THE DECLINE OF THE JURY
I’m posting this item from my Sunday column as a stand-alone article, because it seems to me that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s refusal to accept the outcome of the independent inquiry by Lord Carlile QC – which he himself commissioned – into the George Bell case has become a scandal in its own right.
Not only is it shocking for a man in such a position to reject a report he asked for, and whose author he presumably helped to choose. It is , er, highly disingenuous for the Archbishop to have said (as he did ): ‘Lord Carlile does not seek to say whether George Bell was in fact responsible for for the acts about which the complaint was made’. This is not because Lord Carlile reached no conclusions on that issue. It is because Lord Carlile was narrowly limited in his terms of reference to examining the process by which the Church condemned George Bell. In fact it is plain from the Carlile report that George Bell was condemned on inadequate evidence, sloppily and unfairly gathered and sloppily and unfairly considered. Lord Carlile told me on the day of publication that he, a distinguished QC, would have lost the case had he attempted to prosecute George Bell on such evidence. Given that a man is innocent until proven guilty, and it is plain that the Church has not proved George Bell guilty by any standard, he is therefore innocent.
The Archbishop’s unlovely behaviour is licensing all kinds of people to shuffle and delay over important actions which are necessary to restore Bishop Bell’s good name.
These include the return of his name name to schools and buildings from which it was Stalinistically stripped, the re-hanging of various portraits and pictures of him which have been taken down or moved to less honoured positions, the revision of his Wikipedia entry which currently gives absurd credence to the allegations against him, the rewriting of the Chichester Cathedral guidebook, the renewed observance of the day which commemorates George Bell’s memory in the Church calendar, the return to widespread use of the hymn ‘Christ is the King, written by Bishop Bell, which some churches have abandoned since the allegations surfaced, and the re-starting of work on a sculpture of him commissioned by Canterbury cathedral, which was abandoned when the claims against him were first published:
‘I see the Archbishop of Canterbury. Justin Welby, has been complaining about ‘fake news’. As well he might, since ‘fake news’ is a good description of the statement which Archbishop Welby’s church put out to the media, insinuating incorrectly that the late George Bell was a child molester.
Lord Carlile has now produced a devastating report which shows that statement was full of false claims. It said Bishop Bell would have been arrested if he’d still been alive, when he wouldn’t have been. It said there had been a thorough investigation – when there hadn’t been. It said experts had found no reason to doubt the charges, when one expert most definitely had found such a reason and clearly said so.
Yet despite this total demolition of a case that any court would have thrown out, Archbishop Welby continues to claim (more fake news?) that there is a ‘cloud’ over George Bell’s name, like some dim wiseacre in a pub, utterly defeated in an argument by facts and logic, intoning doggedly that ‘there’s no smoke without fire’. The only cloud over Bishop Bell’s name hangs there because Justin Welby’s pride prevents him from admitting he got it wrong. He knows what he needs to do.’
Perhaps, because of its severe and careful ,legal language, some people may not have realised just how devastating Lord Carlile’s report was to the case against George Bell.
It may be read here
Firstly may I thank contributors for their kind words about the George Bell issue, and the outcome (so far) of the campaign to clear this great man’s name of the unproven accusations so vigorously spread about him, as if they were proven facts, by the Church of England. I hope readers will forgive me for this further posting on the subject. As I said at the press conference at which George Bell’s name was cleared, matters are by no means finished. It is as if Captain Dreyfus’s wife had been summoned to a press conference given by the French Army, which had there admitted that it had condemned her husband on paltry evidence after an incompetent and prejudiced court martial, and that the case against him could not stand – but that he would have to remain indefinitely imprisoned on Devil’s Island because the Commander in Chief still felt there was a ‘cloud’ over his name.
George Bell’s reputation is still on Devil’s Island. No formal action has been taken to reverse the Stalinoid process by which his name was removed from buildings, institutions and guide books. These are: George Bell House, a guest house in Chichester cathedral close donated to the Cathedral in his memory by Anglican nuns who loved Bell greatly, and opened by Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury; a hall of residence at the University of Chichester; the house named after Bishop Bell at Bishop Luffa School, Chichester; the school formerly named after him at Eastbourne, now renamed St Catherine’s College, to which he travelled shortly before his death to bless, though extremely frail, dying very soon afterwards; the Chichester cathedral souvenir guide book, from which many references to the Bishop have been removed in the latest edition. I still possess the former guide, is anyone should need to check it for purposes of comparison. A statue of George Bell also sits unfinished in the stoneyard of Canterbury Cathedral, where he was a very distinguished Dean. The statue was abandoned when the claims against George Bell were first publicised.
These are in a way small matters – in themselves. But their restoration now become hugely important as a sign that the presumption of innocence once more prevails. Yet no plaques or names have been restored. Work has not resumed on the statue. All the bodies involved mumble that they are ‘considering ‘ the matter, with the exception of the Eastbourne School which, for unconnected reasons, has a strong desire to change its name which predated the accusations against George Bell, and says firmly it will not reverse the decision. If this is really so, perhaps Bishop Luffa school in Chichester could expiate its former action, in expunging George Bell’s name from one of its houses, by naming itself after Bishop Bell, who one might think has more relevance to modern Christian education than the mediaeval Luffa.
