THE head of the Church of England in Sussex has responded to The Argus’s exclusive interview with the victim of George Bell with a forthright statement of support for the survivor.

Yesterday the woman, who was abused by Bell for four years in the 1940s starting from when she was just five years old, broke her silence for the first time.

She detailed how the former Bishop of Chichester would sit her on his lap and touch her, moving her underwear aside to molest her sexually.

In a statement yesterday Martin Warner, head bishop of the Diocese of Chichester, praised her “courage and integrity,” and chastised those whose comments on the story have failed to show compassion or understanding of her suffering.

The victim replied by saying the statement was “heartening” and praised the Bishop and the Diocese for their support in recent years.

In his most strongly-worded and unequivocal statement yet released on the matter, Bishop Warner said:“It is testimony to her courage and integrity that the survivor who brought the allegations against George Bell has been prompted to speak out.

“My hope is that the telling of her story will contribute to her sense of being heard by those within and beyond the Church who are willing to listen with an open mind and respond with compassion and clarity.”

He added:“Words of apology written in a letter can never be enough to express the Church’s shame or our recognition of damage done.”

In reply, the victim told The Argus: “I’m very pleased with that. It’s very heartening that they feel like that, and they’re willing to express it “The Diocese has been very good to me since I wrote again in 2013, and getting this response, it shows they care about making sure I feel taken seriously.”

She went on: “I hope that now people know what happened, that people in the press will treat what happened to me with more respect.”

The woman, who has chosen not to waive her anonymity, asked to pass on a personal message of thanks to Bishop Warner.

She said: “I’d like to thank him for everything. For his understanding, and for taking me seriously.”

Bishop Warner’s statement condemned the “shocking ignorance” he said had been voiced in some quarters, of the suffering of victims of abuse.

He added:”The presence of strident voices in the public arena which have sought to undermine the survivor’s claims has added in this case to the suffering of the survivor and her family.

“To that extent it is not surprising that she felt it necessary to take the courageous decision to speak out in public and reveal the personal details which the Church could not.”

LESSONS ARE BEING LEARNT, SAYS CLERIC

The Argus: The Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner

THE Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, has issued the following statement following an article published in The Argus.

The article contained an interview with the survivor of abuse at the centre of the story about a former Bishop of Chichester, George Bell.

Dr Warner said: “It is testimony to her courage and integrity that the survivor who brought the allegations against George Bell has been prompted to speak out.

“My hope is that the telling of her story will contribute to her sense of being heard by those within and beyond the Church who are willing to listen with an open mind and respond with compassion and clarity.

“The presence of strident voices in the public arena which have sought to undermine the survivor’s claims has added in this case to the suffering of the survivor and her family. To that extent it is not surprising that she felt it necessary to take the courageous decision to speak out in public and reveal the personal details which the Church could not.

“Words of apology written in a letter can never be enough to express the Church’s shame or our recognition of damage done. However, the apology that I made on behalf of the Diocese of Chichester is genuine and a sincere expression that lessons are being learnt about how we respond to accusations of abuse.

“In some responses to the George Bell case, and to the original statements from the Church nationally and locally in the diocese of Chichester, we have witnessed shocking ignorance of the suffering felt at many different levels by victims of abuse.”