Sussex

Bishop George Bell: Council re-hanging of portrait 'offensive'

The portrait of the late Bishop George Bell
Image caption The council said it had taken the portrait down to protect it from vandalism

Re-hanging a portrait in a town hall of a bishop named as an alleged paedophile is "offensive", say campaigners.

The painting of the late Right Reverend George Bell was removed when the Church of England settled a civil claim made by a woman who says she was abused by him in the 1940s and 50s.

But, Chichester Council said it had been replaced as there was reasonable doubt about the woman's claims.

Campaigners condemned it as an "incredibly insensitive" move.

'Thorough investigation'

Tony Dignum, leader of the council, said: "We haven't seen sufficient evidence against Bishop Bell to justify removing his name entirely from our memory.

"I don't doubt that she was abused but the question is: was it Bishop Bell?"

Peter Saunders, founder of the National Association of People Abused in Childhood, said the move was offensive to all "victims and survivors of childhood abuse".

"Particularly to the woman that came forward," he said.

"Some would say it is [also] offensive to re-hang a portrait of this man over whom such a cloud hangs."

The woman said the bishop abused her as he read to her at Chichester Cathedral, when she was a child.

The church accepted the woman's story after a "thorough investigation", apologised and paid compensation.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Rt Rev George Bell was Bishop of Chichester from 1929 until his death in 1958

But, a group set up to defend Bishop Bell said the church's investigation was inadequate and the woman's claims uncorroborated.

Journalist Peter Hitchens has claimed the council's move as "a small victory" for his defenders, but ultimately they want the church to re-examine the evidence against him.

The portrait was re-hung in April after a decision approved by the majority of city councillors.

But, because of the objections of two councillors it has been placed in a more discreet position, although still in public view.

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