Abuse victim's lawyer hits back at Establishment critics of Church apology
By Joel Adams
March 22, 2016
|Bishop George Bell|
A SOLICITOR specialising in child sexual abuse cases has criticised a group of Establishment figures for not treating her client with the respect she deserves.
Tracey Emmott represents a woman who was abused by wartime Bishop of Chichester George Bell in the 1940s and 50s, and who received compensation and an apology from the Church of England last year.
This weekend the self-titled George Bell Group criticised the Church’s handling of the case, and called upon the Archbishop of Canterbury to apologise for blackening Bishop Bell’s name over the case.
Ms Emmott said: “It is disappointing that my client’s account continues to be so relentlessly challenged in what appears to be nothing short of a campaign to discredit and invalidate her evidence which has already been considered by independent experts as part of her legal claim.
“My client is not being afforded the dignity and respect she deserves and the closure she has been seeking.”
The George Bell Group includes the bishop's biographer, a London judge, the Dean of an Oxford college, Frank Field MP and several peers and churchmen.
Their review states that in the course of the church inquiry prompted by the allegation, Bell’s private papers and diaries were not examined, and neither his former chaplain nor his biographer was interviewed.
In a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the group said: “In view of the evidence that we have gathered and examined we have concluded that the allegation made against Bishop Bell cannot be upheld in terms of actual evidence or historical probability.”
They called on the Church to apologise to Bell's living relatives, and invited those institutions which have stripped references to Bell from their name, to reassert it.
The review provoked debate on social media, with some accusing the Church of a rush to judgement, but Dr Fiona Chandler, a co-founder of the University of Chichester’s George Bell Institute - a research body named after the cleric - tweeted: “As a co-founder of 'The George Bell Institute' & historian I support the survivor.”
In February The Argus carried an exclusive interview with the survivor of George Bell’s abuse in which she explained for the first time how the abuse started when she was five years old.
She described how he told her the abuse was their little secret "because God loved me".
She said she was moved to speak out in the light of media coverage defending Bell, telling The Argus: “Some of the remarks I’ve read made me very upset.
“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.”
A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Chichester said they had nothing new to add.