Insults fly as bishop and dean lay blame for Lincoln adultery case

Andrew Brown finds little Christian spirit in diocese split by six-year feud

Andrew Brown
Thursday 20 July 1995 23:02

Open hostilities broke out yesterday between the senior clergy of Lincoln diocese following the dean's acquittal on charges of adultery with a former verger.

The war of words led to Dr George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, urging the Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Rev Robert Hardy, and his dean, the Very Rev Brandon Jackson, to end their six-year feud and "rise above past conflicts and recriminations".

Yesterday, Dr Jackson said he was involved in "a battle between heaven and hell". He told a television programme that the charges against him had been brought as the result of a conspiracy; and that his accuser, Miss Verity Freestone, had been "used and manipulated by men who should know better".

Bishop Hardy described these theories as "nonsense". He added: "I am not very impressed by what the dean has said; it is a damaging and grave matter. "Of course I am hurt [by the dean's allegations]," he said, with visible anger. "Wouldn't you be hurt? I think his language is extreme and unnecessary. That's not how a Christian gentleman should behave."

He had greeted the verdict with temperate enthusiasm: "I was neither pleased nor displeased. I was relieved in a way that the wretched thing was over because it has been a very miserable time and a dark cloud over my life for 18 months.

"I have never known who was guilty and who was innocent ... I have known that one of them was lying, as the judge said in his summing up. The assessors now have made their judgment and I must accept that. I don't think my personal feelings really enter into it," the bishop said.

Dr Jackson told journalists he had no intention of resigning as a result of the case; but that the bishop might want to.

Bishop Hardy said he had no immediate plans to resign but would discuss his position with Dr Carey: "I think that when I am said to be a disgrace, and various allegations are made, I had better check with the archbishop whether this is a generally held opinion."

Asked whether he could continue to work with the dean, Bishop Hardy said he hoped so: "It's a rift in Brandon's eyes, it's not in mine." The bishop's palace adjoins the deanery; and he explained that he had gone round at 6.30am yesterday to deliver a note proposing to meet next week. He was told by reporters that the dean would be on holiday for the next fortnight.

Bishop Hardy revealed he had been approached by the Bishop of Ripon, the Rt Rev David Young, who later appeared as one of Dr Jackson's character witnesses, and asked to drop the case shortly before Christmas: "He came to alert me to the seriousness of the situation and to profess his support for the dean; in one sense he had come too late, because by that time I had referred the case to the examiner and I could not withdraw the case at that stage.

"He advised me to be prudent but I did not think that was germane to the facts. There is an issue of truth here, there is an issue of justice. There was a woman who made certain allegations and I think they deserved to be taken seriously."

Dr Jackson claimed on The Big Story, on ITV last night, that two very senior bishops had interceded for him. However, Bishop Hardy said he had no memory of more than one.

Dr Jackson has attacked the cathedral precentor, Canon Andrew Stokes, who first heard Miss Freestone's complaint. He said that Canon Stokes "either has a very short memory or is being deliberately dishonest".

Canon Stokes yesterday denied he had planned for a trial from the beginning. "No clergyman would wish such a trial on his worst enemy," he said.

Dr Jackson, asked on television how he could rebuild relationships, said: "There's got to be a lot of forgiveness. There's got to be a lot of honesty, a lot of admissions. That will not be easy for the bishop ... of course it's going to be easier for me."

In a statement, Dr Carey said it was wrong to blame the Bishop of Lincoln for the action he took - claiming he had only acted conscientiously. He praised the bishop's courage and integrity but admitted there were lessons to be learned from "this upsetting episode".

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