A PETITION calling on the Church of England to re-examine the case against the late George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, who is accused of child sex abuse in the 1940s, has been delivered to the Bishop at Lambeth, the Rt Revd Nigel Stock, on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The diocese of Chichester settled a claim last October for its handling of a claim of sexual abuse, said by the victim, known as “Carol”, to have taken place over a four-year period, from the age of five (News, 22 October 2015).
But the petition suggests that Carol may have wrongly identified her abuser. It was created earlier this year by the Bell Society, a lobby group formed to save the reputation of Bishop Bell, and has reached more than 2000 signatures (News, 22 July).
The Archbishop’s office reportedly received the petition on Monday. It is to be officially delivered to the Archbishop on 19 October.
The Bell Society is informally connected to the George Bell Group, formed in March by clergy, lawyers, MPs, and historians (News, 24 March). The website of the George Bell Group 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.”
Among the groups members are the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Revd Martyn Percy; Frank Field MP; a former chairman of the Bar who was baptised by Bishop Bell, Desmond Browne QC; Bishop Bell’s biographer, Andrew Chandler; and, most recently, a former Detective Superintendent at Scotland Yard, Michael Hames.
In a research document, published on the group’s website in June, Dr Chandler says that Carol has publicly identified a location in the Bishop’s Palace — the Bishop’s Kitchen — that was unavailable to Bishop Bell at that time. A large portion of the palace (5300 square foot, including the Bishop’s Kitchen) was on a 14-year lease to the Theological College, he said.
“He had neither need nor reason to be there. The area held by the College was private and obscure from the rest of the Palace. Living and working at the far end of the Palace, Bishop Bell would not have known when Carol was in the Bishop’s Kitchen.”
But the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, has rejected the demands of the group for a re-examination of the evidence. He wrote in July: “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.”
Members of the George Bell Group met at St Michael’s, Cornhill, in London, for a service of evensong organised by Dr Chandler to mark George Bell Day, on Monday. It was led by the former Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, and the sermon, the same preached by Bishop Bell to the University of Oxford on 18 June 1939, was given by the Revd Dr Keith Clements.
The Bell Society encouraged supporters to mark the day by laying flowers at the Bell memorial in Chichester Cathedral.