A MONUMENT to a disgraced bishop has regained pride of place in Chichester Cathedral after a notice about his involvement in a sexual abuse case was removed this week.

Meanwhile an Eastbourne school named after the churchman has notified parents that it will rebrand, and sever any association with George Bell, who served as Bishop of Chichester from 1929 until just before his death in 1958.

The Bishop Bell Church of England School in Eastbourne joins a growing list of Sussex institutions which have moved towards breaking ties with the twentieth century prelate.

They include a lodging house, a Chichester school and a university institute.

The bishop’s formerly unimpeachable reputation as a man of peace and patron of the arts was shattered last October when the Church disclosed it had apologised and paid a settlement in a child abuse case concerning Bell.

The Church failed to act on the allegations when they were made to then-bishop Eric Kemp in 1995.

Current Bishop of Chichester Martin Warner issued an apology to the victim, saying: "The abuse of children is a criminal act and a devastating betrayal of trust that should never occur in any situation, particularly the church."

The Diocese of Chichester - which covers most of Sussex - has so far failed to deliver on promises to rename George Bell House, a property it owns adjacent to the cathedral.

The building is now referred to as 4 Canon Lane online, but retains a prominent plaque bearing George Bell’s name next to its front door.

And information signs around the cathedral still direct tourists to George Bell House.

Yesterday a spokeswoman for the diocese said it could not currently answer The Argus’ questions of when - or if - the house and signage would be changed.

The Bell-Arundel Screen, a stone-and-brass monument to Bell in the centre of the cathedral, had a laminated safeguarding notice displayed in front of it following the announcement.

The notice repeated Bishop Warner's apology and gave details on how to contact an NSPCC helpline.

But Chichester churchgoer Peter Billingham told the Argus that it was removed on Wednesday of this week, adding: “My wife and I are very pleased that it has gone, and a large number of the congregation share our feelings.”

A letter distributed to Cathedral volunteers on Thursday gave a page of guidance on the “tone and content” of how they should answer questions about George Bell.

It advised tour guides: “If you prefer to leave Bishop Bell out of your conversation or guided tour, this is perfectly acceptable.

“The Bell memorial will remain in the Cathedral, with its eloquent summary of his wide-ranging ministry.”

In a letter sent home on Thursday, Bishop Bell school in Eastbourne offered parents two options for a new name for the institution.

Headmaster Mark Talbot said: “When choosing to become an academy schools have the opportunity to review their name.

“This was our intention and, with the news relating to Bishop George Bell, this was accelerated.”

A spokesman for the University of Chichester could not confirm the fate of the scholarly George Bell Institute.



THE contrasting responses of Chichester Cathedral and Bishop Bell School encapsulate the growing controversy over the legacy of George Bell.

In the aftermath of a church payout over allegations of historic child abuse, some institutions have rushed to distance themselves from any association with the former Bishop of Chichester, while powerful voices have defended his name.

And the Church, with a foot in each camp, is facing growing criticism from both sides.

Until last October, the former Bishop of Chichester had been revered worldwide in the 57 years since his death.

His name was synonymous with peace, principle and patronage of the arts.

He befriended Hitler’s would-be assassin Dietrich Bonhoeffer, played host to Mahatma Gandhi in the teeth of fierce opposition to Indian independence and helped commission plays by T S Eliot.

It is said that his principled and unpopular stand against the area bombing of Dresden cost him elevation to the Archbishopric of Canterbury.

But last October, the current head of the Diocese of Chichester – the Anglican subdivision which covers Sussex – made a shocking announcement.

On October 22, Bishop Martin Warner issued a lengthy statement which began: “The Bishop of Chichester has issued a formal apology following the settlement of a legal civil claim regarding sexual abuse against the Right Reverend George Bell, who was Bishop of Chichester from 1929 until his death on 3rd October 1958.”

The statement explained that an accusation of child abuse committed by Bell in the 1940s was made to then bishop Eric Kemp in 1995 but nothing was done besides an offer of “pastoral care”.

