Sherlock Holmes (the real one, not the cool Cumberbatch version) solved his greatest case by noticing something that hadn’t happened.

Everyone knows about the dog that didn’t bark in the night-time – because the intruder he failed to challenge was the dog’s own master.

So what about the statement that didn’t state?

I’m talking about the document that launched half a dozen headlines saying that the much-loved and revered (by some) George Bell, once Bishop of Chichester, had abused a young child.

That’s what the headlines and reports clearly said. Nothing about allegations. No “may have”. He did. That’s what they said. But where did they get this from?

Anybody with a computer can read the document on which these reports were based.

Why not try this yourself? It’s called “Statement on the Right Revd George Bell (1883-1958)”. And here’s a little game you can play.

See if you can find, anywhere in it, the actual words “Bishop Bell abused a child”. I bet you can’t. Why not, if it is so?

What exactly was the current Bishop of Chichester apologising and expressing his “deep sorrow” for? He doesn’t actually say. Why not? Who could disagree with him that child abuse is a terrible thing? But that’s not the same as saying George Bell actually did this.

Even the accuser’s lawyer slips into the passive (“the abuse that was suffered”). Nowhere is there a sentence in which George Bell is the subject and “abused” is the verb. It doesn’t say it. Why not? You tell me.

True, there’s a lot of stuff suggesting or implying that that he did. The police say that if the bishop had still been alive (he’d have been 132 years old if so) they’d have arrested him. Who doubts it? But an arrest isn’t proof of anything.

Lots of people are arrested and never charged. Lots of people are charged and never tried. Many people are tried and acquitted. Compensation has been paid but what for?

Plenty of out-of-court settlements agree payments without any actual admission of anything.

There has never been a court case, only a secret inquisition in which nameless persons have made undisclosed “expert independent reports” which just happen to have found no reason to doubt the charge. Expert in what? Independent of whom?

If anyone represented the late Bishop Bell in this process, we are not told of it. Did the Church, which has a lot of real apologising to do for proven cases of child abuse, want to show how tough it has now become?

Suggesting and implying is usually what people do when they don’t feel confident about saying something outright.

We’ve all done it, alas. But reporters are warned to be careful of it. If you’re going to say something, such as “George Bell abused a young child”, then you’re going to need an on-the-record statement by someone in a position to back this claim up. Where was it? Where is it?

How would you like it if someone you revered, or indeed one of your grandparents, was treated like this after he was dead? But George Bell left no descendants.

His marriage was childless and both his brothers died in battle in the First World War. He, who dared to be unpopular in many good causes, has nobody to fight for his reputation but us.

Now, Sherlock Holmes in fiction and his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, in real life, were both derided and cold-shouldered for refusing to follow the crowd or accept the official version.

Doyle took up the unpopular cases of three people he believed had been unjustly treated – Roger Casement, George Edalji and Oscar Slater.

He found that most people, seeing someone charged with a really horrible crime, will alas, join that crowd. We should try not to do so.

Anyone who is troubled by this case (and a growing number of voices have been raised in doubt) is told to pay more attention to the needs of the alleged victim or survivor.

But there’s no contradiction here. Of course we must take allegations of abuse seriously. They must be properly investigated.

Where the matter is unresolved, by all means comfort the complainant as much as you can, and pay compensation. Give the benefit of the doubt.

But others need that benefit too.

We all need it. Never forget that English justice, our protection against tyranny and mob rule alike, rests on the need to prove a man guilty beyond reasonable doubt before convicting him.

  • Peter Hitchens is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday