We are an independent group whose members represent a concentration of experience in public life, in the fields of law, policing, politics, journalism, academic research and church affairs. This group began to meet in response to the 22 October 2015 statement issued by the Church of England about Bishop George Bell. See this BBC report for the full story.
We are now publishing our analysis of the way in which the allegation against Bishop Bell has been handled by the authorities of the Church.
We note that the public has been consistently assured that the process by which the Church of England reached a view on Bishop Bell was ‘thorough’ and ‘objective’, and that it commissioned ‘experts’ whose ‘independent reports’ found ‘no reason to doubt the veracity of the claim[s]’ of sexual abuse made by the complainant.
However, although the nature of this process has never been publicly disclosed, we have discovered enough to establish its severe limitations which render it quite inadequate as a basis for assessing the probability of Bishop Bell’s guilt. The scope of the independent experts’ inquiries was limited to a degree that made a proper analysis of the complainant’s allegations virtually impossible. Our criticisms of the investigation are highlighted in paragraphs 15 to 17 of the enclosed Review. What is more, little or no respect seems to have been paid to the unheard interests of Bishop Bell or his surviving family – a serious breach of natural justice.
In view of the evidence that we have gathered and examined we have concluded that the allegation made against Bishop Bell cannot be upheld in terms of actual evidence or historical probability.
Our review (published March 2016) sets out our concerns at length.
We have concluded that on moral, pastoral and legal grounds the authorities of the Church of England clearly owe an apology, principally to the living relatives of Bishop Bell, and also to many people across the churches who have honoured his memory. We further invite all public institutions which have owned an association with the name of Bishop Bell to restore his name to the places where it was known and valued before 22 October 2015.
Finally, we must recognise how seriously the confidence of many church people has been shaken by this matter. We believe that the processes which have produced such a public denigration of Bishop Bell’s reputation should now be the subject of a thorough investigation. It is obvious to us that the Church of England must reassure the public at large that its future processes will meet, with all due sympathy and rigour, the needs of complainants. It must also weigh equally, and under the law, the proper interests of those who may be the object of such allegations.
Desmond Browne QC, Chairman of the Bar of England and Wales, 2009
Andrew Chandler, Historian
The Revd Dr Keith Clements, former General Secretary, Conference of European Churches
The Lord Dear, former Vice Lord Lieutenant; cross-bench Peer; former senior Chief Constable and HM Inspector of Constabulary
Mark Dunn, Sometime Chairman of West Sussex County Council and Sussex Police Authority
The Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Member of Parliament for Birkenhead
The Revd Dr Anthony Harvey, Emeritus Canon of Westminster, Former lecturer at the University of Oxford
The Lord Lexden, Conservative Peer and Historian
His Honour Judge Alan Pardoe QC
The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford
Margery Roberts, Member of the Diocese of London Bishop’s Council and churchwarden
The Revd Philip White, Roman Catholic canonist and diocesan chancellor