Ex-terror Reviewer Lord Carlile to Re-examine Bishop Bell Sex Abuse Decision

By John Bingham
November 23, 2016

Dr George Bell, the Bishop of Chichester CREDIT: GETTY

One of Britain's leading legal experts has been called in by the Church of England to assess whether it unfairly labelled a revered former bishop as a paedophile.

Lord Carlile of Berriew, the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, has been appointed to oversee a review of the case of Bishop George Bell the wartime Bishop of Chichester.

Bishop Bell, who served the diocese for 30 years until his death in 1958, is regarded by some as one of the great peacemakers of the 20th Century and had been granted the closest thing Anglicanism has to a saint’s day, an annual commemoration.

But last year the Church stunned Bishop Bell’s devotees by announcing that it had concluded on the “balance of probabilities” that he had sexually assaulted a child in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

The current Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, apologised to the woman - who has been referred to only by the name “Carol” - and the Church settled a legal claim for compensation.


It emerged at the time that the woman had first come forward in 1995 but that the complaint was effectively ignored by the then Bishop of Chichester, Eric Kemp, who died in 2009.

It was not until the victim contacted the office of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, two years ago that the allegations were finally investigated more fully.

But following the announcement, a group of senior Church leaders, academics and politicians accused the Church of a “grave miscarriage of justice” by failing to take account of evidence they believe could have cleared the bishop’s name.

Because the bishop died almost 60 years ago and therefore could not have answered the allegations, the decision to settle the case and apologise was taken after concluding on the balance of probabilities that the complainant was telling the truth, rather than the more stringent criminal standard of proof.

But members of the George Bell Group, set up in his defence, argue that lawyers could have interviewed people such as Bishop Bell’s personal chaplain, Canon Adrian Carey, a decorated war hero, or examined his diary and papers to check whether he was in the country at the time the abuse was alleged to have taken place.

The Church of England first announced in June of this year that it was to carry out a review of the processes used in the George Bell case - a standard procedure in all complex cases.

Lord Carlile’s appointment was announced on Tuesday alongside the terms of reference.

Asked if it would be open to him to conclude that the Church had unfairly accepted the allegations as true, Lord Carlile said nothing would be off limits.

“These are legitimate questions in any inquiry of this kind but I wouldn’t like anyone to start to guess at what my conclusions may be,” he said.

“I will look at all the evidence.”

The current Bishop of Chichester Dr Martin Warner CREDIT: JIM HOLDEN

Frank Field MP, the Labour MP and member of the George Bell Group, said: “I welcome unreservedly the Archbishop [of Canterbury]’s decision to establish an independent reviewer on the George Bell case.

“In Lord Carlile there could not be a better independent person to conduct this inquiry.

“It speaks volumes that the Archbishop has made this move, all of which is to his credit.’

The Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Rt Rev Peter Hancock, the Church of England's lead bishop on safeguarding, said: “I am grateful to Lord Carlile for agreeing to undertake the review, which will take a detailed look into how the Church handled the George Bell case; as with all serious cases there are always lessons to be learnt.

“The Church of England takes all safeguarding issues very seriously and we will continue to listen to everyone affected in this case while we await the findings of the review.

“The diocese of Chichester continues to be in touch and offer support to the survivor known as Carol, who brought the allegations.”








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