Comments: Bishop of Southwark: today's reports

When I read the article this morning, my first thought was bad sub-editing - since the story makes it clear that the preliminary report did not say that +Butler was drunk, and indeed noted "that medical evidence was submitted which stated that the Bishop’s “amnesia is certainly entirely explicable on the basis of his head injuries”."
I would hope that if this is reported to the Press Complaints Commission, that a complaint is made against both The Times and The Sun - since their report was far less balanced - and makes clearly false statements.

Posted by Graham at Wednesday, 6 June 2007 at 12:49pm BST

Pity that the Times story was taken down, since when I read it, two or three hours ago, all ten of the attached comments took a "why the h-ll are you wasting our time with this story, leave the guy alone" approach. The two comments attached to Gledhill's blog are both anti-bishop. Since my limited experience of posting to this site indicates that postings contrary to Gledhill's point of view have no guarantee of publication, this proves little.

Posted by Lapinbizarre at Wednesday, 6 June 2007 at 2:26pm BST

I don't know where this gets anyone but I'm puzzled about one thing. This idea that there has to be a 'proper interest' and that Mr Adams was not a person who 'has a proper interest in making a complaint'. Presumably there was the basis for carrying on, but then it sort of ended that there was not a proper interest and that was it. But that was how it started. So it was a sort of Calvinist investigation then, more or less pre-ordained (excuse the pun).

Presumably there are criteria for deciding a proper interest.

Suppose my car is parked and a clergyman sits in it and starts chucking out my glass cleaner and paper roll and the odd half drunk bottle of cola? Would I have a proper interest? Suppose others saw it, but I did not - who has a proper interest then?

To me the incident itself at Tooting Bec isn't worth pursuing but there are some general questions of procedure that seem to be based on a judgment about witnesses and affected that override evidence. Or have I missed something?

Posted by Pluralist at Wednesday, 6 June 2007 at 3:01pm BST

Pluralist says "Suppose my car is parked and a clergyman sits in it and starts chucking out my glass cleaner and paper roll and the odd half drunk bottle of cola? Would I have a proper interest?".
Aplogies for flippancy, but if he washed the car as well, I'd probably pay him about £25.

Posted by Graham Ward at Wednesday, 6 June 2007 at 3:40pm BST

It doesn't happen very often, but I think Pluralist and I are in agreement on this one.

I do not think that being drunk is an automatic 'hanging offence', but, having said that, Judge Bursell's report seems to suggest there was clearly a case to answer, even though it was not proven (proof, either way, being the point of bringing a case).

The problem is that the reason the case has not been heard (and the question settled) seems, in the first instance, to be a technical one, in that Mr Adams has been ruled as not having a 'proper interest'. Yet he is a former churchwarden, and as such was legally an officer of the bishop. One would have thought that, even in retirement, amongst the laity Mr Adams would therefore have had sufficient interest in the situation - and if not, then who, amongst the laity, might?

This point is particularly releveant since it is often claimed by Anglican bishops that the diocese is the 'local church'. One would have thought that, on this model, any lay member on an electoral roll of any church in the diocese would therefore have a 'proper interest' in the behaviour of the bishop, just as they would in the behaviour of their own minister.

Given, then, that Judge Bursell's comments seem to point to there being a case to answer, in these circumstances surely any member of any Southwark church ought to be judged to have a sufficient 'proper interest'?

Posted by John Richardson at Wednesday, 6 June 2007 at 4:32pm BST

If, hypothetically, any guy has a drink problem which causes them to have serious blackouts, and put their life and livelihood etc at risk, then the last thing I would feel impelled to do *AS A CHRISTIAN AND A HUMAN BEING* is COMPLAIN about him to the authorities or LEAK information about his predicament to the PRESS.

I hope all those involved in the COMPLAINT and LEAK had tried over some time and with some effort to help the person in question to seek help and healing before they personally took such measures to publically shame and destroy his reputation as well as being indifferent to his personal suffering.

I'd rather get plastered with the subject of my hypothetical scenario and die with him, than live for eternity with the triumphant righteous who dance and sing at each faulty step of all us sinners.

Again. Good to see the colour of your flag, you leakers and complainers (and publishers).

