Former bishop responds to claims he did not report paedophile priests

A former bishop who faces heavy criticism for not telling police about paedophile priests has claimed it was not his job to do so.

Bishop Wallace Benn giving evidence to the inquiry
Bishop Wallace Benn giving evidence to the inquiry

Speaking at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, retired Bishop of Lewes Wallace Benn said: “I didn’t think I had a responsibility to talk to the police.”

The inquiry had heard from several witness who said Bishop Benn, now 70, failed to pass on allegations of sexual abuse of children to the relevant authorities.

The panel also heard from former Bishop of Chichester John Hind, who said he was ‘shocked beyond measure’ when in 2010 Bishop Benn asked him not to pass on a ‘blemished’ CRB check to the Church’s head of child protection.

Bishop John Hind has already spoken at the inquiry

Click here to read the full story in which we set out the evidence.

Speaking at the inquiry yesterday, Bishop Benn said: “It was clearly the responsibility of the diocesan safeguarding advisor to liaise with the police or with the social services about any issue.”

He added: “I care little for my own personal reputation.

“I care a lot about the wellbeing of victims and I care a lot that the church of Jesus Christ behaves the way he wants it to.”

How much did Bishop Wallace Benn know and when?

Asked about Reverend Gordon Rideout, Bishop Benn said he ‘really regrets’ asking Bishop John not to pass on a blemished CRB check.

However, he argued the document contained no information that had not already been investigated, and when a second part was received he passed that on immediately.

Bishop Benn aruged that while he did take Rideout to a police station for interview in 2002, it was merely as a ‘taxi’ service and he did not go in.

From May 2013 Rideout was convicted of 34 counts of indecent assault and two charges of attempted rape against 16 victims and jailed for ten years. In December 2016, he admitted another count of indecent assault and was jailed for nine months.

Lead counsel for the inquiry Fiona Scolding QC

Lead counsel Fiona Scolding QC told the inquiry that a Reverend Robert Coles admitted to Bishop Benn, then Archdeacon Nicholas Reade and Janet Hind that he had had sexual activity with a child.

She said there is some disagreement between witnesses as to when this took place but all agreed that none of them told the police about it.

Asked about this revelation from Reverend Coles, Bishop Benn again said the responsibilty to inform police lay with the then head of child protection, Janet Hind.

He said he was ‘astonished’ that she did not in fact tell police, but again reiterated it was not his responsibility.

When Miss Scolding asked him about a letter he received alleging that Reverend Coles has assaulted two boys, he said he had passed it on to the head of child protection immediately.

In her opening statement Miss Scolding told the inquiry this information was not passed to the police.

Bishop Benn said he did not know Robert Coles had gone on a school trip.

Reverend Robert Coles pleaded guilty to 11 counts of indecent assault and two of attempted serious sexual assault and was sentenced in February 2013 to eight years’ imprisonment. He pleaded guilty to two further counts of indecent assault and was sentenced to a further 16 months’ imprisonment.

Asked why he did not pass on a blog containing allegations that a Reverend Roy Cotton had carried out sex offences, Bishop Benn said he thought police were already aware.

He told the inquiry: “When the police got it, they said it didn’t help.

“But much more importantly it was passed to me by Phil Johnson saying that he’d been in contact with the police.

“So I assumed that the police knew about it. I assumed that he sent it to me just for information and not for action.”

The then head of child protection Shirley Hosgood told the inquiry the information was not recorded on any files she had access to.

She said: “I was concerned that this was relevant safeguarding information that should have been passed on to me and the police.”

Other than a 1954 conviction, Cotton was never found guilty of sex offences before he died in 2006.

However Baroness Butler-Sloss, who conducted a wide-ranging investigation into abuse in Chichester diocese, said she believed he had at least ten victims. Her report was referenced in the inquiry proceedings and is available on the Church of England website.

Other witnesses have accused Bishop Benn of not telling another diocese that a moving priest was subject to safeguarding measures.

Bishop Benn said he did takes steps to do this.

“To my utter astonishment and horror, I discovered the blue file hadn’t been passed on, and Shirley [Hosgood] hadn’t been told. But I passed it to Ian [Gibson], whose job it was to pass the blue file on.

“So, as far as I was concerned, all the boxes had been ticked.”

In his submitted evidence, Bishop Hind said the Bishops’ Palace may have sent the file to the wrong destination.

Finally, asked about the ‘paralysis’ caused by his strong reaction to a report into failings in the Church, Bishop Benn said he never actually intended to sue.

He said: “I was never, ever against the publication of the recommendations.

“I was against the publication of the report from him because Archdeacon Philip Jones had said to me it was potentially libellous.

“The fear that paralysed the diocese was self-induced. Nobody ever said to me, “Are you going to take legal action?”, because I wasn’t.”

The inquiry continues.