De­fend­ing Bishop Bell

The Church of England - - COMMENT -

The claims against the late great Ge­orge Bell, the for­mer Bishop of Chich­ester, are not just his­toric but pos­i­tively an­cient. They con­sisted of al­le­ga­tions made more than three decades af­ter the death of Bell by a com­plainant who later told the me­dia she was abused by the bishop reg­u­larly be­tween the ages of five and nine.

With such an at­mos­phere of hys­te­ria sur­round­ing any al­le­ga­tion of abuse very few of us dared to put our heads above the para­pet to say there was some­thing wrong. This was not helped by the fact that most of the me­dia seemed to slav­ishly par­rot the Church of Eng­land’s line that Bell had been found to be an abuser. Sev­eral jour­nal­ists stood apart from the crowd. I’m pleased to say that I was one of them, though I soon found that I was not alone in doubt­ing the Church of Eng­land’s 22 Oc­to­ber press state­ment. Far more in­flu­en­tially, Peter Hitchens, of the Mail on Sun­day, also came out pub­licly against the as­sump­tion of Bell’s guilt and so did Charles Moore, Tele­graph, and Michael White, Guardian. A num­ber of in­de­pen­dently minded and emi­nent politi­cians, church­men, aca­demics and lawyers then formed the Ge­orge Bell Group.

The glar­ing prob­lem with the Church of Eng­land’s po­si­tion was that it seemed to think that guilt could be es­tab­lished on the bal­ance of prob­a­bil­i­ties with­out any de­fence be­ing put for the ac­cused. The Ge­orge Bell Group took on the task of de­fend­ing Ge­orge Bell.

They found that the Dio­cese of Chich­ester’s ‘painstak­ing’ in­ves­ti­ga­tion was noth­ing of the kind. The so-called in­ves­ti­ga­tion failed to in­ter­view the sur­viv­ing staff of Ge­orge Bell; did not con­sult Bell’s pa­pers and di­aries; and per­haps most da­m­ag­ingly of all failed to find any of Bell’s liv­ing rel­a­tives to warn them and ques­tion them about the claims.

The full re­ports of the Ge­orge Bell group can be found here (­bell­ I urge you to read their bril­liant re­port and then to find ways of rais­ing dis­quiet with the Church of Eng­land au­thor­i­ties over the way it has ca­su­ally and cru­elly dis­carded the rep­u­ta­tion of one of its great­est fig­ures on the ba­sis of al­le­ga­tions that are im­pos­si­ble to fully in­ves­ti­gate and prove.

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