Lord Carlile slams 'unwise and foolish' Church of England statement on Bishop George Bell

Lord Carlile, who published an independent report into the Church of England's handling of an allegation of sexual abuse against Bishop George Bell, has attacked the Church for issuing a statement yesterday saying that it had received 'fresh information' concerning the late bishop.

Lord Carlile of BerriewReuters

Christian Today understands that a new complainant has emerged, but among Lord Carlile's recommendations was that people accused of abuse should remain anonymous until the allegations are proven. The Church disagrees with this along with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who has come under fire for insisting that a 'significant cloud' remains over Bishop Bell's name.

Lord Carlile told the Daily Telegraph: 'I am not privy to the information that is referred to in the Church's press release. But I think it was unwise, unnecessary and foolish to issue a press release in relation to something that remains to be investigated and which was not part of the material placed before me over the period of more than a year in which I carried out my review.

'During that period the review was well known and it was open to anybody to place information before me.'

The Carlile report published in December criticised the Church for a 'rush to judgment' in its handling of separate allegations against Bishop Bell, the former Bishop of Chichester who died in 1958, made by a woman known as 'Carol'. The report said that although the Church acted in good faith, its processes were deficient and it failed to give proper consideration to the rights of the accused.

In 2015, the Church of England issued a formal public apology and paid damages of £16,800 to 'Carol', plus legal costs.

Prof Andrew Chandler, Bishop Bell's biographer and a spokesman for the George Bell Group, told the Telegraph: 'This is shameful. The issuing of this press release shows the only way the Church can justify itself is at George Bell's expense.'

But Peter Hitchens, the Mail on Sunday columnist and author who has also been leading the defence of Bishop Bell, told Christian Today: 'The Church should be extremely worried that Lord Carlile has seen fit to comment quite adversely on what they have done.'

The row comes ahead of a debate held at Church House today organised by what one source called 'the provisional wing' of Bishop Bell's supporters at which there are expected to be calls for Welby to resign. The matter will almost certainly be raised at General Synod, the Church's parliament, which begins next week.

According to the Telegraph, the new complaint is understood to relate to events alleged to have occurred at least 70 years ago and is uncorroborated. The newspaper said it understood that the Church has known about the case for at least a fortnight before making it public.

Bishop Bell was one of the Church's most revered figures of the 20th century, recognised as having helped save the lives of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.

Hitchens said: 'A coincidence theorist would be impressed by the fact that he information was issued just before a meeting of General Synod at which Archbishop Welby faces awkward questioning about the Bell case. I am a great believer in coincidences. But what's also striking is the mixture of publicity and secrecy. We are told that an allegation has been made, for reasons we cannot know there is absolutely no information about it.

'If it is all so secret then why was it released at all, and between Justin Welby's taking up the case in April 2013 and the announcement that a settlement had been made in October 2015, more than two years passed. Yet this allegation appears to be no more than two weeks old, and has been freely publicised. This is not just a break with the Church's previous procedure. It is also a direct snub to Lord Carlile who urged that such charges were not publicised until the case had been proved.'

Bishop George BellCourtesy of Jimmy James

The Church of England referred back to its statement yesterday, which said: 'The Church of England's National Safeguarding Team has received fresh information concerning Bishop George Bell. Sussex Police have been informed and we will work collaboratively with them. This new information was received following the publication of the Carlile Review, and is now being considered through the Core Group and in accordance with Lord Carlile's recommendations.

'The Core Group is now in the process of commissioning an independent investigation in respect of these latest developments. As this is a confidential matter we will not be able to say any more about this until inquiries have concluded.'