But in any case, what is there to discuss. An injustice has been done, one of the most distinguished public lawyers in the country has said it is an injustice after a thorough investigation, and so it must be corrected. Imagine if, after the Appeal Court had ruled that (say) the convictions of the Birmingham Six could not stand, the governors of the prisons involved said they would be ‘considering’ the matter, and might or might not release them at some stage depending on what they felt about it. What would be the response to that? If those involved have yet to read the Carlile Report (it takes about 90 minutes), the link to it and the (fascinating) annexe are displayed below. Once they have done so, they will find there is nothing left to discuss.
I might add that, the last time I checked with her, no formal apology form the Bishop of Chichester or the Archbishop of Canterbury had been received by Mrs Barbara Whitley, George Bell’s surviving niece, who woke one morning to find, without any warning, that her beloved uncle’s name had been smeared all over the media by the ‘strident voices’ of the Church of England. These prelates unceasingly proclaim their concern for the complainant, similarly an elderly woman deserving courtesy and consideration. But the complainant has always been (and will always remain) anonymous. Mrs Whitley has had to endure this in the blazing light of total publicity.
The Church’s statements, the review and the fascinating annexe can all be found here :
As my contribution to the continuing campaign for justice to be done in full, I sent the letter below to the Bishop of Chichester, the Right Reverend Dr Martin Warner, on Monday, saying I intended to publish it here as an open letter. Now that he has had time to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest its contents, I commend it to you to:
I wonder if I could resume our correspondence (terminated by you on 19th January 2017), now that the Carlile Report has been published and considered by you. In this case, however, I propose to publish this letter on my Mail on Sunday blog, so that my readers are aware of the questions I have long raised with you, and the new ones I must now raise with you following the Carlile review.
I am still mainly concerned with your attack on supposedly ‘strident voices’ raised in defence of Bishop Bell, which you suggested had distressed the anonymous complainant. May I draw your attention to my article on the subject in the Spectator of 17th November 2015? It can be read with ease here: https://www.spectator.co.uk/2015/11/the-church-of-englands-shameful-betrayal-of-bishop-george-bell/ .
In it I was extremely careful to accept the possibility of Bishop Bell’s guilt, and to say specifically ‘By all means comfort and assuage the accuser, and compensate him or her’. This was a conscious act of charity towards the accuser, whom I have never blamed for the mistreatment of George Bell’s memory. I understood from the start that any examination of this case should not become an attack upon the accuser, nor (except in the minds of the Church) has it ever been such an attack. Please contrast the Church’s treatment of Bishop Bell’s surviving niece, Mrs Barbara Whitley (see p.33 of the Carlile review, para 142). She had to endure the ‘strident voices’ of the Church of England publicly parading deeply painful allegations against her beloved uncle, presented as fact, and quite without the shield of anonymity rightly given to Carol. You had not even bothered to find out if Mrs Whitley existed. Matthew VII, 3-5 comes to mind.
I suspect that the Bishop of Chelmsford’s false accusation that George Bell’s supporters had made ‘hurtful remarks’ about Carol, made in the House of Lords when the poor man was expected to respond to the long-planned debate there after an inadequate briefing, resulted from this original accusation by you. The false accusation has still not been formally retracted in the Lords, though the Bishop of Chelmsford did after some hesitation eventually apologise to me personally, allowing me to forgive him as Our Lord urges us to do in Luke XVII, 3-4.
I’d add to this attempt to use the complainant as a shield against accusations of wrongdoing in the Church’s part your needless call for all to respect the ‘right to privacy’ of Carol made at the Church House press conference on Friday. What was the purpose of this call? When was any attempt ever made to invade her privacy? I still think you need to regret this accusation.
You have also asserted that the original statement issued on 22nd October 2015 did not state George Bell’s guilt, and you blame the media involved for presuming this. In response to this I raise several points. The first is that all media given the statement concluded that you were asserting Bishop Bell’s guilt. How did this happen? Partly to blame must be the unwarranted use of the prejudicial word ‘survivor’ and a generally incautious use of language which (had Bishop Bell been alive and a court case pending or in progress) would have put those involved at risk of action for contempt of court. We must also wonder what confidential briefings may have been given to the media by persons speaking for the Church, to the journalists involved, who those persons were, what instructions and advice they had been given by the Church and what they said. I cannot know this, though as a journalist of many years’ experience I find it hard to believe that no such briefings took place. Did they? What was said by whom and to whom?
