George Bell’s naming as a paedophile is challenged today by a group of lawyers, academics, politicians and senior Church figures
20 March 2016
George Bell’s condemnation as a paedophile has been challenged by a group of lawyers, academics, politicians and senior Church figures. The treatment of George Bell has been taken up today with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
George Bell is famed for being one of the first to speak out against the dangers Hitler posed in the 1930s and for saving many lives during these years by guaranteeing refugees from Germany. He was one of the few to condemn our government’s obliteration bombing of German cities during the Second World War.
A surprised world learnt on 22nd October 2015 that this much-admired wartime Bishop of Chichester had in 2015 apparently been found guilty, by Church authorities, of child sexual abuse. As a result, his reputation has been irreparably damaged, and schools and institutions dedicated to his memory have been renamed.
The Church of England’s statement appears to accept the allegation of abuse as true. It contained a highly damaging statement that the Sussex police would have arrested the Bishop had he still been alive. But this would have been no more than standard police practice, a fact not mentioned in the statement. The police have confirmed that after investigation arrests lead to charges in less than 30% of cases, and of course, not every charge leads to a guilty verdict. It is significant that neither the police nor the NSPCC have received any further complaints against the Bishop. Although challenged, the Church has not provided details of any corroboration to enable the complainant’s story to be judged.
A detailed report compiled by the George Bell Group, today reveals that the Church’s inquiries were astonishingly inadequate, especially since they followed an uncorroborated allegation, first made many decades after the alleged offence, and so far unaccompanied by any further accusations of the same nature. The report shows that the Church authorities:
- failed to seek, find or interview the most qualified and knowledgeable witness to George Bell’s daily life at the time of the alleged abuse, though his name and details appear in the Church’s own clergy directory. This witness, interviewed by the George Bell group, utterly and in detail rebuts the allegations and regards them as incredible.
- made no attempt to consult George Bell’s extensive papers and diaries, kept at Lambeth palace Library, to check these allegations, their dates and nature, against the recorded details of his life at the time.
- failed to find or contact any of George Bell’s living relatives, to warn them in advance of their plan to blacken George Bell’s name publicly, most notably his niece, Barbara Whitley, who also strongly rebuts the claims.
The Group does not challenge the survivor’s belief in her account; the question is whether others should believe it.
The group questions whether the safeguarding group had the legal and forensic expertise to come to a judgement that would support the idea that, on the balance of probabilities, George Bell was guilty of child sexual abuse.
Victims of child abuse are as interested as the wider community, if not more so, in having a robust system to investigate their claims of abuse. It is clear to the George Bell Group that such a system still needs to be established by the Church of England.
The group’s concern is that the valuable reputation of a great man, a rare example of self-sacrificing human goodness, has been carelessly destroyed on the basis of slender evidence, sloppily investigated. The group also feels that the Church’s whole approach to such cases needs to be more transparent, and more in tune with the principles of justice. The guilty must indeed be punished. But the innocent must be protected, whether they are living or dead, and whether they are ordinary citizens or eminent in the eyes of the world.
* The Report of the George Bell Group can be found at: http://www.georgebellgroup.org/review/