Lord Carlile.
I wrote my response with the support of both Bishop Peter Hancock, the lead bishop for safeguarding, and Bishop Martin Warner, the Bishop of Chichester. We are clear that we accept all but part of one of the recommendations Lord Carlile makes and we are extremely grateful to him for what he has done and the help he has given the Church.
He indicates that in his judgement, a better way to have handled the allegation would have been for the Church to offer money on condition of confidentiality. We disagree with this suggestion. The confidentiality would have been exposed through the IICSA process, and the first question we would have faced, both about Bishop Bell and more widely, would have been ‘so what else are you concealing?’. The letter from the historians does not take into account any of these realities, nor the past failures of the Church. But we will go on considering how we can make our processes better and more robust, as pointed out by Lord Carlile.
As in the case of Peter Ball, and others, it is often suggested that what is being alleged could not have been true, because the person writing knew the alleged abuser and is absolutely certain that it was impossible for them to have done what is alleged. As with Peter Ball this sometimes turns out to be untrue, not through their own fault or deceit but because abuse is often kept very secret. The experience of discovering feet of clay in more than one person I held in profound respect has been personally tragic. But as I said strongly in my original statement the complaint about Bishop Bell does not diminish the importance of his great achievements and he is one of the great Anglican heroes of the 20th Century.’
** PH continues :He will note the operative section ‘As in the case of Peter Ball, and others, it is often suggested that what is being alleged could not have been true, because the person writing knew the alleged abuser and is absolutely certain that it was impossible for them to have done what is alleged. As with Peter Ball this sometimes turns out to be untrue, not through their own fault or deceit but because abuse is often kept very secret.’
This is a direct response to the historians, when they said: (First) : ‘We regard George Bell as a significant historical figure and *our assessment of his life and career has been an important aspect of our academic work. On this basis we suggest that our collective view on these matters constitutes a genuine and very pertinent authority.*
In this matter they are saying, with astonishing bluntness just this side of scorn, that they know better than the Archbishop, and are better qualified to judge the matter than the Archbishop.
They continue : ‘In your public statement of 15 December 2017, the authority of your position was used to perpetuate a single allegation made against Bishop Bell, and you did so in face of the independent review which the Church itself commissioned. We believe that your statement offends the most basic values and principles of historical understanding, ones which should be maintained firmly by those in positions of public authority across society. They must never be ignored or abused.’
**This further passage elaborates the same point***
‘In the past you have insisted that the Church’s view was based on an investigation that was ‘very thorough’. But Lord Carlile has plainly, and utterly, devastated this claim. Historians and lawyers both attach great importance to the presumption of innocence. Your comment seems to imply that a case against Bell has actually been established. It has not.
History cannot be made out of allegations. It is the study of sources. Lord Carlile’s review sets out the material of the allegation for everyone to assess for themselves, and he invites them to do so. There is nothing in it that connects in any way with what is firmly known about Bishop Bell. The allegation is not only wholly uncorroborated but is contradicted by all the considerable, and available, circumstantial material which any historian would consider credible. (****PH: This argument is what Mr Welby refers to, and seeks vainly to rebut, when he says lots of people thought Peter Ball was innocent, before he pleaded guilty to his undoubted crimes****)
The historians continued: ‘ Furthermore, even on its own terms we find it to depend wholly on scenarios which simply could not have occurred, given what is firmly known and authoritatively establishend
There is no credible representation of personalities, relationships, patterns or locations which is remotely recognisable (***PH notes, this passage is also plainly the object of Mr Welby’s reference to those who doubted the guilt of Peter Ball)**. Far from enhancing the allegation, the insistence on vivid quotations undermines critically a testimony in which the experiences of infancy are ‘recollected’, not immediately but at a distance of many decades. Even a modest historical sensitivity would have established the basic implausibility of such a testimony.
The material supporting this allegation does not in our view constitute a credible basis for the writing of history and it flies in the face of our customary critical method. It represents something quite different, an unhistorical, indeed anti-historical, testimony, explicable, perhaps, but in different terms. We cannot understand how such an unsupported, indeed insupportable, allegation can be upheld by a responsible public authority. Quite simply, it is indefensible.’
***PH notes: The reference to the Ball case is clearly a riposte to this (Mr Welby’s statement is a direct response to the letter. To which parts of that letter could it possibly be a response, if not those I cite?), though as I have explained it is a pathetically, pitiably inadequate and misplaced one.
As it happens, nobody in the Bell campaign, to my knowledge , has said that he or she *knows* him to be innocent. I certainly have not. In fact, from the very start, I have conceded explicitly that the allegations against him *might* be true. I specifically said so in my original article on the subject in the Spectator. No honest inquiry or trial could proceed unless our minds were open to this possibility. (You might say that the Church could not have honestly inquired into the matter unless their minds were open to the possibility that George Bell was innocent. And you could reasonably say that they did nothing which suggests that their minds were open to this – not least, the appalling fact that Bishop Bell had no advocate or defender during this procedure, let alone a presumption of innocence).
I several times said privately to my allies in this that we must not be afraid of the truth. If persuasive evidence emerged that Bell was indeed a child molester, then we must concede it immediately, and withdraw. This was the explicit price of engaging in such a campaign, and if we lacked the courage to face it, we should keep quiet. As it happens, in the two years of this campaign, not one solitary further accusation of this kind has emerged, despite local, national and now international publicity given to the accusation. On the contrary, two persuasive witnesses have emerged, who recall the time and place at which the crimes are supposed to have taken place and who (from very different perspectives) offer evidence which fails to confirm, and casts doubt upon, the accusation.
I acted accordingly. Without knowing the answer to my question, I contacted both Sussex police and the NSPCC (who set up a helpline freephone after the allegation was publicised) to ask if there had been any further complaints against George Bell. I waited some months to do so. There were precisely none. For the same reason, I sought a meeting with the accuser, so that I could hear her side. This request was denied, though she had been willing to speak to other media and i was willing to abide by all necessary conditions to preserve her anonymity.
If Mr ‘Bunker’ has actually read the Carlile report and its annexes, he will know the great cloud of circumstantial evidence undermining Carol’s claim, and the total lack of hard corroboration of it, just as he will know that Professor Maden, engaged by the Church to examine the accusation, warned specifically and voluntarily of the possibility of false memory (though not all members of the investigating team were told of this) . No court, civil or criminal, would have found against George Bell on the basis of what we actually know. Thus, by any civilised measure, as well as in law, he remains innocent of the charge made (just as Peter Ball, by comparison a trivial figure, remains by any civilised measure guilty of the crimes of which he was accused). Those who insist there is a ‘cloud’ over George Bell’s reputation are no better than gossipers, rumour-mongers and purveyors of tittle tattle. I really do not know why Mr Bunker clings to his position, except to draw attention to himself.