If there were to be no, or no substantial, grounds for such leakage and complaining and publishing, then the damnation, by your tradition, is far greater than I can imagine, even in my twisted mind, but still less than if there were grounds.

Posted by matthewhunt at Wednesday, 6 June 2007 at 4:41pm BST

The other aspect of this is the way in which it is likely to undermine confidence in the new Measure. What's been leaked is an internal report on whether there was a case to answer, equivalent to a Crown Prosecution Service report in criminal cases. Now, it may well be that a leaker feels that Bishops are fair game for such a leak, but it's not likely to inspire confidence in the system on the part of the average clergyperson who's been complained against.

If it's possible for the report on Bishop to get out [from where? Lambeth? Judge's chambers?], it's possible for it to happen to anyone else, too. Not good news for the working of the Clergy Discipline Measure.

Posted by Pete Broadbent at Wednesday, 6 June 2007 at 5:29pm BST

When CDM was drawn up the category of proper complainants was deliberately kept tight. In practice it includes anyone who has been the direct "victim" of clerical misbehaviour (for example the next of kin at a funeral where the vicar arrived drunk) plus those individuals and corporate bodies to which the cleric owes some particular duty (eg their own churchwardens, PCC). Explicitly in the legislation the relevant archdeacon is a proper complainant.

This is strong enough to allow both redress for victims and general accountability for a cleric's behaviour to the local laity and wider church whilst limiting the options for vexatious litigants or those seeking to use CDM to pursue general campaigns (for example against gay clergy) and personal agendas. Where there is a matter of some seriousness but the "victim" is unable or unwilling to make a complaint it is common for the archdeacon to lay it.

My guess would be that in this case the vehicle owner chose not to complain and Mr Adams had no proper interest; but as the matter would, if proven, have been of sufficient weight to merit proper investigation, it will have been taken over by an archdeacon or equivalent.

The leaked report (and I share Pete's worries about this) deals with the early stages prior to any investigation. At this stage the matters for consideration are fairly limited (is the complainant a proper person; would it, if proved, be a genuine breach of proper conduct; would it, if proved, be of sufficient weight to be worthy of investigation). Quite a high proportion of complaints fall at this first hurdle, in particular those that represent personal vendettas rather than genuine misbehaviour.

Posted by David Walker at Thursday, 7 June 2007 at 8:05am BST

Whilst David Walker's account may well be correct, the worry is that the complaint against Bishop Butler did not fall at the first hurdle. On the contrary, it seems to have sailed over it fairly adequately.

The question then arises why, if that is the case, did it fall at the second hurdle (when it seems the complaint had been taken up by someone else - possibly his putative archdeacon)? The explanation seems to be that this time evidence was heard from Bishop Butler, including medical testimony that could have explained his actions.

However, the possibility of other explanations was admitted in the first report, which nevertheless added there was "substantial evidence" otherwise.

The problem is that the first evidence does not seem to have been heard alongside the second evidence - not if statements like the gentleman whose car the bishop climbed into that "This is a whitewash" is anything to go by.

It is the sense that he might be right that is the real worry in this situation and, I suspect, the reason why the first report found its way into the hands of the press.

The old adage remains true: justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.

Posted by John Richardson at Thursday, 7 June 2007 at 9:52am BST

The Times has this morning (Thursday 7 June) published an unqualified retraction and apology. It reads as follows:

We were wrong to say in our headlines (yesterday, front page and page 4) that the report of Judge Rupert Bursell, QC, into a complaint of drunkenness against Dr Tom Butler, the Bishop of Southwark, had concluded that Dr Butler was drunk. Judge Bursell did not hear any evidence or reach any conclusions as to the truth of the complaint. We apologise to Dr Butler for the distress and embarrassment this must have caused him." [ENDS]

Posted by badman at Thursday, 7 June 2007 at 10:13am BST

Hi, interesting comments, just wanted to note that our apology this morning was for the headline only, not the story, which has been republished online with a different headline.Ruth

Posted by Ruth Gledhill at Thursday, 7 June 2007 at 11:17am BST

There was no "only" about the headline. It was on the front page with a huge picture of the Bishop and you had to read well into an inside page to see that it was completely indefensible. As far as the front page was concerned, the headline was pretty much all there was.

