Bishop George Bell (1883 – 1958) is famed for being one of the first to speak out against the dangers Hitler posed in the 1930s and for saving many lives during these years by guaranteeing refugees from Germany. He was one of the few to condemn our government’s obliteration bombing of German cities during the Second World War. He has been, and is, a revered and respected figure.
In 1995 (37 years after he had died) a complaint was made that Bell had abused a child in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The complaint was not passed to the police at the time but was passed to them when the complaint was repeated in 2013. The Church paid compensation to the complainant in 2015 and in 2016 the Church of England commissioned Lord Carlile to review their procedures concerning the investigation into the case. The resulting review was scathing in its criticism of the Church’s handling of the allegations against Bell. Lord Carlile concludes “The Core Group was set up in an unmethodical and unplanned way, with neither terms of reference nor any clear direction as to how it would operate. As a result, it became a confused and unstructured process, as several members confirmed” and “There was no organised or valuable inquiry or investigation into the merits of the allegations, and the standpoint of Bishop Bell was never given parity or proportionality.”
In spite of Carlile’s criticisms the Church remains undeterred in holding Bell responsible. Bell’s name stays removed from buildings, colleges and institutions and his reputation traduced. The problems inherent in a system, like the Church, concerning safeguarding and issues of justice affect all who work or are involved in a church. The case concerning Bishop George Bell has highlighted the flaws and gives no assurance that justice will be done for the accused as well as for the complainant.
As the George Bell Group writes, “Lord Carlile’s report has now left the Church with many searching questions, including how best to remedy the many defects in the current Practice Guidance so as to ensure that such an injustice can never recur.” Unfortunately this injustice is already happening to innocent people in the Church.