Also at fault is the claim in the statement that the Bishop, had he been alive, would have been arrested (Annex to the Carlile report, Page 36, paragraph 23; see also the main report, paras 132 and 133 on page 31, and para 167 on page 44). There was in fact no real police inquiry (see para 139 on p.32).We now know from the Sussex police that this statement was solicited by the Diocese from them, and not made on their own initiative. Please see the words of Det Supt J.D. Graves, in his response to my complaint to them on behalf of Mrs Whitley ‘My understanding….’, wrote Detective Superintendent Graves:
‘….is that the Diocese of Chichester notified Sussex Police that they planned to release a statement to the media. It was never our intention to be proactive (my emphasis); in other words, there was no intention to release a police statement about the alleged criminality of Bishop Bell (my emphasis). However, we were asked by the Diocese to make a statement (my emphasis) as they had decided to make this information public and so we provided them with a statement for inclusion in their press release on the basis that once the Diocese published their statement a natural consequence would be a media request to the police for comment’.
Did you not expect this misleading detail in the statement, which had been actively sought by you, to impute guilt to George Bell? In dozens of conversations with fellow-journalists and others about this matter, every single one of them has pointed (unprompted by me) to the claim that George Bell would have been arrested as being the thing which persuaded him or her that the case against him was serious. If it was not intended to insinuate this, what is it doing there at all?
You said on Friday, 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. Only one, the BBC, which had inaccurately used the specific term ‘proven abuse’ in a TV report and so gone further than the others, ever admitted that it had wrongly stated Bishop Bell’s guilt. All the others used your statement, and above all the claim that Bishop Bell would have been arrested, to argue that they were right to treat the statement as a declaration of guilt. The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) took the same view when I and others took the matter to them. I should also remind you of what happened when I drew attention to the Bishop of Durham’s statement in the House of Lords on 28thJanuary 2016, in which he said ‘that there has been no declaration that we are convinced that this [alleged abuse by Bishop Bell] took place’. As the Bishop was then in charge of ‘safeguarding’, this seemed to me to be a highly significant development and perhaps a retreat from the original claim of 22nd October. I thought it might be the basis of a revision of the Church’s original position.
However, after Charles Moore and I had both drawn attention to it in early February 2016, Church House issued this statement on behalf of the Bishop of Durham http://cofecomms.tumblr.com/post/138915810902/statement-from-bishop-of-durham-on-george-bell . It contained these unequivocal words. ‘The church therefore, having evaluated the evidence before them, accepted the veracity of the claims before them.’ In case there was any doubt, it added:
‘But in this case, as in others, the overriding goal was to search out the truth and issues of reputation cannot take priority over that.’ (both emphases are mine).
I am unable to square the words ‘The church therefore, having evaluated the evidence before them, accepted the veracity of the claims before them.’ with your statements exemplified by the one you made on Sunday 17th December ‘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’.
Since it is clear that the Church *has* stated that it ‘accepted the veracity’ of the claims made against George Bell’; since it publicised inaccurate claims that he would have been arrested, now shown to be wrong; since (para 17, p.5) Lord Carlile states that the CPS evidential charging standard would not have been met and stated at the press conference that, on this evidence, he would have lost the case had he prosecuted it; since the claim made in the October 2015 statement that there had been a ‘thorough pre-litigation process’ has been shown in detail to be a nonsense; likewise the Bishop of Chelmsford’s assertion in the House of Lords (30th June 2106) that this had been a ‘prayerful, careful, sensitive and serious investigation’ now looks embarrassing, though it should be said there is at least no reason to dispute his characterisation of it as ‘prayerful’
And peerhsa most shocking of all, since the publication of Professor Maden’s report shows that the October 2015 statement’s assertion that ‘none of these reports found any reason to doubt the veracity of the claim’ is simply, straightforwardly untrue….
…In the light of all these matters, it seems to me that the issue is very far from closed. A great deal of restitution still needs to be done, and it was not even attempted on Friday. It would help if the Church admitted in detail just how wrong it had in fact been, instead of trying to change the subject or to pretend that it has not done things that it has done.
By the way, you also stated in your Sunday BBC interview that ‘no plaques that I am aware of have been blanked out’. This is most odd. During a visit to Chichester in November 2015, my wife and I walked down Canon Lane and there saw that the plaque saying ‘George Bell House’ was covered by some sort of industrial plastic material, similar to that used in bin bags. I am pleased to learn that this Stalinist action was done without your knowledge or consent. But I must assure you that it was done. The plaque itself, as you must know, was later entirely removed, as was the one inside George Bell House commemorating the fact that Archbishop Rowan Williams had opened George Bell House. The interior plaque has now been replaced by one which pretends that the Archbishop opened ‘4 Canon Lane’, which is not true. Likewise (as you were not asked about in the interview) 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). The Church of England is surely judged by (and should regulate itself by) a higher standard than an atheist secret police state.
This is Peter Hitchens’s Mail On Sunday column
If we won’t fight injustice wherever we see it, then we are not safe from suffering injustice ourselves. If a man’s reputation can be destroyed in an afternoon by a secret kangaroo court, then we too can one day be propelled into a pit of everlasting shame by the same process.
If it can happen to anyone, it can happen to you. And it does happen. Accusations of long-ago sexual crime have become a sort of industry in this country. People are so horrified by them that they almost always believe them.
