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Abuse allegation against Bishop George Bell

06 November 2015


From Mr C. D. C. Armstrong

Sir, — I suspect that I am not alone in being disturbed by reports concerning the diocese of Chichester’s actions in relation to an allegation of child abuse made against the late Bishop George Bell (News, 30 October). The Church House statement declares that information obtained by Sussex police would justify Bishop Bell’s arrest were he still alive.

But that is the point. Bishop Bell died 56 years ago; and, in any case, the evidential test for arrest is far lower than those for charging or conviction.

There can be few left who are not convinced that the late Jimmy Savile and the late Cyril Smith were guilty of molesting children. But in the cases of those individuals allegations were made (and, alas, ignored) at the time their offences were committed; furthermore, the number of victims who have come forward since they died must number dozens, if not hundreds.

In the case of Bishop Bell, the allegation was made by a single individual, and it relates to a period more than 60 years ago.

How sure can we be that in the case of Bishop Bell all efforts were made to ensure that the allegations made against him were tested to a standard comparable to that which would apply in court? Was his reputation defended by anyone in the course of the diocese’s investigations, or was his guilt assumed?

It is now a matter of notoriety that more recent genuine cases of abuse were handled badly by the diocese of Chichester: the recent conviction of Peter Ball testifies to that. But, until now, Bishop Bell has been universally regarded as a man of the greatest sanctity and courage. It would be a pity if his reputation has been tarnished in order to preserve that of the diocese over which he presided.

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