Statement of 9 December 2016 by the George Bell Group

Statement of 9 December by the George Bell Group, in response to the announcement on 23 November 2016 that Lord Carlile is to be the independent case reviewer.

The George Bell Group welcome the announcement on 23 November 2016 that Lord Carlile of Berriew is to be the independent reviewer of the process which led to the statement by the Church of England on 22 October 2015 that the Bishop of Chichester had issued a formal apology following the settlement of a legal civil claim regarding allegations of child sexual abuse by the late Bishop Bell.

In their own Review of the case, dated 17 March 2016, the George Bell Group strongly urged that justice to the memory of Bishop Bell demanded that there should be ‘” proper review of both the process and the evidence which resulted in the October statement”.  Although the announcement of Lord Carlile’s Review states that it will “look at the processes surrounding the allegations”, the Group note that by its Terms of Reference it “will provide a detailed evidence-based analysis of the responses and decision making processes concerning the case”. Accordingly, we welcome the statement made by Lord Carlile, as reported in the Church Times on 25 November 2016, that “investigating the Church’s own inquiries into the truth of Carol’s complaint would be the ‘heart’ of his job”, and his further statement that “material from both inside and outside the C of E would be considered, including any written evidence submitted by Bell’s defenders”.  We trust we can infer from this that Lord Carlile does not intend to limit his review to examining “process”, but will look afresh at the validity or otherwise of the allegations made against Bishop Bell. We welcome this warmly and will be making a detailed submission to the Review.

The Group further notes that it is the Church of England which will “determine whether the full report can be sufficiently redacted or otherwise anonymised to enable its publication without risking disclosure of the complainant’s identity”.  We have never sought to have the anonymous complainant identified. However the continuing refusal of the Church to publish its evidence, even in redacted form to protect her identity, and the failure to disclose clearly the process  by which its “Core Group” reached their conclusions has created much public misgiving. On that account, once Lord Carlile’s Review is complete the maximum transparency possible will be crucial to redressing that misgiving and regaining public confidence.

Andrew Chandler