George Bell: Hero bishop now known to have abused child

George Bell (centre holding a piece of paper) before laying the first brick of the city's Whyke housing estate in January 1946
George Bell (centre holding a piece of paper) before laying the first brick of the city's Whyke housing estate in January 1946

THE REVELATION that former Bishop of Chichester George Bell abused a young victim while leader of the diocese will come as a great shock to people who regarded him as a hero.

Hailed as an inspirational leader, George Bell’s work for the church has been held up by his supporters and many believed him to be Chichester’s greatest bishop.

Chichester Cathedral

Chichester Cathedral

However, we now know at least one victim has had to live with horrors inflicted by Bell after being abused as a child around 60 years ago.

Since his death in 1958, Bell was lauded for his deeds in the wake of the second world war, helping build links between German and British churches.

Now, we know while this was going on a darker secret was being hidden.

Police have confirmed if George Bell was still alive when the victim contacted the Diocese of Chichester in 1995, he would have been arrested and interviewed on suspicion of ‘serious sexual offences’.

He was known throughout the world for his good work with the Anglican church.

Bell’s work for the World Council of Churches and his stand in the House of Lords on February 9, 1944, against the policy of obliteration bombing of Germany are regarded as defining features of his career.

And he carried out lots of other work for the church: he promoted the church as a patron of the arts, organised centres for the reception of refugees from Nazi Germany and pre-war welcomed Mahatma Gandhi to the Palace at Chichester.

George Bell was born on Hayling Island in 1883. Ordained in 1907, he became chaplain to Archbishop Randall Davidson in 1914, was made Dean of Canterbury Cathedral in 1925 and appointed Bishop of Chichester in 1929.

People previously believed him ‘a man of immense compassion and spirituality, a man of unswerving courage and the highest moral principles’, according to Observer arts editor Phil Hewitt’s recent book: A Chichester Miscellany.

His House of Lords speech was believed by some to have cost him the chance to be Archbishop of Canterbury. Had he not made the speech and perhaps become archbishop, today’s news would have been even more shocking, if that is possible.

Fifty years after his death, in 2008 a celebration of his life was held at the House of Lords, where he sat for 20 years.

Until 2015, he has been remembered for many things. However, it now seems likely he will be remembered for a horrendous act that has scarred a victim for life.

As the victim’s solicitor Tracey Emmott said: “For my client, the compensation finally received does not change anything. How could any amount of money possibly compensate for childhood abuse?”

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UPDATE: Abuse victim’s 1995 complaint against deceased bishop ‘not properly listened to’

Former Chichester bishop George Bell abused young child

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