Church announces review of how George Bell sex abuse case was handled

Lambeth Palace Libray

An independent review of the processes used in the case of Bishop George Bell, accused after his death of abusing a child, was today announced by his former diocese.

The Diocese of Chichester, where Bell served as bishop from 1929 until his death in 1958, said in a statement:"The House of Bishops practice guidance states that once all matters relating to any serious safeguarding situation have been completed, the Core Group should meet again to review the process and to consider what lessons can be learned for the handling of future serious safeguarding situations. A review has always been carried out in any case involving allegations against a bishop.

"The review will be commissioned by the Church of England's National Safeguarding Team, on the recommendation of the Bishop of Chichester, to see what lessons can be learnt from how the case was handled. The case involves the settlement in 2015 of a legal civil claim regarding sexual abuse against George Bell".

In October 2015, the Church of England announced that the current Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, had issued a formal apology following the settlement of a civil claim regarding sexual abuse against Bishop Bell.

The allegations against Bell concerned sexual offences against an individual who was at the time a young child.

Warner wrote to the survivor formally apologising and expressing his "deep sorrow". He acknowledged that "the abuse of children is a criminal act and a devastating betrayal of trust that should never occur in any situation, particularly the church."

Warner also paid tribute to the survivor's courage in coming forward to report the abuse and said: "along with my colleagues throughout the church, I am committed to ensuring that the past is handled with honesty and transparency."

The diocese was at the time publicly criticised for its revelations about Bell, who was widely revered during his lifetime, without revealing the evidence of the crimes he was alleged to have committed or allowing a defence to be mounted.

However, the diocese defended its actions. A document on its website said: "Any suggestion that those who have done good deeds should be afforded an extra degree of protection from serious allegations cannot be upheld. This is fundamentally wrong."

The statement today added: "The Church has always recognised Bishop Bell's principled stand in the Second World War and his contribution to peace but it also has a duty to listen to survivors. The diocese of Chichester continues to be in touch and offer support to the survivor known as Carol, who brought the allegations in this case.

"The review will look at the processes surrounding the allegations which were first brought in 1995 to the diocese of Chichester with the same allegations brought again, this time to Lambeth Palace, in 2013. It will also consider the processes, including the commissioning of expert independent reports and archival and other investigations, which were used to inform the decision to settle the case. The settlement was based on the balance of probabilities as criminal proceedings cannot be brought in a case where the alleged perpetrator is dead."

Bishop Warner said: "As in any serious safeguarding situation it is always important to learn lessons from the process and this review will ensure this is done.

"I have, however, made it absolutely clear that the survivor in the case be reassured that we will do everything we can to continue to support her as we have done throughout this process.

"Like her, we recognise the gravity of this matter, given its impact on the national and international reputation of Bishop George Bell.

"I hope that the review will provide a constructive way forward for all concerned." 

Details of the review including Terms of Reference and name of the independent reviewer will be announced at a later date.