EVEN the Evil Empire of the Soviet Union eventually admitted that it had wrongly smeared and ruined those it had once accused of terrible crimes.
The victims of screaming one-sided show trials, later murdered or starved to death, and in one terrible case, hanged, cremated and their ashes used to grit the freezing roads, all of them were in the end exonerated.
So why does Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, struggle so to admit he made a terrible mistake about the late Bishop George Bell of Chichester, one of the greatest Englishmen of the 20th Century? He did not, as many do, mix him up with his near-namesake, the revolting molester Peter Ball. Nor should you (I have had some very rude letters accusing me of defending Ball. I would not dream of doing any such thing).
But, to put it at its mildest, Mr Welby was involved in what has since been shown to be a shocking kangaroo trial, in which the long-dead Bell, a courageous opponent of the Nazis and ally of the German resistance to Hitler, was presumed guilty of a terrible charge of child abuse. My own view has long been that the complainant was abused, but by somebody else. Her evidence against Bell, when it was finally made public, did not stand up to serious examination by a leading QC, Lord Carlile.
But would Mr Welby back down? Not a bit of it. First he took seriously a collection of new allegations against George Bell, so ludicrous and feeble that even Dame Cressida Dick and her Olympically gullible Met Police Celebrity Squad would not have believed them. And when these duly collapsed, he continued to insist that a ‘significant cloud’ hung over the reputation of George Bell. Apparently, in his world, if you are accused of a crime you will always remain suspect.
But Mr Welby, so censorious about others, now has troubles of his own. When he was a senior church official in Liverpool, he banned a worshipper from the Cathedral there, for being ‘abusive and threatening’. But the worshipper had his reasons. He was rightly trying to get Mr Welby to act against a priest who, he said, had abused him. In this case (unlike George Bell’s) there was good reason to take the claim seriously. The priest involved, John Roberts, already had a criminal conviction for indecent assault. Later Roberts was jailed for offences against three people – one of them the man Mr Welby had sternly banned from the Cathedral. This fascinating story about England’s premier clergyman has received amazingly little media coverage outside our sister paper, the Daily Mail.
Read it all in the Mail on Sunday