Church Launch Inquiry into Handling of Bishop George Bell Child Abuse Payout

By Joel Adams
The Argus
November 24, 2016

Bishop George Bell.

AN INQUIRY has been launched into the Church’s handling of a settlement paid to a woman who was abused as a child by the wartime Bishop of Chichester.

Liberal Democrat peer and QC Lord Carlile of Berriew has been named as the independent reviewer into the case, and his report is expected next summer.

However, there is no promise that the final review will be made available to the public.

The formal terms of reference insist: “ The Church of England 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.”

In February The Argus exclusively told the victim’s story. She was sat on the bishop’s knee at the age of five and molested while being told it was a secret because God loved her.

Some have accused the Church of a failure to presume the innocence of a once-towering figure. Others have insisted on being told what evidence was considered before the settlement and public announcement were made.

However, Lord Carlile told The Argus that he had “no idea” whether such information would be put into the public domain, adding only: “If there is material I believe should be put in the public domain, I will do it.”

The victim first contacted then-Bishop of Chichester Eric Kemp with her story in 1995, only to be told to speak to a parish priest. The police were not informed of her complaint.

She then contacted Lambeth Palace in 2012, but her email was not dealt with in a period when the Church was between Archbishops.

In 2013, when she contacted current Archbishop Justin Welby, the matter was taken up leading to the Church's statement and settlement of October 2015.

The review will investigate every stage of the process and “consider the adequacy of the responses to the complainant and the subsequent decision making processes and action taken, in the context of the safeguarding policies and procedures in place at the time.”

Lord Carlile has experience in similar roles, having been Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation between 2001 and 2011 and the Independent Reviewer of the Government’s Prevent Anti-radicalisation Policy.


What are your priorities for the review?

To ensure the Church of England is provided with a readable report which considers the lessons to be learned. That will include review of past practice in such matters and an investigation of how this case was dealt with.

Do you expect to issue specific criticisms of Church practices or individuals if those are deemed appropriate by your review, or will the process be more generic?

I’ve run reports of this general kind before, and where praise was due it was given and where criticism was deserved that was issued as well. I will follow the evidence and I will not give any opinion not justified by material I see, receive and hear.

When will the report be likely to be completed?

We aim to report by the end of next summer.

Have you read The Argus’s interview with the victim?

I have read some press material to date, and I have asked for a full digest of coverage of this matter, which I will be reading with care.

Will you be speaking to the victim?

That needs to be considered further. If she wishes to contribute she will be provided the opportunity.

What specific experience do you have which qualifies you for this role?

I have 45 years’ experience as a barrister and 20 years’ experience as a part time judge. I have led an inquiry into the behaviour of monks at Ealing Abbey.

Critics of the Church’s handling of the case asked the methods and evidence used prior to releasing their statement of October 2015 be put into the public domain. Will you be publishing that?

I’ve no idea. I have to read it first.

Shouldn’t there be a presumption that this material will be put into the public domain?

If there is material I believe should be put in the public domain, I will do it.








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