Nothing yet is as clear as a bell…

THE mystery of the silent tell tower continues to be a topic of conversation in York and beyond. Is the truth beginning to emerge from the bottom of the cloudy glass? Well, nothing is as clear as a bell yet.

York Minster released a detailed statement last week, three months after sacking 30 bell-ringers. Initially, the mysterious concern at the heart of this affair was being referred to as a ‘health and safety’ issue, which led puzzled observers to assume that perhaps there was a problem with the building.

As pointed out from this ledge before, it was also further hinted that this sort of thing couldn’t be allowed to continue, without the nature of this sort of thing being further explained.

Some comments on this blog pointed out, reasonably enough, that from a public relations and human resources point of view, there was probably something here that the Minster could not spell out in full.

That something came into the light last week when the Minster authorities released a more detailed statement than previously, saying that the row began because one of the bell-ringers had been accused of indecent assault.

The Minster said the person in question was deemed to pose an “ongoing risk” and could not be reinstated. As the BBC website reported: “This was despite an application for a Sexual Risk Order ­­– which can be made by a court against an individual deemed to pose a risk of harm, irrespective of whether an offence has been committed – being refused by magistrates in December 2015 and no charges having been brought.”

The bell-ringers refused to accept the Minster’s decision, and that’s why they were sacked, or so it now appears.

On Friday, the Minster also said that efforts to recruit replacement bell-ringers from other areas over Christmas, including Leeds, had been thwarted by “intimidation”. The York Minster Chapter said: “Bell-ringing leaders from other part of the county and country have been in contact… however we have learned that many of these kind people have been subjected to intimidation on social media.”

The York Minster Society of Change Ringers denied that any of its members had intimidated other bell-ringers and said that Minster bosses had declined attempts to “restore good relations”.

Even writing a sentence containing the words ‘bell-ringers’ and ‘intimidation’ shows what a strange and unsettling affair this is, like something from a Trollope novel gone badly wrong.

The Daily Telegraph reported on Friday that: “The Chapter said they would have preferred to ‘remain silent’ about the details of the decision to disband the group, because of privacy issues, but felt they had no choice that to go public because of the ongoing controversy.”

The Telegraph also included a long statement from the man’s solicitor. This contained the following observation to statements made on October 17 by the Archbishop and the Dean “on nine occasions making reference to an ongoing investigation. This and the contents of their new press release are deeply concerning when one notes the Dean was present in a multi-agency meeting on June 24 where it was stated ‘North Yorkshire Police is not involved in any current investigation linked to [name removed by me]”.

The Telegraph and others named the individual in question. As no charges were ever brought, I have decided not to.

Whatever the causes behind this affair, the bells of York Minster could well remain silent on Christmas Day for what is thought to be the first time since the 14th Century – although now anyone knows that for sure is another mystery.

Have the Minster authorities behaved badly and caused this lasting row or were they faced with an impossible situation? Maybe a bit of both – but whatever view you take, this seems to have been a classic case of a situation getting out of hand, and getting even more out of hand thanks to the efforts of the officials involved.

Have we heard the last of this? Almost certainly not – and we won’t do until we hear those bells ring again.

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