Bishop of Chichester speaks in debate on work of Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

On 20th December 2018 the House of Lords debated a motion tabled by Lord Campbell-Savours, “To move that this House takes note of the remit of, and arrangements for the handling of evidence by, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.” The Bishop of Chichester, Rt Revd Martin Warner, spoke in the debate. That speech and extracts from others is reproduced below. The full debate can be read here.

The inquiry has had from the start, and continues to have, the unequivocal support of the institutions of the Church of England.

The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury called for and has publicly welcomed the inquiry. The Archbishops’ Council continues to support it and has given a commitment to co-operate fully with its work.

The Church and we as a diocese are shamed and profoundly sorry for the abuse that has been perpetrated in our midst; for our grave failings in preventing and responding to incidents of abuse; and for our past shortcomings in providing care and support to survivors. My heartfelt apologies are already on record. But words of apology in this context can have substance and credibility only if we are seen to face up to our failures and deliver a real shift in safeguarding practice and culture.

It is right that the grave and costly failings of the Church and of other institutions should be investigated independently. It is right that survivors of abuse are listened to with respect and afforded dignity, which is happening not just through public hearings but through the important work of the Truth Project commissioned by IICSA. It is right also that institutions and their processes which have failed vulnerable people co-operate energetically and with humility in assisting the inquiry.

As someone who has appeared before a public hearing of the inquiry, in giving evidence I found its approach to be robust, challenging and extremely well informed. I was left with a strong impression that the inquiry’s staff, counsel and panel members were approaching their difficult task with considerable skill and care.

As a diocese and in the wider Church of England, we see our engagement with the inquiry as an expression of a more general willingness to be accountable to external bodies for how we keep children and vulnerable adults safe.

Lord Campbell-Savours: Was the evidence given in a public session?

The Lord Bishop of Chichester: It was given in a public session; it was streamed live, and a transcript was made. Both the transcript and the stream are available on the IICSA website.

The Lord Bishop of Chichester: It was an inquiry and not a judicial court. There was, as I have described, robust examination, but there was never what I would call cross-examination which led to intimidation. I was asked clearly and cogently about my knowledge and understanding of the safeguarding procedures. I would not say that I was cross-examined. They wanted the information and knowledge that I had; they did not want to cross-examine me.

Lord Campbell-Savours: The right reverend Prelate referred to survivors. Were they not cross-examined as well?

In Chichester, our safeguarding practice benefits significantly from the full engagement at a senior level by the police, the probation service and adult and children’s social services through our diocesan safe- guarding advisory panel. Similar involvement from the statutory agencies is ensured nationally by the work of the Church’s national safeguarding panel, with its newly appointed independent chair, Meg Munn. The inquiry itself must, of course, also be open and accountable—above all to survivors of child sexual abuse and those representing them. Everyone recognises the considerable challenges posed by the scale of the inquiry, which is surely a reflection of the pervasiveness of our failures, as a society and as institutions, to safeguard the most vulnerable. My own experience is that the inquiry is meeting those challenges through an approach that is thorough and well and clearly focused.

The inquiry’s case study into the diocese of Chichester is yet to report. We are ready to listen carefully to its recommendations, particularly to anything more that might be done better to protect children and vulnerable people from the risk of abuse. Whatever its recommendations, it is my hope that the inquiry will ensure that institutions are and continue to be held to account for their failings, and that it will do all this in a way that sustains the support and confidence of those survivors whose lives have been so gravely and shamefully affected by our failings to protect them in the past.


Lord Lexden (Con)…Where, above all in our land, should we expect to find unwavering support for natural justice? What are the last places where a rush to pass judgment on an alleged but unproven sex abuser might be anticipated? Surely the answer is the Christian churches and our established Church, represented here in this House, in particular. But a terrible wrong done to arguably the greatest of all Anglican bishops of the last century has damaged confidence in the Church’s rectitude.

In October three years ago, completely out of the blue, the Church of England’s national press office announced that compensation had been paid to a woman who said that she had been sexually abused as a child by George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, who died 60 years ago and was revered in this country and far beyond it for the depth of his learning, the strength of his support for both suffering Christians and Jews in Nazi Germany and for his remorseless opposition to the carpet-bombing of German cities during the war, a stand that is often said to have cost him the archbishopric of Canterbury. The Church’s judgment on Bishop Bell three years ago was a terrible wrong to this colossal figure in the history of Christianity, because the single, uncorroborated allegation against him had not been properly investigated by the secret group within the Church who passed judgment on him. Key living witnesses were neither sought, found nor interviewed. His extensive collection of private papers at Lambeth Palace was only cursorily examined.

