The statement to follow communicates news that has brought us a bewildering mix of deep and disturbing emotions. In touching the legacy and reputation of George Bell, it yields a bitter fruit of great sadness and a sense that we are all diminished by what we are being told.
Our starting point is response to the survivor. We remain committed to listening to all allegations of abuse with an open mind. In this case, the scrutiny of the allegation has been thorough, objective, and undertaken by people who command the respect of all parties. We face with shame a story of abuse of a child; we also know that the burden of not being heard has made the experience so much worse. We apologise for the failures of the past.
The revelation of abuse demands bravery on the part of a survivor, and we respect the courage needed to tell the truth. We also recognise that telling the truth provides a legitimate opportunity for others to come forward, sometimes to identify the same source of abuse.
We also believe that in the Church of England as a whole, and certainly in the diocese of Chichester, we have done all we can to ensure that our safeguarding policies reflect best practice, and are fully and evenly implemented. The statement below speaks of an earlier report of this case, in the 1990’s. There will no doubt be some who allege a cover-up by the Church. We acknowledge that the response then would not be adequate by today’s standards, although that falls far short of a cover-up. In the present context, the diocese of Chichester has worked with Police and other agencies to ensure that we have sought the fullest understanding possible of what happened.
Please hold in your prayers all victims of abuse, especially those who have never been able to seek or receive help and a proper response. Please pray for all who are affected by this news, especially those who are our ecumenical partners, those unable to comprehend its implications, and those whose faith is damaged by it. Please pray for the diocese of Chichester, for each other, lay and ordained, as we seek to remain faithful to our apostolic mission in spite of much that could discourage and deter us.
Statement on the Rt. Revd George Bell (1883 -1958)
The Bishop of Chichester has issued a formal apology following the settlement of a legal civil claim regarding sexual abuse against the Right Reverend George Bell, who was Bishop of Chichester from 1929 until his death on 3rd October 1958.
The allegations against Bell date from the late 1940s and early 1950s and concern allegations of sexual offences against an individual who was at the time a young child.
Following settlement of the claim the serving Bishop of Chichester, the Right Reverend Dr. Martin Warner, wrote to the survivor formally apologising and expressing his “deep sorrow” acknowledging that “the abuse of children is a criminal act and a devastating betrayal of trust that should never occur in any situation, particularly the church.”
Bishop Warner paid tribute to the survivor’s courage in coming forward to report the abuse and notes that “along with my colleagues throughout the church, I am committed to ensuring that the past is handled with honesty and transparency.”
Tracey Emmott, the solicitor for the survivor, today issued the following statement on behalf of her client:
“The new culture of openness in the Church of England is genuinely refreshing and seems to represent a proper recognition of the dark secrets of its past, many of which may still not have come to light. While my client is glad this case is over, they remain bitter that their 1995 complaint was not properly listened to or dealt with until my client made contact with Archbishop Justin Welby’s office in 2013. That failure to respond properly was very damaging, and combined with the abuse that was suffered has had a profound effect on my client’s life. For my client, the compensation finally received does not change anything. How could any amount of money possibly compensate for childhood abuse? However, my client recognises that it represents a token of apology. What mattered to my client most and has brought more closure than anything was the personal letter my client has recently received from the Bishop of Chichester.”
The survivor first reported the abuse to the then Bishop of Chichester, Eric Kemp, in August 1995. Bishop Kemp responded to the correspondence offering pastoral support but did not refer the matter to the police or, so far as is known, investigate the matter further. It was not until contact with Lambeth Palace in 2013 that the survivor was put in touch with the safeguarding team at the Diocese of Chichester who referred the matter to the police and offered personal support and counselling to the survivor.
In his letter to the survivor Bishop Warner acknowledges that the response from the Diocese of Chichester in 1995, when the survivor first came forward, “fell a long way short, not just of what is expected now, but of what we now appreciate you should have had a right to expect then.”
In accordance with the recommendations of the Church Commissaries’ report into the Diocese of Chichester in 2012 the settlement does not impose any form of “confidentiality agreement” restriction regarding public disclosure upon the individual. In this case the survivor has expressed the desire to remain anonymous.
Following a meeting between the survivor and Sussex police in 2013, it was confirmed by the police that the information obtained from their enquiries would have justified, had he still been alive, Bishop Bell's arrest and interview, on suspicion of serious sexual offences, followed by release on bail, further enquiries and the subsequent submission of a police report to the CPS.
A formal claim for compensation was submitted in April 2014 and was settled in late September of this year. The settlement followed a thorough pre-litigation process during which further investigations into the claim took place including the commissioning of expert independent reports. None of those reports found any reason to doubt the veracity of the claim.
The Church of England takes any allegations of abuse very seriously and is committed to being a safe place for all. Any survivors or those with information about church-related abuse must always feel free to come forward knowing that they will be listened to in confidence.
Should anyone have further information or need to discuss the personal impact of this news the Church has worked with the NSPCC to set up a confidential helpline no. 0800 389 5344.