'˜Painful lesson' learned from Bishop Bell investigation, chief bishop says

A '˜painful lesson' was learnt from the investigation into allegations of sexual abuse against Bishop George Bell, Bishop of Chichester Martin Warner has said.

George Bell was Bishop of Chichester from 1929 until his death on October 3 1958
George Bell was Bishop of Chichester from 1929 until his death on October 3 1958

Bishop Warner was asked about Lord Carlile’s critical report into the investigation into Bishop Bell published in December when he gave evidence at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in London yesterday.

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Settlement paid to alleged victim

Current Bishop of Chichester Martin Warner giving evidence to the inquiry

Asked why a public statement was issued about the settlement paid to one alleged victim, Bishop Warner said the group felt under pressure in the light of other allegations of sexual abuse in the Church at the time.

He said: “It was very strongly felt that to settle and to write a letter of apology and to make no public statement with no indication as to whether or not those actions would become public would look very clearly like a cover-up and therefore we felt that there was an obligation on us to be open.”

‘Bishop Bell’s reputation catastrophically affected’

In Lord Carlile’s December report into the George Bell investigation, he said: “I regard this as a case, perhaps a relatively rare one, in which steps should and could have been taken to retain full confidentiality, with a clear underlying basis for explaining why it was done.

Inquiry chairman Professor Alexis Jay and other members of her panel

“For Bishop Bell’s reputation to be catastrophically affected in the way that occurred was just wrong.”

‘Painful lesson’

When Fiona Scolding QC asked Bishop Warner if he agreed with this, he admitted things could have been done better.

He said: “I think we have learnt a painful lesson about the difficulty of communicating through the media a very fine legal nuance, and it’s recognised by Lord Carlile that we never asserted the guilt of Bishop Bell, but to communicate that in terms that the general public are going to understand through the media is a very difficult thing to do.

“Therefore, I think he does raise an important question here about dealing with posthumous cases, but also about being fair, I think, and recognising the legitimacy and substance to an allegation which we certainly felt was necessary with Carol, the name that’s used for the person who brought the case.”

Miss Scolding QC also asked Bishop Warner if he agreed with Lord Carlile’s description of the investigation’s core group as ‘unmethodical and unplanned and as a confused process at which members had no corherent notion of their roles.’

Bishop Warner said: “These are stringent and harsh allegations which largely we accept.”

Neither of the two allegations of historic sexual abuse made against Bishop Bell following his death have been proven.

If you have been affected by what you have read about the inquiry, or are a survivor and wish to receive support, please contact the Truth Project which has been set up by the inquiry.

The project can provide confidential support and guidance. For details visit www.truthproject.org.uk or call 0800 917 1000.