SIR – The proposition put forward by a parish officer that the maxim of “innocent until proven guilty” should be reversed in matters of church safeguarding (Letters, March 27) is utterly pernicious.
How is anyone to defend themselves against charges to an action that is alleged to have occurred decades before, and is based on no more than the word of one person?
To place the onus of proving innocence on the accused, as opposed to the need for the accuser to prove guilt, is contrary to our most basic freedoms and undermines the rule of law.
Sir – I think I may be able to enlighten Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson (Letters, March 24) who writes about the case of Bishop Bell, as to the Church of England’s thinking on safeguarding.
At a recent parochial church council meeting in the Chichester diocese, a parish safeguarding officer gave a briefing on the introduction of a programme being trialled in the diocese. Bishop Bell and others were mentioned, along with the stance taken by Archbishop Justin Welby.
The meeting was told that a change of mindset is needed. The old idea that one is “innocent until proven guilty” does not apply when dealing with a safeguarding complaint; the view has to be that there is a case to answer, and the defendant must prove his innocence.
Clearly Lord Carlile was operating under the old rules and Bishop Bell can never comply with the new rules.
In this way, church leaders are able to accept almost all of Lord Carlile’s report but still maintain there is a shadow over Bishop Bell.
Storrington, West Sussex
March 22 2018 – IICSA Transcript – Wednesday March 21
Archbishop Justin Welby
Page 119-120 [Paras 21-25]
and at the heart of this has to be justice, and justice is a very, very difficult thing to find, as you know much better than I do, but we have to have a system that delivers justice. That is so important. And if it doesn’t, it’s not good enough.
Fiona Scolding QC
Page 123 [Paras 14-25] Page 124 [Paras 1-8]
One of the points that Lord Carlile makes is that the church didn’t take a good enough account of…George Bell’s reputation. Now, we have heard from several individuals about their views about that. But what he seems to suggest is, you have to start — you know, this was such a Titanic figure that one must assume that his reputation is unblemished and, therefore, that has to be weighed very heavily in the balance. Do you have any response to that?
Archbishop Justin Welby
I think the greatest tragedy of all these cases is that people have trusted, very often, those who were locally, in diocesan terms, or nationally Titanic figures, and have then found that they were not worthy of their trust. The fact that someone is a titanic figure doesn’t tell you anything at all, except that they have done remarkable things in one area. It doesn’t tell you about the rest of their lives. And it is not something that we can take into account.
March 22 2018 – From The Archives [1988 – “Rumpole of the Bailey” with Leo McKern – Episode: ‘Rumpole and the Age of Miracles’ [Series 5 Disc 2) – Filmed on location at Chichester Cathedral [‘The Diocese of Lawnchester’ – Ecclesiastical Court]
Rumpole: “I happen to have a good deal of faith”
Ballard: “Yes, in what precisely?”
Rumpole: “The health-giving properties of Claret. The presumption of innocence…that golden thread running through British justice”
Proof, not reputation, is crux of Bell affair
From Marilyn and Peter Billingham
Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby (Comment, 16 February) is indeed right to say in her column that those fighting for Justice in the George Bell case would be naïve to rest the case for his defence on his fine reputation. But they don’t.
The George Bell Group, the theologians, the lawyers, historians, academics, journalists, and, indeed, the independent reviewer Lord Carlile QC together present an overwhelming case that the evidence against Bishop Bell would not find its way to the criminal court at all were he to be alive.
Further, the evidence does not even meet the lower standard of proof, “the balance of probabilities”, required by the civil courts, now that he has passed away. In English law, he is innocent. The evidence would be too weak to take to court at all. Character references would not be required. Nevertheless, since when have character references been inadmissible in a court of English law?
Peers including the Bishop of Peterborough have called on the Government to protect the identity of people accused of a crime after their death.
One member of the House of Lords said Anglicans were “deeply ashamed” of the Church of England’s handling of the case of Bishop George Bell, who was accused of abusing a child several decades after his death in 1958.
A report published at the end of last year by Lord Carlile found that the highly-respected bishop’s reputation had been unnecessarily damagedby the Church when it publicly named him in an apology to the alleged victim in 2015.
In a debate in the House of Lords on Monday peers called on the Government to “uphold the cardinal principle that an individual is innocent until proved guilty”.
Official historian of the Conservative Party Lord Lexden asked home office minister Baroness Williams whether the Government would “review the law governing the naming of deceased individuals against whom criminal allegations have been made”.
He called on the Government to review the law in order to to ensure the anonymity of dead suspects accused by “one uncorroborated alleged witness”.
Fellow peer Lord Cormack added that the case was “deeply shocking” and said “the reputation of a great man has been traduced, and many of us who are Anglicans are deeply ashamed of the way that the Anglican Church has behaved”.
The Bishop of Peterborough, the Rt Revd Donald Allister echoed the calls and added: “In all cases where the complainant has a right to be anonymous, there seems to be a case for the respondent also to be anonymous, and in cases until there is overwhelming evidence to suggest guilt, it seems reasonable for people’s reputations not to be damaged in this public way.”
However Baroness Williams said the Government “do not have plans to review the law”.
“Any decision to name an individual where that is considered to be in the public interest will necessarily be specific to the circumstances of an individual case,” she said.
Oct 22 2017 – 2nd Anniversary of the Church of England Statement on the Rt. Revd George Bell (1883-1958)
“Moral, legal and common sense appears to have deserted the Church of England. The Presumption of Innocence has been described as ‘the golden thread that runs through British justice’. That thread was broken by the October Statement, and replaced with the Presumption of Guilt. The Media – including the BBC – assumed Bishop Bell’s guilt on the basis of the Church’s Statement, and their subsequent headlines reflected that assumption. No attempt was made by the Church, immediately after the headlines, to correct the media interpretation of the Statement. This would strongly suggest a Presumption of Guilt on the Church’s part towards Bishop Bell” – Richard W. Symonds