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Canterbury Cathedral to install statue of former Bishop of Chichester George Bell after historic child abuse claims dismissed

By Anna MacSwan

A late bishop will be honoured with a statue at Canterbury Cathedral after being cleared of historic child abuse.

An unfinished statue of George Bell, the former Bishop of Chichester who was Dean of Canterbury between 1924 and 1929, has stood in the church stoneyard since 2015.

It was announced today, after the Church of England published a ruling that the five allegations of abuse are unfounded, that plans for the memorial are now to go ahead in recognition of the bishop's work in Canterbury.

George Bell in 1931 (6786121)
George Bell in 1931 (6786121)

The claims came after a public apology was issued in 2015 and compensation paid to a woman who accused the revered churchman, who died in 1958, of having abused her as a young child in the 1940s.

A range of people then came forward with further information after the publication of a review into the church's handling of the allegation in December 2017, which criticised it for "rushing to judgement".

The Archbishop of Canterbury has apologised "unreservedly" for the mistakes made and described Bishop Bell as "one of the most important figures in the history of the Church of England in the 20th century".

Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral

He said in a statement: "The reputation of Bishop Bell is significant, and I am clear that his memory and the work he did is of as much importance to the Church today as it was in the past.

"I recognise this has been an extremely difficult period for all concerned and I apologise equally to all those who have come forward and shared stories of abuse where we have not responded well."

However, he also said that "it is still the case that there is a woman who came forward with a serious allegation relating to an historic case of abuse and this cannot be ignored or swept under the carpet".

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

Jane Walker, Canterbury Cathedral's head of communications, said: "The statue of George Bell, Dean of Canterbury between 1924 and 1929 and founder of The Friends of Canterbury Cathedral, was begun in 2015 but not completed.

"It is the intention of the Cathedral that the work should now be finished and the statue installed, as others previously, in a niche at the west end of the building."

Details of when the statue will be unveiled are expected in the coming weeks.

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