Church challenged over apology for George Bell abuse claims
By Harriet Sherwood
March 20, 2016
|George Bell , former bishop of Chichester, in 1943. |
A group of academics, lawyers, politicians and church figures has challenged the Church of England over an apology it issued last year for sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by one of its most revered figures, George Bell.
Bell’s supporters say his “condemnation as a paedophile” by the church has irreparably damaged the reputation of the former bishop of Chichester and has resulted in the renaming of schools and institutions dedicated to his memory.
Members of the George Bell Group include Desmond Browne QC, historian and Bell’s biographer Andrew Chandler, Labour MP Frank Field, and Martyn Percy, dean of Christ Church Oxford.
They say the C of E failed to make adequate inquiries before apologising and paying compensation over Bell’s alleged abuse in the 1940s and 50s. The church’s statement, according to the group, “appears to accept the allegation as true”.
In a statement accompanying a report of its own investigations, the group said: “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.”
Bell, who died in 1958, was once tipped as a possible archbishop of Canterbury. His vocal opposition to the bombing of German civilians by the RAF in the second world war was thought to have scuppered his chances.
The bishop was “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,” the group said.
The C of E paid £15,000 in compensation to a woman, known only as Carol, last September along with an apology for a “devastating betrayal of trust” issued by the serving bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner.
Last month, Carol – now in her 70s – gave an account of her abuse, which she said started when she was five years old and lasted for four years. She spoke up, she said, after prominent media figures, including Charles Moore and Peter Hitchens, wrote strong defences of Bell.
She said: “Because he did good things, they automatically assume that he couldn’t do anything wrong, which was rather hurtful because a lot of men who have done good things have also done very evil things. He might be a man of peace but that doesn’t take away the fact of what he did to me.”
The group said in its statement it did “not challenge the survivor’s belief in her account; the question is whether others should believe it”.It challenged details in Carol’s account and suggested some of the information she gave was in the public domain.
It also said the C of E failed to interview a surviving member of Bell’s staff – who told the group he found Carol’s account “incredible” – and did not consult Bell’s papers and diaries.
A police statement that it would have arrested Bell had he still been alive, cited by the C of E, was “standard police practice”, the group said.