Because the crime is so foul, we stop thinking. To their shame, police and prosecutors use our horror to get easy convictions, when they must know that their cases are weak. The less actual evidence they have, the more they stress the disgusting nature of the alleged crime. And they forget to remind us that it is alleged, not proved.
Equally shamefully, judges do not stop these trials and juries leave their brains at the door. They convict not because they are sure the case has been proved beyond reasonable doubt, but because they are angry and revolted.
I am miserably sure there are disturbing numbers of people in British prisons now, prosecuted on such charges, who are innocent of the accusations against them. It is our fault, because we have forgotten what justice is supposed to be like, and that, if we do not guard it in our hearts, it will perish in the country.
This is why I have spent a shockingly large part of my life in the past two years trying to rescue the reputation of a dead bishop, George Bell of Chichester. I had known of him for many years and thought him a man of saintly courage. I had also spent a very sunny part of an extraordinarily happy childhood in and around Chichester. I learned to be an Englishman, in many ways, in that beautiful, ancient city. Even so, when the Church of England publicly denounced him as a child abuser, I was astonished by the instinctive, molten fury that I then experienced. This was not just an opinion. It kept me awake at night.
Fortunately, I found allies who felt the same. At first slowly and then with gathering strength and confidence, we assembled the evidence which showed that grave wrong had been done. The Church of England, whose senior figures are astonishingly unimpressive and tricky, tried to smear us with false claims that we had attacked the complainant. But they failed, and at last grudgingly agreed to review the case.
When the review told them that they had run an incompetent, miserable kangaroo court and that they had condemned a great man on evidence too weak to hang a hamster, they sat sulkily on that report for nearly ten weeks, until they were jeered into releasing it.
Even then, when it came out on Friday, a Church which supposedly believes in penitence was still wriggling like a basket of embarrassed eels. The distinguished and impartial lawyer who conducted the review, Lord Carlile QC, made it quite plain that no court would have found George Bell guilty on the evidence (indeed, the Crown Prosecution Service would not even have brought it to court).
He concluded the Church had hung one of its greatest figures ‘out to dry’. He even said ‘if I had been prosecuting this case, I would have lost it’, which is as near as such a person could come to saying George Bell is innocent.
And what of the Church, supposedly the guardian of moral good? The Archbishop of Canterbury petulantly persisted in claiming, despite all the evidence, that there was still a ‘cloud’ over George Bell’s name. Lord Carlile remarked that this statement was ‘less than fully adroit’, which is QC-speak for something much ruder.
I will go further. Archbishop Welby had a chance to stand for moral courage against the easy, popular thing. And he did the easy, popular thing. George Bell, facing much sterner tests in much tougher times, repeatedly chose moral courage over popularity. And that is why Justin Welby is not fit to lace up George Bell’s shoes, and why his pretensions to be a moral leader of this country are taken less and less seriously by thinking people.
I must apologise for having been so inactive here for the past few days, but the long struggle for justice for the late Bishop George Bell is now approaching its endgame.
This morning (Thursday 14th December) the following appeared on the website ‘Christian Today’.
….and I believe it releases me from any embargo on revealing (as I have known for some days) that the Church of England will at last be revealing the details of Lord Carlile’s review of the case tomorrow morning, Friday 15th December 2017, 69 days after it received the report, and more than two years after it first published unproven allegations that George Bell was a paedophile, as if they were the proven truth.
The ‘Christian Today’ report certainly did not come from me, and I would not wish to anticipate either its contents or the interpretation of it, until I have seen them myself.
I am most grateful for the support and encouragement (and tolerance, and patience) I have had from many readers here in what must have seemed, to many of you, like a Quixotic and indeed esoteric expedition into a strange and unknown region of public life.
It was an expedition I never intended to embark on. It has been my Dreyfus case. In fact I was taken wholly by surprise by the molten fury that came unbidden to my hands and tongue, when the allegations against Bishop Bell were first displayed as if they were proven fact. I had not known I had such wrath within me. It has not left me since.
My anger was only increased by the impossibility, to begin with, of getting major media even to publish letters criticising their treatment of the matter.
Eventually, my activities put me into contact with an astonishing group of men and women, some church people, some academics, some citizens of the lovely old city of Chichester (in which I long ago spent some formative and influential years more than half a century ago, and first faintly heard the name ‘George Bell’, not knowing what it would in the end mean to me), some lawyers, retired policemen and judges, some who had known George Bell in person, and regarded him as the living embodiment of John Bunyan’s Mr Valiant-for-Truth, the character in The Pilgrim’s Progress we would surely all most long to be, if we could.
Is there anyone who is not moved by Mr Valiant-for-Truth’s words before dying, some of which are incised into the stones of the lovely, supremely English war memorial gardens at Christ Church in Oxford, Bell’s old college (where he has never ceased to be honoured).
‘Then, said he, I am going to my Father’s; and though with great difficulty I have got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who will now be my rewarder.’
So tonight I sit here on the edge of success or failure, and hope it has been worth it, and that justice will tomorrow flow down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. But if they do, it will only be so because men and women have fought to make it so.
