Identity of abuser in Bishop Bell case questioned

22 July 2016

JOHN SALMON/COMMONS

Gathering: The Bell Society met in St Margaret's Parish Rooms, Ifield

Gathering: The Bell Society met in St Margaret's Parish Rooms, Ifield

A LOBBY group formed to save the reputation of the late George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, from the accusation of child sex abuse in the 1940s has suggested that the victim, “Carol”, may have wrongly identified her abuser.

The Bell Society met on Monday in St Margaret’s Parish Rooms, Crawley, to “celebrate” the more than 2000 supporters to have signed its petition to investigate claims against the late Bishop Bell further.

Richard Symonds, who created the petition, told a small gathering: “There is little doubt Carol was sexually abused by a man of the cloth in Chichester, but was it Bishop Bell?” His presentation also considered whether the Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, newly appointed to safeguarding, “can ensure justice is done”.

The Bell Society is informally connected to the George Bell Group, formed in March by clergy, lawyers, MPs, and historians (News, 24 March 2016). The George Bell Group website openly questions the consistency and validity of Carol’s account of her ordeal (News, 5 February), and states: “It confirmed nothing, neither provided any proof of the allegations.”

But the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, has rebuffed the demands of the group for a re-examination of the evidence. He wrote last week: “It is singularly unattractive to suggest that, because there might be no legal consequences to breaching Carol’s confidence, the Church should simply provide sensitive material to a group of individuals with a keen interest in, but no connection with, the case. The Church has a wider duty to Carol than that.”

The diocese of Chichester settled a claim for sexual abuse, said by Carol to have taken place when she was a young child in the late 1940s and early ’50s (News, 22 October 2015).

Meanwhile, lawyers representing the victims of Peter Ball, who was imprisoned last year for sex offences in the 1980s and ’90s, have called for the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey to be investigated over a possible perversion of the course of justice, The Times reported.

Ball resigned as Bishop of Gloucester in 1993, after being cautioned for gross indecency with a teenage boy, but was later given permission to continue some ministerial duties. Senior church leaders, including Lord Carey, then Archbishop, are accused of failing to pass on to the police six letters from victims, and verbal correspondence, which could have been used as evidence.

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