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The Bishop and the MP

08 January 2016

Accusations and defence: the Telegraph’s online article last Friday

Accusations and defence: the Telegraph’s online article last Friday

THIS week’s notable stories both came from the Telegraph. The first was a long defence of Bishop Bell by Charles Moore.

Now, I don’t know, and neither does Moore, whether George Bell was innocent of the accusations of sexual misconduct brought against him long after his death. I don’t even know what they were, and neither does Moore, though I have been told on good authority that the other party was female. But the whole point is that our ignorance is shared by absolutely everyone else except those who investigated the charges, and they know only what the charges were. No one knows whether Bell was, in fact, guilty.

“Bell was . . . noted for his controversial courage in condemning the Allied bombing of Dresden in the Second World War; for his earlier warnings against appeasement; and for helping Jews and others escape Nazi Germany.

“He also revived Christian arts: T. S. Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral, for example, resulted from Bell’s suggestion. He was universally regarded as a holy man. Five years ago, his special day was put into the Church calendar for veneration. There are buildings and institutions named after him.

“Now Bell is . . . being ruined by an anonymous, unpublished claim, upheld by a non-court which won’t explain its decision.”

Moore puts the blame squarely on the appalling record of the diocese of Chichester in dealing with other cases of proven sexual abuse. Like many other people, he supposes that the Church is more frightened of accusations of cover-up than of the effect that wrongly blackening the reputation of a largely forgotten saint might have.

He attacks with forensic ferocity the Church’s claim that the police would have been happy to arrest and interview Bell on the evidence presented: “Time and again, in recent child-abuse inquiries, the police have made grandiose, ill-based claims. They searched Lord Brittan’s house, five weeks after he was dead, on the basis of ‘evidence’ which has now collapsed.

“One officer, Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald, described the mad accusations about rape and murder in Dolphin Square as “credible and true”. . . Why should one be swayed by the police’s (improper) speculation that they would arrest Bishop Bell if they could? They’ll arrest anyone.”

This campaign may fizzle out. One never knows. But I think it will be taken up, and not just by contrarians. The nature of the evidence is so vague, and the temptation for the diocese to do almost anything rather than risk accusations of another cover-up so very obvious, that people disposed to believe the best of Bell will not be satisfied without better reason that justice has been done.

As a counterweight, consider the trials of poor Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP who did much to expose his predecessor Cyril Smith as a paedophile. Mr Danczuk’s second wife, Karen, left him last summer after she had become moderately famous for posting pictures of her chest on Twitter.

His first wife gave a shamingly bitter interview to the Mail on Sunday about his inadequacies, and the very next day was herself turned over by The Sun as having worked as a prostitute after their split. That story included a customer review from an orgy in which she was involved.

Mr Danczuk himself was suspended from the Labour Party after it turned out that he had been sending suggestive text messages to a 17-year-old girl who supported herself by selling used underwear and toenail clippings over the internet. His excuse was that he had drunk three bottles of wine before he sent them off.

Somewhere offstage, while the nation giggles, are four children, of whom the eldest is 18, watching their parents tear each other, and themselves, apart.

The part played by the press in this is what interests me. I don’t know who got paid how much for tipping off The Sun; nor do I know how much Jo Knowsley, who did the Mail on Sunday’s interview with the first Mrs Danczuk, is paid. She did a very professional job.

So far as we know, all of the parties involved were keen to put their side of the story, as the horrible wheedling phrase has it, and I don’t know what I would have done had I been offered the interview. But I like to think that I might at least have thought: “This is a horribly damaged woman, and what she wants me to do will damage her still further. I won’t do it,” even if I lacked the courage to act on that thought.

Mr Danczuk, it appears, will apologise for his drinking and let the rest run.


THE other Telegraph story was John Bingham’s interview with William Nye, from which it emerged that the incoming Secretary General of the Synod knew hardly any other Christians in Whitehall. He blamed this on the “secularising spirit” of central government, which made people unwilling to let their faith be known. The alternative explanation is too ghastly to contemplate.

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