‘Murder in the cathedral’
We could call this affair ‘Murder in the Cathedral’, for it is about the ruthless murder of a great reputation, and it took place in and around the ancient cloisters of Chichester Cathedral in Sussex. The attack was made in broad daylight by respectable Englishmen. It is a detective story, and like all the best such stories it is set in beautiful English surroundings, the lovely Bishop’s Palace, in the serene and tranquil close in that ancient walled Roman city.
A disgusting charge
What we are led to believe is that among these dappled gardens and old stone walls, a seemingly holy, white-haired old man, revered around the world for his moral courage and apparent saintliness, repeatedly did disgusting things to an innocent little girl left in his care.
The charge has been made by one person. Since it was made, in both national and local media, neither the Sussex police nor the NSPCC which advertised a helpline, have heard of any further accusations of the same type against George Bell, though criminals of this type seldom restrict themselves to one victim. The charge remains solitary, ancient and uncorroborated, yet an astonishing number of people and media have chosen to believe it, and treat it as if it were true.
All or nothing
To me, it is all or nothing. If this charge is true, with its horrible selfish, lying exploitation of a defenceless child, with the name of God greasily profaned (in the alleged words allegedly said to the alleged victim ‘This is just our little secret, because God loves you’), none of George Bell’s reputation as pastor, statesman, scholar or man survives. Good and evil are ultimately done in minute particulars. I had the impression from some study of his life that George Bell was a man of great personal kindness, loved by all who knew him, and it was this goodness and honesty which impelled him to take the unpopular and difficult stands he did take.
‘A millstone hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea’
If he betrayed a small child while pretending to look after her, a supreme act of selfish dishonesty, then ‘It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.’ But his goodness is so important to me that I cannot believe this accusation, unless and until it is proven beyond reasonable doubt. And it has not been. And now there is more doubt than before. I seek only permission to disbelieve this charge, and ask that others – who do believe it – recognise that it is legitimate for people like me to disbelieve it, that it is an allegation, not a proven charge, and that they stop trying to wipe George Bell’s name from the record, or to equivocate ludicrously about how he could still have been a great man as well as a revolting, unctuous paedophile. He couldn’t have been. One or the other. Not both.
George Kennedy Allen Bell, by the time of these alleged events, was a man of 65, apparently happily married. He was the son of a vicar. He had won scholarships to Westminster School and then to Oxford, where he had also won a major poetry prize. Two of his beloved brothers had died in the trenches, in the final months of the First World War. Another became a senior officer in British occupation forces in post-1918 Germany before taking up teaching and becoming head of a Public School, ending his life as a keen spokesman for the Moral Rearmament movement. His sister married a bishop. Their child, Barbara Whitley, is George Bell’s niece, now aged 92, his only surviving close relative.
A shy man who stammered
I have heard suggestions, not easily confirmed, that a bout of mumps in adolescence may have made George Bell sterile, hence the childlessness. The marriage appears to have been contented and companionable by all accounts. Choirboys who sang in the Cathedral remember the Bishop with affection as a shy man who stammered, deeply devout and an ‘upright, entirely moral figure who meant a great deal to us as children’, as one of them, Tom Sutcliffe, recently recalled. He died ten years later, much-honoured and loved, and at the time no breath of scandal ever came near him.
Blackballed by Churchill, jeered at by Noel Coward
He was renowned for several things. He had persuaded the great poet T.S.Eliot to write the play ‘Murder in the Cathedral’ for its first performance in Canterbury (where Bell was once Dean). Eliot greatly respected him, as did many others in the spheres of the arts and music to whom he was kind, helpful and generous. But he was also an early opponent of the Nazis and a loyal friend to the German resistance to Hitler, much beloved by the refugees he saved and by that great hero of Christian resistance to National Socialist terror, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was an unvarying and powerful support to refugees from Hitler’s tyranny, when this was not popular. He is believed to have saved many lives through using his influence to win asylum for them. He was particularly concerned for for the fate of German Jews who had converted to Christianity. His private life was austere and filled with hard work. Despite making a fair amount of money from successful books, he left little in his Will and is believed to have given much of the money away. T.S. Eliot, on first meeting him, was pleased and surprised to find a Prince of the Church who travelled by rail in a third-class carriage. Later, he became known and disliked by some, for having spoken publicly against the RAF bombing of German civilians in their homes – a stand that very probably caused Winston Churchill to prevent his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury. It is also said to have inspired Noel Coward’s sarcastic little song ‘Don’t let’s be beastly to the Germans’ (which now sounds embarrassingly triumphal given the ultimate outcome of events and our subservience to a revived Germany through membership of the EU). The line ‘We might send them out some bishops as a form of lease and lend’ is pretty certainly a reference to George Bell’s unpopular insistence, even in the depths of war, that we should not regard all Germans as Nazis.
A good time to expose him?
Had anyone wished to air any private misdeeds by Bishop Bell, and expect a ready audience, this wartime and postwar unpopularity (still in evidence at the time of the alleged offences) would have been a good moment to do so. And in fact this means he was probably rather less protected from exposure (had anything been there to be exposed) than most public figures of his age.
