Bishop Bell: independent review published

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An inquiry into the Church’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse by former Bishop of Chichester George Bell has found there was a ‘rush to judgement’.

The report from Lord Carlile found the Church of England had ‘acted in good faith throughout’ but failed to ‘respect the rights of both sides’ in its investigation of claims of historic abuse from a woman, known as ‘Carol’, when she was a child.

Carol recieved compensation and an apology from the Church, as well as an apology from current Bishop of Chichester Martin Warner in September 2015.

The Carlile report itself was exclusively into how the investigation was carried out and ‘not to determine the truthfulness of Carol, nor the guilt or innocence of Bishop Bell’.

It stated that its efforts for transparency, the Church had ‘oversteered’ and failed to give ‘proper consideration’ for the rights of the deceased bishop.

The Right Reverend George Bell was Bishop of Chichester from 1929 until his death on October 3 1958.

Recommendations in the review include not identifying alleged perpetrators if a claim is settled without admission of liability and having a representative for the deceased as part of the investigation process.

An extract reads: “It is axiomatic that, in appropriate cases, the Church should be ready to acknowledge sexual abuse committed by the clergy.

“However, that does not mean that the reputations of the dead are without value.

“It follows that, even when the alleged perpetrators have died, there should be methodical and sufficient investigations into accusations levelled against them.

“Where, as in this case, it is clear that the Crown Prosecution Service evidential charging standard (a realistic prospect of conviction) would not have been met, that should be a material consideration in the case.

“I have concluded that the Church of England failed to institute or follow a procedure which respected the rights of both sides.

“The Church, understandably concerned not to repeat the mistakes of the past when it had been too slow to recognise that abuse had been perpetrated by clergy and to recognise the pain and damage caused to victims, has in effect oversteered in this case.

“In other words, there was a rush to judgement: the Church, feeling it should be both supportive of the complainant and transparent in its dealings,

failed to engage in a process which would also give proper consideration to the rights of the Bishop.

“Such rights should not be treated as having been extinguished on death.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Chichester have both released statements in response to the review:

Archbishop Justin Welby has said the Church realised ‘a significant cloud’ was left over the name of the late Bishop, who was ‘in many ways a hero’ but ‘accused of great wickedness’.

Bishop of Chichester Martin Warner spoke of ‘the emotive principle of innocent until proven guilty’ and said improvements were already being made to the way cases were being handled.