Is Carol’s account consistent with the facts?
IS THE ACCOUNT BY “CAROL” AS TO HOW SHE WAS TAKEN OFF BY BISHOP BELL TO BE READ A BED-TIME STORY CONSISTENT WITH THE FACTS?
- The Diocese of Chichester claims that the state of the law prevents them from making public details of Carol’s complaint such that the credibility of her story may be judged. (The Support Group believes that view of the law to be mistaken for reasons set out in the analysis by HH Alan Pardoe QC and Desmond Browne QC on this site). It is only the fact that Carol herself chose to describe aspects of her alleged abuse in an interview given to the Brighton Argus published on 3 February 2016 that allows outsiders to judge any part of the truth of her account.
- In her account given to the Argus Carol claimed that “under the pretence of reading her a story, [Bishop Bell] would take her to a private room”, where the assaults would take place. In contrast, in an interview broadcast on BBC TV South on 9 February 2016 the allegation was that the Bishop “molested her in the cathedral [emphasis added] as she sat listening to stories”. That account contained little detail, and this analysis will concentrate on the detail contained in the Argus.
- The account published in the Argus headlined Carol’s words: “My strongest memory is seeing this figure all in black standing on a stair, waiting.” Her account explained:
“If you go into the Bishop’s kitchen there’s a wooden stair that comes down and he used to wait on there, half way down it.
And then he’d go, ‘Oh, Elsie, I’ll take Carol and read her a story.’
He used to take me off down this long corridor and there was a big room at the end and he used to take me in there.
There were books all around the room. And then he’d shut the door.”
- It is clear that the “Bishop’s kitchen” to which Carol was referring is not the domestic kitchen used by the Bishop but the mediaeval Bishop’s Kitchen on the west side of the Palace complex. The reason this is clear is that the article states that the counselling of Carol (for which the Diocese paid) “included a return to the scene of her abuse, which she hated.” According to the article the counsellor had taken Carol back to the scene two years before. The journalist described Carol as “visibly upset” as she explained:
“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 author of the article stated that “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.” It might be thought open to question what good was served by the counsellor taking Carol to the alleged scene of the abuse. It confirmed nothing, neither provided any proof of the allegations. It also gave rise to a risk that what she was shown of the lay-out of the Palace may have served to confirm Carol’s self-belief that she had been assaulted there having been led out of the Bishop’s Kitchen.
- The two-storey mediaeval Bishop’s Kitchen has been the site of annual pottery exhibitions since 2007: see the photographs on:
- The short point relied upon by the Support Group is that the Bishop’s Kitchen does not have a staircase leading out of it. There is no stair case on which Carol from the Bishop’s Kitchen could have seen Bishop Bell standing. In the Support Group’s Review of 17th March 2016 we pointed out that:
“The Bishop’s Kitchen (and for that matter the staircase outside it) was not part of the Bishop’s domestic residence or where he worked. Away from the door to the domestic quarter, it was a quite separate complex, at that time in regular use by the Theological College, its staff and students.”
- Canon Adrian Carey (now in his nineties) was a student at the Theological College between August 1947 and August 1948, and he confirms that many of the students’ lectures were held in the Bishop’s Kitchen.
- Further recent research by Dr Andrew Chandler, Bishop Bell’s biographer, in the Church Commissioners’ archives at Bermondsey has shown that at the relevant time only 11,000 square feet of the Bishop’s Palace building was occupied and used by the Bishop and his household. The remaining 5,300 square feet (including the Bishop’s Kitchen) was on a 14-year lease to the Theological College. From April 1947, when the students moved in, the two parts of the building were (to use the Church Commissioners’ word) “severed”. A door between the two parts was replaced with an oak partition wall. The other door between them remained so that the students could worship in the chapel. This door was on the ground floor and led straight into the passage where the chaplain’s office was situated so that he could monitor the main door.
- Dr Chandler points out there are a number of reasons why Bishop Bell would not have been in the area of the Bishop’s Kitchen:
(i) He was only able to use the Bishop’s Kitchen for particular events by applying to the Theological College Council.
(ii) He had neither need nor reason to be there. The area held by the College was private and obscure from the rest of the Palace. Living and working at the far end of the Palace, Bishop Bell would not have known when Carol was in the Bishop’s Kitchen.
(iii) At that time if the Bishop was regularly in the College part of the premises, he laid himself open to liability for a share of the costs. This is far from fanciful; each side watched the other closely – indeed there was even a wrangle over a meter for the organ in the chapel.
(iv) Finally, the nearest staircase outside the Bishop’s Kitchen led only to students’ rooms, one of them along a long corridor. Following the replacement of the old door with the oak partition, there was no entry into the domestic part of the Palace from this staircase.
- In its statement of 22 October 2015 the Diocese stated that none of the “expert independent reports” it had commissioned had found any reason to doubt the veracity of the claim. It is a matter of regret that the Diocese has said so little about its investigation of the alleged abuse that outsiders cannot know whether its experts considered any of the highly relevant matters set out in this analysis.