Bishop George Bell statue to go ahead as latest abuse claims judged ‘unfounded’

The cleric was renowned for his opposition to the Nazis and his efforts to rescue Jewish children from Germany.

George Bell allegations
George Bell allegations

A statue commemorating Bishop George Bell will go ahead after an independent investigation ruled the latest abuse allegations against him were “unfounded”.

Canterbury Cathedral said a planned statue of the former bishop of Chichester, who died in 1958, will be completed and placed in one of the exterior niches in the west end of the building.

Its announcement comes the day after the Church’s national safeguarding team published findings of an inquiry which found the latest allegations against Bell were “unfounded”.

80th anniversary of first Kindertransport
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (Dominic Lipinski/PA Images)

Bell has been praised for helping to rescue Jewish children from Germany during the Second World War and was a supporter of the German resistance.

In a statement Canterbury Cathedral said: “A statue of George Bell, a former dean of Canterbury and later bishop of Chichester, is to be completed and installed at Canterbury Cathedral.

“Bishop Bell was dean between 1924 and 1929 and during that time founded The Friends Of Canterbury Cathedral who celebrated their 90th anniversary in 2017.

“To commemorate his work whilst in Canterbury, the statue will be placed in one of the exterior niches at the west end of the Cathedral joining those of other influential figures.”

Canterbury Cathedral Christmas Day Service
A statue of Bishop George Bell will be installed at Canterbury Cathedral (Chris Ison/PA Images).

Canterbury Cathedral said work started on the statue in 2015.

But that year the Church paid £15,000 in compensation to a women who claimed she was abused by Bell.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby welcomed the announcement on Friday.

He tweeted: “I warmly welcome the announcement today that the statue of Bishop George Bell will in due course be completed and installed at Canterbury Cathedral, as a permanent reminder of his unique contribution to international peace and to the Church of England.”

The latest inquiry was commissioned by the Church and carried out by senior ecclesiastical lawyer Timothy Briden, the vicar general of Canterbury.

It followed the Church of England handing “fresh information” to Sussex Police about Bell in January last year.

In the report, Mr Briden said his finding “excludes any reconsideration of the validity” of original allegations made against Bell and instead focuses only on the fresh information handed to police last year.

He concluded: “Concentrating exclusively upon the allegations remitted to me, I have decided that they are unfounded.”

Speaking after the report’s publication on Thursday, Mr Welby apologised “unreservedly” for “mistakes” in how the Church of England handled allegations against the former bishop.

Mr Welby said Bell was a “remarkable role model”, and added: “I apologise unreservedly for the mistakes made in the process surrounding the handling of the original allegation against Bishop George Bell.

“I recognise this has been an extremely difficult period for all concerned and I apologise equally to all those who have come forward and shared stories of abuse where we have not responded well.”

He said at the end of 2017 “several people” came forward with “further, fresh information” and after a “thorough, independent investigation, nothing of substance has been added to what has previously been alleged”.

The information was received after the conclusion of Lord Carlile of Berriew’s independent review last month into how it handled allegations made against the late bishop.

These related to a woman who claimed she was abused by Bell in the 1950s when she was aged between five and eight.

She was paid £15,000 in compensation in 2015 and received an apology from the church.

In Carlile’s report, published in December 2017, the Church was criticised for “rushing to judgment” of one of its most respected bishops some 60 years after his death.

The Church’s inquiry into the allegations was criticised for failing to adequately investigate the victim’s claims or seek witnesses who had known or worked for Bell during his tenure as bishop of Chichester between 1929 and 1958.

Lambeth Palace commissioned the review of the original investigation after Bell’s supporters said not enough was done to substantiate the complainant’s allegations.

In his latest statement, Mr Welby said: “The Church’s dilemma has been to weigh up the reputation of a highly esteemed bishop who died over 60 years ago alongside a serious allegation.

“We did not manage our response to the original allegation with the consistency, clarity or accountability that meets the high standards rightly demanded of us.”

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