THE mystery of York Minster’s silent tell tower continues to be THE topic of conversation among Christian and citizen alike. And while the truth may finally be slowly emerging from the bottom of a cloudy glass, nothing is yet as clear as a bell.

The Minster has released a detailed statement, three months after sacking thirty bell-ringers, a decision initially referred to as a ‘health and safety’ issue which led puzzled observers to assume that there might be a problem with the building. It further hinted that This Sort of Thing couldn’t be allowed to continue, without actually explaining the precise nature of This Sort of Thing!

Comments on my personal blog pointed out that, not unreasonably from the point of view of public relations, legality and human resources, there was probably something that the Minster could not fully spell out.

That something came to light only when the Minster authorities revealed recently that the row began because one of the bell-ringers had been accused of indecent assault.

The person in question, said the Minster, 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 Orde – 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 en masse to accept the Minster’s decision and that’s why they were sacked, or so it now appears.

Further, the Minster has 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 parts 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.”

Church bells are part of our heritage: what will be lost when they ultimately fall silent?
THe bells of York Minster might fall silent at Christmas for the first time in 650 years

The York Minster Society of Change Ringers denies that any of its members had intimidated other bell-ringers and says 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 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 than to go public because of the ongoing controversy.”

The Telegraph also included a long statement from the man’s solicitor which 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 how 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 the classic case of a situation getting out of hand, and getting further out of hand thanks to the efforts of the officials involved.

Have we heard the last of the matter? Almost certainly not, until we hear those magnificent bells ring again.


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