After he died in 1958, reverence superseded controversy and schools and other buildings were named after him. An elegant but modest memorial to him was placed in the Cathedral, not far from the famous Arundel Tomb made famous by the great poet Philip Larkin, where a mediaeval knight and his wife, in effigy, hold each other’s hands – demonstrating, as Larkin wrote, that ‘what will survive of us is love’.
‘Carol’ won’t speak to me
Not in this case. The little girl in the story, having kept silent for more than 40 years and become a middle-aged woman with children of her own, complained in 1995 that George Bell had sexually abused her. Her identity is a secret, but she uses the name ‘Carol’. I have sought to meet her and ask her about her story, but she has declined, though she has given three interviews to other reporters. ‘Carol’ said that a member of the Palace staff, a relative of hers, had brought her into the Palace. We know that this person, almost certainly a woman, existed. But she is long dead. The Church authorities refuse to say (there are a lot of such refusals in this story) whether they interviewed her before she died. Carol alleged that the Bishop had repeatedly interfered with her under the pretext of reading her stories while she sat on his knee, between the ages of five and nine, on many occasions. She said her protests had been ignored in the deferential society of those days.
The Chauffeur investigates
In 1995, when she first made her complaint, child abuse did not attract the attention it now does. She was offered counselling, and refused it. The Bishop of the time, the late Eric Kemp, asked around the older Palace servants, especially Charles Monk, who had been George Bell’s driver, and who had lived (with his wife and daughter) next door to the Palace. Mr and Mrs Monk, like so many people in this story, are now dead. He said he knew of no evidence that any such thing had been going on. Silence descended again until 2012 when Carol complained again, first to Archbishop Rowan Williams, who by then had left office and never received her letter, and then to Archbishop Justin Welby. There was a mix-up about her complaint to Rowan Williams, which seems to have been nobody’s fault. What is certain is that another Archbishop, George Carey, was not involved, and Carol has apologised for claiming wrongly that Lord Carey (as he now is) had ignored a letter from her.
A very clever lawyer
This time the Church acted. We do not know very much about what they did, as Lambeth Palace and the Chichester Diocese mostly refuse to say. We know that they supplied ‘Carol’ with a counsellor, of whom more later, and an intermediary who put her in touch with the Bedford law firm Emmott Snell whose senior partner, Tracey Emmott, has been extremely successful in pursuing abuse cases against the Church and achieved a major change in the law, making churches responsible (as they were not before) for the actions of their clergy.
In her interview with the Brighton ‘Argus’, ‘Carol’ cites the Church’s decision to pay her compensation out of court as evidence in her favour. ‘Then why did the Church pay me?’, she asked . ‘They must have believed me, I assume’. She may be right. But belief in such matters is a complex thing, understood, alas, by fewer and fewer people. English law does not make an all-or-nothing distinction between believing an allegation and disbelieving it, or witnesses for the losing side in any case would be open to prosecutions for perjury. It asks for proof beyond reasonable doubt.
A short lesson in the Law of England
By rejecting a criminal allegation, it does not classify the accuser as a liar (though some in the Church, involved in this case, seem to think so). It classifies him or her as someone whose claim may (or may not) be true, but is not proven to this standard.
And by paying a plaintiff in a civil claim, a defendant is not necessarily saying that he or she believes or accepts the claim. Going to trial is expensive and unpredictable. Both sides usually seek to avoid it, especially now that lawyers (working on a no-win, no-fee basis, as they usually do) have much more limited rights to extract their fees from the courts.
Who’s going to care about a dead Bishop?
By 2013, a number of court cases had put the Church in a weak position. Many abuse cases had been proven. The Church’s liability for the actions of all clergy was (see above) established. It’s quite possible the Church’s insurers advised that the best thing to do was to settle – a rather modest payment of £15,000 reflected the long time between alleged crime and accusation. You can see the thinking. Chichester ( see especially the case of Bishop Peter Ball), had a bad reputation for child abuse, and for not doing enough about it. It was a good moment for a decisive action. The only person who would suffer was a long-dead Bishop, who had nobody present to speak for his interests. Who would object? As far as anyone knew, George Bell had no living relatives, and he was, surely, a forgotten figure.
A statement was issued saying that a payment had been made and an apology (whose full text was never published) was issued. We still don’t know exactly what the apology (in the name of the current Chichester Bishop Martin Warner) was for. It may have been for the failure of his forerunner, Eric Kemp, to handle the case properly in 1995.
An odd thing to say
The Sussex police proclaimed that if George Bell had been alive, they would have arrested him. They now say that the Chichester Diocese involved them in the matter, and this was not their initiative. This was an odd thing to say, since identities of arrested persons aren’t revealed when they’re alive, and, as the Church would repeatedly say, it wasn’t a criminal matter, just a civil case. Also, only about 25 per cent of people arrested in such cases are ever charged, so it is not the indication of guilt it seemed to many people to be. In many conversations I have had about this, discussing the credibility of the charge, the police statement has been cited by almost everyone who has chosen to believe the allegations. They have seen it as strong evidence that they are true. Actually, it is nothing of the sort, but it looks as if it is, and this is what counts in an increasingly uneducated society.
