THE Church of England is standing firm over its handling of the George Bell case despite fierce criticism from its former head.

On Monday The Argus reported how the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey had lambasted the church after it publicly settled a claim of historic sex abuse against Bell and apologised to the victim of the former head of the church in Sussex.

In a letter to Bell's niece, Lord George Carey said he felt the revered wartime bishop had been denied the right to a fair trial and he was looking for “ways of reopening” the matter.

His intervention was met with resolve from the Church of England on Monday, reiterating its reasons for the way it handled the case.

The spokesman told The Argus: "Where allegations are made against a deceased person, as is the case with Bishop Bell, they are treated seriously and dealt with accordingly, however uncomfortable this may prove, or however high profile the individual may be.

"The process leading up to the settlement, the apology and the announcement was long, complex and carried out with all the sensitivity that a case of this nature demands."

The case has been hugely controversial since the church announced in October it had settled the claim, formally lodged in April 2014, after expert reports gave them “no reason to doubt” its veracity.

The Argus subsequently revealed Bell’s victim was a five-year-old girl when the abuse started in the late 1940s. She recalled him telling her “it was our little secret, because God loved me”.

The former Chichester bishop’s name has since been stripped from institutions, and the current bishop of Chichester Dr Martin Warner praised the victim’s courage in coming forward.

But critics argued the claim has not been tested in a court of law and Bell, once tipped to be Archbishop, has been denied the presumption of innocence.

In his letter to Bell's 92-year-old niece Barbara Whitley, Lord Carey added: “When this matter became public knowledge several months ago I questioned the Church’s approach with someone at Lambeth Palace and was advised that it was in everyone’s interest to keep the matter low key."

Lord Carey told The Argus on Monday he had nothing further to add.

The Diocese of Chichester and the current Archbishop, Justin Welby, declined to comment, citing normal procedure not to comment on private correspondence.