These shortcomings, and more besides, emerged in the independent review of the case carried out by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, and published exactly one year ago. His report was scathing about the procedures that had been used. The noble Lord found that the Church had,

“failed to follow a process that was fair and equitable to both sides”.

He described the manner in which the Church had conducted its investigation as “inappropriate and impermissible”, and called the financial payment “indefensibly wrong”. No one in the course of the process spoke on behalf of this most distinguished and long-dead bishop, yet the Church saw no need to express penitence or regret for the great wrong that had been done to Bishop Bell, a wrong which the noble Lord’s report illustrated so fully.

The Church chose to regard it purely as a question of its own processes. Even when those processes had been shot to pieces, the Archbishop of Canterbury himself continued to maintain the conclusions which the processes had drawn, quite regardless, pronouncing that a “significant cloud” still hung over the reputation of George Bell. That cloud was entirely the work of the Church itself, and many critics were not slow to observe that its authorities had a vested interest in maintaining it in the air, regardless of the fact that there was no longer anything to support it. A little over a month after the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, published his report, the Church embarked on another secret inquiry after one further allegation appeared. Nearly a year on, that second inquiry has yet to be completed.

Bishop Bell has been much in my mind over the last few years and in the mind of many others, too: distinguished clergymen in this country and other European nations, historians and lawyers, powerful commentators in the press, along with so many other people up and down the land who have been grievously distressed by the conduct of their Church. I had hoped that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester might, in the course of his remarks, at least have made it clear that this second inquiry will be brought to a swift conclusion and that a report will be published as soon as possible. As it is, I urge all those who have not done so to look at the report of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. I hope that we will, sooner rather than later, have from the Church a proper, firm pronouncement removing the stain placed on Bishop Bell, whose reputation it should never have compromised in the first place.

I regret to say that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has not been a great help in securing justice for Bishop Bell. Having decided, quite rightly, that it would not conduct an investigation itself since the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, had already done so, it proceeded in March to give a platform to the Chichester diocesan safeguarding adviser, a member of the team that failed to investigate the first allegation properly, so that he could justify himself at length and snipe at a number of comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile.

Could there be a more flagrant denial of the presumption of innocence than in the case of Bishop Bell? The independent inquiry should take note. It is examining some truly shocking cases of child sex abuse, but it must take great care to respect the rights of those who are accused and avoid serious mistakes of the kind that have been made in both state and Church when justice and fairness were overridden because the complainants were assumed to be telling the truth.

Lord Winston…It is very easy to contaminate somebody’s memory, perhaps if it involves a topical issue or a famous person, or if they have a carer or well-wisher who feels that they have been badly treated and tries to reassure them that there will be justice for them and to encourage them.

That is one of the reasons why, with respect, I take slight issue with what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester said. He talked about the courage of these individuals in coming forward. Of course they have courage, but the very fact that they are told that they have courage could actually encourage them in a memory that is in fact not substantiated. I am not for a moment suggesting that people are lying; that is not my point. The point is that I know this from my own experience at school…

My involvement in the inquiry came about because, 20 years ago, I was counsel instructed by the insurance company in the north Wales abuse cases and, as such, was instructed to cross-examine a number of claimants who were giving accounts of allegations and seeking damages for something that had happened 20 years before that. I gave a statement about my involvement, in so far as I could remember it. I was then subjected to some hostile cross-examination by counsel for the inquiry on the basis that my cross-examination had been too hostile and might well have upset the claimants seeking damages. I was even asked by one of those sitting with the chair whether I was aware of vulnerable witness training. I am. First, it did not apply 20 years ago and, secondly, it has never applied to civil claims for damages. So I was a little concerned by the inquiry’s approach. I remain hopeful that the inquiry will achieve a potentially extremely important task and that something will emerge from it, but my experience causes me a little anxiety, and I felt that in those circumstances, I should bring that to the House’s attention.

Lord Paddick (LD)…The important lesson of Savile, however, is that an event should not necessarily be judged improbable because of the public reputation of the individual. I emphasise that I am not referring to anything that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said today about Greville Janner, the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Wirral and Lord Lexden, about Edward Heath, or the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt [sic], about Bishop George Bell…

Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)…It is especially difficult to discuss these matters in the context of people who we have known, loved and respected. I must, for the second time today, thank the right reverend Prelate for the way in which he has handled these difficult matters, not least—if I may say it—when two of my formidable noble friends almost began a cross-examination; he showed enormous talent and fortitude…

Baroness Barran (Con, Minister)…This inquiry and the progress made would not have been possible without the strength of those victims and survivors who have been affected by child sexual abuse, and have come forward to give evidence, as noted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. We offer our continued support and sympathies for them. We also recognise the role of Professor Alexis Jay in leading and making progress with the inquiry…

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