The case was followed up when the survivor contacted Archbishop Justin Welby in 2013.

The statement quoted police as saying that the accusations were substantial enough to have warranted the arrest and interview of Bell, had he been alive, and explained an undisclosed sum has been paid to the anonymous victim.

It stated that none of the independent reports commissioned to examine the claim found any reason to doubt the veracity of the claim but did not publish any of the evidence.

That statement, about such a highly regarded Church figure, has caused tidal waves within and outside the Church over the last three months.

Establishment figures have condemned the Church’s handling of the controversy and rallied to the defence of Bell’s reputation.

The Church Times printed letters from a senior judge and the master of a Cambridge college which criticised the ambiguous wording of Bishop Warner’s statement, pointing out it is not clear whether the admission of wrongdoing relates to the mishandling of the 1995 complaint or the original accusation.

The Church of England Newspaper, which is not affiliated to the Church of England, ran an editorial piece defending Bell entitled The rule of the lynch mob.

It argued “The starting point must be justice, not just a concern for the ‘survivor’, because that is to jump to conclusions” and went on to invite comparisons with 1980s hysteria over false allegations of Satanic child sacrifice.

Former Telegraph editor Charles Moore, who lives in Sussex, decried moves to make Bell an “unperson” by rebranding institutions which bear his name.

He wrote in January: “Bell was our nearest thing to a saint since St Richard of Chichester (died 1253).

He added: “If Bishop Bell had been a Nazi war criminal, the charges against him would have had to reach a far higher standard of proof than those by which the Church of England has destroyed him.”

Respected columnist Giles Fraser asked in the Guardian “whether Warner, in his zeal, is skipping over important moral instincts about due process and condemning a man, long dead, who has no opportunity to speak for himself.”

And today in The Argus, Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens dissects Bishop Warner’s statement and says that Bell “has nobody to fight for his reputation but us".

On the other hand, Bishop Luffa school in Chichester rushed to changed the name of "Bell House".

Headteacher Nick Taunt said on November 3: “Child abuse in any form is of course abhorrent and contrary to everything Bishop Luffa stands for and we are shocked and saddened by the news.

“As a result of this announcement, I consider it no longer appropriate for the school to have Bishop Bell’s name attached to one of its houses.”

And this week Bishop Bell School in Eastbourne has issued parents with a choice of two names, St Edward’s or St Catherine’s, and asked them to vote for which should replace the school’s current title.

Mark Talbot, headteacher of the Church of England school, told parents: “When choosing to become an academy, schools have the opportunity to review their name.

“This was our intention and, with the news relating to Bishop George Bell, this was accelerated.”

The Church itself has tried to satisfy both camps and in doing so has pleased neither.

It has changed the name of Chichester lodging house “George Bell House” to “4 Canon Lane” on its web pages and promised that the building will be rebranded.

But three months after Bishop Warner’s announcement, the building retains the plaque bearing Bell’s name next to the door and signs around the grounds still direct visitors to George Bell House.

The diocese has not removed a brass and stone monument to Bell in the centre of the cathedral. It did place an incongruous wooden noticeboard in front of the Bell-Arundel screen bearing a “safeguarding” message but after complaints from the congregation, that safeguarding notice was removed this week.

And it has not confirmed the fate of the scholarly George Bell Institute, affiliated with the University of Chichester, saying only: “The university is considering the implications both for the continuation of the institute and the work of its human rights scholars.”

Most recently, in a letter in yesterday’s Church Times, diocesan secretary Gabrielle Higgins reiterated the Church’s refusal to share any evidence relating to the accusations, citing confidentiality protections enshrined in law.

It all begs the question of how society deals with unprovable allegations and complex legacies, some saying George Bell’s positive input must not be forgotten.

Others find it impossible to respect or honour the legacy of such a man.

And some ask if we must we live in a world which can only remember the dead as either heroes, or villains.