Warner out as head of George Bell inquiry

Canterbury vicar-general Timothy Briden to take over the reins

The Bishop of Chichester, the Rt. Rev. Martin Warner, has relinquished his role in the second George Bell investigation, passing responsibility on to Timothy Briden, the vicar-general of the Province of Canterbury. A Barrister-at-Law of the Inner Temple, Mr. Briden is Chancellor of the Diocese of Bath and Wells and Chancellor of the Diocese of Truro, a member of the Legal Advisory Commission of the General Synod and Chairman of the Ecclesiastical Judges Association. A retired North Yorkshire detective superintendent, Ray Galloway, last week initiated investigations into new allegations made in January against Bishop Bell on behalf of the panel

Last December the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team (NST) published a report laying out the the key findings and recommendations from the independent review into the processes used in the Bishop George Bell case. One of the towering figures of the Church of England in the Twentieth century, Bishop Bell, who died in 1958, was posthumously accused of child abuse. The Church of England accepted the victims accusations of abuse and paid her compensation, however, criticisms were raised that the church did not properly assess the charges and had besmirched Bishop Bell’s reputation in order to achieve a public relations win in its fight against charges that it had been lax in safeguarding victims of abuse.

The review carried out by Lord Carlile of Berriew, which did not seek to assess the truthfulness of the alleged victim, named “Carol” in the proceedings, nor the guilt or innocence of Bishop Bell, found the procedures followed by the Church of England were inadequate.

While Lord Carlile found the church had sought to act in good faith, it had mismanaged the process.  Bishop Peter Hancock, the Church of England’s lead safeguarding bishop, responded to Lord Carlile’s fifteen recommendations by noting “ we first want to acknowledge and publicly apologise again for the Church’s lamentable failure, as noted by Lord Carlile, to handle the case properly in 1995.”

“At the heart of this case was a judgement, on the balance of probabilities, as to whether, in the event that her claim for compensation reached trial, a court would have concluded that Carol was abused by Bishop Bell. The Church decided to compensate Carol, to apologise and to be open about the case.”

Bishop Hancock said: “It is clear from the report, however, that our processes were deficient in a number of respects, in particular the process for seeking to establish what may have happened. For that we apologise. Lessons can and have been learnt about how we could have managed the process better.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, responded to the Carlile report by saying a cloud remained over the reputation of Bishop Bell.

He said:

“The complaint about Bishop Bell does not diminish the importance of his great achievement. We realise that a significant cloud is left over his name. Let us therefore remember his defence of Jewish victims of persecution, his moral stand against indiscriminate bombing, his personal risks in the cause of supporting the anti Hitler resistance, and his long service in the Diocese of Chichester. No human being is entirely good or bad. Bishop Bell was in many ways a hero. He is also accused of great wickedness. Good acts do not diminish evil ones, nor do evil ones make it right to forget the good. Whatever is thought about the accusations, the whole person and whole life should be kept in mind.”

The archbishop’s statement prompted protests from Bishop Bell’s supporters, who sought to raise the matter before General Synod. However, before the matter could be heard, the Church of England reported a second complaint had been received about Bishop Bell, forestalling further discussion.

Yet in April 2018 Sussex police released a statement saying the matter was closed, as there was nothing of significance to investigate. The second round of allegations, and the church’s refusal to speak on Bishop Bell, prompted outrage from his supporters, and harsh criticisms from Lord Carlile, who asserted the church was repeating the mistakes it had made in the first investigation. Writing in the Spectator, Charles Moore observed the church’s inquiry in the new claims “would follow Carlile-compliant methods. It tried to insist, however, that the ‘decision-maker’ in the inquiry would be the present Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner. Since Dr Warner had effectively staked his reputation on the proposition that the first accusation against Bell was true, and was himself part of the unjust investigation, there could scarcely be anyone less impartial to preside over round two.”

Last week it was reported that Dr. Warner was no longer heading up the inquiry, but had been superseded by Mr. Briden.

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