A police investigation into allegations of historical child sex abuse against former Bishop of Chester Victor Whitsey concluded he would have been questioned had be been alive today.
Whitsey, who died in 1987 at the age of 71, served as Bishop of Chester from 1974 to 1981. Before that he had been Bishop of Hertford and earlier worked as a parish priest in Chorley, South Ribble and Bolton.
The allegations date from 1974 onwards when he was Bishop of Chester and from 1981 while he was retired and living in Blackburn diocese.
A joint statement from Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu and the current Bishop of Chester Rt Rev Dr Peter Forster confirmed the Church of England had cooperated with the investigation and accepted the allegations at face value.
The Church has apologised to victims and promised to consider what lessons can be learned from the case and whether any action should be taken.
The statement reads: “We are deeply sorry and apologise to those individuals who have come forward to share their account of abuse by a bishop in the Church of England who was in a position of power and authority. We appreciate that it is very difficult for individuals to come forward and to give their account.
“Sexual abuse is a heinous crime – and is an absolute and shameful breach of trust. We acknowledge that for survivors, the effects of sexual abuse are lifelong. We are offering pastoral support to all those who have come forward and continue to hold them all in our prayers.
“We have supported the police investigation Operation Coverage, which has been comprehensive, and they have informed us that ‘should Right Reverend Hubert Victor Whitsey have been alive today, then the police would have spoken to him in relation to 10 of the witness allegations’.”
The statement concluded: “The Church will consider what lessons can be learnt from this case and whether any action needs to be taken as a result of what these enquiries have shown.”
A Cheshire Police statement is expected later today.
The abuse team at solicitors Slater Gordon is working on behalf of some of Whitsey’s alleged victims.
A statement on the law firm’s website claimed the police investigation revealed the former Bishop of Chester was ‘almost certainly a prolific abuser of children’.
It continued: “A number of men and women have now come forward to describe how, as children, they were sexually abused by Whitsey. It appears that the police investigation has revealed that others in the Church may have been aware of Whitsey’s involvement in child abuse whilst he was still working as a bishop. It is understood that the Church of England may shortly be announcing an independent review into the case.”
Anyone affected by today’s news can call the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service helpline on 0303 003 11 11 who can offer help and signpost to church-related support and information or, alternatively, call the NSPCC 0808 800 5000. Anybody with further information on the case should go direct to the police on 101.