Today, 24 January 2019, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the National Safeguarding Team issued statements following a ruling by Timothy Briden, a senior ecclesiastical lawyer, relating to fresh information received about the late Bishop George Bell. The core group took the view that there were no safeguarding issues arising out of the fresh information and Mr Briden concluded that the allegations presented to him were unfounded. The two statements and a link to the Briden decision are reproduced below. Also attached is a statement from the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner.
Statement from Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby
I apologise unreservedly for the mistakes made in the process surrounding the handling of the original allegation against Bishop George Bell. The reputation of Bishop Bell is significant, and I am clear that his memory and the work he did is of as much importance to the Church today as it was in the past. I recognise this has been an extremely difficult period for all concerned and I apologise equally to all those who have come forward and shared stories of abuse where we have not responded well.
An allegation against the late Bishop George Bell, originally brought in 1995, was made again in 2013 in the context of a growing awareness of how institutions respond to safeguarding cases. A review carried out by Lord Carlile into how the Church of England handled the case concerning Bishop Bell made a significant number of recommendations, and the Church of England accepted almost all of these.
At the end of 2017 several people came forward with further, fresh information following the Carlile review, and after a thorough, independent investigation, nothing of substance has been added to what has previously been alleged. A statement from the National Safeguarding Team explains the processes involved in reaching this latest decision more fully.
The Church’s dilemma has been to weigh up the reputation of a highly esteemed bishop who died over 60 years ago alongside a serious allegation. We did not manage our response to the original allegation with the consistency, clarity or accountability that meets the high standards rightly demanded of us. I recognise the hurt that has been done as a consequence. This was especially painful for Bishop Bell’s surviving relatives, colleagues and supporters, and to the vast number of people who looked up to him as a remarkable role model, not only in the Diocese of Chichester but across the United Kingdom and globally. I apologise profoundly and unconditionally for the hurt caused to these people by the failures in parts of the process and take responsibility for this failure.
However, it is still the case that there is a woman who came forward with a serious allegation relating to an historic case of abuse and this cannot be ignored or swept under the carpet. We need to care for her and listen to her voice.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has already questioned the Church of England over its response to the Bishop Bell case and the review by Lord Carlile. We expect that their report on our hearings will address further the complex issues that have been raised and will result in a more informed, confident, just and sensitive handling of allegations of abuse by the church in the future. We have apologised, and will continue to do so, for our poor response to those brave enough to come forward, while acknowledging that this will not take away the effects of the abuse.
This very difficult issue therefore leaves the church with an impossible dilemma which I hope people with different perspectives on it will try to understand.
Finally, I want to make it very clear that Bishop George Bell is one of the most important figures in the history of the Church of England in the 20th century and his legacy is undoubted and must be upheld. His prophetic work for peace and his relationship with Dietrich Bonhoeffer are only two of the many ways in which his legacy is of great significance to us in the Church and we must go on learning from what he has given to us. I hope that ways will be found to underline his legacy and share the learning from his life with future generations.
National Safeguarding Team statement on Bishop Bell
A ruling by Timothy Briden, a senior ecclesiastical lawyer, relating to fresh information received about the late Bishop George Bell, has been published today. Mr Briden was appointed by the Bishop of Chichester to make an independent assessment of the evidence that had been brought before the core group, the Church’s response to any safeguarding situation.
A range of people came forward with further information following the publication of a review by Lord Carlile, in December 2017, of the Church of England’s handling of an original allegation against the late bishop. The Church’s response has included an independent, thorough investigation by former Detective Superintendent Ray Galloway. This was submitted to Mr Briden. Bishop Bell’s living relatives were represented during this process.
To enable Ray Galloway to have an informed understanding of the case he also interviewed ‘Carol’, who brought the original allegation; neither he nor Mr Briden reinvestigated her claim in respect of which a civil settlement has already been made.
The core group took the view that there were no safeguarding issues arising out of the fresh information and Mr Briden concluded that the allegations presented to him were unfounded.
Lessons have already been learnt from this case and we have apologised for mistakes made in our processes. Both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Chichester have released their own statements.
22 October 2015: Church announces it has settled with ‘Carol’ following a legal, civil claim
28 June 2016: Independent review of the processes used in the Bishop Bell case is announced
22 November 2016: Lord Carlile appointed as the reviewer.
15 December 2017: Lord Carlile’s report published. The Church accepted all but one of his recommendations and apologised for mistakes in its processes.
January 2018: National Safeguarding Team announce a core group has been formed to look into the fresh information received post Carlile Review
January 2019: Decision on fresh information is published
The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, issued the following statement today:
“The judgement from Tim Briden on the new information about Bishop George Bell which came to light at the end of 2017 brings to an end a lengthy examination that has drawn on the recommendations by Lord Alex Carlile in his report on the Church of England’s handling of this matter from the outset.
The diocese of Chichester has rightly been called to account for its safeguarding failures of the past – shocking and shaming as they were. We hope that the culture of the diocese has changed. We believe that it has been essential to demonstrate a capacity to respond appropriately to any allegation of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy, no matter how senior, or by any person who holds office in the church. We remain committed to this. We would also want to stress the critical importance of responding with compassion and openness to people reporting abuse.
The Carlile report, and this subsequent investigation, have however shown how much we have had to learn about dealing with cases from the distant past. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has already questioned the Church over its response to the Bishop Bell case and the review by Lord Carlile. We expect that their report on our two hearings – to be published later this year – will address further the complex issues that have been raised and will result in a more informed, confident and sensitive handling of allegations of abuse in the future. We have learned much about what makes for better process and continue to do so.
In particular, we have learned that the boundaries of doubt and certainty have to be stated with great care, that the dead and those who are related to them have a right to be represented, and that there must be a balanced assessment of the extent to which it would be in the public interest to announce the details of any allegation.
It became obvious that a more thorough investigation must be made before any public announcement can be considered and that the level of investigation typically undertaken for settlement of a civil claim is not adequate to justify an announcement. It is now clear that if an announcement about any other person is to be made, it must not imply certainty when we cannot be certain. We have also now understood much more besides, in particular about the trust that people place in us and their legitimate expectations of us as guardians of the inheritance of faith.
We recognise the hurt that has been done to all who have been directly involved, including the family of George Bell and those who continue to respect his achievements, as a result of the areas where we have fallen short. We apologise profoundly and sincerely for our shortcomings in this regard. The responsibility for this is a shared one, as are the lessons learnt from it.
For the future, we recognise how damaging and painful this has been. We have all been diminished by this case. The legitimate quest for certainty has been defeated by the nature of the case and the passage of time. Bishop Bell cannot be proven guilty, nor can it be safely claimed that the original complainant has been discredited. There is an uncertainty which cannot be resolved. We ask those who hold opposing views on this matter to recognize the strength of each other’s commitment to justice and compassion. Moreover, we continue to believe that the good things that George Bell did in his life will stand the test of time. His prophetic work for peace and his relationship with Dietrich Bonhoeffer are only two of the many ways in which his legacy will go on being of great significance to us in the Church and we hope and pray we can go on learning from what he has given to us.
Statement issued by the National Safeguarding Team here
Statement issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury can be read here”
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