Even the Evil Empire of the Soviet Union eventually admitted that it had wrongly smeared and ruined those it had once accused of terrible crimes.
The victims of screaming one-sided show trials, later murdered or starved to death, and in one terrible case, hanged, cremated and their ashes used to grit the freezing roads, all of them were in the end exonerated.
So why does Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, struggle so to admit he made a terrible mistake about the late Bishop George Bell of Chichester, one of the greatest Englishmen of the 20th Century? He did not, as many do, mix him up with his near-namesake, the revolting molester Peter Ball. Nor should you (I have had some very rude letters accusing me of defending Ball. I would not dream of doing any such thing).
But, to put it at its mildest, Mr Welby was involved in what has since been shown to be a shocking kangaroo trial, in which the long-dead Bell, a courageous opponent of the Nazis and ally of the German resistance to Hitler, was presumed guilty of a terrible charge of child abuse.
PETER HITCHENS: Why does Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, struggle so to admit he made a terrible mistake about the late Bishop George Bell of Chichester, one of the greatest Englishmen of the 20th Century?
My own view has long been that the complainant was abused, but by somebody else. Her evidence against Bell, when it was finally made public, did not stand up to serious examination by a leading QC, Lord Carlile.
But would Mr Welby back down? Not a bit of it.
First he took seriously a collection of new allegations against George Bell, so ludicrous and feeble that even Dame Cressida Dick and her Olympically gullible Met Police Celebrity Squad would not have believed them. And when these duly collapsed, he continued to insist that a ‘significant cloud’ hung over the reputation of George Bell. Apparently, in his world, if you are accused of a crime you will always remain suspect.
But Mr Welby, so censorious about others, now has troubles of his own. When he was a senior church official in Liverpool, he banned a worshipper from the Cathedral there, for being ‘abusive and threatening’.
PETER HITCHENS: Mr Welby was involved in what has since been shown to be a shocking kangaroo trial, in which the long-dead Bell, a courageous opponent of the Nazis and ally of the German resistance to Hitler, was presumed guilty of a terrible charge of child abuse
But the worshipper had his reasons. He was rightly trying to get Mr Welby to act against a priest who, he said, had abused him. In this case (unlike George Bell’s) there was good reason to take the claim seriously.
The priest involved, John Roberts, already had a criminal conviction for indecent assault. Later Roberts was jailed for offences against three people – one of them the man Mr Welby had sternly banned from the Cathedral. This fascinating story about England’s premier clergyman has received amazingly little media coverage outside our sister paper, the Daily Mail.
Actually, I can see Mr Welby’s problem here. He made a bad judgment, as many have done in such cases. But lawyers for the victims of Roberts point out that Mr Welby’s failure to act could have delayed police action for many years. So he really is not in a position to set himself up as the Righteous Judge of George Bell.
That is why I wrote to the Church of England and asked if, under the circumstances, Mr Welby would withdraw the words ‘significant cloud’ and act to rehabilitate George Bell.
For Bishop Bell’s name, like that of a Soviet show-trial victim, has been stripped from a building named after him, from a school named after him and from a house in another school, which was also named after him. A planned statue of him, which should long ago have been completed and unveiled on the front of Canterbury Cathedral, is in some sort of limbo.
I got nothing back except flannel. So here we are. As long as he will not withdraw the claim that there is a ‘significant cloud’ over George Bell, then I say that Justin Welby is a hypocrite, and a significant cloud hangs over him. Even the Kremlin had more of a conscience.
Little Amal masks a big problem
Last week I finally saw the peculiar giant puppet Little Amal, which has been paraded across Europe, supposedly to draw attention to the plight of refugees from Syria. The glowering thing came to Oxford, my home town, where it was paired with a rather po-faced mega-doll of Alice in Wonderland, our local heroine.
Alice had an eye for human folly and spent a lot of time being the wrong size. But what she would have made of this political carnival, I do not know. It is very odd. It strikes me that most Syrian refugees are not little girls but strapping young men. I wonder how a huge puppet of such a person would be greeted.
PETER HITCHENS: Last week I finally saw the peculiar giant puppet Little Amal, which has been paraded across Europe, supposedly to draw attention to the plight of refugees from Syria
It strikes me also that Little Amal, actually 11ft 5in, does not look at all like a small girl but like a rather snappish and cross Left-wing TV presenter, perhaps on BBC’s Newsnight. And finally it strikes me that if Left-wing persons in this country had not been so keen to stoke up a civil war in Syria, and to intervene in Libya too, there might not be so many refugees, whether they were little girls or grown men.
How many who turn out to show obeisance to the Little Amal puppet even know of the vast billion-dollar CIA programme called Timber Sycamore by which the nice West fanned the flames of war in Syria, and in some cases even ended up helping groups linked to Al Qaeda? What good did this do? The Syrian regime was and is terrible, but do you make that better by turning people into corpses and refugees, and by backing fanatics?
I have nothing but praise for those who personally welcome such refugees into their own homes. But I am less keen on those who think other people should shoulder the burden. If Little Amal was a real little girl, she might wonder if she was being used.
I love a war with the French as much as any red-blooded Englishman, but I am worried that the Foreign Secretary, amazingly a former (?) anti-monarchist and Lib Dem called Liz Truss, might be too keen on this fishy confrontation.
I will not be surprised if her official photographer snaps her on the bridge of a Royal Navy gunboat, twirling a Nelsonian telescope while attired in a striking new nautical-style outfit from her remarkable wardrobe. Nothing, it seems, can stop her.
Sainsbury’s falls to the zealots
The infiltration of every part of the country by zealots and activists is now nearing completion. You may have been worried about the takeover of the BBC, the universities or your child’s nursery by various sorts of fanatics. And rightly so. Banks, bus companies and stately homes also ceaselessly emit the PC message.
The latest great institutions to fall are the supermarkets. They have begun to lecture us to eat more beans and lentils, and less meat, so as to save the planet. And last week I walked into a Sainsbury’s under a display of little flags that proclaimed that the shop was ‘Celebrating Black History Month’.
I seldom drive, but modern petrol pumps seem to me to be getting quite bossy, and I wonder how long it will be before they start lecturing customers about their carbon footprints, and Black Lives Matter.
It’s always one opinion. It’s always expressed in such a way as to let you know that, if you disagree the tiniest bit, you’d better be quiet about it.
And while it’s funny in a way, in another way it is not funny at all.