The police’s only lawful duty if the alleged perpetrator is dead (I have checked this) was to record the alleged crime. They refuse to say what enquiries they made beyond interviewing Carol, or indeed if they made any other enquiries at all. But it may well have been that police statement which made many people think there was no doubt about it, and another paedophile priest had been got bang to rights. Whatever it was, though the Church never said Bishop Bell was guilty, local and national media all said he was.
Dead men have no protection. Three major national newspapers, two local ones and the regional BBC all reported the case as if George Bell had been tried and found guilty. ‘Revered Bishop was paedophile’ they said. ‘Proven Abuse’, they asserted. In fact they had no basis for saying so. The BBC has partly withdrawn some of what it said, though no newspaper yet has. The Church’s statement – on which they based these reports – did not say he was guilty. The Bishop of Durham told the House of Lords some weeks later on the 28th January ‘In fact, if noble Lords read very carefully the statements that have been put out, they will see that there has been no declaration that we are convinced that this (the abuse) took place.’
The Man in Black
It would be hard for anyone to have been sure. ‘Carol’ did not make her charge until 37 years after George Bell’s death, and nearly 45 years after the events she alleged. The things she seemed to know about George Bell, how he dressed, that he had a book-lined study, were known by anyone who had ever seen photographs of him. The one thing she knew that was not commonly known, the existence of a staircase behind the private kitchen in the Bishop’s Palace, leading up to a corridor which led eventually to his study, could have been given to her by the relative who had once worked there. There are serious doubts about the location of the alleged events. Not surprisingly for a lady in her 70s recalling events in her childhood, there were problems of detail. The abuse is supposed to have gone until she was nine, but it is hard to see how a man in his late 60s, or anyone else, could have perched a nine-year-old girl on his lap as Carol says he did. The most fascinating is this: ‘Carol’ was taken by a church-supplied ‘counsellor’ to revisit the scene of the alleged crime.
The Wrong Kitchen?
She explained, in her interview with the Brighton ‘Argus’ ‘The lady who was giving me counselling actually took me to the Bishop’s kitchen. The Cathedral had some sort of pottery exhibition on there and she said “we’ll go, and see how you feel.”
‘Well, I got in there and I said “Can we leave now?”.We had to leave’
The interviewer recorded: ‘Carol’s voice only broke once in the course of a three hour interview, when she recalled how it felt to stand back in that room, at the foot of those stairs. Hoarsely, slowly, she said “It was horrible. You start to feel all jelly inside. It’s not nice; believe me”.
‘Perhaps, having bravely chosen to break the silence to which she was entitled, Carol has helped ensure that she will not have to revisit that Cathedral kitchen- in her mind or in person – ever again’.
There is one difficulty with this account. The mediaeval Palace kitchen (the scene of a recent pottery exhibition, often open to the public, and so presumably the one described in the interview) is a two-storey historic survival from the past. It is not the kitchen in which the relative who supposedly took ‘Carol’ to the Palace) would have worked. This was the private kitchen, in the Bishop’s private quarters. The staircase leading up to the study is from the private kitchen, a wholly different room.
A surprise witness appears
We know this because there was, seemingly unknown to the Church of England authorities, another eyewitness to George Bell’s life and work in the early 1950s, the period of the alleged abuse. Carol has said of those who have defended George Bell’s reputation ‘They weren’t there’.
But Canon Adrian Carey was there. For two years from September 1950, he worked and lived and ate and slept in the private part of the Bishop’s Palace at the time, performing his duties as Bishop’s Chaplain. He guarded the door to the private apartments and was constantly in the company of the Bishop, who worked incessantly (generally under the eyes of his secretary, of his wife and of his chaplain) and would have been highly unlikely to have ceased to do so to lessen the burden of work on a cleaner or a cook, let alone to abuse a child. He can recall all the servants who worked in the palace at that time. He washed dishes in the private kitchen, and helped serve meals. He never during his two years in the job (which coincided with the period of Carol’s alleged abuse) once saw a child in the private apartments, except during the annual Christmas party for the children of the clergy (not the children of the Palace staff).
Canon Carey to the end of his life loved and admired George Bell ‘To me, he was Mr Valiant-for Truth (a heroic figure in John Bunyan’s great story ‘the Pilgrim’s Progress’) And he still is!’, he said to me. He says George Bell’s regard for truth, his fierce Christian purpose and austere morals make it extraordinarily unlikely that he could have done such a cruel and dishonest thing. And his closely-observed daily routine, when he was seldom alone and even more seldom unobserved, made it practically nigh-impossible.
Not some gullible parson
Canon Carey is not to be lightly dismissed. Though he lived to be 94, he remained tough-minded and his memory was astonishing. He could quote at will great chunks of Greek and Latin verse, learned at Eton and King’s College Cambridge in the days of much more rigorous education. Nor is he some unworldly, gullible parson, easily fooled.
