LORD CARLILE, who investigated the Church of England’s handling of the sex-abuse allegations against Bishop George Bell and found them wanting, has expressed his astonishment at the release of news about a new allegation.
On Wednesday, the Church of England’s national safeguarding team announced that it had received “fresh information concerning Bishop George Bell”. The statement gives no further details on the grounds of confidentiality, but goes on: “Sussex Police have been informed and we will work collaboratively with them.”
A key recommendation by Lord Carlile, who was commissioned to look into the way the Church had dealt with accusations that Bell had abused a woman, named as “Carol” when was a young girl, was that Bell’s name should not have been broadcast without a greater certainty of his guilt.
“For Bishop Bell’s reputation to be catastrophically affected in the way that occurred was just wrong,” Lord Carlile wrote in his report (News, 22 December 2017).
On Wednesday evening, 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 Church’s statement goes on: “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.”
In a covering note, the Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, the Church of England’s lead bishop on safeguarding, writes of “ongoing queries and comments around the Bishop Bell case”. And he puts the Church’s statement in the context of the IICSA investigation into safeguarding in the diocese of Chichester, and the impending debate in the General Synod next week.
He makes no mention of a debate in Church House, Westminster, today, organised by supporters of Bishop Bell, which is aimed at “restoring Bishop Bell’s place in history”, and which is expected to be critical of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has declined to clear Bell’s name.
The safeguarding team’s statement reads in full: “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.”