Posted by badman at Thursday, 7 June 2007 at 2:25pm BST

Why the fuss? It's not like anyone expects honesty and unbiased reporting from the media, surely. I've often thought it would be a good project for a journalism student to review the coverage by the major news stations of 9/11 (or 7/7 for you Brits), just to see how much of what was reported was fact and what was just rumour. The drive is to be the first with the story, and to have the most lurid details. Factual reporting takes a very distant third place behind these two.

Posted by Ford Elms at Thursday, 7 June 2007 at 3:59pm BST

Yes well certainly the bishop's lawyers would agree with you on that one! I didn't write the headline of course, just the story. So as far as I'm concerned, it is quite an important 'only'...

Posted by Ruth Gledhill at Thursday, 7 June 2007 at 5:35pm BST

What's all the fuss about? It's not like anyone looks to the media for objectivity and unbiased reporting. And that's not mere sarcasm, does anyone actually believe that what they read in their newspapers or watch on telly is actually an attempt at unbiased reporting of the facts?

Posted by Ford Elms at Friday, 8 June 2007 at 3:11pm BST

Ruth - I know that you weren't guilty of writing the headline but what do you think about the suggestion that such retractions should be written in the same size font as the original statement requiring retraction? That would be fair, wouldn't it?

Posted by Stephen Kuhrt at Friday, 8 June 2007 at 10:23pm BST

It would not be fair on the newspaper, no. Sometimes, in their outrage, people in this country forget how fortunate we are to have a free press. That is something that must not be imperilled. Newspapers pay a price in other ways. We have the most draconian libel laws of any country in the world.

Posted by Ruth Gledhill at Saturday, 9 June 2007 at 8:00am BST

I don't agree with Ruth Gledhill on this.

Printing the original untruth in bold headlines and the retraction in a tiny corner - that is clearly the action of dishonest people. Why support dishonesty and 'spin' where honesty is perfectly possible?

But it gets worse. These dishonest people are in our capitalist and relativist society the chief opinion-formers. What they say are the options are perceived by others as the options. They cannot always change views, but they can change views of what is and is not normal. Which amounts to the same thing.

And who exactly are these [journalist] people? They are not nearly as socially diverse as the country they claim to represent.

They throw up their hands in horror when the results of their own 'normalising' process manifest in tragic headlines.

They are not accountable, yet expect hard-working authority figures to be utterly accountable.

Who elected them?

Posted by Christopher Shell at Saturday, 9 June 2007 at 12:05pm BST

Come on Ruth you've got to do better than that. You say that "Newspapers pay a price in other ways" but how? Any fines that they receive are generally chicken feed in comparison to the publicity for the paper that such vast headlines crank up even if they are subsequently retracted.

If the Times committed itself to printing retractions in the same size font as the thing retracted surely respect for the paper in this cynical age would soar. I'll even allow you to claim it was your idea.

Posted by Stephen Kuhrt at Saturday, 9 June 2007 at 12:57pm BST

"They are not nearly as socially diverse as the country they claim to represent."

No indeed! The American television media seems to be either pretty much GWB style Republicans, or so intimidated by their government they don't dare question. Odd that you get better American news commentary these days on a comedy show than on the major news channels! The funny thing of course is that, even though people have been effectively prevented from speaking out about Bush's foreign policy on any major network, even though the rejailing of a vacuous waste of groceries gets all over the television while the deaths of Iraqi civilians isn't even mentioned, the Persecution Quest is so strong that the American Right insists there is a "liberal" bias in the media!

Posted by Ford Elms at Tuesday, 12 June 2007 at 1:39pm BST

You may well be right - I wouldn't know not being American. In Britain we have the reverse problem. It is not always admitted - but it would be relatively simple to have a secret anonymous ballot/referendum among media types to prove the point of how unrepresentative they are.

They are in any case bound to be unrepresentative. Certain types of people with certain backgrounds - and indeed certain ages - will be more likely to pursue such a career than others. But one wishes they would be honest about it.

It is never mentioned in the media, for example, that the paparazzi were the essential (albeit semi-background) cause of the Aug 31 1997 tragedy. This despite acres of newsprint devoted to the event. That would be to threaten their touching/naive belief (or rather ideology/wish) that their own lifestyle is moral and unimpeachable.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Wednesday, 13 June 2007 at 1:54pm BST
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