Defending Bishop Bell
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 (www.georgebellgroup.org). 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.