Mentioned in Despatches
Before joining the priesthood he served in the wartime Navy, firstly as an ordinary seaman, then as a sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR). He was aboard HMS Liverpool when she was torpedoed in the Mediterranean on a Malta convoy, and in the destroyer HMS Onslaught during many perilous voyages to and from North Russia, on the convoys which Winston Churchill described as ‘the worst journey in the world’. He has Russian and British medals for this. In the summer of 1944 he was mentioned in despatches for his part in a skirmish with the Germans off the Channel Islands.
Meeting (and mistrusting) Jimmy Savile
Later, he worked for the BBC religious broadcasting department, where he met and mistrusted Jimmy Savile.
He describes the Church’s treatment of his old friend George Bell as ‘nauseating’, and has taken great trouble and much time to ensure that his rebuttal of these charges should be published. I spent some hours with him and was greatly impressed by his recall and his precision. He was there by day and by night for much of the period of the alleged abuse. And he does not accept the charges.
Yet he was never approached for his version of events by the Church of England, which claims to have conducted ‘a thorough pre-litigation process during which further investigations into the claim took place including the commissioning of expert independent reports.’ It also says ‘None of those reports found any reason to doubt the veracity of the claim.’
How odd. Any Englishman always has a reason to doubt any charge. It is a principle of liberty. English law requires all involved in investigating alleged crimes to doubt the accusation. The presumption of innocence demands that no man be convicted of anything until a jury of his peers has heard both sides of the case and is convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty.
How come they never looked?
Surely, that would involve searching for witnesses. Is it possible that Chichester Cathedral has no record, anywhere, of who worked for George Bell as his chaplain in the late 1940s and early 1950s? Is it possible that it was incapable of looking up Crockford’s Clerical Directory, now searchable online, which lists all living clergy, and identifies Adrian Carey as such a chaplain, conveniently providing his address.
A ‘thorough pre-litigation process’ would surely have found Canon Carey. Since he was not found, or asked, can it really be called thorough? What else did it not do, and what else did it not ask? We don’t know, since the whole thing is hidden by a shield of confidentiality which ‘Carol’ herself has not observed all that much. There’s no sign that George Bell’s extensive archive , detailing his many appointments and journeys, was matched against any dates which ‘Carol’ came up with . His biographer, Andrew Chandler, wasn’t asked his opinion, even though he lives in Chichester. A priest involved in handling the 1995 allegation, still very much alive, wasn’t asked about that either.
A nasty shock for the Bishop’s niece
The Sussex police, who said they would have arrested the Bishop had he been alive won’t say if they interviewed anyone apart from ‘Carol’ before reaching this conclusion. Nobody found or warned Barbara Whitley, the Bishop’s 92-year-old niece. She thinks the charges are preposterous, is much distressed by them and officially complained to the police about their part in blackening her uncle’s name. This resulted in their revelation that the Diocese involved them in the matter.
Meanwhile, a Soviet-style process goes on, in which George Bell’s name is removed from schools and other places that were once named after him. The world proceeds as if this is proven, defying the ancient principles of English law. In which case, this not just about the reputation of a great Englishman, forever besmirched and diminished by accusations of an especially filthy and callous crime.
It is about a personal example of selfless goodness, rare in our times, reduced without proof or due process to ashes and dirt.
Who is not vulnerable now?
And it is a threat to every one of us. Who is not vulnerable to an accusation, made after his or her death when no defence is possible? Come to that, as Field Marshal Lord Bramall recently found, it is a threat to the living as police officials, with brains seemingly made of wood, treat even the most honoured person as a suspect criminal on the basis of a single uncorroborated accusation.
One place where the accusations are still treated with proper English scepticism is Oxford, where Christ Church Cathedral (also the chapel of George Bell’s old college) stands. There, in a serene part of the ancient building, there is an unedited, uncensored memorial to the late Bishop. A small altar of black oak, out of which a rough but powerful cross has been carved, stands in front of a slab on which the following rather interesting words are incised, along with George Bell’s name, dates and titles:
‘No nation, no church, no individual is guiltless without repentance, and without forgiveness there can be no regeneration’.
The words are, of course, George Bell’s own, as he contemplated the post-war world. Certainly, nobody is guiltless. But who now most needs to repent, and who to forgive? I said this was a detective story, but most such stories are in fact based on the belief that a trial, and justice, will follow the investigation and the uncovering of the truth by the sleuth.
Not on this occasion. There is no earthly place where this question can be settled. There can be no trial and no final verdict, just a trial in the hearts of those men and women who have long valued the story of George Bell’s life as a rare example of human goodness, and seek to continue to do so. How do you find the defendant? Guilty, or not guilty?
***Since I wrote these words, the Church has commissioned and received a review of its handling of the case by the distinguished lawyer, Lord Carlile of Berriew. It received the report,which I understand from several sources to be severely critical of its behaviour, on the 7th October. It is now the middle of November. Why has it not been published?