Police close latest investigation into George Bell

23 April 2018

HOWARD COSTER

Bishop George Bell, portrayed in 1953

Bishop George Bell, portrayed in 1953

SUSSEX Police have closed their latest investigation into the late former Bishop of Chichester George Bell, after fresh information was passed on to them by the Church of England’s national safeguarding team.

The latest police investigation began after the Church of England’s national safeguarding team announced, in January, that they had been given new information about Bell after the publication of the Carlile review in December (News, 2 February).

The Carlile review, which looked into how the Church had handled the original allegation that Bell sexually abused a young girl in the 1950s, accused officials of “rushing to judgement” and of failing to follow a fair and equitable process (News, 22 December). Lord Carlile, who led the review, did not express a view on whether Bell was guilty or not, because this was not part of his remit.

On Monday, Sussex Police said in a statement that they were closing their inquiries. “The information was assessed and a proportionate investigation has been carried out to clarify the circumstances.

“This was done thoroughly and sensitively, although of course further police investigation or action is not possible as Bishop Bell died 60 years ago.”

The statement makes it clear that the police have no current safeguarding concerns, and that, therefore, no further investigation is necessary.

A spokeswoman for the Church of England’s national safeguarding team said that they had been conducting their own separate investigation since the new information was received in January. “We cannot make any further comment until the investigation is completed,” she said.

After the existence of the fresh allegation was made public, Lord Carlile criticised the decision. Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, he said that 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” (News, 2 February).

A key part of his criticism of the Church’s handling of the original allegation was that too much credence was placed on believing “Carol” — the pseudonym for Bell’s accuser — and not enough on considering the reputation of the long-dead bishop.

Alleged abusers, whether alive or dead, should not be named publicly unless an investigating core group found a “proper basis of evidence” for the claims, he recommended.

The lead bishop on safeguarding, the Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, rejected this suggestion, and insisted that the Church would always seek to put transparency before keeping alleged perpetrators anonymous (News, 22 December).

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